[OPE-L:5746] the infinite quantity of logically plausible social theories theorem (IQLPSTT)

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Sat Jun 02 2001 - 09:17:27 EDT

There has been much discussion on OPE-L about
whether Marx's theory of value is internally
consistent and logical. I don't want to re-hash those
arguments here. Rather I want to ask the following:

* _even if_  Marx's theory of value (and/or variations
  thereof) are shown to be logically coherent and
  consistent, what does that tell us? In other words:
  so what?

I believe it can be easily demonstrated that there
are potentially:

a) an infinite quantity of social theories which are
logically implausible and inconsistent;


b) an infinite quantity of logically plausible social

I will call b) the "infinite quantity of logically plausible
social theories theorem" (IQLPSTT).

Any reader of *science fiction* knows the validity
of the IQLPSTT.  

Once we accept the validity of the IQLPSTT, we
must recognize that if it can be shown that a
theory is logically plausible and consistent,
the merit of any one of this set of theories can
not be judged based on this alone. Indeed, it
only establishes a trivial result.

Why is this?  At the risk of stating the obvious,
it is because social theory seeks to explain
social dynamics in a *particular* context.

Thus, there might be an infinite variety of theories
to explain social life unique to *another galaxy*
but none of these theories -- even when logically
plausible and consistent -- can be used to
comprehend social organization for humanoids
on this planet during our epoch.

One must not *merely* ask whether a theory is
logically consistent; rather, one must ask whether
a theory is capable of comprehending the essential
nature and reality of the subject matter.

Suppose then that the subject matter (i.e. WHAT
CAPITALISM.  The 'test', ultimately, for such a
theory is HOW WELL it comprehends the subject
matter. E.g. are important and necessary relations
specific to the nature of the subject matter
(capitalism) explained?  How well, then, does
the theory explain the history of the subject
(capitalism)?   Are there ways to empirically
validate or invalidate essential propositions of
the theory?  What sort of 'research programme'
does a particular social theory generate? E.g.
does it open up new areas of research by its
advocates or does it have a 'degenerate' research

It is for the above reasons that I remain somewhat
mystified by attempts to prove that Marx's theory
of value is internally consistent.  Surely, all of
those on one side of the debate have already come
to that conclusion anyway!  And what's more
important politically -- answering the charges by
economists about Marx's theory _or_ developing
and deepening our understanding of capitalism
with the object then of surpassing that mode of
production?  I would call that a 'no brainer'
in the sense that the answer should be obvious to

Relatedly, in answer to Ajit's [5742], I would assert
the following:  there are many who will be convinced
by either Sraffian and/or the Althusserian critiques
of value theory that you present; many more (on
this list) are unconvinced.  You have presented
arguments to them that they find, for the most
part, unconvincing and they have presented counter-
arguments to you that we all know you find
unconvincing. They're not trying to avoid your
critique any more that you are trying to avoid their
critique.  But, at some point, there has to be the
recognition by all of the obvious: you're not
convincing them and they're not convincing you.
So, at that point, the sensible thing to do is just
to move on to discuss other matters, right?
After all, what's the point in anyone from either
side of a debate knocking their head against a wall?
This doesn't mean that we can or should forget
about these disagreements or never raise them
again, but it does suggest that there are more
productive areas of possible discourse. E.g. since
Rakesh mentioned the world market,  perhaps
we should discuss theories (and realities) of
international trade. Steedman and Metcalfe wrote
some important stuff on that subject way back
in 1979 (including an excellent critique by Steedman
of H-O-S theory.)  Have there been any more
recent investigations of that subject by surplus
approach theorists?  What do you think about the
arguments of Eric Sheppard and Trevor Barnes in
_The Capitalist Space Economy: Geographical
Analysis After Ricardo, Marx and Sraffa_ (London,
Unwin Hyman, 1990) which is broadly sympathetic
to surplus approach perspectives?  Have they or
others developed the "Extensions" that are
suggested near the end of the book (pp. 298-
300)  concerning 'complexities of the labour
market, finance capital and credit, and the state'?
In other words, what I am suggesting as a possible
line of inquiry (related to the first part of this post)
is to discuss both how well different theories
explain the realities of capitalism (when examined
globally as a mode of production) and the types
of questions and lines of research that they are
concerned about developing (i.e. the breadth of
respective research programmes.)  Perhaps in
discussing these issues we may find that we
are interested in many of the same issues (or
maybe not.) In any event, it would at least be a
new line of inquiry for us (and, indeed, I'm not
really aware that there has ever been much of a
'cross-paradigm' discussion by Marxians -- in any
forum -- of the merits of differing research

In solidarity, Jerry

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sun Jul 15 2001 - 10:56:28 EDT