[OPE-L:3065] Re: Re: empirical verification of interpretations of Marx?

From: JERRY LEVY (jlevy@sescva.esc.edu)
Date: Tue May 09 2000 - 08:10:32 EDT

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Re Paul Z's [OPE-L:3046]:

I agree that this is an unconventional, and perhaps misleading, use
of the term empirical verification which, as you point out, normally
refers to comparing a theory with data in the real world.

I also agree that when we remain solely in the subject of interpreting
Marx, we are limiting ourselves to a particular subject associated
with hermeneutics. Even if one claims that this should not be the
major focus of Marxists today, it nonetheless remains a legitimate
subject for discussion and debate. One has to be clear, though,
that this is what one is discussing rather than attempting to
combine interpretations of Marx with empirical claims (of course,
there is nothing wrong with doing both *if* one is clear that one
is evaluating propositions in Marx against empirical/historical
data and sources). Otherwize, you have a situation where two
different sides in a debate are "debating" different propositions
(in practice, this is a commonplace mis-specification of the
terms of a debate).

I can't agree, though, that in the field of hermeneutics the best
interpretation is the one which has the minimum descriptive
length. Indeed, if the *subject itself* is inherently complex
(e.g. Marx's analysis of capitalist dynamics) then any attempt
to reduce the subject to a minimum descriptive length runs the
risk of *over-simplifying* the subject such that essential aspects
of a theory are omitted or assumed away. This seems to me to
be one of the methodological issues associated with the Steedman
critique of Marx, i.e. to what extent are elements of a theory
"redundant" or "essential" to a theory which, in turn, concerns
how simple or complex the subject matter is. I'm not sure,
though, whether there has been much discussion among Marxians
with respect to the proposition of "theoretical parsimony".

I recall an extreme example of over-simplification of Marx once
on PEN-L. An economic journalist once offered a (short!)
*one-sentence* summary of all three volumes of _Capital_. He
seemed to think that if a theory couldn't be summarized in
such a manner, then it was a mark against the theory or a mark
against the interpreter. To the contrary, I judged his
ability to summarize _Capital_ in one sentence was a *big* mark
against his interpretation. Yet, I refrained from debating with
him at that time since his error was so enormous, and his claim
so outrageous, that I deemed it unworthy of discussion. Also,
I was aghast!

If we recognize, though, that Marx's theory is complex and often
open to different interpretations, this does not mean that we
have to sink into theoretical relativism. I.e. it makes an
accessment of different interpretive claims more difficult but
*not necessarily* impossible. Indeed, we can all think of claims
about Marx by the uninformed which can be readily disproved.
Where different folks are citing different sources and sections
of Marx's writings, then this becomes much more difficult and
perhaps in some cases impossible and/or futile.

In solidarity, Jerry

PS: I haven't been able to access my Pratt account for some
    time. For the time being, use this address to contact me.
    Also (to compound problems) this account is only delivering
    messages to me in batches so there is frequently a 1-2 day
    delay in my receiving posts. And (to further frustrate me)
    this account doesn't allow me to compose a post efficiently
    (e.g. I can't run a spellchecker or make any changes to an
    individual line after I go to the next line) so my grammar,
    etc. has become sub-standard.

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