[OPE-L:5545] Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Fri May 11 2001 - 06:36:31 EDT

Hello Nicky,

I'm very grateful that you replied...i always end up doubting that I 
have made any sense at all when writing on these issues!

On 10 May 2001, at 11:23, nicola taylor wrote:

> 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). 

'Above' you made the point that different concepts of the same 
thing (eg snow) are possible. But this does not establish that 
things in themselves are unknowable. Rather, it is compatible with 
the view that we know reality through our ideas (sensations, 
concepts...'thought'). Of course there are different concepts of the 
same thing - this does not tell us that those concepts have no 
close relation (such as isomorphism, or reflection) to the thing 'in 
itself'. It tells us that both things and ideas are complex. The only 
way I can think of for you to reach your conclusion is for you to 
have a prior belief that ideas are radically different from their object, 
from reality, without any identity or isomorphism between the two. 
If you do *not* believe that ideas lack an isomorphism with objects 
('in themselves')  then the fact that we access the world through the 
medium of thought, and the multifaceted nature of thought and 
things, would *not* strike you as such an ultimate barrier to 
knowledge of 'things in themselves'...the concept of a thing in itself 
would lose its Kantian and ultimately Humean sceptical 

> 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. 

Not quite. Feyerabend precisely *rejects* the notion of such 
criteria. Rather, the assumption you must buy is that objects and 
ideas are radically distinct (without at the same time being 
identical or isomorphic); this assumption you do appear to uphold. 
You share the key assumption of the debate and side with 
Feyerabend on the issue of whether or not there are general criteria 
for scientificity / knowledge. 

  I am saying rather, that
> concepts might be more adequate or less inadequate to our understandings
> of capitalism, and require continuous development.  

I agree with this.

> 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. 

Yes, the criterion for knowledge is the objective world. This is 
pretty straightforward. If a theory tells me to leave by the window 
and not by the stairs, then I reject it (at least, if i am at the top of 
an office block). Your eskimo would do the same. If a theory tells 
me that money doesn't exist, or is purely 'inessential', I reject that 
too. Amazingly the banal fact of money is omitted from most 
theories of the economy. I reject them. If a theory muddles up the 
objective order of the basic categories capturing reality I will reject 
it too. In other words, I accept something like the systematic 
dialectic criteria for theory. But I reject the various Hegelian / 
Kantian philosophical underpinnnings put forward by systematic 
dialecticians. Instead I favour a materialist dialectic. 

Re Duhem-Quine thesis: this only gets off the ground if we accept 
the radical difference of theory and object (minus any identity of the 
two). If theory is isomorphic to object then 'theory-ladeness' must 
be given a different interpretation, one that has little to do with 
Duhem and Quine. (I have studied neither of these two thinkers but 
i bet they have a bloody stupid theory of mind and hence of what 
'theory' actually is).

> 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. 

Well, I have suggested above that your whole position is based 
upon a flawed theory of mind in the 'specific' sense you refer to 
above. It is a theory that one way or another leads to the view that 
'thought' and object are radically distinct without any isomorphism 
between them.

 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.

Yes, but society is mediated by, and a part of, material reality. A 
society where everyone jumped off office blocks wouldn't last for 

Many thanks,


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