[OPE-L:5523] RE: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Michael Williams (michael@williamsmj.worldonline.co.uk)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 06:16:01 EDT

I do not seem to have made myself clear, so here is a quick response to

> -----Original Message-----
> From: owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> [mailto:owner-ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu]On Behalf Of howard
> engelskirchen
> Sent: Wednesday, May 09, 2001 4:52 AM
> To: ope-l@galaxy.csuchico.edu
> Subject: [OPE-L:5521] Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political
> Economy
> Re Michael's 5517...
> One of the hares I noticed loose, Michael, was the idea of "living in an
> epoch driven by pure form."
> I wonder what that could mean as a matter of social science?  Social
> science, like natural science, is about explaining causal mechanisms.

I am distinctly dubious about the reduction of social science to causal
mechanisms analogous to those sought by natural science - because of the
quite conventional problem of intentionality. IMO, reasons, motives, etc
cannot be reduced to causes. (Note that I do not say that social events have
no causal conditions; just that the specific domain of social science is
socially structured intentional relations.)

>  If
> it were a matter of saying that understanding the causal mechanisms of
> society depended above all on something pretty much like what Aristotle
> meant by formal causality, that this was key, then I could follow.  But
> this kind of causality would not be referred to as "pure form," and
> although Marx's analysis of capitalism is certainly the first example in
> social science demonstrating its significance, I don't know why formal
> cause in this sense would be specific to the capitalist mode of
> production.

1. What I have in mind is the interaction between agency and structure,
nicely argued fairly recently by Tony Smith, such that agents are disposed
by their structural location to tend to reproduce and/or transform the
structures in which they are located that predispose agents ... etc..

2. Thus I do not argue for a specific kind (formal) of causation peculiar to
capitalism, but for the nature of capitalist social structure as
specifically characterised by (near) contentless form - crucially the
Value-form whose sole (near) autonomous manifestation is in Money.

>  As a consequence, I don't know why there would be any special unease (for
> *that* reason) that would attach.  But then "driven by pure form" must
> refer to the kind of thing usually meant by causality in the modern world,
> which is efficient cause, the wind against the windmill, the thing that
> pushes.  In this case I wonder if this isn't a category mistake.  That is,
> I don't understand how "pure form" can push a windmill.

I don't claim it does. (see above)
> ...
> As for the "existential contingency of content," Michael, are
> there so many
> different ontological categories of content that we can speak of
> contingency?

I do not understand what notion of 'contingency' depends upon the number of
ontological categories at work? Rather, it is, for example, 'necessary' that
capitalism incorporates Money (with all the hierarchy of social functions
outlined by Marx); but it is 'contingent' what object bears Money (bullion,
notes and coin, electronic account entries, etc.)

> Following Marx there are relations of (1) labor, or, more
> broadly, behavior as the material transformation of the world, (2) force,
> and (3) consciousness or information.  What else is possible for social
> science?  Paper money has "objective social validity" because of
> compulsory
> action of the state, and credit money, which has its source in promise, a
> relation of consciousness, also depends on the state's compulsion ("if he
> do not pay, his goods will be sold by the sheriff").

I don't think I disagree with any of this.

>  In what sense does
> ontological coherence here depend on contingency?

I didn't say that. What I said was: "a pure form in itself can have no
ontological coherence." I thought this was a statement of the obvious: in
what sense can there be actual form without content? (Of course, it is
equally impossible to conceive content without form - except perhaps for god
pre-genesis or the big bang!)

(I'll try to stay with this thread, but other pressures may force me to drop
out. This will imply no respect for other participants.)



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