Re: [OPE-L] exploitation and abstraction

From: ajit sinha (sinha_a99@YAHOO.COM)
Date: Sat Jun 30 2007 - 06:59:48 EDT


--- Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@TISCALI.NL> wrote:

But what is "reality"? And how do you know it? No
matter how much you try, you cannot get out of
'theory'. You seem to assume that "reality" is
something self-evident. But if that was so then there
would be no need for any kind of theory--we will
simply live in a world of axioms. Cheers, ajit sinha
>
> What authors do you think have used levels of
> abstraction as a "subterfuge"?
>
> To be honest I do not have a really good example
> here at home just now, to
> show you what I mean. I am recalling discussions
> occurring at the time I was
> a varsity student in 1978-1982 when Althusserianism
> was influential among
> social scientists. But you often strike it in the
> transformation problem
> literature - "Marx's method of abstraction" is
> supposed to explain why there
> is no problem and so on, or, if we follow his method
> of abstraction then
> there is no problem. Which is to say that what he
> says is allegedly true,
> because of his method of abstraction. But if I say,
> "X is true, because I
> say that it ought to be theorised in a certain way,
> and if it is theorised
> in that way, it is true" then I am not saying much,
> other than that my
> meanings are true, if you adopt them as true. I have
> to explain at least why
> X has to be theorised in that way rather than
> another way, or why you ought
> to adopt my theory rather than another one,
> otherwise my position is
> arbitrary or fiduciary.
>
> The substantive point is that economic life is a
> complex process, a totality
> with many interconnected circuits mutually
> influencing each other, which
> could be studied from a variety of angles, and it
> gives rise to all kinds of
> theorems which hold "other things being equal", i.e.
> ceteris paribus. Indeed
> Marx first studied economic laws in their ""pure
> form" and then tried to
> integrate various factors which modified the laws.
> His argument is that the
> valid procedure is one, which allows all the
> theorems to be contained within
> one system which consistently explains cases in
> which "others things are not
> equal" or why the exception proves the rule. A
> theorem or description has a
> certain validity at a certain level of generality
> and in a certain context,
> but at a lower or higher level of generality (at a
> level of greater or
> lesser specificity) the theorem or description must
> be qualified, because it
> applies only with certain conditionals. The process
> of redefinition and
> qualifying can occur consistently in a methodical
> way, or it can occur in a
> slipshod manner. It can be disciplined by logic and
> experience, or occur in
> an arbitrary way. It can be eclectic or systematic.
>
> Marx says: "In the analysis of economic forms...
> neither microscopes nor
> chemical reagents are of use. The force of
> abstraction must replace both."
>
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/p1.htm
>
> But he goes on to explain directly thereafter that
> he doesn't just abstract
> willy-nilly for the sake of a story, or start from a
> principle, rather he
> studied England as the locus classicus of the
> capitalist mode of production,
> and abstracted from this historical example (and the
> theories made about it)
> what he thought to be the general laws of this mode
> of production. So the
> abstraction is a generalisation from experience. He
> tries to write it up, in
> a way which shows how each of the contradictions
> implied by commercial trade
> are practically resolved and mediated, but also how
> these solutions
> themselves give rise to fresh contradictions.
>
> But with Althusser you get a very different
> interpretation. Althusser claims
> boldly that "the concept of history can no longer be
> empirical, i.e.
> historical" (Reading Capital, p. 105). In fact,
> history becomes
> unhistorical, and quite consistent with this idea,
> Althusser indeed
> explicitly calls the totality of structured
> structures he identifies an
> "eternity" in a Spinozist metaphysical sense of
> self-causing, infinite in
> its kind, and necessarily existing. But this is
> merely a sophistical,
> grandiose way of saying that if I want to cognise
> changes in the passing of
> time, I can do so only with the aid of a referent
> which remains constant. I
> cannot have a variable without a constant, I cannot
> fully define finitude
> without infinity, and so on.
>
> Real history must then be made to conform to
> Althusser's eternal,
> superhistorical concepts. But Spinoza is not Marx,
> and Althusser in fact
> adopts an approach which is diametrically opposed to
> Marx & Engels.
> Althussser doesn't abstract from a real empirical
> object, instead he has
> this hierarchy of abstractions already, which he
> wants to superimpose on
> empirical reality. And he wants to endow these
> abstractions with a special,
> privileged status a priori, in advance of
> experience, rather than validate
> them in the course of empirical research. From
> there, we get arguments that
> a claim is true, because it is stated at a certain
> level of abstraction, and
> if it turns out not to be true, it must be because
> it is stated at another
> level of abstraction or the wrong level of
> abstraction.
>
> But this is childish and vulgar, because we can go
> round and round
> redefining things ad nauseam, and something will
> always be true at a certain
> level of abstraction and false at another, you can
> go any which way with it.
> Althusser has these generalisations to which real
> history must be made to
> conform, and therefore the critical question of how
> we arrive at our
> generalisations doesn't even arise. In the end, all
> it boils down to, is the
> claim "Marx said so, therefore it is true" which is
> a dogma or argument from
> authority. Glucksmann has this funny critique of
> Althusser's Stalinism which
> he calls "a ventriloquist's structuralism" (who
> whispers the lines? how do
> we know?) but in the end it's a quasi-religion, a
> faith in a theory
> independent of its actual application. Whether or
> not a level of abstraction
> is appropriate cannot be simply dictated by a
> logical method, rather its
> appropriateness is determined by the actual
> requirements of an analysis of
> empirical reality.
>
> In the first edition of his excellent little book
> "What is this thing called
> science?", Alan F. Chalmers was still an
> Althusserian, but in the subsequent
> editions he removed the Althusserian part. That's
> quite correct, because
> Althusserianism isn't science, at best only theory.
> What Althusser wanted to
> do is attack empiricism, and he ends up with
> theoreticism. But why does he
> attack empiricism? Quite simply because the facts of
> experience contradict
> the theory, and he wants to keep the theory. But
> that is just to say "I
> don't know how to develop my theory so that it
> explains, that those things
> which appear to contradict it in reality, are really
> quite consistent with
> the theory". Compare this to Marx's discussion of
> the law of value: "if one
> wanted to 'explain' from the outset all phenomena
> that apparently contradict
> the law, one would have to provide the science
> before the science." And that
> is exactly what Althusser does: he wants to provide
> the science before he
> has actually done any.
>
> Jurriaan
>




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