From: Nicola TaylorSent: 6/4/2002 2:33:59 AMSubject: [OPE-L:7322] RE: RE: FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum
>On the question of "fidelity" -- there is no need for the scare quotes. The word has a perfectly normal unmedieval meaning in the sense that if 5 and 9 are going to equal 14 you must apply arithmetic's additive rules faithfully.
Funny you should say that. An economics professor at
always begins his first class of the semester with an arithmetic demonstration that 1+1 = 3 Murdoch University
The point being of course, that you *decide* where you want to go, then apply (faithfully) the appropriate arithmetic rule to get you there.
>Nicky, you pose the question of decision among different coherent explanations. This is an immensely difficult problem, of course. But how will doubt everything help? If you doubt everything you doubt all 3 explanations.
Yes, I doubt all three, including the one I prefer.
>This leads to paralysis, as I explained.
No, I don’t see that paralysis logically follows (maybe I missed something?). How many different approaches to explaining capitalism (or different aspects of capitalist phenomena) coexist on this list? I certainly don’t feel paralysed by the alternatives. Do you? On the contrary, I might feel paralysed with boredom if we all agreed on everything.
>If you do not do that but settle on one, you do this either arbitrarily or for a reason. If arbitrarily, then this is no advance on the blind faith you criticize. If for a reason this is because you have a reason for belief and no longer doubt everything.
Again, I don’t understand the connection you are making between reasoning in favour of a particular approach, theory, model, method, technique (whatever) and the absence of doubt. The reasoning process in deciding between theories surely depends on the criteria used to evaluate them (because different criteria exist, evaluation cannot escape doubt). Doubt is an advance on blind faith to the extent that it implies openness to other possibilities and willingness to change one’s mind (i.e. be convinced by the arguments of others).
Marxists I think are realists on the matter. We strive for an explanation that is true in the sense that it corresponds to the way the world is independent of our explanation. Who decides on this? It is not a "who," but the world that decides -- the test of explanation is practice. The trouble is that practice and its results also must be interpreted. And who decides how this is done? There is no escape from the dilemma. By honoring the test of practice we hope to narrow the domain of fallibility, but our fallibility never disappears. So it is essential that decisions about common action be made in a fully informed way, cooperatively. But cooperative decision does not settle the matter. It is still practice that is the test.
All comes back to defining the object of inquiry, doesn’t it? Since we are talking about a ‘socially constructed’ world and not a ‘natural pre-human’ world, I’m not sure (i.e. I doubt) how far you can say that the world is independent of our explanation of it. Indeed, the proposition that practice can change the social world seems reasonable, to me, only if inhabitants of the world are capable of doubting their current ideas about it. Practice changes the social world because it changes how individuals understand the world, the test changes what is being tested.
----- Original Message -----
From: Nicola Taylor
Subject: [OPE-L:7311] FW: RE: Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum
Ø But when I look in a mirror to change lanes there is usually no positive reason to doubt the laws of optics.
Why not? Optical illusion is not only possible but a key component of psychological testing. The question is: what relation do you suppose exists between this external law and your *judgement*? Likely your judgement is NOT independent of what you have *learned* in a lifetime about the relationship between yourself, the vehicle, the apparent speed of other vehicles, laws of optics etc. Likely also that nobody else’s experience is exactly the same as yours. On top of this, confounds must certainly enter the field if you have had a few drinks or a fight with a loved one, or you are l! ! ate to pick up your kids, or even if you are just playfully thinking about your response to Jerry, or simply by virtue of the fact that human vision doesn’t actually correspond to laws of optics. So, on the problem of changing lanes (as on the problem of navigation in general) a moment of doubt seems infinitely preferable to me than blind faith in laws (of any kind).
Ø Also, reference to authoritative texts by appeal to their authority does not develop science. But applying or extending a theory rich enough to explain the causal structure of some significant part of the world, including the social world, may take complex and sustained argument coherently developed. Fidelity to background theories we judge to represent accurately (approximately) relevant causal mechanisms is not submission to authority.
Again you are talking about judgement really, aren’t you? So, here’s a thought experiment. Let’s say judgement is required as to the accuracy of any particular explanation of causal structure, yet three people make three completely different judgements, all backed by sustained coherent argument for the preferred explanation of underlying social structure. First, “how” do you decide which of the three has the better appreciation of the underlying causal ‘laws’? More importantly, “who” will decide the criteria for comparative judgement? I can think of lots of answers to both questions, each of them open to challenge.! So, ‘de omnibus dubitandum’ – at least until someone can show me how and in what way ‘fidelity’ is actually a better tool.
----- Original Message -----
Subject: [OPE-L:7307] Re: 'De omnibus dubitandum
Preface A: re , you're welcome, Rakesh.
Preface B: after David Y's plea of "enough of this" in ,
I was prepared to let David have the last word in this thread and
let this topic drop. Since Howard has entered the fray and since
I think there are important issues to be addressed, I will -- pace
David -- have more to say now.
Re Howard's :
[ *Digression* -- if uninterested in sailing, scroll down:
> 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
An attitude of "doubt everything" is *exactly* what is needed under
the conditions you suppose. Countless boats and lives over the
years have been lost following a navigational error in which the
vessels were steered inadvertently -- often under conditions of
limited visibility -- towards a point that the navigator assumed in
the presence of incomplete information to be the destination or
refuge but which turned out to be another location. The rule
under these circumstances is never to commit yourself totally
and irreversibly until you *know* where you are (just like you, as
a driver of a car, should *never* change lanes until you *know*
that there isn't a car in the other lane.) More broadly,
"doubt everything" is an excellent perspective for all phases of
boathandling and outfitting. At sea one must act as if all 4 of
Murphy's Laws are valid: "contingency seamanship' is required.
This is a life-and-death question for sailors. - End digression.]
> <snip, JL> 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 point that I was trying to make previously is that anti-authoritarianism
was key to Marx's perspective and *should be* key to our own. This is
not, as you seem to believe, a judgment which is made in abstraction
from practice and history. Quite the opposite. An understanding of the
history of Marxism tells us it is a vitally important revolutionary stance.
*Accepting authority* has been common practice for many movements that
considered themselves Marxist and *arguing from authority* has probably
been the primary form in which debates among Marxists have taken place
since Marx. Whether the authority figure was Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao,
or Gonzolo the acceptance of authority has discouraged independent
thinking and has been a tool that has been used by authoritarian and
beaureacratic elites in organizations and institutions. Indeed, one could
argue that, while authoritarianism may not have been the cause of
Stalinism, it formed a necessary ideological and social-conditional component
which was required to keep the ranks and masses in line. In some cases,
the 'authority figure' (e.g. Marx, Lenin) had to die first before the "followers"
could re-cast that person's life in those terms. Thus, following Lenin's death --
against Lenin's explicit requests -- statues were commissioned across the
USSR and locations were named after him. And, adding insult to injury,
invoking his name horrible atrocities were committed by political opponents.
Had a culture of anti-authoritarianism been prevalent within these organizations
and institutions, it would have been much harder for beaureacratization to occur.
Viewed from this perspective, the failure of many "Marxists" to embrace
anti-authoritarianism has been a contributing factor to the deaths of *MILLIONS*
of people in the XXth Century. It has also been a contributing factor to the
cult-like status of many smaller Marxist organizations. Yes, we have been given
many, far too many, causes for "real, living doubt".
A good case could be made for us completely abandoning the term "Marxist".
After all, even Marx didn't consider himself to be a Marxist. Justin Schwartz,
in fact, recently claimed that "Marxism" was an invention of Bakunin who
used the term in a derogatory way (Rubel however suggests that it begins
himself used the expressions "scientific socialism" and "critical socialism"
As critical socialists, we should reject all authority figures: 'respect for authority'
is a profoundly reactionary perspective. We should have NO heroes. We
should build NO statues. We should idolize NO one. We should be the
"followers" of NO one.
In  David wrote that he found my "comment" from [72l9l] to be "jesuitical".
Since David brought the Jesuits into the conversation, let us discuss the
practice of the Jesuits. The allegedly "critical" standpoint of the Jesuits can
only be comprehended within the context of their *faith*. That is, their faith
leads them to accept all in "The Bible" as the Word of God. The question,
therefore, from a Jesuitical perspective is not whether the Word of God is
correct but how to *interpret* the meaning of the Word of God. In this sense,
Jesuitical and Talmudic debates are very similar. They are hermeneutic
debates only. The Jesuits, let us also recall, are a part of the Roman
Catholic hierarchy and are *profoundly* authoritarian (and have a history of
blood-letting in the name of faith, e.g. in the Spanish Inquisition.) In this sense,
and in all other senses, I have been putting forward an ANTI-Jesuitical
perspective: we should "follow" no one; we should have "faith" in nothing;
we should look to the future with our eyes fully open; we should apologize for
no one (except, where applicable, ourselves); we should be critical to all --
*especially* those like Marx whose perspective we to a great extent identify with.
In solidarity, Jerry
--- howard Engelskirchen
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