[OPE-L:7306] RE: 'De omnibus dubitandum' [was: interpreting Marx's texts]

From: howard Engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Sat Jun 01 2002 - 20:50:08 EDT

Since you are off to sea, suppose a boat at sea and no one on board knows anything about navigation.  What do you suppose the contribution will be of "doubt everything" to getting you to land?
Universal doubt comes from Descartes and I doubt Marx would have much defended it in abstraction from particular contexts.  Scientific inquiry starts from beyond Descartes' doubt everything just as it starts from beyond his chimerical quest for certainty.  For one thing the arguments of science are empirical and posteriori, not apriori, and no such argument can be free from doubt.  Any such argument is subject to amendment in terms of new insights, orientations and evidence.  But that is a different thing from doubt everything.  David is right.  The question is whether the purpose of inquiry is to change the world.  We don't act on the basis of doubt.  Beliefs shape action.  Doubt stimulates inquiry.  We doubt when something in or relative to the beliefs we work with surprises us.  We confront the unexpected in practice.  This generates doubt and we inquire to resolve doubt.  But to start out by doubt! ing everything is playing with inquiry.  It is the luxury of academics (always doubt the consequence of class position!).  It is doubt abstracted from practice.  
In other words, we doubt because we have a positive reason for it, not because we follow a formal maxim.  Doubt  must be real, living doubt, not just a formal proposition with a question mark at the end.  It goes without saying also that being alert to surprise in a far reaching way is critical to success in science and political action.
The other thing is, it is impossible to develop a science if you are always reassessing foundations.  There are watershed moments in science when foundations do get transformed.  Then you work with new foundations.  Any new or overlooked piece of evidence may send you back to a reevaluation of those foundations, but if it is a science we are developing, then one thing gets built on the basis of another.  You do not erect a building by constantly remaking the foundation and there is no watershed at all if everything is a watershed.  It is always possible to reevaluate foundations, and there are always infinitely many hypotheses consistent with the evidence, but moving from one hypothesis to another on the basis of universal doubt does not expand the continent of beliefs capable of providing a foundation for action.  Marxists claim Capital as a watershed in the human sciences.  The task is to build on that foundation. 
In that respect David's approach is much more appealing.  There is after all a crisis of social science.  The methodology of mainstream empiricism, including the equation of prediction and explanation, always made social science pretty much an impossibility.  A predictable response was that social studies are not about science.  Now we have a real problem for doubt.  Marx offers an alternative, a coherent way to study society scientifically.  The question that needs resolving by inquiry is whether we will work from Marx's foundation or from some other, including an eclectic foundation of taking a little from here and a little from there, now Marx, now Roemer, etc.  It is not unreasonable to say that among these alternatives, the one that offers the most potential is that of Marx, not Marx plus eclectism.  It is not unreasonable also to resolve doubt on the matter by concluding that the only way forward for social science is o! n the basis of historical materialism.
Now if you make that judgment, and propose to guide action on the basis of such beliefs, then you get about the task, as David suggests.  You look for ways to extend and apply the theoretical acquisitions which characterize the foundation.  You develop a set of human sciences the way physicists develop physics and chemists develop chemistry.  Obviously that doesn't mean the foundations are from that point forward immune from challenge.  That is not the point.  At any point in the efforts of application and extension you can confront a problem that forces you to rethink foundations.  But this is because you are surprised by a real problem you cannot resolve, not because you operate with a maxim of universal doubt.  And if you do rethink foundations, then you have to do it in a way that does not just return you to eclecticism, but makes sense not only in terms of some particular problem presented, but for the whole body of sciences ! affected.
I won't speak concretely to the current technical significance of the transformation problem, but notice only that if value does provide an element of the foundation of the sciences of historical materialism, then the transformation problem continues to matter.  Historically it has been perceived to be the Achilles heel of Marx's analysis.  Resolving doubts as to its theoretical coherence works to establish the integrity of the scientific foundation we propose to develop and is significant for all human sciences.
----- Original Message -----
From: gerald_a_levy
To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
Sent: 5/30/2002 11:48:01 PM
Subject: [OPE-L:7291] 'De omnibus dubitandum' [was: interpreting Marx's texts]

Re David Y's [7289]:
> I think that the discussion of this issue has been settled,
in so far as the antagonists have taken sides. Nevertheless
Fred's articles are important for understanding Marx's position
and I value them and assume future students of Marx will do as
well. The point, as I keep on saying, is to change the world and
develop and extend Marx's standpoint to make this possible.
Some people think that this means first to criticise Marx and more
often than not end up destroying the revolutionary core of Marx's
writings. My position is contrary to this - it is to apply and extend
that revolutionary core to today's conditions. That is the real test
of Marx's standpoint. <
A question:  from *your* perspective, how does the  *continuing*
exploration of and debate about the transformation of values into
prices of production help, in the year 2002, to change the world?
A comment: at the core of Marx's revolutionary perspective was his
profoundly anti-authoritarian stance towards all that went before him.
*No one* was spared critique, even those he in many ways identified with
and learned from philosophically and politically.  Thus, his favorite
motto:  'De omnibus dubitandum'  ('doubt everything').   This was Marx's
standpoint -- without which a  thorough-going critique of political economy
would not have been possible -- but is it the standpoint of Marxists?  I
would say that the Marxists who follow Marx's *example* of being _critical
to all_ are in a distinct minority.   Those who insist that Marx's writings --
like the writings of  all other authors that are relevant to understanding the
subject matter (capitalism) -- must be subject to *critique*, rather than merely
being applied, are operating from a tradition that is inspired by the
example of Marx and many other revolutionaries in thought and praxis.
If we do not 'apply' this revolutionary anti-authoritarian stance, then we
can not 'apply' his  revolutionary perspective to today's conditions.
In solidarity, Jerry

--- howard Engelskirchen
--- lhengels@igc.org
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