[OPE-L:5528] Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: nicola taylor (n.taylor@student.murdoch.edu.au)
Date: Wed May 09 2001 - 23:23:48 EDT

Hi Andy,
thanx for this terrific debate....

>>Whilst 'on the run' you have clarified that the reconstruction you 
>>refer to is not a 'reconstruction' of the 'world' (even though you refer 
>>to the 'world' later on in your original paragraph). Rather it is a 
>>'reconstruction' of 'Marxian concepts'. The question then becomes, 
>>so what? 

Suppose that you are living in a small Eskimo community in the far north of
Greenland.  It's likely that you have at least 30 words for the colour
white as it appears in snow; 30 concepts of whiteness that are socially
comprehensible and have meaning both to the individual and the community
and are communicated intergenerationally through language.  Now suppose you
are a physicist concerned with departures from absolute white, measured
precisely as waves of light.  A different concept of whiteness requiring
different concepts of illumination and concrete determination.  The snow is
the same in either case as it exists *externally* in itself; i.e. external
to our thinking about it.  Yet, what is relevant is not snow's existence
per se, but the meaning given to that existence through concepts of
whiteness that guide the intentional actions of the individuals living in a
particular social community.  In the case of the Eskimos, concepts of
whiteness mediate the intramental (individual) and intermental (social)
'understandings' of the specific (snow-bound) environment in which
individuals *act* and must survive.  To paraphrase Mike W., this structured
'social world' of intentional actions is the 'world' of interest.  

>>What is the point of reconstructing 'Marxian concepts'? 

To reduce the chances of ending up in snowdrifts, and contribute to a more
adequate comprehension of what *is* knowable....  The point is that the
absolute reality of capitalism is no more knowable than the absolute
reality of the colour of snow - in each case what we *can* know about snow
or capitalism is given only by our concepts - by 'shared' understandings of
the object of thought.
>>The only convincing answer I can think of is, 'these concepts 
>>denote reality'. And denote must mean something like an 
>>isomorphism of thought (concepts) and reality (the world). At least, 
>>one way or another, you *must* be presupposing a (close) 
>>relationship between Marxian concepts and reality, on pain of 

These concepts denote what is *known of reality* - an important
distinction.  Implicit in my argument is the claim that reality in itself
is unknowable (see above). 
>>A while back there was a discussion of the philosophy of science 
>>on this list which seemed to indicate that few people broke 
>>decisively with the terms of the traditional debate between 
>>Pooper/Kuhn/Lakatos/Feyerabend. Your comments fit well with my 
>>view that Hegelian systematic dialectics doesn't either. That's why I 
>>responded to your original post.

To buy into the Popper/Kuhn/lakatos/Feyerabend debate one must accept that
there should be some set of criteria for judging between competing
theories.  I don't see that I am doing that.  I am saying rather, that
concepts might be more adequate or less inadequate to our understandings of
capitalism, and require continuous development.  To go back to the Eskimos,
I doubt that multiferous understandings of the colour of snow are given at
birth, and I doubt that these understandings are constant within the
community: semantic shifts within language/concepts occur all the time.  I
think that 'doing' science is a process of this sort, at least to the
extent that we are trying to extend our understanding of a social reality
in which we act intentionally, and that this process occurs through the
interactions between individuals within a particular community (in our case
this list).

>>What is lacking from those terms is the recognition of an objective 
>>world. This is indeed the 'criterion' for concepts, theories, theories 
>>against theories, etc. As you say below, you 'probably' disagree 
>>with this statement (with any single criterion for theory etc.). I fear 
>>scepticism is the inevitable result, thus do not find the vision of 
>>'many blossoming ideas' a 'nice' one in this context - my 
>>disagreement with this view was another prompt to repsond to your 

Seems to me that *you* are the one buying into the criterion debate!  How
would you choose between alternative theories, through reference to the
objective world, btw??  Given that what you understand of the objective
world might be different from what I understand of it???? You haven't
actually said *how* the objective world can be apprehended apart from our
rival concepts of it. Duhem-Quine thesis etc. 
>>Finally, how it is possible to have a 'theory' of 'thought' of the 
>>'thinking head' without a theory of mind? When talking about 
>>anything I presumably have some idea of what it is that I am talking 
>>about. To talk of water boiling I have a theory of water; to talk of the 
>>capitalist state i have a theory of capitalism, to talk about thought i 
>>have a theory of mind. Without this then statements would lack 
>>any essential meaning. Ok it (the theory of mind) may be implicit, 
>>but nevertheless it is surely essential. To omit discussion of it is 
>>not to lack a theory of it, therefore.

By 'theory of mind' I meant something quite specific: i.e. no theory of
*how* the *individual conciousness* appropriates an *externally* given
reality; no theory of reflection is required, and no theory of instrumental
appropriation (in the Piagetian/structuralist psychological sense).
Rather, the possibility for individual 'thinking' about reality is given by
language alone, by social *concepts of reality*.  However, if a 'theory of
mind' is taken more broadly (in the sense of a theory of 'thinking) then of
course you are right, and a theory of mind is implicit in some approachs to
value-form theory.  It is a thoroughly Vygotskian theory of mind, however.
I mean, one where language is the key psychological tool *mediating*
between intramental (individual) understandings of reality and intramental
(social) knowledge of it.  There is a dynamic of change implied, in the
sense that a body of social knowledge is given, but what we know of it
changes with the possibility of intersubjective and subjective reflection,
dialogue, debate...  In this sense, the reconstructive endeavour is
fundamentally semantic.
>>Sorry to ask such silly questions whilst you are on the run. Hope 
>>you would be interested to respond when the chance allows it.

You persuaded me to pay attention.  Soooo..I took a deep breath and stopped
running for a few minutes.  Thanx again for the opportunity to discuss.

Nicola Mostyn (Taylor)
Faculty of Economics
Murdoch University
Telephone: 61-8-9385 1130

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