[OPE-L] Toss-Ups, Tiebreakers, and Scorecards

From: Jerry Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Fri Mar 16 2007 - 12:42:11 EDT

>   Rather, I am saying that there are two different possible
> interpretations of Marx, both with substantial textual evidence.
> According to one interpretation, Marx made a mistake with the
> transformation problem, and according to the other interpretation, Marx
> did not make this mistake.  So in this "toss-up" situation, why not
> accept the interpretation that makes Marx's theory a logically
> consistent whole, rather than insist on the interpretation with logical
> mistakes?
>  And yes, I would apply the same criterion to Sraffa and to others.
> This does not mean that Marx or Sraffa is necessarily "right", but that
> when there is uncertainty in their writings, which can be interpreted
> in different ways, that priority be given to those interpretations that
> make the theory internally logically consistent.  To me this seems to
> be the most reasonable and the most "fair to the author" way to go.

Hi Fred:

There are a number of problems with this approach, some of which

1)  When has there *ever*  been could reasonably  called  a "toss-up"
situation in  terms of interpretations of Marx?

For there to be a "toss-up" situation, there have to be two *equally*
plausible interpretations.   Yet there has never been agreement that
two opposing interpretations are *equally* plausible.  Rather, alternative
interpretations have put forward different evidence in support of their
respective interpretations.  So, the "tiebreaker" method you suggest
can not be used since there isn't  a "tie" to break.

2)  You are assuming that it is a simple question of deciding between
_one_  interpretation which asserts that Marx's quantitative theory is
internally consistent and _one_ interpretation which asserts that is not the
case.  Yet, there are _many_ interpretations which take _both_ sides
and those interpretations are significantly different.  You can not
aggregate the interpretations into two sides: each of these many
interpretations have to be considered on their own merits.

3) "Possibility"  is too weak a criteria to use when selecting among
different interpretations.  One has to look at the whole of the evidence
(including, as Riccardo said, the original texts in German) and try to
establish what is the most *probable* interpretation -- even while
recognizing that there is no agreed upon method for determining which
is the most probable of explanations.  In that sense, there is -- and can
be -- no litmus test for raking probability as it relates to different

4) Ultimately, we have to recognize, as Riccardo emphasized, the fragmentary
and incomplete character of  Marx's writings.  As he put it "If the texts
have  different, seemingly contradictory definitions,  let [it] be that way,
and stop".   If, however, we want to take Marx's theory and try to resolve
those contradictions, let us -- in the interests of  honesty, fairness, and
accuracy -- call it a RECONSTRUCTION of Marx's perspective.  In
that sense, I think that we should refer from now on to the TSSR or  the
TSST  ("T" for theory) instead of the TSSI.  Once that is done, then we can
consider the theory on its own merits rather than consider whether it is or
is not accurate as an interpretation.

5)  Theorists are people and people say and do contradictory things.  Marx
was a person and hence also made contradictory statements.  An effort to
say that given the choice between two possible interpretations we should
select the 'one' which asserts the lack of contradictions is NOT fair to an
author.  To be fair to an author is to recognize that the author was human
and hence fallible and to then evaluate which is the more likely based
on all available evidence.  At issue here is our stance to Marx: whether we
treat him as a ghostly authority figure to be defended by his living
followers or whether we treat his theories like we treat all others.  This
is a very important issue for Marxists insofar as it transcends what Marx
said and did and instead relates to the theory and praxis of Marxists.  We
are all familiar with the history of political argument based on quotations
from people who are held up as authority figures (Marx, Engels, Lenin,
Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, Dunayevskaya,  et al) and this is a form of praxis
which we need to transcend.  In that sense, I think  we *should*  aim to
reconstruct (develop, deepen, extend) rather than merely interpret Marx.
But, if that's what we're doing, let's be honest about it and say that.

6) If we use the "toss-up" method that you propose, would that mean that
the TSSR would win and your perspective would lose?

Recall "The Scorecard" approach:

Wouldn't you agree that deciding between alternative explanations can't
be done using such simplistic criteria (i.e. Marx's 'results' were the
following;  whichever perspective scores highest in replicating those
results wins the interpretive game)?   If "The Scorecard" method is
rejected then why should embrace what seems to me to be similar
-- your "Toss-Up" suggestion?

In solidarity, Jerry

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