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Journal of Philosophy of Education, Vol. 16. No.

2, 1982


P. McKenzie

George Orwell, Seeing and Saying:

a reply to Francis Dunlop

By pointing to those techniques of thought control, described in George Orwells 1984, that
constitute the very antithesis of rationality and of that which could be considered educational,
Francis Dunlop is enabled to throw into sharp relief certain views of his own about the
indispensable role of direct awareness, or intuition, in knowledge, and about the connection
between direct awareness and human dignity. Taking personal responsibility for knowledge
[l] is crucial to becoming, and being, educated; and on his view the model of rationality that
stresses, instead, an appeal to public criteria of correctness is liable to divert attention from
what truly is known, and can function as an invitation to go against our better judgement. In
mundane terms, being sold something which we afterwards realise we never did like, or
accepting current opinions when we are quite capable of seeing them to be false, might
represent this kind of failure of responsibility. The point would be that we believed we liked
the object, or believed we believed the opinions, when if we had kept our heads we could have
seen that we didnt really. The misleading public criteria here might have been general taste
and demand, or just the pressure of public opinion.
I hope such cases illustrate what Dunlop means. I believe they represent real moral and
intellectual failings to which human beings are prone, in giving up too readily their capacity
for independent judgement. I am sure such failings are widespread, and can be promoted, or
combatted, by education. And I want to stress the existence of my agreement to that extent,
because from now on I intend to disagree-with Dunlops account of direct awareness, with
his discussion of 1984, and with his general conclusions.
I shall not, then, be criticising the demand for, or disputing the desirability of, developing
independent judgement, nor shall I dispute that this aim is a highly important and a feasible
one. What I shall be doing is challenging the validity of the alternative court of appeal from
public criteria that is proposed by Dunlop: that is, the appeal to direct awareness, or to
intuition. I shall argue that these concepts are either not satisfactorily explained or, if they are,
are not satisfactory in themselves; and I shall suggest that when we engage in determining
what we really feel, or think (and I take this to be a meaningful exercise), we do not arrive at
our conclusions by the methods described by Dunlop. I shall argue further that the references
to 1984 have only limited validity because, while Orwell does employ some sort of notion


P. McKenzie

vaguely like direct awareness there is not very much similarity between his account and
Dunlops; and anyway his kind of direct awareness, in spite of some of Orwells own
protestations, provides only a part of the psychic barrier Winston Smith erects against the
reform of his thinking. The other part is provided by language and by rationality, in a way
that seems to suggest that public criteria, on one interpretation at least of the meaning of the
phrase, are precisely what are required in order to resist totalitarian pressures on thought. I
shall end, therefore, by trying to salvage what I regard as more benign and positive meanings
of the phrase from certain dogmatic usages that are presently current and that might lend
support to Dunlops criticisms.
The difficulties I see in Dunlops account of direct awareness are linked but may be
considered separately. First, I am uneasy about the concept of intuition; secondly, much of
what he says seems to fall foul of powerful arguments against private languages such as
Wittgenstein developed; and thirdly, the concessions he makes to the social origins of thought
and mind seem, taken together, virtually to surrender his case.
On the question of intuition: it seems to me that Dunlop bases upon certain necessary
truths a weight of synthetic conclusions that they cannot possibly bear. The problem might be
put in this way: we know, a priori, that in a certain sense moral questions must have moral
answers, perceptual questions, perceptual answers, aesthetic answers, and so on. And this
(necessary) truth is what makes it plausible for Dunlop to argue that value-experience . . . will
not go away [2]. For in the last analysis, value-experience and its language must, logically, be
irreducible to some other mode of experience, or of judgment; and in this sense (though in this
sense only) particular modes of encountering the world are, however connected with other
modes, somehow sui generis and ultimate. Thus, for a given question, we can say in advance
roughly what sort of form our answer must take, what kind of language it must be in, as it
were; but what we cannot say apriori is anything about the substance of the answer, within the
terms of reference already set. Thus, while we know that our results must be in a given form in
order to be correct, being correct will not follow from the fact that the result takes a certain
form. It seems to me that Dunlop argues from the formal requirement, already predetermined,
as to kind of answer, to the consequent necessary validity of the answer. It is trivially true that
moral insights must have moral expression; but this says nothing about the ways in which we
may arrive at that final expression, e.g. in many cases by largely rational and explicit means. I
do not say we always do; but I do say that Dunlops acceptance that reason-giving in moral
discussion is an essential practical adjunct to value-intuition [3] is not strong enough for
the possibility of reason-giving, in principle anyway, is presupposed almost all the way along;
and this would apply to aesthetic judgements too.
But let us suppose, what is perfectly reasonable, that there are leaps of faith, existential
choices to be made between judgments that must go beyond the evidence available. Let us
suppose that intuition guides us here, in the sense in which Polanyi uses the term, to mean
some sort of unformalisable, tacit skill or capacity for judgement. Dunlop cites Polanyi, so we
may justifiably interpret the term in this sort of way. If we do, shall we find support for the
notion that intuition provides the final court of appeal in perceptual, or value judgements? The
difficulty here is that, while Polanyi (in Personal Knowledge) undoubtedly stresses that
commitment is an inescapable component of knowing, in so doing he does not affirm that
commitment makes for truth on the contrary, it includes the possibility of error-for error
must be possible, in any non-formalisable system, and it is part of what it means to make
judgments that they could be wrong. Polanyi vividly illustrates these possibilities of error. In
Personal Knowledge he discusses cases where we discredit the irresistible testimony of our
eyes by classing something seen as an optical illusion 141. The existence of such ambiguity is a
key principle of Polanyis account; and his brand of intuitionism is concerned with showing
that we have to make commitments, rather than that the commitments will be sound ones. So

George Orwell, Seeing and Saying


once again, the onus of proof is thrown back very largely upon preceding reasoning, thinking,
feeling; in the last instance, we intuit; but only when we can do no other.
In short, while I accept Dunlops descriptions of looking [5] as valid enough in certain
respects, this looking seems to include much we might normally think of as following public
procedures or criteria; and the end result of this activity constitutes direct awareness, only in
a tautological kind of way.
On the question of privacy: Dunlop here seems to me to make the assumption, much
criticised by Wittgenstein, that we have certain ultimate data available for our private
inspection, that are somehow incorrigible; that consciousness can be peered into and certain
states and mental facts can somehow just be seen. But if we follow Wittgensteins arguments, it
seems highly improbable that we can really have private experiences of a developed kind
without the prior benefit of a public language, and of learning how to label our experiences in
this; and this fact seems to leave the nature of these experiences open to correction, in principle
at least. Wittgenstein says:
Being unable-when we surrender ourselves to philosophical thought-to help saying
such and such; being irresistibly inclined to say it-does not mean being forced into
an assumption, or having an immediate perception or knowledge of a state of affairs.
I take Wittgenstein to mean that knowing or thinking has to do with the minds participation in a situation that exists out there, objectively, in the structure of the argument itself. On
this view, the mind is not private states, but conjunctures, episodes, active occasions in which
it is caught up, but which have as one aspect, of course, the subjective experience of such
states; as, likewise, it has generative capacity to push along these episodes. We may in fact
regard ourselves, when thinking or experiencing, not as seeing something so much, as being
involved in an autonomous trajectory of meaning, or a sort of grammatical vice that insists, for
example, that we include a main verb in our sentence. To regard thinking psychologically is
to tend to miss the importance of such public engagements of mind-not in arguments
necessarily, but in the whole fabric of thought. That, anyhow, is how the working of my own
mind often seems to me-since we are invoking subjective evidence. And Dunlop concedes
something to Wittgensteins view-though not enough I believe-in his note 14.
My third objection is similar, but more broadly conceived: it seems to me that the
acknowledgements Dunlop makes of the social origins of experience and mind undermine his
own argument. He does seem to be conscious of difficulties in his position and he very
commendably tackles them head-on. He acknowledges [7], first, that we may learn at our
mothers knee the appropriate conditions for seeing; then he says that there might be
considerable variation in the way normal conditions for seeing were attended to in
doubtful cases; then he tells us that children have to learn to see (see in the cognitive, not just
the physical sense here), otherwise their seeing would remain more or less heavily distorted
by the effects of infantile fantasy. This last point so strongly suggests a normative, and social,
framework for seeing as to undermine the argument of which it is a part. But there is more:
seeing that is attended to, is seeing-as, is certainly conceptual (theory-laden I take this to
mean also); there are conventional factors involved in the very fact that Winston Smith
expresses himself in a language. Dunlop is extremely fair-minded in presenting these points,
which all militate against his case, in my view. No doubt he deals with them in the spirit of a
pre-emptive strike; unfortunately, however, my own impression is that he has scored an own
goal; for when he finally produces the conclusion, notwithstanding all he has been saying, that
a man may know such things as the number of fingers someone else is holding up without
making any reference, implicit or explicit, to the social or to socially agreed criteria, I find it
impossible to come down on Dunlops side of the argument that he has so reasonably traced.
In a similar way, he talks [8] of the indisputable fact that this life (the inner life) would hardly


P. McKenzie

develop at all, if men were not brought up in a community and taught a language. To
chance one more metaphor: in throwing a sop to Cerberus in this way, he has overlooked the
fact that the sop is attached by an unbreakable line to the rest of the case, which surely follows
For is it not almost certain that to the infant, the world is an undifferentiated, unfocussed,
ever-moving and changing manifold, in which the very concepts of an object, of self, of
continuity are absent? In this world, to which perhaps adults revert, not in dreaming but on
the boundaries of sleeping and waking, probably nothing is distinct except for certain sharp
physical sensations, and perhaps inchoate surging emotions. And somehow, we have to get
from that world to our well-differentiated adult one. How do we get from one state to the
other? Piaget has spoken of concepts normalising perception; and this seems to be so much the
usual, and obvious course of events that it is hard to see how anyone could arrive at a stable
view of the world-of there even being a world-without an immersion in social practices and,
most importantly, in language. What other kind of life could there be, that we would regard as
The above is surely the view subscribed to by Wittgenstein, in his discussion of pain
language or of the application of colour words [9]: we do not have sensations, varied pictures
in the mind which we all, independently, discover, then agree to give the same name to; on the
contrary, the existence of public terms (or actions, or cultural objects) and their correct and
incorrect usage serves, as it were, to reveal us to ourselves. And all this seems to mean that our
own values and criteria for anything are in some sense social. Of course, in the tautological
sense my values are and must be my values. But even when they are mine in the wider sense of
representing independent judgements, they are nonetheless, it seems to me, inexorably
intersubjective and just plain human rather than wholly individual in quality.
For the reasons given, then, I find Dunlops argument insufficiently convincing. It is
however very interesting in some of the issues it raises, in particular concerning the interpretation of 1984. As Dunlop says, literature may have great value in embodying features of the life
of the mind. 1984 is commonly set for study at 0level in English literature; it becomes
important therefore to understand quite what message, or aspects of mental life, it does
illustrate. Is Dunlop right in finding direct awareness in Orwells book, for example?
There is something like a theory of direct awareness to be found in 1984. Dunlops
examples partly illustrate it. I shall make three points in what follows, though: first that direct
awareness in 1984 is a much looser idea than Dunlops version; secondly, that it too is not
very satisfactory, psychologically speaking; thirdly, that it represents only a part of the defence
available to Winston Smith against Big Brother, and that not to mention the role of language
in any discussion of Orwell is to leave out something of the very greatest importance,
educational and otherwise, about his thought.
That which carries the weight of direct awareness in 1984 is actually a complex of
feelings, impulses, memories, sensations, all of which add up to a kind of underground psychic
life that Big Brother cannot quite expunge. Even characters like the ridiculously enthusiastic
Parsons commit thought crime, by muttering Down with Big Brother in their sleep. The
crucial example of this inner life is Winston Smiths commitment to Julia: he knows he will
betray her under torture; the point is, not to betray her in the sense of really ceasing to care
about her. He thinks he cannot be made to do this; in fact, we see that every last vestige of
private feeling and decency can be eliminated, and is. That is (explicitly anyway) the
concluding thought of the book.
Various elements compose this complex: the memory of his mothers self-sacrifice, gratuitous yet endowed with infinite meaning; his own delight in the beauty found in fragments from
the past: a song, a glass paperweight, a book, good coffee; the countryside; the resistance of his
senses to seeing 2 + 2 as 5 ; Julias simple undifferentiated desire: . . .the force that would tear
the Party to pieces [lo]. Winston sees their embrace as a political act, and in Julias

George Orwell, Seeing and Saying


unthinking, apolitical sensuality he paradoxically locates the source of all future revolutionary
impulses. Above all, though, Winston finds hope in the proles. The central core of humanness
which he tends to identify with the primitive emotions [ l l ] is something the proles still
possess. It is among other things a secret loyalty to one another that intellectuals like Winston
have lost. The woman who protests at the atrocity film in the cinema; the feelings of grief
Winston recalls having seen expressed; even the fat womans singing: these constitute a kind of
reservoir of natural feeling that will one day, Winston thinks, overturn the drab, unfeeling,
puritanical system. That will be when the proles become conscious [12]. Meanwhile, for
Winston, the point must be to stay, not alive, but human.
Leaving aside for a moment the question of the adequacy of this implied theory of the
inner life, we perhaps should ask whether, since the articles of faith it rests on are so
deliberately shattered by Orwell, and since he allows OBrien to pour such scorn on the proles
and on the very idea of humanity, he is not actually going out of his way to deny any validity
to the personal and emotional life that he builds up for the reader; and that therefore we
should not attribute to Orwell views like those Winston starts with. In practice, however, the
effect of Orwells negating of the human values that are (over-optimistically) relied on is not
one of the simple cancellation of a proposition but, rather, of equally real but conflicting forces
(OBriens nihilism and the inner life) confronting one another, and of nihilism overcoming.
This outcome diminishes the affective, inner life only contingently, I believe, as Orwell sees it.
For him, the original claims that he has made for the emotions prove to be too strong, but not
wholly misplaced. They stand, up to a point: but the image of epic heroism that stories like
1984 conventionally evoke yields, in Orwells pessimistic resolution, to one of pathos and
The overall picture, then, is intended to be one of personal authenticity, of the possibility of
real feelings. I accept the meaningfulness of these ideas; but I have said above that I do not
see direct awareness as a path to authenticity, even if such a thing as direct awareness exists
at all. Far from being spontaneous, I suspect that authenticity is laboriously acquired. Also, I
am doubtful whether, with the exception of the instance Dunlop cites of Winston asking how
he can help seeing what is in front of his eyes, there is much in Orwells examples to support
Dunlops argument, which centres, not on the possibility of authenticity (which I concede) but
on the primary sources of this. Furthermore, Orwells examples themselves are not beyond
criticism. For I believe it is fair to say that while I984 is undoubtedly a classic, a twentieth
century myth of great power and originality, it is not a major document of human sensibility,
as for example Henry Jamess novel The Ambassadors is.
What is wrong with Orwells examples of the underground life? For one thing, it seems to
me that in looking for distinctively human qualities to set against the bleak world of 1984,
Orwell lumps together things that need to be discriminated. There is a certain plausibility
about the connections he makes, but they are didactically enforced in a way that suggests he is
imposing a theory of mind rather than really exploring the world of feeling. The self-sacrifice
and compassion shown by Winstons mother; the value of spontaneous impulses; Julias
uninhibited, natural behaviour; the loyalty Winston feels for her; the supposed humanity of
the proles: these can be related, but are not necessarily the same kind of thing at all. Nor
should they, surely, all be put on one side over against some putative corrupted intelligence.
Surely this distinction between the corruptible reason, the incorruptible heart, has only a
very limited validity? We know that Orwell felt a great dislike for the armchair Communists
of the 1930s, and perhaps this kind of feeling is being expressed in this contrast between proles
and intellectuals. But, to treat the issue at the most obvious level, what about the intellectuals
who, like Orwell himself, fought and were wounded, or killed, in the Spanish Civil War? The
heroism of that period came from all quarters, not just from working-class movements.
Winston may believe that he and his fellow intellectuals are no longer human [3]; but if he
and others have been dehumanised it is not, surely, because of something in the nature of the


P. McKenzie

intellect; rather it is because of the fact they they are singled out for control, while the proles
are left alone. In Orwells terms, if the proles are not corrupted, it is because they are not
conscious: a paradoxical conclusion to say the least for one who believes in consciousnessraising. There may be some sociological truth in Orwells assumptions; but if there is, in
elevating it to the level of metaphysical truth he crudely caricatures the life of the mind.
The identification of unthinking emotion with virtue is likewise very dubious. The good
deeds, the aspirations to integrity, proceed from a level that lies deep in the personality, no
doubt; but Winstons mothers behaviour; the chinless mans offering of a piece of bread to
another prisoner; the protests of the prole woman in the cinema: must we really assume these
are somehow mindless acts, as Orwells scheme seems to require? A fundamental human
decency is expressed here, in gestures that are useless but valuable. But are these really the
prerogative of those who do not think? Orwell is trying to persuade us of something, but all is
not well with his fundamental categories.
Likewise, are all emotions and feelings good? Julias sexuality is instinctive, spontaneous; is
it really either fully convincing, or necessarily the equivalent of virtue? I do not deny that, in
the face of a repressed and repressive Puritanism, of the obsessive meanness and cruelty of
1984, the uninhibited actions have something precious in common. But as Orwell presents
them, they surely cannot act as a springboard to a better future; for to suggest that these
actions are somehow divorced from any intellectual understanding of the situation is to invite
that situations perpetuation; for it is one thing to mobilise scattered and embryonic notions of
revolt; quite another to turn undirected emotions into conscious purpose, starting from scratch.
It is noteworthy that, while Orwell expresses a general preference for proles over intellectuals
(whatever such terms may mean-that is part of the problem) he treats both with a certain
indiscriminate revulsion in particular instances. Is this symptomatic of his inability to relate
feelings and intellect adequately in his theory of mind and personality? Does it mean that in
Orwells eyes everyone is condemned to be either too clever by half, or stupidly emotional: a
kind of holy fool?
Fortunately the story often finds its own way, independently of the theory. For example,
Winstons defences against OBrien, that we should expect to be hierarchically structured in
terms of this theory, in that intellect should capitulate first, feelings later, and some innermost
integrity last, refuse to follow this neat scheme in its entirety. This is of benefit to the book, if
not to the theory; it also fits in with Orwells other views of long standing concerning language.
The fact is that the crude distinction between the instinctive or affective on the one hand,
the intellectual on the other; between intuition and rational judgement, constantly breaks
down in practice. For, almost and perhaps up to the very end of the book, Winston appeals,
not to feelings alone, but also to the powers of the intellect; even one might say to public
criteria themselves. It is undoubtedly true that Winston reflects that the Party told you to
reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.
Nonetheless, another thread in the book insists on the saving values, not of immediacy of
experience alone, but of rationality as well, in some sense of that word that involves language,
concepts, rules, objectivity, the correct use of terms. The freedom to maintain and know that
2 + 2 =4 that Winston refers to, and not just to see it, is a crucial example of this.
I believe that this must, logically, be so: for the same reasons as I believe that there is no
really private experience to fall back on: Winstons most profound convictions and values
have been learned, structured in terms that ultimately make reference to social criteria;
without which he would not have the mind to assert his autonomy. The only appeal he can
finally make to save his reason is not from the (corrupted) public language to (pure) personal
experience; for what is to guarantee that the experience itself has not been corrupted? The only
real appeal to be made is from a corrupt public language to a public language that retains its
integrity. And Winston makes this appeal, even though at times he seems to be surrendering

George Orwell, Seeing and Saying

26 1

the whole realm of public discourse to OBrien, on the grounds that he cannot win at the
dialectical game.
What actually happens here, I suggest, is that Winston tries to find ways of resisting
OBrien; that faith in his feelings is one way; but that faith in certain fundamental logical
presuppositions of all discourse is another. Winston does not really hand over all reason and
all language to OBrien; he retreats, to coin other sets of concepts with which to combat him.
The very notion of a superior dialectical power that is nonetheless not synonymous with truth
is itself a step in his argument; a dialectical, not just an emotional, advance; and it is one that
Winston manages to make. The fact is, I suggest, that whatever Orwell explicitly says or
assumes, rationality and clarity of mind remain the unsung heroes of 1984; just as these virtues
permeate so much of Orwells other writing.
For the perversion of thought and of language is of course a key theme in Orwells work.
In 1984, the perversion takes various forms. For example there is Newspeak, a language
deliberately limited so that subversive or humanistic thoughts simply cannot be expressed.
However, the corollary of Newspeak must, clearly, be the possibility of a language that
positively does embody crucially important and meaningful distinctions, that can conduce to
the health of the body politic by allowing precise and analytic expression of insights. Public
standards of correctness are critical in maintaining, or failing to maintain, such a language;
the whole of Orwells work, explicitly and implicitly, testifies to the importance of such a
language. Its purpose is to tell the truth, to serve as the medium of clear vision-Orwells most
fundamental concern, perhaps, through Burmese Days, Down and Out in London and Paris,
Homage to Catalonia, 1984, and much of his other work. He explains his position in Politics
and the English Language:

. . .the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.
The point is that the process is reversible. Modern English, especially written English,
is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is
willing to take the necessary trouble. It one gets rid of these habits one can think
more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step towards political regeneration. [15]
Then, too, there is Doublethink, which stresses the mutability of the past and demonstrates a
capacity for (or to) blackwhite. This means a loyal willingness to say that black is white
when Party discipline demands this. But it means also the willingness to believe that black is
white . . . [ 161. Once again, we run up against misuse of language, against self-contradiction:
those things that are measured, not by comparison with some internal criterion of rightness,
not by some totally certain direct evidence of a Cartesian kind, but by their conformity with
the norms of rationality and logic. Whatever Orwell may, from one angle, suggest about the
role of the affective life in the maintenance of personal autonomy, he never ceases to
emphasise, deliberately or not, the parallel role of language and reason in getting us to think at
all. The very doubt Winston experiences over 2 + 2 making 4 reveals the same ambivalence: he
does not just insist on his capacity to see that 2 + 2 make 4, as a kind of perceptual ability; he
also writes in his diary that freedom is freedom to say that 2 2 = 4 [ 171, and this saying
acknowledges the world of public language and standards which is as important to Orwell as
the seeing. Are we to believe that being able to assert that 2 + 2 = 4 depends upon our direct
awareness of the fact? Or should we rather say that our acquired understanding of what it
means to assert that 2 + 2 = 4 determines the content of our direct awareness? Or should we
take a third line, and recognise the role of the senses in all this, but also of the social
framework of knowledge and of rules, that allows Winston to hold out as long as he does? One
of the most sinister aspects of the world of 1984 is that that are no--or very few-laws:
oppressive though codes of law may be, they do at least contain within them the potential for
judging a person not guilty, as well as guilty. In 1984, it is the arbitrariness of such judgements



that is so frightening, and this arbitrariness, this loss of any external point of reference, is what
Orwell constantly emphasises in his account of Doublethink and of the solipsistic philosophy
of the Party. For Orwell, misuse of language is crucial in all this, even though he sometimes
offers explanations which overlook his own reliance on its integrity. It is hard not to think that
Orwell would have had some sympathy with those who stress that words do not mean
whatever we want them to mean, and that private experience is ultimately formed from
concepts that are in principle publicly communicable.
If the above remarks concerning Orwells thought are valid, how do the conclusions arrived
at relate to the main burden of my disagreement with Dunlop? In these ways, I think: first, I
accept Orwells view of the fundamental importance of language to thought, while disputing
that the two relate as he says they do; and I suggest that Dunlop pays too little attention to
Orwells interest in language generally. Secondly, quite apart from the particular criticisms I
make of the notion of direct awareness as such, I suggest that Dunlop has reared his arguments
on a rickety foundation by broadly accepting the philosophy of mind presupposed by Orwell.
His arguments for direct awareness could be sound; but even if they were I do not think he
would be well-advised to illustrate them by citing Winston Smiths experience.
Dunlop contrasts two interpretations of rationality. On the one hand we have the stress
on applying socially agreed criteria to ones beliefs, on submitting hypotheses to public
experiment either to verify or to falsify them, and so on. On the other we have an emphasis
on disinterested looking and intuiting, on the examination of intellectual conscience, on the
responsible use of our cognitive and other mental powers [18]. It seems to me that the latter
model has to proceed via the methods of the former; and that Winstons fictional career in
1984, where he must rely on all possible sources of confidence, tends to bear this out as it is
dramatically presented, even though Orwell explicitly suggests the contrary.
Having said all that, I am quite prepared to concede that much still turns on what exactly
is meant by these public criteria I have discussed. It is not really as late in the day as it may
seem to raise this question, since 1 hope that the general interpretation I have given the term so
far has been reasonably clear, and that I shall anyway be seen to have been defending the
belief that saying is implicated in seeing to the bitter end. But it is certainly possible to point
to cases where public criteria might be thought to function in an overly convergent fashion. I
believe P. H. Hirsts work could provide a case in point, when he moves from a very
interesting thesis about the way in which the possibility of truth and objectivity can be
established, not by reference to a Platonic world of essences, but by argument from the very
nature of public language itself; to a very speculative argument which attempts exhaustively to
enumerate the logical types of language there are, and perhaps to proscribe certain kinds of
intellectual venture as lying outside these. Even more strikingly does Allen Brent express his
own extension of the thesis:
Although certain forms of knowledge should be taught in the form in which they
have been developed over the centuries, nevertheless not every kind of culturally
developed knowledge ought to be so taught. Only those forms that represent genuine
developments of the primitive organisation of consciousness and are reflected in the
normative structure of any human speech act should be so taught. [I91
I find these words disquieting, and agree with Dunlop that in certain doctrines of this kind,
there is a lurking threat that the individuals mind can as it were be composed only out of the
thoughts of others, and from pre-existing structures of knowledge whose operations the
individual will then reflect: almost a doctrine of a tubulu ram ready to receive a Holy Writ. On
this question, I very much take the point of his reference to R. K. Elliotts paper on Education
and human being [20]. Better a thousand times irrelevance, redundancy of information, even
muddle in the classroom, given that some sense of personal involvement with knowledge
arises; than the starkly opposite insistence on correctness at all costs that seems to me to

George Orwell, Seeing and Saying


resemble the dogmatic strictures of those literary critics who placed conformity to the Unities
above all other dramatic values. Fortunately, we do not have to choose between two
absurdities. If we treat the presuppositions of, for example, the Forms of Knowledge thesis in a
liberal way, there seems no reason why we cannot conceive of autonomy and independence as
arising from the minds development in a culturally created medium; the crucial factors here
do not seem to concern where knowledge comes from, but how it is held, and whether it is
made ones own. A person may be able to have confidence in his own views, not because these
are somehow privately generated, but because they are open for public evaluation, and are not
shown to be false. In such a case the individual is in, as it were, the machinery of proof, and
driving it as though he were driving a car. The fact that the car has been made by someone
else has no bearing on the fact that a driver may learn to use it correctly for purposes that are
entirely his own. The drivers freedom comes, in such a case, not from some personal act of
will or of certainty, but from his mastery of the skills and techniques of driving. By submitting
himself to acquire these, he becomes freer in movement.
To reiterate, finally: it seems to me that the route of escape from coercive public standards
does not and cannot lie via a retreat to the personal, in the sense of the pre-conceptual.
Certainly the escape from, or the response to, such dictatorial standards will call upon our
notions of personal authenticity and conviction; certainly we shall grope through intuitions
before we arrive at formulations. But these notions, these intuitions, will not be somehow
extra-rational, belonging to an element distinct from what we combat. We can only destroy
bad rules by transcending them and creating better. If language itself hangs upon us a kind of
weighted net of what we may say and may not, of what makes sense and what does not (as
Logical Positivism attempted to do for example), then the recourse should be to a fuller
language, whose criteria are more ample and adequate. With these universal criteria of
rationality in mind we may turn back upon the dictators of what is sayable as Orwell turns
upon the creators of Newspeak and of Doublethink, and upon the idioms of our time that
suggested these to him. For surely language is the universal democratic medium in which
reason must go to work, and without which reason cannot go to work. This is the positive
meaning I find in talk of public criteria: they provide the source, or the foundation, that
enables us finally to be confident of what we say, not in the sense of feeling certain, but in the
sense of being aware of the possible lines of justification we may take; of the evidence that
exists, and of its validity; of the existence, and status, of alternative interpretations; of certain
inexorable logical relationships, and so on: of all, in short, that allows us to formulate thoughts
in a rule-governed way. And so, it seems to me that Orwell would recognise allies, in spite of
all the ambiguities of his position, in those types of argument that emphasise public criteria of
knowledge, and that, by so doing, seek to express the power of decision and judgement such
standards may confer on us, to the extent, greater or lesser, that we are able to make them our
own. And in consequence, I cannot help but feel that what Francis Dunlop tries so skilfully to
exhibit to us, if it really exists, can never be more than the shadow side, the phase of latency of
processes whose importance must remain potential until articulated in some language, or
symbolism, that will impose on the boundlessness of intuition those very limitations and
distinctions which, in stopping us being right all the time, enable us to be right at all.
Correspondence: P. McKenzie, Huddersfield Polytechnic (Holly Bank), Huddersfield, W.


(1980) Human dignity and direct awareness, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 14, p. 178.
[2] Ibid., p. 173.

[ 171

P. McKenzie
Ibid., p. 175.
M. (1973) Personal Knowledge, p. 319 (London, Routledge & Kegan Paul).
Dunlop, p. 175.
L. (1976) Philosophical Investigations, 8 299 (p. 101e) (Oxford, Blackwell).
Dunlop, p. 171.
Ibid., p. 176.
Wittgenstein, op. cit.
(1965) 1984, p. 130 (London, Heinemann).
Ibid., p. 170.
Ibid., p. 74.
Ibid., p. 170.
Ibid., p. 84.
(1957) Selected Essays, p. 143 (Harmondsworth, Penguin).
1984, p. 218.
Ibid., p. 255.
Dunlop, p. 177.
(1978) Philosophical Foundations for the Curriculum, p. 218 (London, Allen & Unwin).
S.C. (Ed.) (1975) Philosophers Discuss Education (London, MacMillan).