[OPE-L:4266] Re: Questions to Gil (4243)

From: Gil Skillman (gskillman@MAIL.WESLEYAN.EDU)
Date: Tue Oct 24 2000 - 19:02:15 EDT

John, I isolate this question to respond to now because in some ways it's
the easiest.  I'll address your other questions soon.  You ask, with
respect to the thought experiment I posed in 4243,

>Prior to embarking on this journey, I'd at least wonder why Marx 
>never went in this direction.    

Steve might answer this issue differently, but to me the reason is fairly
obvious.  There's an old quote, referring to scientific progress more
generally, to the effect that we now see as far as we do because we stand
on the shoulders of giants.  Clearly the same thing is true here.  Using
his labor value theory as an analytical vehicle, Marx arrived at
substantive claims about capitalism that vulgar political economy did not
identify.  He evidently thought that the vehicle was necessary for arriving
at these claims, and by reading the details of his argument a century and a
quarter later we can see, with the benefit of hindsight, why he might
reasonably have thought this. But also in hindsight, and aided by
theoretical and historical developments since Marx wrote, the possibility
emerges that his labor value theory is at best unnecessary for establishing
or extending these substantive claims (and I would add something stronger,
to the effect that allegiance to the labor theory of value has directly led
to some central issues of political economy being posed and/or resolved in
fundamentally wrong ways, but let that be for another post).  If this
possibility is a reality, Marxism's theoretical project could only be
advanced by recognizing this point and refining the theory accordingly. 

So the fact that Marx required his labor value theory *then* should not
give it any presumptive claim to our allegiance *now,* particularly if
thought experiments similar to the one I've posed (on which more in an
upcoming post) indicate that this theory is at best superfluous.  To
connect this to an analogy I drew in post 4243, it may as a historical fact
be true that Copernicus arrived at his cosmological system by contrasting
available astronomical data with the predictions of the Ptolemaic system.
But that doesn't imply that contemporary astronomers need to follow his
same intellectual path through the tortured complexities of Ptolemaic
epicycle analysis.


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