[OPE-L:4178] Re: Re: Who agrees with Popper?

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Fri Oct 20 2000 - 06:41:26 EDT

Some answers to queries and general comments:

1) Steve, Bhaskar is indeed the main man behind critical realism. 
As it happens critical realism has made really quite extraordinary 
inroads into the 'economic methodology' field. This is largely due to 
the efforts of Tony Lawson over the last 10-15 years - to get 
acquainted with it, you simply have to read his 1997 book 
'Economics and Reality' (Routledge). Some hate CR, some love 
CR. It is something worthy of discussion, imo. Also, CR is quite 
attached to some important Marxist theories. Thus, for example, 
our own Hans Ehrbar (hello Hans) sees the 'new interpretation' 
through (dialectical) critical realist lenses - and check out Hans' 
home page for a magnificent annoted commentary on the whole of 
Capital inspired by CR! (Hope you don't mind the plug Hans). 

2) Steve, you lament lack of discussion of more concrete issues. 
Maybe we can agree that there is a balance to be drawn here. 
Discussion should always keep in mind every level of abstraction. 
My take on the discussion of eg the transformation problem (eg 
between Ajit and Fred) is, in fact, that it there would be some 
benefit from some explicit focus on more abstract issue of method! 
The thing is that there are surely some fundamental disagreements 
at the methodologcal level, and that these will inevitably 'infect' 
more concrete discussion, so it is helpful to address them 
explicitly some time. This is, in fact, one reason why I took up your 
assertion re Lakatos, since it seemed to be a methodological belief 
so much at variance with my own which must therefore be one 
reason why our readings of Capital are so different. Yet, I know 
what you mean in being dissatified with the abstract theoretical 
stuff being so predominant - I'm sure most people feel the same. 
The last thing to be doing is to be spending the entire discussion 
on abstract issues!

3) Patrick asks 'what is the alternative to falsifiability?' and gives an 
example of econometric falsification. More generally, alot of the 
discussion seems to me to have taken as unproblematic the 
meaning of 'empirical falsifiability'. (Though, it was questioned a 
couple of times). Let me briefly problematise the notion by way of 
reply to Patrick's question. Basically, the notion of 'falsifiablity', in 
so far as it is a useful one, attempts to express something very 
important, viz. materialism: our true concepts must be determined 
by, they must 'reflect', the material objects. Yet, even as stated, 
this principle of mateialism is hardly uncontroversial. For example, 
as I have stated it, materialism embodies a 'reflectionist' theory of 
truth and mind. I read critical realism, for example, as flatly denying 
such a theory however! And for good reason, it would seem at first 
sight. Since the object and its concept would seem to be entirely 
different things (one a specifc external structure, another an 
entirely different specific internal structure emergent from neurons, 
and the brain / CNS more generally). How then can one be said to 
'reflect' the other? [John Locke uses the term 'resemblance' and 
never once even realises the problem!]. 

But less abtractly let me just suggest that there are very different 
processes caught up in the term 'falsification'. Patrick mentions 
econometrics. OK there is one process. But then there is 
'qualitative' research. I would say that this is 'empirical research' 
and so must have something to do with 'falsifiability'. Ie. I would 
argue against the positivist claim that falsifiability is all about fitting 
numerical data to mathematical / statistical models. But, clearly, 
econometrics and qualitative research are different processes, 
problematising the meaning of the single term 'falsifiability'. Finally, 
one can think of different levels of abstraction. At a very general 
level we have the 'categories', of time space, materiality, cause, 
etc. Or we have general truths like 'if i don't eat I die'. In view of 
these it seems, on the one hand, ludicrous to assert the 
'falsifiablility' critierion [this is a similar point to the example raised 
of the moon being made of cheese]. But on the other hand, we 
presumably want to say that the categories refer to a material 
world so that in some sense they are 'falsifiable'! But this is a very 
very different notion of falsifiablility to that surrounding the 
hypothesising testing, using econometric techniques, of, say, the 
magnitude of the marginal propensity to consume.

Many thanks,


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