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

From: Pen-L Fred Moseley (fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU)
Date: Sat Mar 17 2007 - 22:30:14 EDT

Quoting Jerry Levy <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>:

>>   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
> follow:
> 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
> interpretations.
> 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?

Hi Jerry,

I agree that there are many points on which this rule would probably not work.

However, in the particular, very important, case that Riccardo and I
are discussing, I think it is worthy of consideration.  The issue is
the definition of necessary labor-time:  (1) is it equal to the
labor-time required to produce the workers’ means of subsistence (Lms)
(Riccardo), or (2) is it equal to it the labor-time necessary for the
worker to produce the equivalent of the money variable capital (V/m)
(me)?  I would agree that the textual evidence on this crucial issue is
pretty much of a “toss-up”.  And I think Riccardo would also pretty
much agree with this judgment (we probably both think that the textual
evidence more supports our interpretation, but we are both willing to
acknowledge that there is substantial textual evidence to support the
other interpretation; right, Riccardo?)

It turns out that interpretation (2) is consistent with another very
important methodological premise in Marx’s theory:  the determination
of the total surplus-value prior to its division into individual parts.
  And interpretation (1) is not consistent with this important premise.

In this case, doesn’t it make sense to consider the consistency with
this other important premise in choosing among the two interpretations
of NLT?

To those who would still insist that there is no way that one could
reasonably interpret Marx’s writings on NLT as I do (= V/m), I am
willing to say that this is my reconstruction of Marx’s theory, a
reconstruction that makes Marx’s theory logically consistent with the
important premise of the prior determination of the total
surplus-value.  And I would hope that, because of this greater logical
consistency with this important premise, others would be willing to
consider this reconstruction.


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