Re: [OPE-L] equality versus equivalence

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sun Jul 15 2007 - 01:50:57 EDT

Hi Fred and Paul,

Thanks.  If I understand, you both agree that generalizations in the
empirical sciences are not logically proved.  So Paul, I agree with your
project of extending the more sophisticated formal resources now available
to us to clarify and amplify Marx's argument (and your article looks very
interesting!), but in the end, we still do not establish the validity of
Marx's argument regarding the role of objectified labor in regulating the
ratio in which goods exchange, or the argument of any other natural or
social scientist, by means of the resources of a formal system alone.  We
have to ground our argument on some other foundation.  And some other
foundation than 'assertion' or 'conciseness' also.

Originally you both proposed empirical adequacy as the other side of the
coin -- the counter to logical proof.  And, Paul, you argue in your response
to me that if the correlation between prices and labor content was only 50%,
whereas the correlation between prices and energy content was 98%, then we'd
have to reject the hypothesis that labor was the scalar conserved in

But, and this is a question for you both, without more, is this true?
Suppose I'm able to show that the incidence of allergies in Glasgow
correlates most adequately with the fluctuation of spring prices on the
Lisbon stock exchange -- the price record in Lisbon connects the most data
points in Glasgow.  Must I reject whatever alternatives I'm considering and
replace it with the Lisbon stock exchange explanation, whatever that is?

Of course not.  But then that means there is something else we're after
other than just empirical adequacy.  Agreed you must be willing to put a
hypothesis to an empirical test to call it scientific, but that in itself is
not enough.

And I notice, Fred, that in your explanation of Marx's argument earlier in
response to Paul and then in your recent post in response to Claus, you
don't appeal to empirical adequacy at all, but to other features of strength
in Marx's theory.

Don't we need to make what it is we're after clear?  Isn't the point that an
explanatory account must pick out a causal structure of social life capable
of accounting for the empirical phenomena being investigated?  And aren't
the comparisons we want to make always in the last instance about causally
grounded explanatory mechanisms?  We want to identify generalizations that
are causally sustained.

Suppose a university medical research team identified a virus that plausibly
explained 50% of the data whereas the Lisbon exchange record correlated with
98% -- we'd still prefer the research team's explanation.

And isn't the difference between objective properties and subjective choices
an effort in the direction of identifying competing causal structures
offered to account for the ratio in which goods exchange?

It seems that before saying Marx doesn't logically prove, which no one does,
or that we will decide by whatever theory satisfies the most data points, we
ought to situate our discussion with regard to the respective background
theoretical contexts on offer and the causal structures and explanatory
mechanisms proposed to account for empirical phenomena.  That seems a more
appropriate way to engage controversy over the role that objectified labor,
or any other candidate, plays in regulating the ratio in which goods

All of which is to say that my concern here has been to argue that proposals
of the sort that say there's no logical proof in Marx, so we look to
empirical adequacy to determine whether objectified labor regulates exchange
miss something important.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Fred Moseley" <fmoseley@MTHOLYOKE.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, July 14, 2007 10:13 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] equality versus equivalence

Quoting Howard Engelskirchen <howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM>:

> Hi Fred and Paul,
> Paul, you mentioned in an earlier post that Marx's choice of labor
> objectified labor) as a scalar was an assertion and was not logically
> proved.  And Fred you responded (to Andy and Paul, I think) by saying that
> Marx's argument did not constitute a logical proof, but rested instead on
> its empirical explanatory adequacy.  I read your arguments in this post on
> the strength of Marx's argument, but first I want to understand what it is
> you have in mind by insisting that Marx has not offered a logical proof.
> Equally (or is it equivalently?), Paul, I want to understand what you mean
> that Marx's argument about labor is only an assertion.
> Neither of you may intend this, but the argument always seems inevitably
> sound as if this were somehow a failing of Marx's argument:  that he
> have offered a logical proof, but failed to do so.
> For example, Paul, is bare assertion the only alternative available to
> logical proof in science?
> And Fred, does anyone offer logical proofs of such things?  Induction, of
> course, doesn't prove.  And deduction proves what is already implicit in
> premises.  So why do we say that Marx has not logically proved?   Can you
> offer an example of a generalization in the natural or social sciences
> *is* the result of logical proof?
> Thanks; I've enjoyed the exchange.
> Howard

Hi Howard, thanks for your comments.

I agree completely with what you say, and this has been one of my main
points (sorry if I was not clear about this).  Marx has been
criticized, from Bohm-Bawerk on, for having "failed to provide a
logical proof of the labor theory of value in Section 1".  (Indeed, the
reviewer in the Centralblatt made the same criticism in 1868, and Marx
replied that this comment reveals "complete ignorance both of the
subject dealt with and of scientific method.")

But NO OTHER ECONOMIC THEORY provides a logical proof of his basic
assumptions.  The bar is always set so much higher for Marx's theory
than for other theories.  Theory appraisal should always be
COMPARATIVE, so that one could not get away with these debating tricks.

I think that Marx provides a strong argument for the plausibility of
the labor theory of value, from his objective (or materialist) point of
view; but it is not a logical proof, because it depends on this point
of view.  Similarly, arguments for the plausibility of the utility
theory of value are not logical proofs, but depend on the neoclassical
subjective point of view.  The choice between these two theories cannot
be made on the basis of purely logical arguments, but should be based
primarily on the RELATIVE explanatory power of the two theories.  And
the most important phenomenon to be explained in a theory of capitalism
is PROFIT, and all the important phenomena related to profit
(conflicts, technological change, crises, etc.)


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