The Competitiveness of Nations in a Global Knowledge-Based Economy

David Kettler *

Sociology of Knowledge and Moral Philosophy:

The Place of Traditional Problems in the Formation of Mannheim’s Thought **

Political Science Quarterly, 82 (3)

Sept. 1967, 399-426



I – Moral-Philosophic Syndrome

II – Orientation

III – The Cultural Sphere

IV – The Challenge

V - George Lukacs

VI – Communicative & Conjunctive Knowledge

VII – Justification

HHC: Index and titling added


In the main stream of sociology today, as in most contemporary philosophical discussions, Karl Mannheim’s work in the sociology of knowledge is respected - when it is at all recalled - as a pioneering contribution to a new inquiry, but as a work unfortunately marred by certain epistemological and ethical pretensions which are seen to emanate in part from the obfuscating influence of Central European philosophy, in part from the normal confusions which attend a mode of inquiry when it first arises, when it has not yet become self-critical.  Mannheim is valuable, it is then said, because he dramatically called attention to the fact that the development of doctrines and ideas and sciences is always a social happening and as such properly matter for such explanations as sociology can provide.  He is misled and misleading, however, first and most generally because he imagined that the exploration of the social origins of any intellectual product has a bearing on its epistemological status, and second because he thought that he could claim such a relevance without falling into relativism.

* The Ohio State University

** This is part of a larger work on Karl Mannheim.  The investigation has been generously supported, at various times, by the Social Science Research Council, the “Fulbright Commission,” and the Research Committee of The Ohio State University.


In fact, it is said, the only logical way in which the claim of epistemological relevance can be at all maintained is on the assumption of some sort of naturalistic identity between actual and normative process, and then relativism is the unavoidable consequence of his finding of diversity.  Mannheim is thus patronized as an interesting pre-scientific pagan. [1]

But Mannheim’s separation from orthodoxy cannot be treated so lightly; if he is indeed a sinner, then he must be burned as a heretic, not gently relegated to the limbo of sages.  In Mannheim’s first approach to the sociological explanation of cultural and intellectual phenomena, he stated quite categorically:

The truth or falsity of a proposition or of the entire theoretical sphere can be neither supported nor attacked by means of a sociological or any other genetic explanation.  How something came to be, what functions it performs in other contexts is altogether irrelevant for its immanent character of validity. [2]

1. Despite interesting and important differences among themselves, the following exemplify the argument broadly summarized here: T. B. Bottomore, “Some Reflections on the Sociology of Knowledge,” The British Journal of Sociology, VII (1956), 52-58; Gerard de Gre, “The Sociology of Knowledge and the Problem of Truth,” Journal of the History of Ideas, II (1941), 110-15; Gottfried Eisermann, “Ideologie und Utopie. Aus Anlass der dritten Auflage von Karl Marinhejms Buch,” Kolner Zeitschrift fur Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie, V (1952-53), 128-35; Ernst Grunwald, Das Problem der Soziologie des Wissens (Wien-Leipzig, 1934), 184 ff.; Jacques J. Maquet, The Sociology of Knowledge: Its Structure and Its Relation to the Philosophy of Knowledge (Boston, 1951); Robert Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, 1957), 490 ff.; Albert Salomon, “Karl Mannheim, 1893-1947,” Social Research, XIV (1947), 350-64.  Not all recent treatments of Karl Mannheim follow these lines, of course.  Compare the work of Kurt H. Wolff, especially “The Sociology of Knowledge and Sociological Theory,” in Llewellyn Gross, Symposium on Sociological Theory (Evanston, 1959), 567-602; “A Preliminary Inquiry into the Sociology of Knowledge from the Standpoint of Man,” Scritti di soziologia e politica in onere di Luigi Sturzo (Bologna, 1953), 585-618; “Karl Mannheim in semen Abhandlungen bis 1933,” in Karl Mannheim, Wissenssoziologie (Berlin and Neuwied, 1964), 11-65.  Not relevant for present purposes are the works of those who clearly place themselves out of the “main stream.”

2. Mannheim, “Uber die Eigenart kultursoziologischer Erkenntnis” (unpublished typescript, dated 1921P), p. 80.  The author is indebted to Dr. Paul Kecskemeti for access to this manuscript, as well as to the other unpublished early essay to be cited below.  It is Dr. Kecskemeti’s plan to secure publication of at least the most important sections of these manuscripts within the next years.  See, also, Karl Mannheim, “Structural Analysis of Epistemology,” in Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology, ed. Paul Kecskemati (New York, [1953), 40, note, and idem, “The Ideological and the Sociological Interpretation of Intellectual Phenomena,” Studies on the Left, III (1963), 54-66 (a revised version of a portion of the unpublished manuscript cited above, edited by Kurt H. Wolff).]

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It is only after this, in a long essay written two years later, that Mannheim moved toward his puzzling conceptions of “relationism” and “perspectivism,” announcing that he had been forced “after extensive reconsideration, to the conclusion that even the purely methodological problems of thought cannot be solved without sociological orientation.” [3]

Matters are even more serious with Mannheim than indicated thus far.  In the conventional account of Mannheim’s development, it is also customary to claim that after he came to England in 1933 he was progressively enlightened by non-Central European influences and came increasingly to see the folly of his earlier unscientific ways.  Now it is true that in several of his writings published at that time he makes professions which seem to justify such a hopeful appraisal of his soul’s pilgrimage (from Geist to intellect, perhaps); but it is unfortunately also true that some of the most elaborate expositions of “relationism” occur in lectures which Mannheim gave a few months before his death. [4]  This seems to make him a lapsed heretic, the worst sort.

But enough of the metaphor.  The point is that Mannheim’s claims that his sociology of knowledge has a contribution to make to epistemology - specifically to the development of criteria of validity in the various spheres of judgment - are not easily eliminable survivals of early philosophic habits, but are central to Mannheim’s whole entry upon this line of investigation.  Moreover, it is argued, Mannheim’s conduct of investigations of this sort was at all times controlled by these interests.  One clear sign of this last crucial element is the difficulty encountered by anyone seeking to treat Mannheim’s writings in this sphere as imperfect examples of scientific inquiry, only incidentally linked to grand claims of the sort common to German grand theorists; Merton and others have found a great variety of untestable and unclear form-

3. Mannheim, “Eine soziologische Theorie der Kultur und ihrer Erkennbarkeit” (unpublished, undated typescript, probably 1924), 1.

4. See file labeled “Principles of Education Lectures, 1946” in collection of Mannheim materials housed in the library of the University of Keele.


ulations of the relationships alleged by Mannheim to exist between social factors and the ideas supposed to “correspond” to them, to be “determined” by them, and so on.  To take Mannheim’s work seriously on its own terms, it will not do to assign it to the pre-history of scientific sociology, to win easy victories over it by applying standards expressly rejected by Mannheim at the outset of his activity, or to attempt a translation of its contentions into operational language and testable hypotheses.  All of these things can be done, of course, but only by way of dissecting an organism then prejudged from the very outset to be devoid of life.  It is proposed here to approach Mannheim without this prejudice.  Instead, it will be argued that Mannheim’s turn to the sociology of knowledge was an integral part of a life-long effort to deal with a wide range of issues not amenable to treatment considered rigorous by the canons of science upheld by Mannheim as well as by his critics.  This paper, then, undertakes: (i) to identify the questions to which the enterprise of sociology of knowledge was primarily addressed; (2) to interpret the formation of the sociology of knowledge in relation to these questions; and (3) to assess the value of taking Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge seriously on its own terms, by commenting on the value of the questions themselves and on the prima facie case made in behalf of its relevance to them.


I – Moral-Philosophic Syndrome

The work of Karl Mannheim must be assigned to the “style of thought” whose major attributes have been explicated elsewhere through study of the eighteenth-century Scottish moral philosopher, Adam Ferguson. [5]  Characteristic of this style of thought, here to be identified as the “moral-philosophic syndrome,” is a set of issues which it seeks to master.  These may be stated as the effort to reconcile the following five pairs of initially antithetical aspirations:

(1) meeting contemporary standards of philosophic and scientific method (reference in the paradigmatic case was to the

5. David Kettler, The Social and Political Thought of Adam Ferguson (Columbus, 1965).  The concept “style of thought” itself derives from Mannheim. See “Conservative Thought” and “The History of the Concept of the State as an Organism: A Sociological Analysis,” in Mannheim, Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology, 75, 165.


eighteenth-century trinity of Bacon, Newton, and Locke) and yet retaining the presumed classical capacity for securing certain knowledge about true ends as well as about efficient means;

(2) combining the scientific conception of nature as a structure of efficient causes and impersonal powers with the traditional conception of a beneficent logic of purposes either immanent in nature or transcending it, but in either case not limited to that which appears to be actual as “mere” fact;

(3) reconciling the post-medieval picture of the good life as a life of achievement, equal right to happiness, and individual integrity with the earlier ideals of excellence, harmony, and identification with the greater whole;

(4) blending the modern criteria for a social life, demanding above all progress, peace, and prosperity, with the classical image of communal life as integrated by a common conception of the good and dedicated to eliciting from each man the greatest contribution he can make to the common good; and

(5) satisfying the liberal notion of the state (or of the public order, more generally) as a guarantor of man’s equal rights and of society’s existence - needing to be empowered lest it fail to protect the rights of the individual, but needing to be restrained lest it interfere with the beneficent societal process - and yet also yearning for the antique image of political life as the main vehicle for achieving the moral objectives of the community, of the public order as paideia, a school for virtue. [6]

So stated, the issues are very broad, and a considerable variety of doctrines can be seen as representative of the moral-philosophic syndrome so defined.  Nevertheless the category is not uselessly vague; it is possible to identify schools of thought which stand outside the syndrome, and to offer certain generalizations about the way in which the schools manifesting the syndrome tend - despite vital differences among themselves - to attack their common tasks of reconciling these seeming antinomies: [7]

6. The catalogue of “modern” and “classical” aspirations is familiar, being a standard product of intellectual history early in the century, but only recently introduced to many American social scientists through the work of Leo Strauss and his group.

7. This syndrome, as argued in the study of Ferguson cited above and as will be developed at greater length in the forthcoming study of Mannheim, identifies [that group of “men of knowledge” most commonly called “the intellectuals” in recent Western culture.]

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(1) Natural science and the philosophy related to it are not chal­lenged on their own ground, as a rule.  Their mastery within their proper sphere is conceded and may even be elaborately described, but their claim to set forth the only way of achieving results which may be called “true” or “valid” is strongly denied.  Moreover, their moral stature (as the sole expression of “reason,” as the only way to explore “nature”) is called into question, if not radically denigrated.  An approach different from that generally identified with the natural sciences, then, is said to be capable of discovering the truths of the matters with regard to which man requires orientation essential to judgment and practice.

(2) Corresponding to the modes of inquiry mentioned above are diverse objects of knowledge.  Thus, over and above the complex of efficient causes or functional interrelations is seen at least one sphere of meaning, having at least equivalent ontological standing.  Often there is said to be some integral connection between these spheres, but the nature of the connection is always described in the language of the non-naturalistic one(s).  Very common among the various schools of this type is the recourse at this point of the argument to some conception of the historical process as counterpart to the naturalistic process, although this approach is by no means the only one utilized (as can be seen by the cases of Dewey, Nietzsche, and Husserl, for example).

(3) With regard to the moral question, of central significance to the group as a whole, the response tends to concentrate on the requirement of an individual freely and knowingly giving himself to active and efficacious participation in that process said to be ultimately meaningful.  Powerlessness is then generally as much a matter of reproach as slavishness or irrelevance.  Integrity, responsibility, and authenticity are common terms here.

(4) The process in which the individual is called upon to participate is normally envisioned as in some sense communal; the whole argument at this point commonly but not invariably involves an attack on factors said to inhibit such participation, and turns to a social application of its main concepts, with a view to overcoming such inhibitions.  The attack on society as conducive to “aliena-


tion,” as antithetical to the activity of an authentic man is a familiar, common, and typical approach.

(5) The political problem has been the most difficult for this style of thought.  With a few important exceptions - like John Stuart Mill, John Dewey, and Leon Trotsky - representative thinkers have tended to slight it, either because they believed that their approach to the social issues obviates the political ones, or simply because they did not recognize its importance at all.  It also happens, as in the case of Mannheim himself, that a whole career reveals a search for political education.  But when there is political theory, it involves a reconstruing or reconstructing of the political so as to put it in the service of the process considered decisive.  All but inevitably there appears some conception of a rational will as master of the power involved in the political process, and the rationality in question has been, of course, that special “higher” one referred to above.

It is a little dangerous to attach the label “moral-philosophic” to this particular style of thought because the term is used in a far more limited sense in most analytic dissections of philosophy as a discipline.  Yet there is, first, good historical authority for proceeding in this way.  The label “moral philosophy,” like that of political economy, came in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century to be quite identified with the Scottish school, whose textbooks introduced the whole range of issues to schoolboys and students for almost a century.  Second, the label reminds practitioners of the many disciplines generally conceded to be offsprings from the historic moral philosophy (like sociology, economics, psychology, political science, esthetics, and so on) of the energies which served as animating impulses for the disciplines and whose force may still be operating secretly in unexamined concepts and tacit assumptions.  But it is the third reason for retaining this old name which is the decisive one.  At the core of all writings within the style stands the moral problem, in the narrow sense (however it may be disguised).  Epistemology and metaphysics and logic, then, are characteristically subordinated to a moral search, and the issues listed under (3) above and their answers integrate the work of a writer in this tradition.  Typically he proceeds on the basis of some peculiar variation of the old Socratic formula: “if I know who I am, what it means to be who I am, I shall know what I must do.”


II - Orientation

This last pattern is particularly clear in the work of Mannheim (as has already been stressed by Wolff), [8] through all phases of his intellectual development.  From his juvenile lecture, published in 1917 under the title Soul and Culture, to his very last English writings, the basic objective was to secure orientation through gaining an awareness of vocation or destiny.  In the works of his youth, the self whose mission had to be explicated was imagined to be the member of a cultural generation, an expression of the spirit in his time; in the later years, the guiding conception was that of adviser to a ruling elite, a scientific policy-planner; but in the most productive central years, during his fourteen years of activity in Germany, Mannheim portrayed the self to be understood as bearer of an identity and role socially defined, although the characteristic activity whose meaning was to be explicated remained, as in his youth, the activity of the knowing and judging spirit.  Sociology of knowledge was to be the technique for discovering what it means to be an intellectual; it was to provide a moral and practical orientation.

This aspect of Mannheim’s thought is clearly apparent in his well-known works, particularly in Ideology and Utopia, where the occasion for the work is said to be the disorientation of intellectual life and its objective, the securing of orientation.  In a whole series of essays prepared at the height of his career, during the late twenties and early thirties, the theme of orientation plays a central role, as it did in the lectures delivered at Frankfurt during 1931 and 1932. [9]  More revealing, however, are Mannheim’s earliest writings, where he first turns to culture and the sociology of culture, because in these the whole complex of concerns is expressly spelled out.  In the present essay, the formative principles of Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge will be examined in a group of writings which

8. See Wolff, “Sociology of Knowledge.”

9. See, especially, “Zur Problematik der Soziologie in Deutschland,” in Karl Mannheim, Wissenssoziologie, 614-24; “Competition as a Cultural Phenomenon,” in Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge (London, 1952), 191 ff.; Die Gegenwartsaufgaben der Soziologie (Tubingen, 1932), especially 22-27; “De Sociologie der Intelektuellen,” Amsterdamsch Studenten Weekblad. Propria Cures, XLIV (Oct. 29, 1932), No. 7, pp. 87-91.  The lecture notes are in the Keele collection.


have not been available to English-speaking scholars (and two of which do not appear to be known at all).  There follows, then, a brief discussion of a paper Karl Mannheim wrote in 1917, “Soul and Culture,” under the influence of George Lukacs and George Simmel, in which he refers the basic problems of the moral-philosophic syndrome to the theme of “renovation of culture,” seeing in the cultural process itself the center of meaning; then a consideration of an early German essay by Mannheim, written in 1922 when he was striving earnestly to make his own the major tendencies of contemporary German philosophy, “Concerning the Peculiarity of Cultural-Sociological Cognition,” in which Mannheim is primarily concerned to defend the moral-philosophic enterprise against the threat he believes posed by “Marxism”; next a side-look at a work of decisive importance for Mannheim’s development, George Lukacs’ History and Class-Consciousness, for its influential argument that the cultural “solution” of the moral-philosophic problems presupposes a social frame of reference and action, and for its provision of such a framework; and finally a return to Mannheim, for the highly interesting unpublished work probably written in 1924 under the immediate impact of History and Class-Consciousness, “A Sociological Theory of Culture and its Knowability,” where the basic rationale for sociology of culture (and sociology of knowledge within it) as the decisive approach to coping with the characteristic dilemmas of the moral-philosophic syndrome is most clearly put forth. [10]

III – The Cultural Sphere

The general proposition that the sphere within which the antinomies of the moral-philosophic style of thought must be overcome is the cultural is already implicit in Rousseau’s critique of the quality of life in modern society, but it first gets careful development in Schiller’s very interesting essays Concerning the Aesthetic Ed-

10. It should perhaps be emphasized that this stress on unpublished works is not intended to create any sort of mystery about Mannheim.  His published works of the time were more polished and “professional” and therefore more modest in aspiration.  He took greater intellectual risks in the essays written for self-clarification and these are, accordingly, more self-revealing.  The present purpose places special premium on these qualities.  In other contexts, greater attention would naturally be paid his finished productions.


ucation of Man (1795).  This is not the place to discuss this effort nor the subsequent story of the “culturist” stream within the moral-philosophic tradition, as it moves through diverse “Romantic” writers and over the Nietzschean cataract.  At the beginning of the present century the diagnosis of a crisis in culture, as a way of putting the concerns which had already animated Ferguson and his generation, enjoyed considerable vogue, particularly in central Europe; and one important sign of this was the widespread insistence on the separateness of humanistic or cultural studies from the natural sciences as well as from the positivistic social science which prided itself on its naturalism.  Late in the First World War a group of young Budapest intellectuals organized a lecture series and study group called “Free School for Humanistic Studies.”  They published, as program statement, the text of a lecture by Karl Mannheim (then twenty-four years old), called Lelek es Kultura (“Soul and Culture”). [11]

According to the introductory statement, two characteristics distinguish this lecture series.  First, it rejects all popularization and is addressed only to “those who no longer need the primer-knowledge of lectures which are eternally nothing more than introductory” (p. 29).  Secondly, the lectures “want to propagate the world-view of the new spirituality and idealism,” to express the point of view which “speaks of the importance of the problem of transcendence, as against the materialism which is already receding into the past, of the univocal validity of principles, as against relativistic impressionism, of the pathos of normative ethics, as against an anarchic world-view” (p. 30).  These two characteristics are bridged, at least in part, by the basic function of the series itself.

11. Karoly Mannhaim, Lelek es Kultura. Programmeloadas a II szemeszter menvitase alkalmabol tatotta (Budapest, 1918).  The existence of the pamphlet was first called to the attention of the author by Dr. Zoltan Horvath; a transcript of the rare Hungarian text was made available by Dr. Jozsef Szigeti, director of the Philosophical Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Felicitas Goodman prepared an English translation under a grant from the Graduate School of the Ohio State University.  The material was put at the disposal of Kurt H. Wolff, who has now included a German translation in Karl Mannheim, Wissenssoziologie.  For detailed examination of “culturism” in the careers of Mannheim and Georg Lukacs between 1917 and 1919, see David Kettler, Marxismus und Kultur (Neuwied, 1966).  The following summary of “Soul and Culture” is taken from that text.  Numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in the original pamphlet.


It is premised on the assumption that the viewpoint to be propagated is actually coming to the fore: it is a “time of intellectual rebirth”; “the culture of Europe is turning, after the Positivism of the nineteenth century, once again towards metaphysical idealism”; “it is a matter not simply of new knowledge, but of a new culture” (p. 30).  And this new culture, or culture renewed after the eclipse of the positivist era, is being carried by “the type of European who is now in the making.”  The lecture series is addressed to the present and potential representatives of that type in Hungary; “The lectures are to help them find themselves and gather strength out of the consciousness of a new generation-community” (p. 30).  There is, then, no occasion to seek out a mass audience in order to propagate the group’s views; the point is to bring to consciousness those already entrusted with the mission of carrying through the renovation of culture.

Mannheim’s ambitious lecture seeks to give a more comprehensive account of this position, and particularly of its diagnosis of the situation.  He begins with two efforts at self-characterization which he himself terms inadequate, but which are very interesting from the standpoint of the history of ideas: a listing of individuals and movements to which the group feels affinity, and a catalogue of basic principles.  In his first list, he opens with Dostoevski, “one with us in world-view and sense of life” and Kierkegaard, “with the same ethical convictions as we”; he then mentions several neo-Kantian philosophers, refers to Paul Ernst and Alois Riegl as sources for “our aesthetic views,” and concludes “that in our artistic culture we could well use as our slogan Cezanne, the new French lyric poetry - especially the movement of the Nouvelle Revue Française – and… Bela Bartok or Andreas Ady… and the Thalia theater movement” (p. 7).  “Naturalism and impressionism in art,” as well as “Marxism in sociology,” he lists as movements which have been “factors in our own development” and which have now been Outgrown, “although we don’t want to forget what they taught us” (p. 7).  Others mentioned favorably in the course of the lecture were Simmel - of particular importance to Mannheim, who had studied with him in Berlin from 1912 to 1913 - Kant, and Meister Eckhardt.  The image evoked by all of these name-slogans is strengthened by Mannheim’s reformulation of the school’s principles: “Our ethical and aesthetic convictions are marked by a cer-


tain normativism, which is not, however, bound to rules in an academic manner; our world-view is characterized by an idealism which strives towards metaphysics but could not be further from that forced and strained idealism of doctrinal religions” (pp. 7-8).

Turning from these general slogans and themes, Mannheim contends that the underlying unity of the group can best be comprehended as a shared perspective toward culture.  Culture, according to Mannheim, must be seen from two sides, “subjective” and “objective”: subjective culture is the activity of the soul, “striving to arrive at itself through a medium which is alien to it” (p. 10).  Objective culture is “all the concrete manifestations of the spirit, as transmitted… in the course of historical development as a human inheritance” (p. 9).  Except for a few chosen ones with special mystical gifts, the soul cannot attain fulfillment except through the medium of some “work” (Mannheim uses the German word Werk, in a sense taken over from the mystics), and all reliance on these externals tends to build up an ever widening gap between the subjective and objective dimensions of culture.  This, according to Mannheim, is the tragedy of all culture.  Objective culture, the accumulation of “works” past and present, of necessity becomes increasingly autonomous, increasingly independent of the experiences of human souls.

The tragedy of human culture derives from several paradoxical attributes of the cultural act, Mannheim contends.  To bring order to the inchoate experiences of the soul, the act of creating a “work” necessarily involves submission to the laws inherent in some medium; but these laws also introduce into the cultural act an element alien to its source in the soul.  Moreover, the “work” enables the soul to communicate with other souls because its very composition is social; but precisely this “socialness” also brings culture under the sway of all the heterogeneous forces which shape history.  Then, too, the “work” of one individual can live and can be extended beyond his short lifetime, but the qualities which make this possible also make possible the perpetuation of techniques when all significance has died.  Culture tends toward “mis-development,” toward “inauthenticity” (pp. 11-15).

In Mannheim’s account, this tendency is said to be distributed more or less evenly over all aspects of a given cultural community, so that it is possible to speak of historical periods marked by one


or another stage of the development.  Following the pattern of the Comtean scheme, Mannheim depicts three historical stages, each corresponding to a distinctive “intentioning” (a concept borrowed from German art-history) or focus characteristic of man: first, there are religious cultures, when the soul is addressed directly to the “primeval facts,” when “the creator is above all taken up with the soul, which cannot be comprehended but is nevertheless present” (p. 18); then come artistic cultures, when man’s efforts are applied to “the best and most complete working of the material” (p. 18); finally comes the culture which is esthetic and critical, and at this time “the feeling of estrangement” becomes strong, “the discrepancy between forms and substances becomes increasingly clear” (p. 19), and, while the creative artist becomes impotent, the critic flourishes.

Not surprisingly, it is Mannheim’s contention that the culture of his time had arrived at a critical moment of this last stage.  This is a very bad condition, because “an aesthetic culture… directs man exclusively to this one special capacity (i.e., the capacity to appreciate form as such) to the detriment of his other capabilities and of man’s directedness towards life” (p. 21).  Culture then becomes a golem, taking on a life of its own which dominates man; it has “no more relation to the soul than has a parasite to its host” (p. 15); and man is condemned “always to feel that the content being confronted is alien and not identical with oneself, always wanting to place oneself outside of this content and outside of oneself, because one is incapable of a decisive choice of viewpoint” (p. 17).  But, as is characteristic of all crises, the moment also promises a vital turning-point: “this alienation becomes visible for the individual when here and there the soul is already being shaken by new experiences, the primeval facts of the soul.  Only then does it become clear that the old contents are no longer immediately relevant and that the old forms are alien to us.  We feel that at the present time we are living in such an epoch...; although the new contents which appear on the horizon are not as yet formulated, their lightning-like immediacy makes obsolete much that is old” (p. 16).  Mannheim’s generation can lead the way to the new culture: “Even if it is never given unto us to see the new contents in the light of a new form, we are confident that we shall have accomplished something if we prepare the way for that new culture


for which we so yearn, by as complete an understanding of the old one as possible” (p. 27).

Like the group in its general proclamation, Mannheim emphasizes repeatedly that it is precisely his generation, “woven together by a common development and a shared sense of life” (p. 6), which can fulfill the promise implicit in the cultural crisis.  The group must heed the “signal of the renewal of culture” (p. 27), become fully conscious of itself and of its mission, and - by so doing - transform its relationship to culture and thus the culture itself.  The historical injunction of the moment must be heeded; efforts in the direction of new forms, new creativity, however audacious, cannot transform the situation.  The generation must prepare the way by performing the task of criticism assigned to it.

The structure of this argument - diagnosis of a crisis, with its implicit threat and promise, produced by necessary historical forces, the renovating mission of a group needing to become conscious of itself, and the requirement that the group carry out the dictates of the historical moment without attempting to anticipate the future development - is characteristic of all future work by Mannheim, and it is also familiar because it corresponds in form so closely to the profound and now widely accepted interpretation of Marx developed in the early twenties above all by Lukacs, who was at that time Mannheim’s mentor and leader of the group around the Free School for Humanistic Studies, although in no way yet a professed Marxist.  In Mannheim’s talk, then, existing culture is condemned as empty of the spiritual qualities which give culture its value, but there are no express references in the essay to social and political conditions, except insofar as social or political institutions might be considered aspects of culture.  There is much of Simmel here; but there is also a quiet confidence which differs markedly from Simmel’s resignation.  Mannheim offered himself as spokesman for a “generation” which was not content with solving the social and political “problems” defined by some social-scientific approach.  This generation, through the renovation of culture, would reaffirm the dignity of the human spirit; in a very important sense, in this view, it would contribute to the salvation of the human soul.

In summary, it may be well - even at the risk of some excessive schematizing - to spell out explicitly the connection between


Mannheim’s approach, at the time of “Soul and Culture,” and the characteristic preoccupations of the moral-philosophic style of thought:

(1) The authentic mode of participating in culture and ultimately of knowing one’s soul is clearly as valid a mode of “knowing,” of apprehending reality, as is natural science in its proper and restricted sphere.

(2) The sphere of the soul and its manifestation in culture has highest ontological reality.

(3) The renovation of culture clearly implies and has as ultimate object the renovation of the individual, and participation in this mission is self-evidently rewarding.

(4) The whole fate of the enterprise turns on a process involving the whole community, although this historical development has no significance apart from its cultural meaning.  The “generation” which Mannheim sees as cultural renovator happens at the moment of his talk to be slaughtering itself by the hundreds of thousands, a fact never even hinted at in the whole of the lecture.  Cultural renovation gives social happenings whatever meaning they have.

IV – The Challenge

In “Soul and Culture,” then, Mannheim quite categorically excluded the aid of sociological instruments for understanding Culture.  Marx is thanked for having pointed the way to the problem of relating cultural happenings and artifacts of a given moment to some deeper underlying stratum, but this stratum is seen to be the process of culture evolution itself, not social or economic development.  It is accordingly necessary to account for the fact that Mannheim devoted his first effort at a book-length study after he found refuge in Germany to the problems of sociology of culture. [12]  Partly this was personal and accidental; he had been greatly impressed by Simmel before the war and was now working closely with Alfred Weber, who was interested in this theme.  But two additional elements are crucial here: (i) A defense of the intrinsic worth of culture against what was felt to be a challenge

12. “Uber die Eigenart kultursoziologischer Erkenntnis” (“On the Characteristics of Knowledge in Sociology of Culture”).  Numbers in parentheses refer to page numbers in this manuscript.


from Marxism.  It is characteristic of the moral-philosophic style of thought to seek comprehensiveness; it respects all ongoing intellectual enterprises.  The Marxist “sociological” interpretation of cultural. phenomena, in the form of ideology-studies, was clearly going on and saying something.  The challenge, as Mannheim perceived it, was to delimit what it could be saying, without pretending that it did not exist or was altogether meaningless. (2) A defense of the integrity of the individual’s cultural experience against the relativizing impact of historicism and analyses of Weltanschauungen.  To Mannheim there appeared to be a serious question whether an authentic individual experience was at all possible or whether all experiences which seemed to be such were nothing more than passive involvements in some collective act, over which the individual has no control.

The response was a conception of sociology of culture which affirmed it as a possible mode of interpreting culture, but denied it all impact on the validity or value of any cultural product.  Sociological interpretation, according to Mannheim, sees cultural objects in functional relationship to socio-economic processes, a relationship mediated through the study of Weltanschauungen (as initiated by Dilthey).  Thus there may be a way of looking at things, a habit of mind, a conception of the kind of thing that is important or interesting, which is common to performance of certain functions within a certain social and economic system and to the creation of a certain cultural object.  We can then say, Mannheim argues, that the one corresponds in some sense to the other, but this clearly is no genetic statement in the causal sense, nor does it affect the claim of the cultural object to be good, true, or beautiful.  This whole way of looking at things, this sociology of culture itself is, Mannheim goes on - echoing the general attitude of “Soul and Culture” - a sort of decadence-appearance, a function of the fact that we have no immediate and vital relationship to culture and are therefore always looking at its forms and structures.  Sociology of culture in this essay is presented as a crippled way of relating to culture in a crippled age; the major consolation is that it manifestly does not penetrate very deeply into its object.  Thus we can see that being human is not totally dependent on social and cultural conditions; it is possible to be man alone. [13]

13. In this section Mannheim is strongly influenced, as he acknowledges, by the phenomenological school.


“Is there a path of aloneness,” he asks, “are there spheres within us which according to their very essence must remain alone?  Does the historical-social process change anything about the destiny of being human?” (p. 156).  Historicism has loosened the sense of established order; we believe that everything could have been and has been different.  Although at first only external structures are viewed historically, in time the feeling of historical determination comes to apply to everything; “our entire ego is sacrificed, we seem as if we were suspended above ourselves.”  But the sailor, the historian, and the pure sociologist of culture (with whom Mannheim is at this point identifying himself) act out of the same impulse.  They have all three found a way

to take leave of oneself, to separate the social and historical ego from the substantial one, and to experience our being human in general, purely as such.  And just as the original empirical-historical homelessness (of sailor, historian and sociologist), which at first led us to wander through cultural and historical epochs and areas, became transformed into the deliberate homelessness of our humanity, so the most hardheaded structural analysis of social consciousness transcends itself, attaining to new substantive insights, until finally, at the last point at which we can stand, it reaches a sociological cogito ergo sum, it arrives at something which we cannot doubt any further” (p. 157).

As the conclusion of this passage shows, the rather bleak and ascetic mood was not upon Mannheim long, and faith in the essentially beneficent character of process (still understood as in “Soul and Culture”) continues to play a part even during this time. [14]  What is particularly important about this phase for present purposes is that Mannheim here accepts pretty completely the neo-Kantian position on the question of validity and rejects the “genetic fallacy” quite as sweepingly as, say, Karl Popper.  If Mannheim subsequently again reversed his position, it was not because he had never heard of this alternative.  In essence, then, on this crucial question Mannheim here accepted the view of sociology of culture generally identified with Max Scheler and with later positivist schools of sociology.  Nevertheless, as shown, his encounter with the discipline is charged with moral-philosophic significance.  The

14. Published work deriving from this period are the essays on “The Ideological and Sociological Interpretation of Intellectual Phenomena” and “On the Interpretation of Weltanschauung” and “Historicism,” in Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge, 33-133.


integrity of cultural activity as the activity of highest value has presumably been preserved.  This work, then, must be seen as supplementary to the broad position set forth in the earlier essay.  The decisive shock came from the work of the man whose inspiration had also governed this first stage of Mannheim’s development.


V - George Lukacs

How George Lukacs moved from mentor of the esthetic avant garde of Budapest to acting commissar of culture in the Bela Kun regime and to German Communist party spokesman on cultural affairs is itself a highly instructive story. [15]  But present concern is with the bearing of the collection of essays he published in 1923 under the title “History and Class-Consciousness” [16] upon Mannheim’s development of sociology of culture, in particular sociology of knowledge, as the discipline central to the encounter with the problems of moral philosophy.  Lukacs’ own work does not, of course, propose such a course; it purports to treat sociology of culture as an almost incidental by-product of a revolutionary social theory.  But Lukacs raises to central importance within his theory (or his interpretation of Marx’s theory) precisely the most important of those contents which had formerly been comprehended under the rubric of culture, and he argues in a manner which someone like Mannheim cannot ignore that exactly the social function of those contents is their meaning, is the most important thing about them, and that any “renovation of culture” can only be a by-product of a social revolution produced not by the immanent laws of cultural development but by a distinctly social process.  A detailed examination of this argument is matter for another occasion; for the present it will suffice to order the main points within the general framework of the moral-philosophic syndrome.

(i) Lukacs offers dialectical thinking as the ultimately valid way to participate in truth.  This is a way of thinking which strives toward a total view, rejecting division of knowledge among distinctive ontological spheres, each having a type of science peculiar to it.  The appearance of distinct spheres and distinct sciences is itself a matter capable of being interpreted from the standpoint of

15. See Kettler, Marxismus und Kultur.

16. George Lukacs, Geschichte und Klassenbewusstsein (Berlin, 1923).


the most comprehensive view.  Reality must be examined, then, according to Lukacs’ view, as being integrated according to a principle which tolerates “contradictions” or conflict, even while it develops constantly toward resolution of those conflicts and contradictions.  On such a view, Lukacs stresses, concepts must necessarily be imprecisely defined, because their full meaning can only be explicated in the course of a discussion; and the facts must be related to a process whose total meaning is unlikely to be fully revealed by the state of the facts at any given moment.  Dialectics, then, is characterized as the theoretical counterpart of a purposeful practical actor who knows who he is and consequently what he is called upon to do, in a situation ripe for his task.  Key terms are words like “diagnosis” and “consciousness” and “calling” (in the sense of “vocation”).  Strictly speaking, dialectics is for Lukacs not a method of thought alone, but a practical mode of relating to reality and thus acting to change it. [17]   Physical science, and social science patterned upon it, can, according to Lukacs, describe some factual interconnection or other, necessary in the external world but only peripherally meaningful to man, and necessary in the social world only insofar as men do not in practice change the power which sustains any given constellation of factors.  Moral science in the sense of the old moral philosophy or Kantian ethics can construct some ethical utopia, but cannot show how the being inhabiting the world of necessary causal laws of physical science could possibly conform to these norms.  Dialectical thinking supercedes this incoherence.  It is only available, however, from the practical and activist standpoint of the actor whose time has in reality come - for Lukacs, the revolutionary proletariat whose mission it is to destroy the capitalist order.  Without this directional energy and situational opportunity, in his view, dialectics becomes just another formula offering some rhythmic fiction about the development of reality.

(2) The comprehensible, becoming reality in which practical man participates, has at its bitter core the questions of existence and power, about which the life of mankind has turned, but it has as its fruit a rich, authentic culture.  The question of existence and

17. Compare John Ladd, “The Place of Practical Reason in Judicial Decision-Making,” in Carl J. Friedrich (ed), Rational Decision (New York, 1964), 120 ff.


reality must provide the frame of reference for discussion and action, but the whole is given meaning in its fullest sense only by the emancipation of man’s humanity.  History, then, must be seen as a meaningful story in which development from one social-economic epoch to another through the conflict of classes provides the basic plot.  But the plot is not the value or the point of the story, nor does capacity to define the present situation in terms of that plot enable one to prophecy what must happen next.  As the story moves to its climax, the machinery ceases to function, according to Lukacs, and the characters must take over.

(3) Practical action toward the revolutionary transformation of the social and economic order, then, is neither a matter of class reflex nor base pursuit of mean interest.  It is morally free commitment to a mission in behalf of the highest human good; it is heeding a call.  In contrast, and this is vehemently pressed by Lukacs, to refuse this commitment is to be constrained ever more to moral emptiness and dishonesty.  Wisdom and virtue are again, as in Plato, combined: wisdom involves knowing and being who you are, and this involves self-transforming action.

(4) And the arena for action is the society in change within which we live, while the character of action is participation in the process of social revolution.  Lukacs concentrates his diagnosis and indictment of bourgeois society on the phenomenon of “reification,” the transformation of human needs, activities, and relations into measurable, interchangeable, standardized, saleable things.  The process which leads to reification is often called alienation, but in these essays Lukacs is more disposed to trace the dimensions of the reified condition than to explore the processes by which it comes about.  Every aspect of bourgeois society, from the basic exchange of commodities and the labor market to the character of science itself, is marked by this condition, according to Lukacs.  Men limit their vision to the calculable and serve to perpetuate a world in which the incalculable, the creative and free, are forcibly repressed; men break down creative work into component processes having no coherent connection with some human need or objective; men look to some functional norm to direct them into a given course of action and refuse to face themselves in freedom; men hypostatize “rational,” formal-mathematical knowledge and fail to examine the qualitative irrationalities which underpin its


sway.  Men look to “natural laws” and “facts” and ignore that laws rest on force which can be counteracted and that facts can be changed.  Such a condition is not the result, in Lukacs’ view, of simple moral delinquency, nor can it be changed by firm resolution alone.

Reification is a pattern of relationships implicit in a set of economic and social arrangements in which powerful men have powerful stakes and within which we are all caught up.  The capacity to see this and to change it (and the two are intertwined) is reserved to those associated with the class in society which is least caught up in the pattern (only the worker’s labor is for sale - not his soul, as with journalists and professors) and has the capacity to envision and carry through an alternate pattern of social organization.  Thus social revolution is the indispensable prerequisite for any cultural or moral renovation.  If the proletariat surrenders to false consciousness and accepts the political or other rules of the game of the existing order, then the dehumanizing process will intensify.  The symptoms of reification no longer have for Lukacs the kind of esthetic charm which his former teacher Georg Simmel saw in a decadent culture, or which he himself, in his earlier writings, had discerned in an esthetic culture.  They are of interest only as symptoms; the cultural products of value are those produced by bourgeois culture at its full vitality, before it was forced to lie or to squirm with self-doubt.

There are many things about this argument which merit discussion, but for the present what is decisive is that Lukacs undertook to explode the barrier between the social function and intrinsic value of cultural products which writers like Mannheim had carefully maintained, and he did so in terms likely to be authoritative or at least persuasive for Mannheim; Lukacs denied the relevance and potency of any effort to secure orientation by reference to the ultimate value of the cultural process alone.  He argued that a healthy culture presupposes a healthy society, and that an adequate interpretation of the meaning of a cultural work or a satisfactory diagnosis of the cultural condition require a committed and practical putting-to-the-question of the social process as a whole.  A dissonant and dishonest culture, then, cannot be the authentic expression of the human soul; a soul led to inhibit its own characteristic expressions cannot create a human culture.  And,


according to Lukacs, the dissonances, dishonesties, and inhibitions which cripple culture are functions of social processes.

VI – Communicative & Conjunctive Knowledge

In 1924 Mannheim completed about two hundred pages of a new systematic treatise which he called “A Sociological Theory of Culture and of Its Knowability. Conjunctive and Communicative Thought.” [18]  Like its predecessor of two years earlier, the work clearly arose out of Mannheim’s experience in the seminar of Alfred Weber and of his emerging interest in the lectures of Heidegger and the writings of Husserl.  In addition, however, it represents Mannheim’s effort to meet the challenge of Lukacs’ “History and Class-Consciousness.” [19]  While in the earlier work Mannheim felt free, as already noted, to draw a radical division between the academic activities of exploring ties between social happenings and intellectual events, on the one hand, and the activity of assessing value or validity, on the other, now Mannheim had clearly become much less certain of this distinction.  Most disturbing to him, it seems, was a growing doubt whether a neo-Kantian dualism or phenomenological pluralism could be sustained, a growing conviction that all modes of knowing are functions of a historically changing societal subject within the knower.  Now this issue had already been radically posed for Mannheim by the historicist writers (above all, Dilthey) with whom he was familiar, but it was the influence of Lukacs (and probably also the work of Ernst Troeltsch) that led him to raise the issue to central and comprehensive importance - not least, it would appear, because Lukacs suggested to him a way in which the full weight of the seemingly relativistic critique of knowledge could be borne without giving up fundamental moral and ethical aspirations.  Mannheim never

18. Mannheim, “Eine soziologische Theorie der Kultur und ihrer Erkenbarkeit.”

19. On this matter, the weighty advice of Arnold Hauser counsels against ascribing this effect to Lukacs’ Marxist essays.  Still, the evidence appears too strong; the sweeping rejection of Marxism, which had played so important a part in essays before this is here replaced by the effort to comprehend and integrate it within a broader context, and always at the key point the reference is to Lukacs.  The intent and thrust of the argument is still, to be sure, anti-Marxist, but Mannheim’s stance has nevertheless changed.  After 1923, and at least until 1930, Mannheim no longer claimed a confident superiority to Marxism.


accepted Lukacs’ faith in the Communist party as concrete manifestation of the proletarian class-consciousness, and he never even really accepted the Marxist account of the proletarian mission; but he did take over and adapt once more the conception of a group-mission founded on a group self-consciousness as the functional equivalent for a relativism-defying absolute norm.  In this essay, then, begins Mannheim’s striving for the utopia of a genuine synthesis among all the diverse intellectual currents of which he was aware.  And it is the experience of carrying on sociology of knowledge which is supposed to create the newly self-conscious intellectual who will be able to know and to judge.

Mannheim distinguishes between two spheres of intellectual activity, the communicative and the conjunctive.  The former is the area of general scientific explanation; the latter is the realm of the interpretation of meanings.  Corresponding to this distinction is that between erklären and verstehen, as well as that between Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften.  Working out these distinctions occupies most of the manuscript, and eventuates in the general contention that adequacy in the sphere of conjunctive knowledge cannot be measured by the standards of the communicative, but that adequacy here is of far greater intrinsic importance to the life of man than is any verifiable precision in scientific endeavors (narrowly understood).  The measure of adequacy, according to Mannheim, is defined by the historical variability of the context of meanings, in the first place, and, secondly, by the diversity of perspectives within a given context.  This pattern of definition he calls “perspectivism.”  Moreover, an adequate conjunctive understanding can only be conveyed to others within a given conjunctive community; outsiders cannot comprehend it.  Conjunctive thinking does not abide by what Mannheim now calls the special and historically peculiar prejudices of communicative thinking and of its special form, the natural sciences.  Thus, according to Mannheim, conjunctive thinking concentrates on the comprehension of a life filled with meanings, not the comprehension of things; it is better understood by Aristotelianism, medieval thought, and the Romantic consciousness, than by Descartes and his followers; it views the world quite unashamedly as anthropomorphic, and not as a sum of masses and forces; it rejects the ideal of translating everything into quantity and of screening


out everything peculiarly human as well as all insights limited to particular individuals or groups; it acts out of concrete situations, provides orientation for practice, and is not limited to the search for the universally valid, the calculable portions of reality.  In its method, according to Mannheim, the conjunctive cultural sphere of thought proceeds through “Einheitsschau,” not analysis and dissection; in its concepts, it must use “naming” or “describing” terms whose full range of meanings can first become clear in the course of their use and which can in any case only be properly understood by those who share in the community.  Precise, rigorously defined concepts are simply inapplicable here.

Mannheim characterizes the differing realms of application for the two types of thought in various ways.  First, in terms of technical disciplines, he identifies, as already noted, the communicative with the natural sciences and the conjunctive with the cultural sciences.  While it is possible, in his view, to treat certain aspects of the cultural sphere (or spiritual sphere) with natural-scientific means, this does not get to the meaningful dimensions of those happenings.  Second, he distinguishes the two areas by the differing uses to which understanding is being put: in the conjunctive sphere, man seeks orientation, he must know what to do; in the communicative, he seeks to use nature as mere instrument.  Third, and this is the argument taken over from and expressly credited to Lukacs, he ascribes the rise of the communicative habit of thought to the rise of the bourgeoisie and the general condition of bourgeois society; from the standpoint of that class and under the conditions of that social order, men are transformed into priceable commodities, relationships are reified into inhuman, abstract, precisely calculable interactions.  Conjunctive thought, then, is borne by the anti-capitalist classes, first, only by those identified with earlier epochs (and this is expressed, according to Mannheim, in movements like Romanticism and nationalism), but then also blended with the modernism of the new anti-capitalist class, the revolutionary proletariat, into a genuine dialectical synthesis.  This last full acceptance of Lukacs’ version of the argument, however, is rapidly qualified, if not altogether put aside by Mannheim, who turns instead to Tönnies, Alfred Weber, and perhaps even Othmar Spann for help.  Fourth, then, the conjunctive is the sphere of “real life,” of the irrational, emotional life of communities, of the every-


day substratum underneath the formal, contractual, societal veneer.  In any case, the basic point, of course, is that Mannheim has denied the normative authority of those scientific and philosophic criteria which he identifies with the communicative sphere, or, more accurately, he has grudgingly granted their sway over a small portion of intellectual activity.  Conjunctive thought, he maintains, must be subjected to altogether different controls.

Mannheim accepts and in fact strongly argues the position that the intellectual rehabilitation of the conjunctive sphere signifies a return to the search for metaphysics and objectively valid ethics.  But he denies that it justifies a “leap” to some metaphysical or ethical system conjured up by the theorist - whether in the form of some timeless absolutes or philosophy of history - or simply taken over from the past. [20]  The basic control which must be applied to disciplined conjunctive thought is authenticity, and this demands that the search for the new comprehensive philosophy be carried on through modes expressive of the present dilemma of thought.  The present is a critical epoch, not a religiously constructive one.  An authentic response will take into account that it is an age when an examination like Mannheim’s own becomes possible, when intellectual approaches are relativized and “appreciated,” instead of being accepted or rejected, when there is self-doubt.  To meet the challenge, it is necessary to pursue historical-sociological researches, secure in the expectation that out of them, within them, there will spontaneously arise a “metaphysic of history” which cannot be “schemed out” beforehand (p. 36).  “The problem of relativism, as it has come to be a question of life or death for us,” he writes, “can only be overcome if we make it into the axis, the point of departure for theory, and only ask afterward how it could be overcome at the stage at which we encounter it” (p. 47) . The intellectual mission of intellectuals, if they are true to their mission at this time and place, will in itself lead to their self-transformation, their coming to a new consciousness, and will thus decisively transform the situation.  The task is to comprehend

20. In an aside which applies also to latter-day disciples of the phenomenological sects which flourished in his time, Mannheim gibed: “They falsify too little to produce anything really creatively new, free to our present-day tensions, and they falsify too much to serve fruitfully at least as historians.” “A Sociological Theory of Culture and of Its Knowability,” 34.


and thus to shape the aspirations of the next epoch in world history.  The sociological interpretation of conjunctive knowledge is the conjunctively appropriate route to self-discovery; it defines the adequate relationship between the intellectual and the situation in which he must act and judge and choose, and it does so in two senses: first, as itself an appropriate activity for an intellectual in this time, and, second, as a way out of the time, spontaneously creating a new world-view and a new outlook.

The essay goes on to attempt a more detailed account of conjunctive knowledge and of the possibility of communicative knowledge, but it is not necessary to pursue the argument further at this time.  Enough has been shown to make it clear that at least Mannheim’s turn to the sociology of knowledge was animated by the kinds of concerns which have been here combined under the label, “moral-philosophic syndrome.”  Such concerns, it appears, continue to animate Mannheim’s work throughout his career, although they are not always explicitly avowed.  The solution (or quasi-solution) for key problems described above is tacitly assumed in a work like Ideology and Utopia.  This accounts for the lack of clarity about just what constitutes “knowledge” of the sort for which information about social genesis has a bearing on assessment; the concern throughout is with a “conjunctive” interpretation of “conjunctive” types or aspects of “knowledge.”  It accounts for Mannheim’s strenuous but unclear insistence on the difference between relativism and relationism or perspectivism; conjunctive knowledge firmly rooted in a group at a time has all the certainty and security of which it allows.  And it accounts for the frustrating lack of precision in the terms used to characterize the presumed relationships between sub- and super-structures.  The “naming” and “describing” terms of conjunctive inquiry cannot aspire to univocality; precisely the richness of their associations gives them their vitality.

VII - Justification

To account for something is not to justify it, of course.  All that has been offered so far is reason for believing that Mannheim’s work in the sociology of knowledge can best be understood on its own terms when it is viewed as part of an effort to solve, in sometimes alarmingly eclectic and sometimes ingenious but withal in


quite typical form, the characteristic dilemmas of the moral-philosophic syndrome.  What about justification?  Has all this not simply pronounced a death-sentence on Mannheim’s claim to be taken seriously by social scientists or disciplined philosophers?  I think not.

The moral-philosophic syndrome, with its conflicting aspirations and grand ambitions, has been the most provocative and productive force in the development of social and political thought of the last two centuries, at least.  And there is reason to believe that a social science which ignores these issues will exhaust itself in pursuing within ever narrower range the one all-absorbing objective of perfect rigor. [21]  The insight which Mannheim shared with many of his contemporaries remains relevant: social scientists labor under a discipline in intellectual work which increasingly prevents them from dealing with the matters which first drew them to intellectual work.  Mannheim’s most fundamental question came to be - and it does not appear to be a frivolous or boring one - whether this manifestation of alienation and reification in the intellectual sphere is not associated in some important way with comparable processes in other spheres of social life.

As it was for Mannheim, the problem remains that of finding a way of “taking seriously” the kind of enterprise characteristic of the syndrome.  The task is to build a discipline, to devise controls which will be permissive enough to foster man’s effort “‘to place himself’ in the world, to come to terms intellectually and emotionally with himself and his environment,” [22] while they are also demanding enough to distinguish between more or less “adequate” orientations.  Mannheim’s suggestion, and it is central to the emergent sociology of knowledge as interpreted here, was that a basis for an adequate perspective is clear awareness of what one is about.  Important links connect this approach with a “conservatism” like that of Michael Oakeshott; coherence and continuity are secured

21.  Stated thus generally, this sounds like the great universal lament of those who often end up as anti-scientific obscurantists.  The task is, of course, to uncover the inner connection between the lamenters and that which they lament, to gain full clarity about the situation.  C. Wright Mills laments intelligently, but fails to give substance to his concept of “Sociological Imagination.”  “Moral-philosophic syndrome,” although less exhortatory a term, seeks to give some historical specificity to the matter.

22. John Plamenatz, Man and Society (New York, 1963), I, xix.


by heeding the intimations of a role, of an activity. [23]  Of course, the activity here in question is far more “rationalist” and daring than the normal conservative imagines, and occasions may arise for hard choice among roles equally available.  But Mannheim’s celebration of the intellectual (quite apart from his later politically illiterate effort to see him as an elite) and the attempt to explicate the implications of his activity point in a still promising direction.  The present study represents an effort to explore it a little further.  Mannheim repeatedly rouses the interest of scholars; and each time they put him aside in disappointment, finding that he stands up very poorly to the criteria they attempt to apply to him, and wonder just what it was that drew their attention in the first place.  This paper has attempted some explanation for that interest, some account of the “something” that draws to him members of the conjunctive community still strongly affected by the moral-philosophic syndrome.

23. See David Kettler, “The Cheerful Discourses of Michael Oakeshott,” World Politics, XVI (1964), 483 ff.