From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Mon Nov 07 2005 - 23:05:47 EST
>Hi Steve, > >Not too surprisingly, I disagree with your basic ontology. Let me try >to explain why. However, I think we are quite far apart, so I'm not >sure the exchange would be very productive -- so I understand if you >do not wish to engage. > >An important feature of scientific labour that distinguishes it from >other kinds of activity is the experimental method, which is >theoretically-informed practical engagement with the world. Social >science appears to differ from the physical sciences because we have >less power to construct controlled experimental situations. So often >we construct models, and experiment with them as proxies. This is an >extra level of indirection, so there are more opportunities for error >and bias. But at this level of abstraction, there is not much >difference. > >The interesting question that Bhaskar asks, in a Realist Theory of >Science, is: What must the world be like in order for experimental >activity to be possible? Without expanding on the full argument, the >answer he gives is that there must be a sharp distinction between >causal agents, or mechanisms, and the events they generate. That's >because the aim of an experiment is to remove as many of the multiple >causes of empirical events as possible, in order to isolate and >understand the causal powers of underlying mechanisms. For example, >Mendel controlled for accidental pollination in order to reveal the >mechanism of inheritance; Ricardo controlled for supply and demand in >an attempt to reveal the mechanism of a real cost structure, etc. >Scientific labour, to be possible at all, requires that reality be >stratified, have hidden depth. Scientific work occurs; hence reality >is stratified. > >Given this, we can make sense of the historical separation of science >into distinct fields, which can be ranked when trying to explain the >pattern of events we empirically notice. Some mechanisms are more >important and pervasive than others, more deep: gravity is the obvious >example, as it constrains all activity on the earth, although it does >not determine it. > >Are more interesting example of the ranking of mechanisms and causes >is Marxist theory. For example, Marx spent most of his life studying >economics at a high level of abstraction because his theory of >historical materialism maintained that economic mechanisms constrain >what may possibly happen in civil society and politics. But then what are economic mechanisms? How must they be defined so that they exist cross historically and cross culturally? Where does Marx refer to economic mechanisms? Are relations of production always economic mechanisms? Does not Marx give explanatory primacy to the forms in which and the methods through which surplus labor is appropriated by one class from another? But are these forms and methods always 'economic'? And why is this Marx's theory of historical materialism? Didn't Richard Jones (and less so Steuart) say as much as Marx himself recognizes? Why can't a class which does not directly appropriate surplus labor become socially paramount--say a bureaucratic elite? Who mediates how the even the direct appropriating class interprets and defines its own economic class? Why can't such a mediating class dominate civil society and politics? >In an >important sense, therefore, an understanding of economic mechanisms is >more important for the purposes of a radical critique of society, >than, say, an analysis of the opinions of great political figures. Does the analysis in the 18th Brumaire bear out this reading? >Economics constrains, but undertermines, social life. Why can't we say that about politics, religion, law and culture? >The reason Marx wants to abolish classes, and raises it as the most it >as the most important political goal, is not because it is desirable >in itself, not because Marxists subjectively decide this is a good >thing, but because it is the most important cause of many of the ills >in society. Does Marx say that class exploitation is always the cause of net social ills? Then why can't it be overthrown at will? Is it automatically abolished once it becomes the cause of net social ills (pretending that social accounting is possible). > >We can argue about that theory. But my feeling is that postmodernism >writers in general do not understand the difference between an >experimental approach to knowledge generation and a speculative >approach. Well postmodernists whoever they are are obviously saying that Marx's theory is simply too abstract, that it gives us no bridge from abstract theory to concrete society. >They don't understand the unique features of scientific >labour. So the concrete labour of astrology is not much different from >the concrete labour of an astronomer. Caricature! But perhaps the myth/science distinction is not always so clear. Darwin for example. Yours, Rakesh >The theoretical claims of one >group in society have equal status to any other etc. Postmodern >relativism, in this sense, is an attack on scientific labourers. > >Best wishes, > >-Ian.
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