Re: (OPE-L) Ajit's paper

From: Ian Wright (iwright@GMAIL.COM)
Date: Thu May 27 2004 - 15:20:18 EDT

Hi Ajit

I wrote this before Rakesh's comments on your paper. I agree with his point (2).

I read your paper because I am interested in understanding opposed
philosophical positions. I have an observation on the difference
between Marxist and analytic philosophy, as represented by Gramsci and
Wittgenstein in your paper.

My summary point is that analytic philosophy represents one moment of
the general methodology of science, and that it is a mistake to
elevate this one moment to a general methodological approach because
it is inherently limited.

This is perhaps one deep reason why Sraffa's work is a great critique
but has been difficult to generalise to dynamic situations.

All the rest of this simply expands this point.


You note the difference between Gramsci's and Wittgenstein's attitude
toward commonsense theories. Gramsci thought that commonsense theories
should be rationally critiqued and replaced, in order to raise the
scientific understanding of the masses, whereas Wittgenstein thought
that commonsense theories should be analysed in order to uncover their
hidden assumptions and avoid philosophical confusion.

Gramsci had a transformative attitude whereas Wittgenstein had an
empirical attidude toward ideology. I guess this must be connected to
the fact that Gramsci was practically involved with a revolutionary
party that aimed to transform social reality, whereas Wittgenstein had
an aristocractic disdain for politics, notwithstanding the
difficulties his family encountered with the Nazis.

Let me give another example of this empirical attitude toward ideology
that is characteristic of analytic philosophy. I hope you can see some
strong parallels in this example.

Gilbert Ryle, an influential analytic philosopher, wrote "The Concept
of Mind" in 1949, which I think is required reading for anyone
interested in the philosophy of mind. It's an example of both the
power and limitations of the analytic approach to scientific
questions, in this case the understanding of the human mind. What Ryle
is that our everyday, commonsense ways of talking about the mind --
what is often termed "folk psychology" -- contain hidden assumptions
about how the mind is constituted. By analysing folk psychology he
demonstrates how misuse of our everyday theory can yield philosophical
confusions. For example, he thinks that such misuse can lead to
mind-body dualism, and I agree with him here.

However, Ryle does not consider that commonsense theories of mind may
be factually incorrect and should be replaced with better theories. He
takes the existing commonsense theory as given and then generates new
knowledge about that theory via analysis.

For example, he does not mention mechanisms that support mental
phenomena. Instead, he considers mental terms, for example describing
someone as "happy", as referring to a large set of counterfactual
statements, rather than to an occurrent state of a mechanism or
mechanisms in the brain. In that sense, his theory of the mind
is static and without mechanism.

But if only this approach is taken then scientific progress is not
made. For example, there was a time when people thought that emotions
occurred in the heart. We now know that the heart pumps blood,
although it may pump faster during emotional episodes. Presumably if
Ryle had written before William Harvey's discoveries
he would have applied his analytic talents to uncovering the hidden
assumptions of the theory that the heart is the seat of the emotions.
That may have uncovered implicit contradictions and confusions in the
theory. But it would not have generated a better theory. For that
required getting down and dirty with reality -- in this case cutting
people open -- rather than conceptual analysis.

A pure analytic approach to commonsense theories is therefore limited
because it tends to be an empiricism of concepts -- which can be very
useful and illuminating -- but in order to produce new and better
theories of reality a full scientitic methodology
is required, one that includes transformative practice. I think a
great weakness of analytic philosophy in general, and Wittgenstein's
philosophy in particular, is that it tends to be only an empiricism of
commonsense theories.

From a philosophy of mind perspective, it has been the practical work
undertaken in computer science, AI, and cognitive science that has
furthered our understanding of language and how it can be used. This
work is primarily concerned with theories of mechanism and building
and testing mechanisms. Some researchers do find Wittgenstein's ideas
in this area helpful, although not many I think.

Overall, I think you are right to suggest that there are deep
philosophical connections between Wittgenstein's and Sraffa's work.

For example, as should be expected with an analytic approach, Sraffa's
analysis did reveal conceptual confusions in existing "commonsense"
theories, for example the capital controversies, but the analytic
approach is not a methodology designed to generate new knowledge of
causal mechanisms that operate through time and explain the succession
of events. It is more a conceptual analysis of existing theories. This
very much contribute to scientific progress, but it needs to be
understood as part of a more encompassing methodology.

I do not know your take on the strengths and weaknesses of analytic
philosophy, but it appears that you may be making a virtue out of its
limitations. For example, the denial of a dynamic theory of prices
seems to be an unnecessarily ascetic attitude toward reality, perhaps
motivated by an undue devotion to analytics. My apologies if this is a
mis-characterisation -- but I do recall earlier exchanges in which you
described a dynamic theory of value as "bunk".



On Thu, 27 May 2004 10:12:51 -0400, OPE-L Administrator
<> wrote:
> Ajit's paper
> "A Comment on Sen's 'Sraffa, Wittgenstein, and Gramsci"
> is attached. It is a MS Word document which is 15 pages long.
> In solidarity, Jerry

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