[OPE-L:5512] Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 01:12:44 EDT

Having wandered realism's trackless outerreaches, I can attest to the
importance of not needlessly multiplying abstract entities, but, as
important as simplicity is, I think the situation must be very rare where
it would count for much in theory choice.  We would want to know first what
account gives a more comprehensive rendering of concrete phenomena (as I
understand it value form theory would agree with that) and then also which
theory was capable of grounding a metacritique (a) of alternate theories
and (b) of itself.  After all that it is unlikely there would be any
ceteris paribus left.  But on the other hand I would be surprised if the
stronger theory were not simpler than important competitors.

Anyway, apropos of May Day, Amy Goodman, on her New York radio show
Democracy Now (www.democracynow.org) reported on demonstrations in London
where one of the banners called on the government to "overthrow capitalism
and replace it with something nice."  So perhaps we have to incorporate
some such criterion now in theory choice. 

In any event I can't really see the simplicity of value form theory; it
does not seem to be an Ockham's razor reading of Marx.  And what is the
ontological status of a pure form anyway?, e.g. from Nicola's post: 

>Suppose that money is not a commodity but
>> pure form


At 06:41 PM 5/7/01 -0700, you wrote:
>re 5510
>>On Sat, 05 May 2001, you wrote:
>>>  Inspired by Nicky's [5487] -- excerpts of which
>>>  Does Ockham's Razor then not suggest that we
>>>  should embrace VFT in preference to Marx's
>>>  theory? By the same token, does Ockham's Razor
>>>  suggest that we should embrace surplus approach
>>>  theory in preference to either VFT or Marx's
>>>  theory?
>>>  1) to what extent can an appeal to empirical
>>>  evidence 'settle' the question of the superiority
>>>  of alternative paradigms?  
>>There  is an extensive literature on the  relationship
>>between Occams  razor and choice between theorems.
>>This goes under the heading of the Mininum
>>Description Length principle, for an exlanation see:
>>or do a web search on Minimum Description Length.
>Paul C,
>I may be missing the point of Occam's razor but this website does not 
>seem to understand it. As Schumpeter notes, the debate was one 
>between nominalists and realists, though the realists in maintaining 
>that only ideas and general concepts had real existence were at odds 
>with the contemporary meaning of realism. The nominalists on the 
>other hand argued that there were only singular individuals so that 
>words designating a group of individuals or concept were only useful 
>conventions but did not designate a reality and were thus to be 
>mistrusted. Occam thus maintained that "one should not needlessly 
>increase the number of abstract entities," that principle of economy 
>being known as Occam's razor.
>Just the simple injunction to minimize constants in a regression 
>formula does not seem to get at the heart of Occam's razor.
>In fact the relationship of Occam's razor to contemporary statistical 
>work is at another level. For insofar as modern statistical knowledge 
>attempts to substitute "synthetic substitutes for multiple things", 
>e.g., THE price index, for increases in price; THE unemployment rate, 
>for unemployed persons, it attempts to constitute and support 
>realities of a superior level, while still being grounded in 
>nominalist and individualist conventions. That the status of reality 
>is granted to two levels indicates the ground that has been covered 
>since Occam--as argued by Alain Desrosieres, The Politics of Large 
>Numbers: A History of Statistical reasoning. p. 70
>Yours, Rakesh

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