[OPE-L:6251] RE: Re: RE: Realism regularities and prediction

From: P.J.Wells@open.ac.uk
Date: Thu Dec 20 2001 - 13:24:47 EST

In #6249, Chris A wrote (responding to my suggestion that Quetelet may not
be the best resource for those who advocate a Marxism that not only is
quantitative but also admits the possibility of free-will)

>I think we had this discussion before. Then I pointed to 
>Marx's New York
>tribune article in which after preferring the free will thoery of
>punishment to the utilitarian one, he comes down on the side 
>of fatalism;
>only a change of society can get rid of the constant supply of 

Absolutely, and I had the existence, but not the actual content, of Marx's
article in mind when writing my original post.

I've just dug it out again, and I'm not sure that Chris's gloss of it is
really accurate.

Marx (having provocatively asked what gives anyone the right to punish *me*
for the "amelioration or intimidation" of *another*) says that "from the
point of view of abstract right, there is only one theory of punishment
which recognized human dignity in the abstract", to whit, Hegel's
formulation of Kant, to the effect that punishment is the *right* of
criminals, visited on them by their own request ("crime is the negation of
right [and] punishment is the negation of this negation").

But Marx immediately comments "There is no doubt something specious about
this formula, inasmuch as Hegel, instead of looking upon the criminal as the
mere object, the slave of justice, elevates him to the position of a free
and self-determined being."

He asks "Is it not a delusion to substitute for the individual with his real
motives, with multifarious social circumstances pressing upon him, the
*abstraction* of 'free-will'...This theory...is only a metaphysical
expression for the old 'jus talionis'...".

Next he points out that "dispensing with all paraphrases, punishment is
nothing but a means of society to defend itself against the infraction of
its vital conditions *whatever may be their character*"  [emph. added]
before going on to commend Quetelet's statistical discoveries -- he
explicitly commends Quetelet's alleged successful *prediction*, in 1829, of
the numbers of various types of crime for France in 1830!

First, I'm not sure that all this amounts to "preferring the free will
theory of punishment to the utilitarian one"; it's true that he pours scorn
on the idea that punishment "works" (there is "the most complete evidence
that since Cain the world has neither been intimidated nor ameliorated by
punishment"), but he *doesn't* say that punishment can't defend society (as
opposed to improving the world).

Second, it is only the abstract Hegelian notion of free-will about which he
expresses scepticism. Given Marx's usual view that there's a lot in Hegel,
provided that one reads him upside down, I take this as suggesting that a
non-abstract, materialist notion of free-will would be possible and

In particular, it is the idea of free-will as self-determination free of any
outside influence that he is attacking. This is not the same as the more
reasonable "could have done otherwise, even given the circumstances" sense
of free-will which Allinn discusses in his commentary on Lawson.

Thirdly, while he praises Quetelet, it is for demonstrating that "crimes
observed on a great scale" show "the regularity [and by implication the
inevitability, in the given conditions] of physical phenomena". This may be
fatalism, but not in the sense implied in the 19th C debate on "statistical
fatalism" -- which referred to crimes, etc., observed on a small (i.e.
individual) scale.

I suspect that Marx's views on all this were pretty similar to Engels', who
attacked both the idealist notion of free-will and the determinism of
mechanical materialism.


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