[OPE-L:2232] RE: Re: Statistical regularities

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Wed Jan 19 2000 - 13:31:03 EST

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Many thanks to Chris for drawing to my attention this notice of Quetelet by
Marx, of which I was quite unaware.

When Chris writes "Marx also", does this refer to Q.'s *conclusion*, or to
his premise as well?

Having hurried to consult the MECW (not being a statistical, or any other,
kind of fatalist, I was alarmed at the possibility that Marx was), I feel
fairly confident in rejecting this interpretation.

However, I *would* claim M.'s "Tribune" piece as evidence (in the words
emphasised below) that he would have approved an F&M-type approach:

"Now, if *crimes observed on a great scale thus show, in their amount and
their classification, the regularity of physical phenomena* -- if as Mr.
Quetelet remarks, 'it would be difficult to decide in respect to which of
the two' (the physical world and the social system) 'the acting causes
produce their effect with the utmost regularity' -- is there not a necessity
for deeply reflecting upon an alteration of the system that breeds these
crimes, instead of glorifying the hangman who executes a lot of criminals to
make room only for the supply of new ones?"

That this sentence is evidence only for Marx's agreement with the
conclusion, not the premises, of Quetelet, is shown by what M. has just
previously said in criticising Hegel for his view that "Punishment is the
*right* of the criminal. It is an act of his own will."

Marx's comment on this is:

"Is it not a delusion to substitute for the individual with his real
*motives*, with multifarious social circumstances pressing upon him, the
*abstraction* of 'free-will'..." [emph. added]

I interpret Marx as saying that free will exists, but not in the one-sided
form of Hegel's exposition. On the other hand, it seems clear (from
Hacking's account, at any rate) that Quetelet and other statistical
fatalists thought that the social dimension was deterministic in exactly the
same sense -- Laplacean hyper-determinism -- as they understood the physical
one to be, a point of view which M.'s reference to "real motives" seems
incompatible with.

In short, people make history, but not in circumstances of their own
choosing: neither Hegel nor Quetelet, but Marxist humanism.


> -----Original Message-----
> From: C. J. Arthur [SMTP:cjarthur@pavilion.co.uk]
> Sent: Tuesday, January 18, 2000 10:38 PM
> To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> Subject: [OPE-L:2215] Re: Statistical regularities
> Julian wrote
> >
> > But this isn't the sort of thing that I, or the 19th-century
> >debaters, had in mind: rather, such "facts" as that the annual average
> >number of murders or suicides in a particular jurisdiction was normally
> >distributed about a stable mean.
> >
> > It not unreasonably occurred to those working with social statistics
> >to wonder what this implied about the sources of human behaviour.
> >
> > Since murder -- and especially self-murder (as many thought of it in
> >those days) seem on the face of it the most extreme outcomes of human
> will
> >and intentionality, one might expect the annual rates of these to be very
> >erratic, whereas they are (or were) apparently rather regularly
> distributed.
> >
> > Quetelet was an outright statistical fatalist: he fully believed
> >that the regularities which he discovered implied that the agents were
> under
> >compulsion to carry out the acts involved: "society prepares the crimes",
> he
> >said. Thus he argued that responsibility and punishment were
> inappropriate
> >categories in this connection.
> >
> Marx also; see his article in NYDT jan 28 1853, MECW 11 495
> Chris
> P. S. Please note that I have a new Email address,
> <cjarthur@waitrose.com>
> but the old one will also run until next summer. (To be doubly sure load
> both!)

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