Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Neil C. Manson and Onora O'Neill: Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics

My review will appear in Philosophy in Review

Neil C. Manson and Onora O'Neill: Rethinking Informed Consent in Bioethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2007. Pp. xiv + 212. US$ 24.95 (paperback ISBN-978-0-521-69747-7).

The concept of informed consent plays a central role in many areas of modern ethical and political thought, ranging from social contract theory to sexual ethics. Its prominence in the literature of bioethics has grown steadily through recent decades, having been the subject of over 1,800 articles in the year 2002-3 alone (1 footnote 1). In this book, M&O set out to defend the strikingly bold claim that current thinking about the role of informed consent in bioethics suffers from fundamental conceptual distortions whose pernicious influence begins in inadequate philosophical analysis and ends in wrongheaded bioethical policies.

The book opens with an historical account of how informed consent became an important issue for bioethics. The bioethical importance of informed consent was first officially recognized in the Nuremberg Code which was adopted after World War II in reaction to the revelation of atrocities committed by Nazi doctors in the name of medical research. Policies of informed consent developed for the regulation of research were soon applied to clinical settings, and official criteria for the determination of consent became increasingly stringent and eventually impracticable. Things have come to such ahead that one might wonder how a patient could grant sufficiently informed consent to a medical procedure unless he or she has first completed a medical degree and an internship in the relevant specialty! Ethical guidelines for researchers are also in danger of becoming unreasonably restrictive due to new concerns over the alleged obligation to gain the consent of the original research subjects each time data and tissue samples from one study are reused in subsequent projects. M&O feel that bioethics has reached an impasse: physicians and researchers are left to choose between "systematic hypocrisy" (25) – universal non-compliance with official standards for informed consent - and the paralyzing alternative of genuinely trying to apply impossibly demanding standards. M&O insist that only a revolution in our understanding of informed consent can deliver us from this dilemma.

M&O feel that the current impasse stems from inadequate conceptual analyses of what it means to inform someone and of why it can be important to gain their consent. According to the standard view, physicians and researchers are required to convey all relevant information to patients and experimental subjects. The latter exercise their moral autonomy by using that information in rationally choosing their preferred course of action. The standard view is based upon what M&O refer to as the "conduit" and "container" metaphors of information and communication. The physician knows certain things – she "contains" information and this information must be conveyed, as if through some kind of "conduit" to a new "container" – the patient. M&O argue that this kind of account leaves out many crucial aspects of communication, such as the fact that it is governed by norms, that it must be sensitive to the character of its audience, and that it involves an interaction undertaken taken by two active parties. Far from remaining an inert receptacle, a patient may respond to the physician's explanations and advice with skepticism or misunderstanding; the patient may also infer countless new conclusions from the information offered.

M&O are also worried that the standard view places misdirected emphasis on the roles played by the patient's autonomy and rational decision making. Moral autonomy is an important concern, but there is no reason to think that it always trumps all other factors, such as the physician's duty not to harm her patients. Patients are often simply in no position to work out rational cost-benefit solutions to questions regarding their treatment. At the end of the day, doctor-patient interactions must be founded upon intelligently placed trust, which itself depends on a workable system of accountability.

When discussing autonomy, M&O ask why it is that physicians and researchers seek to obtain informed consent to begin with. They claim that consent is required not because of some abstract respect for autonomy, but rather because the physician or researcher is proposing that the patient waive some obligation (such as the obligation upon people not to cut each other) in order for some medical procedure to be performed (such as surgery). Different procedures involve the waiving of different obligations; the performance of open heart surgery, for instance, requires a different standard of consent than does checking a pulse. M&O learn from all this that current attempts to set up ever more stringent and uniform standards for informed consent should be replaced with a more flexible policy "that focuses on the obligations and expectations to be waived, and the reasons for waiving them in specific cases" (190).

M&O are not only concerned with informed consent relating to the performance of medical procedures and the like; they also discuss informational privacy, data protection, and the need to gain consent for the sharing of medical information. They do not think it is particularly useful develop different standards relating to different categories of information (such as "private" and "public"); the usefulness of such categories for ethics breaks down under scrutiny. M&O devote an entire chapter to explaining why the category of "genetic information" does not deserve the special attention it has received from bioethicists and lawmakers. Instead of worrying about the kind of information involved, they want us to think about what people are doing with the information in question and "give due attention to the variety of reasons why certain types of action by which we acquire, hold, use, disclose or communicate information may be impermissible and others entirely permissible" (110).

This book certainly makes an important contribution to bioethics, and its conceptual subtlety can hardly be reflected in a short review. It does, however, suffer from one rather unfortunate shortcoming. Although the book includes extensive discussion of some bioethical legislation (in particular, the UK's Data Protection Act 1998 and the USA's proposed Draft Genetic Privacy Act), it contains almost no discussion or mention of relevant case studies. Such examples would make their arguments more easily understandable and also give a clearer idea of how M&O would apply their ideas to the real world. That, as well as the book's highly abstract tone, will make it a rather difficult read for the policy makers, physicians, and researchers whom it calls upon to begin rethinking informed consent in bioethics.

Val Dusek, Philosophy of Technology: an Introduction

My review will appear in Practical Philosophy

Val Dusek
Philosophy of Technology: an Introduction
Oxford: Blackwell, 2006, pp. v + 244
ISBN 1-4051-1163-1 (pb), US$32.95, £18.99

This ambitious book attempts to present an overview of a relatively young and amorphous sub-discipline, that is, the philosophy of technology. It is written and structured in the manner of a standard textbook—newly introduced names and terms appear in boldface, tangential topics are discussed in special "boxed" passages, and each chapter concludes with a list of "study questions." Dusek is obviously at pains to write with maximum clarity for the sake of undergraduates who may be required to read his book.

This is perhaps the first course book to be written on the philosophy of technology, leaving Dusek a free hand to determine the scope and internal logic of his topic. He rises to the challenge in a spirit of breathtaking disciplinary expansionism, offering reasoned justifications for the wide diversity of issues included in his book. Philosophy of science must be outlined, since technology is often dependent on science. Plato, Bacon, and others are mentioned as forerunners of technocratic social and political thought. Artificial intelligence is a kind of technology and it has been the subject of much contemporary philosophical debate that is ripe for the picking. Environmentalists have their qualms about technology, so that environmental ethics can also be gobbled up by this new field. The ‘rationality debates’ sparked by Evans-Pritchard's anthropological study of Azande magic touched upon the question of the universality of instrumental reason, which is arguably identifiable with technological reason, adding another twelve pages to the book. Heidegger's discussion of tools, Hannah Arendt's work/labour distinction, feminist views on technology, and anti-technological ideologies are also among the topics covered.

Dusek is to be commended for writing in an informed and lucid manner about such a wide variety of issues and authors. He moves with apparent ease from ancients to moderns, from analytic philosophy to continental, from phenomenology to neural connectionism, from the history of Chinese science to social constructionism. Certain themes, such as the search for a definition of technology, do reappear as leitmotifs throughout the book. However, Dusek does not really work out a grand logical map of issues in the philosophy of technology of the kind one would expect from an introduction to a better established (or less wide-ranging) area in philosophy. What he does give us is a wide overview of philosophical (broadly understood) discussions of technology (broadly understood) in all their varieties. Comprehensiveness has its price in depth; only a volume of monstrous proportions could do justice to such a wide range of topics. Occasionally, but only occasionally, Dusek's quest for comprehensiveness lapses into something more resembling a bibliographical essay than an introductory text. Despite these drawbacks, his book seems to be the best place to start for anyone trying to put together a course on the philosophy of technology, or simply interested in gaining an appreciation of the scope of this new field.

Bernard Williams: Shame and Necessity

Read my review of this contemporary classic at:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

John R. Searle: Freedom & Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power

This review will appear in Philosophy in Review.

John R. Searle
Freedom & Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power
New York: Columbia University Press, 2007, pp. 113
ISBN 0-231-13752-4 Hb $25-50, £15.50

John Searle has made important contributions to a number of subfields of philosophy, including philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of the social sciences. Although the title of his latest book may elicit the expectation that it treats the very interesting and relatively unexplored question of how neurobiological theories of free will might affect our understanding of political power, in fact the two topics are kept entirely separate from each other.

This volume contains versions of two lectures that were originally delivered and published in France. The first, ‘Free Will as a Problem in Neurobiology’ presents Searle's attempt to lay out what might be called a ‘roadmap towards peace’ between the neurobiological approach to the study of mind and the doctrine of metaphysical human free will. The second lecture, ‘Social Ontology and Political Power’ summarises the ideas about the ontology of social reality he developed earlier in The Construction of Social Reality (1997) and applies them to the analysis of the notion of political power. The two lectures are preceded by a thirty-five page introduction (‘Philosophy and the Basic Facts’), which sets out to show how they fit into Searle's larger project of creating the framework for a comprehensive and naturalistic philosophical system, that is to say, a system whose solutions to philosophical problems are solidly based on the results of research in the empirical sciences.

I was disappointed by this book. Eric Kandel's blurb on its back cover claims that it provides ‘a broad introduction to the complete Searle’, and many, no doubt, hoped that Freedom & Neurobiology would serve as a continuation and update of Searle's very well received 1984 Reith Lectures (published under the title Minds, Brains, and Science). In fact, while the book can be useful as a comprehensive outline of his ideas for people who are already well acquainted with his work, it is much too dry and sketchy to serve as an introduction for the uninitiated. There is little evidence in it of the imaginative thinking that gave the world the 'Chinese Room' thought experiment. It is difficult to assess the arguments that Searle makes in this book because they are so often incomplete or absent, replaced with bibliographical pointers to his other, more substantial books.

For all Searle's talk about naturalism, he has practically nothing to say that is related to actual developments in neurobiological science. The book could have been just as easily written back in the old days when philosophers made furtive references to ‘c-fibers’ in the hope of making materialist theories of mind sound more scientific. Tellingly, Searle writes: ‘The solution to the philosophical mind-body problem seems to me not very difficult. However, the philosophical solution kicks the problem upstairs to neurobiology, where it leaves us with a very difficult neurobiological problem’ (p. 40). Unlike his nemesis (Daniel Dennett), Searle has nothing to tell us about how neurobiology might actually go about solving this, its very difficult problem.

On a more positive note, at least the book does give us a tantalising glimpse of the direction in which Searle would like to go to find a solution to the problem of the material brain giving rise to a metaphysically free will. He seems to think that there is no real difference between compatibilism and the idea that freedom is merely an illusion, rejecting both ideas while admitting that ‘most neurobiologists would feel that this is probably how the brain actuallyworks’ (p. 62). His ultimate argument against such views is evolutionary: ‘An enormous biological price is paid for conscious decision making … To suppose that this plays no role in inclusive fitness is not like supposing the human appendix plays no role. It would be more like supposing that vision or digestion played no evolutionary role’ (p. 70).

How, then, can a material brain give rise to a metaphysically free consciousness? Searle borrows Richard Penrose's suggestion that the indeterminancy found in nature by the standard interpretation of quantum mechanics can serve as the theoretical deus ex machina that creates a place for freedom in nature. Searle is well aware that the sheer randomness associated with quantum indeterminancy cannot serve as a direct model for the indeterminate yet responsible free will he associates with conscious human agency. He suggests that while the indeterminancy associated with micro-quantum level descriptions of the brain will carry over to the holistic ‘system level’ where consciousness and freedom are to be found, the randomness of the micro-quantum level will fail to make that passage. How does random indeterminancy at the micro level become non-random indeterminancy at the macro level? Searle does not tell us. Perhaps he believes it is another question best left for scientists to ponder.

Berel Dov Lerner
Western Galilee College,
Akko, Israel,

Terence Cave: How to Read Montaigne

This review will appear in Practical Philosophy

Terence Cave
How to Read Montaigne
London: Granta Books, 2007, pp. x + 133
ISBN 1-86207-944-1 (pb),£ 11.95

This volume of Granta’s How to Read series deals with an unusual author in an unusual way. Michel de Montaigne was a 16th century French aristocrat who devoted almost all of his literary efforts to the writing, expanding, and rewriting of one book – Les Essais. Although he came to be identified as an advocate of Pyrrhonist scepticism, Montaigne has never found a solid place in the canonical history of western philosophy. Since the Essais is not a play, a book of poetry, or a work of fiction, it is somewhat difficult to define its place in the history of French literature.

Cave’s approach to the Essais can be disappointing for the conventional philosophical reader. True to the common format of the How to Read series, the chapters of his book are built around close readings of passages written by the author under discussion. Naturally, the passages chosen from the Essais treat specific topics, such as travel, conversation, philosophical scepticism, and so on. However, Cave has deliberately avoided giving any kind of overview of Montaigne’s opinions on the traditional questions of philosophy. Most strikingly, even though Cave admits the central role of Pyrrhonist scepticism in the Essais, he tells us very little about Montaigne’s epistemological views and basically nothing about the arguments supporting those views.

Cave asks us to approach the Essais not as a work of philosophy, but rather ‘as a work that seeks above all to devise cognitive strategies: strategies of reflection capable of handling not only the abstract business of thinking but also the frictions that arise from living in the real world, whether from religious or ethical restraints, illness, sexuality, or relations with other people’ (p. 4). He uses the term cognitive to capture ‘Montaigne’s enduring preoccupation with thought as an experience to be studied and documented non-judgmentally and non-didactically; his elaboration of a mode of writing that meets this requirement, and the value of the Essais as a book to think with’ (p.5).

In practice, I understand, this approach means that each passage from the Essais must be read as serving one or more of the following functions: it can be a specimen of thought presented as grist for Montaigne’s observational and analytical mill, or as an apology for the kind of open-ended thought that Montaigne enjoys analysing, or as a bit of actual analysis of the thinking process. In keeping with this interpretive strategy, Cave does not think that Montaigne was actually unorthodox in his religious beliefs. Rather, his apparently heretical discussions on belief are actually just set-pieces of the kind of free-wheeling thought that Montaigne is interested in analysing. It was not a burning need to resolve epistemological issues that brought Montaigne to adopt Pyrrhonist scepticism.Rather, that brand of agnostic skepticism usefully grants intellectual legitimacy to the kind of balanced and open-ended processes of internal deliberation that Montaigne was keen to investigate.

To be fair, it should be said that Cave’s book is well written and it does offer the reader a good deal of useful background for reading the Essais. However, I cannot help but wonder whether he might have fallen victim to a hyper-sophisticated version of a subterfuge planned long by Montaigne himself. Somewhat notoriously, Leo Strauss insists that we must always struggle to pierce through the veil of irony and rhetorical distractions used by philosophical writers to hide their unorthodox views from the eyes of potential persecutors. Cave claims that, ‘Just as Montaigne is not out to state a philosophical position in the Essais, so too he avoids asserting religious belief, or indeed talking about divine questions at all’ (p. 47). What better way for a heterodox thinker to distance himself from his heretical doctrines than to pretend that he is merely concerned with the process of thinking itself and not with the content or conclusions of that process?

Berel Dov Lerner
Western Galilee College,
Akko, Israel,

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lee McIntyre: Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior

My review will appear in Philosophy in Review

Lee McIntyre Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior. Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: MIT Press 2006. Pp. xx + 144. (Paper: ISBN: 0-262-13469-1)

Lee McIntyre is a man on a mission. He has written a book which is not a monograph on the philosophy of the social sciences, but rather a manifesto and a call to arms. We must save the social and behavioral sciences in time for the social and behavioral sciences to save us! Our technologically modern world is still plagued by the ancient societal ills of crime, war, poverty, etc. However, McIntyre is convinced that with a bit of pluck and methodological purity, the human sciences can become genuinely predictive. Once that happens, human beings will be able to cure society’s ills with the help of evidence-based, rational, and scientifically valid policies. Appropriately, Dark Ages is written with painstaking concern for clarity and is addressed to a rather broader reading public than would be usually associated with the MIT Press.

According to McIntyre, the human sciences are currently in a very sorry state. While the natural sciences have largely thrown off the shackles of cultural dogmas, research and theory-building in the social and behavioral sciences are still held back by religious and ideological prejudice. He mostly cites examples of the pernicious effects of liberal political correctness, which stymies the search for innate gender and ethnic differences (as illustrated by the reception of Hermstein and Murray’s book, The Bell Curve) and which blindly attacks any methodologically sound research that might undermine liberal policy dogmas (such as Gary Kleck’s work on guns and violence in America). More generally, people simply try to avoid serious confrontations with ideas – such as the thesis that freedom of the will is an illusion – that challenge their fundamental human self-worth. McIntyre does not offer his own speculations on any of these emotionally-charged topics, but rather insists that we must wait upon the self-correcting process of scientific discovery to give us answers.

McIntyre further claims that the human sciences have suffered because they have failed to adopt the self-critical empiricist methodology that has propelled the natural sciences to greatness. He retells the story of the “cold fusion” fiasco of 1989 as an example of how the validity of scientific knowledge is preserved by the constant vigilance of researchers who seek the empirical falsification of proposed hypotheses. Unfortunately, such attempts at falsification are rarely made in the human sciences.

Some might claim that the quest for predictive human sciences faces obstacles with which the predictive natural sciences did not have to contend. McIntyre counters by employing historical examples to demonstrate that the natural sciences had to overcome the same kinds of methodological and societal barriers as face the social sciences today. Early modern physics and astronomy had to free themselves of a disciplinary mind-set which eschewed empirical testing and sought truth through sheer intellectual speculation. The authority of Aristotle, Scripture, and Church doctrine blocked the way towards genuine advances. McIntyre devotes half a chapter to recounting Galileo’s battle for the heliocentric model of the universe as an illustration of how the natural sciences prevailed over the kinds of biases and methodological weaknesses that still plague the social sciences today.

Another challenge comes from the philosophy of the social sciences. Some philosophers claim that it is impossible to describe human psychology in terms of the kinds of explanatory laws which make possible the scientific prediction and control of natural phenomena. McIntyre is well aware of this trend of thought; he has devoted an entire earlier book, Laws and Explanations in the Social Sciences: Defending a Science of Human Behavior to the examination and critique of such claims. In what should have been the most philosophically interesting section of the book, McIntyre spends a mere fifteen pages describing and dismissing what he counts as the five major arguments made against the possibility of a predictive social science: A) The subject matter of the human sciences may appear to be overwhelmingly complex, but McIntyre assures us that the natural sciences have successfully studied complex systems. B) “Human behavior is part of an open system” (27) and thus determined by a potentially infinite array of factors, but this claim must itself be proven, and in any case science can handle open systems. C) Critics may say that “it is impossible to be objective about our own behavior” (28), but the natural sciences have also had to contend with illegitimate biases and interests. D) It is often impossible to perform controlled experiments in the social sciences, but that is also true of geology and astronomy. E) If people have free will, their behavior cannot be predicted. McIntyre replies that the hypothesis of human free must itself be subjected to empirical testing.

Many academic philosophers will be disappointed by McIntyre’s short list of objections and his quick treatment of them. However, it must be said in his defense that this is a book intended for a lay audience and that a fuller version of his arguments can be found in his earlier publications. Leaving those philosophical issues aside, a few other aspects of the book remain troubling. McIntyre over-dramatizes the policy failures of modern western societies. We simply do not suffer from many of the ancient social problems: no one dies of famine in western democracies, the rule of law is generally respected, people can travel across the countryside without fear of bandits, and illiteracy has been largely eradicated. McIntyre’s treatment of contemporary religion (including the surprising claim that, “It is an empirical question whether God exists” (54)) is weak and seems out of place. Perhaps this was an attempt to hitch his agenda to the neo-secularist bandwagon? (Sam Harris contributed a complimentary blurb to the book’s back cover) He also seems unconcerned about the danger that once armed with purportedly rigorous human sciences, governments might be tempted to interfere more deeply in the lives of citizens – for their own good, of course. Unfortunately, determination of the proper balance between social utility and individual freedom is not a problem that even a genuinely predictive social science would be able to solve on its own.

Berel Dov Lerner
Western Galilee College, Israel

Peter Osborne: How to Read Marx

My review will appear in Practical Philosophy

Peter Osborne
How to Read Marx
London: Granta Books, 2005
ISBN1862077713 (pb), pp. vii + 136 pp.

Peter Osborne’s book follows the customary format of the How to read Series. Each of its chapters consists of a passage from Marx’s oeuvre followed by a discussion that is intended to both explicate the passage and to introduce broader issues of Marx’s thought. The purpose of the present book appears, however, to be somewhat different from that of others in the series. How to Read Marx might be more aptly titled How to Read Marx Correctly. While the other How to Read books serve as introductions to the thinkers to which they are devoted, Osborne’s book seems to assume that his audience already posses a basic - if flawed – acquaintance with Marx’s writings. As a result, he fails to give a systematic overview of Marx’s thought. In fact, Osborne consciously avoids overtly systematic interpretation, rather, he wishes “to present Marx’s writings as an ongoing process of investigation, rather than a doctrine” (pg. 6). Instead of explaining Marx from the ground up, he points out the varying rhetorical and historical factors that must be taken into account when reading different texts that Marx authored and he further tries to show us that Marx remains relevant in the age of globalization, that Marx can be read philosophically, that Marx was more innovative than we might have realized, and why Marx the father should not be held responsible for the sins of his Soviet children.

The book opens with a chapter on the “fetishism of commodities”, as set forth in a passage from Capital. Osborne takes pains to explain the historical background of the term “fetish” as it was used in Enlightenment accounts of non-western societies and in Marx’s own writings. He warns us against finding Freudian overtones in Marx’s use of the term. All of this is very well, but what exactly is fetishistic about commodities? Osborne tells us that a commodity’s “use-value” and “exchange-value” are mysteriously related, and that the work that goes into producing commodities is simultaneously both “concrete labour” and “abstract labour.” What he fails to do is to lead the reader through a single down-to-earth example of the production and marketing of a specific commodity in order to demonstrate how all of these theoretical concepts apply to the real world. The recurrent failure to flesh-out highly abstract ideas further undermines the book’s usefulness as a genuinely introductory text.

The next two chapters deal with passages from the “Theses on Feuerbach” and The German Ideology. Osborne uses these texts to explain Marx’s idiosyncratic materialism and how it developed during the course of his life. He tells us that the “Theses on Feuerbach” should be read as belonging to the genre of literary “fragments” as developed in German Romanticism and as an early example of a “posthumously published philosophical notebook” similar to Nietzsche’s Will to Power, Benjamin’s Arcades’ Project and Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Osborne assures us that, “If the theoretical content of these texts is dense, at times to the point of enigma, the form of their incompleteness is nonetheless crucial for projecting a unity to the bodies of work to which they are appended’ (pg. 26). I am afraid that statements like this may well leave people who are acquainted with the authors mentioned no less confused than the philosophical neophytes who hope to gain an inkling of what Marx had to say about our world. Be that as it may, we come to understand that Marx’s new materialism is rooted in the standpoint of living, social, human beings who interact with material nature and with each other, rather than in the standpoint of an inactive, isolated scientific observer of material nature. We also learn that Marx’s standpoint is inherently historical, because when our needs move us to interact with nature, the technologies we develop in order to undertake that interaction generate new sets of needs in a recurring historical process. Although the ideas dealt with in these chapters are of considerable philosophical interest, Osborne once again fails to work hard enough to make the concepts involved readily and precisely understandable.

Chapter four uses a passage from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts as the textual anchor of a discussion of Marx’s notion of alienation as set against its Hegelian background. Chapter five presents excerpts from the early Notebooks on Epicurean Philosophy (1839) and from the introduction to the “Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” in order to consider Marx’s developing views on the respective roles of philosophy and the proletariat in the emancipation of humanity. Chapter six, built upon another excerpt from The Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, explains that the emancipation heralded by Marx consists of communism – not, as Osborne is careful to tell, the “communism” of state socialism, but rather a truly emancipatory communism. This is a communism “which abolishes private property [especially privately owned means of production – BDL] in such a way as to move humanity to a more advanced stage of historical development” (pg. 79) by managing to preserve the advances that lay hidden and alienated in the capitalist system. Chapter six is devoted to the Communist Manifesto, and deals largely with literary questions surrounding the genre of manifestos in general and the rhetorical considerations that must be taken into account when reading them. Chapter seven treats a remarkable passage from Capital which is written in the first person as the plea or complaint of a worker against his employer. Chapter nine deals with another section from Capital, this time one concerning the problem of “original accumulation” (the question of how capitalists amass the “start-up” capital needed for economies to “take off”). The basic thesis is that this “original” wealth is acquired through violent and underhanded means rather than through thrift and personal virtue. The final chapter discusses a sample of Marx’s pot-boiling journalistic writing. The passage in question deals with the affects of British colonialism on India. Osborne takes the opportunity to soften (but not to entirely excuse) the political incorrectness of Marx’s views on non-Western societies.

In conclusion: there is much of interest in this book for people who have some acquaintance with Marx; it might find a useful place on the reading lists of some undergraduate courses. However, I do not think it can succeed as a stand-alone introductory text.

Berel Dov Lerner
Western Galilee College,
Akko, Israel,