[OPE-L:422] Re: Method

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Sun, 5 Nov 1995 00:33:32 -0800

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On Sat, 4 Nov 1995 glevy@acnet.pratt.edu wrote:

> Duncan wrote [OPE-L: 406]:
> > No method guarantees scientifically interesting results.
> Please explain.

Well, you have to have a substantive idea that explains the phenomenon in
question. I guess I really think that it is almost impossible to separate
discussions of method and of substantive scientific hypotheses except at
the most general level. Each scientific insight suggests its own method,
its own paradigmatic problems, and its own mode of explanation. A good
theory generates an interesting method, rather than the other way around.

> > Marx ... tried a number of different strategies. I think the one he
> >settled on in the first volume of Capital was aimed at emphasizing the
> >continuity between his thought and Smith and Ricardo's. It might have
> >been more Marxist for him to start with historical materialism.
> It is too easy to misinterpret the meaning of short e-mail messages, so
> I'm going to have to ask Duncan to explain more about the above.
> 1) Marx intended Capital to be a "Critique of Political Economy." This,
> by itself, suggests that he viewed his theory as a radical departure,
> rather than a "continuity", from classical political economy. You would
> agree, correct?

As you say, e-mail lends itself to misunderstanding. But I'm
uncomfortable with the phrase "radical departure". It seems to me that
Marx was concerned to "critique" in the sense of "correct" Classical
political economy. I take him to be saying that Smith and Ricardo had
discovered important things about capitalist production, but that they
did not understand the full (historical materialist) significance of what
they discovered. I also think Marx found much less to correct in Smith
(who shares Marx's understanding of the technical dynamism of capitalist
production, and on the whole has a much more materialist position on
issues like population, wages, and so on than Ricardo) than he finds in
Ricardo, who fascinated him, but seemed to him wrong about the long-run
tendency of capitalist production and the mechanisms determining the real

> 2) The method of Smith and Ricardo was *radically* different than Marx's
> method of investigation, correct? In particular, wouldn't you agree that
> Marx's systematic dialectical method re the ordering and
> inter-relationship of categories (influenced by Hegel) is a very
> different method of enquiry from either classical political economy or
> contemporary (e.g. marginalist, surplus approach, Post-Keynesian, etc.)
> economic thought?

I think all successful scientific theory-building is dialectical (even
neoclassical economics!) and the main advantage Marx had was that his
Hegelian education made him more conscious of the dialectical processes
in his own thought. Don't sell Smith short dialectically, however. Hegel
developed a lot of his ideas in trying to come to terms with the Scottish
enlightenment writers, including Hume and Smith.

I think there are basic differences, but at the level (see above) of the
substantive theories.


> > In OPE-L Solidarity,
> Jerry