[OPE-L:998] Re: Examples and texts

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Wed, 7 Feb 1996 16:39:31 -0800

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Andrew writes:

> I thank Gil for his reply to my jigsaw puzzle parable. Unfortunately, I
> find it less plausible to believe one can solve a jigsaw puzzle by throwing
> out pieces, as Gil suggests the TSS interpretation does, than to believe
> that pieces can but one another than interlock.

It's only "less plausible" if one assumes _a priori_ that one has all
and only the pieces from the same set before one. But it seems to me
that assumption is exactly the point at issue.

> But the main issue I want to address is HOW to solve questions of interpreta-
> tion. I say the text says A; the standard interpretation say the text says
> B. We can argue till the cows come home about this, and it seems as if
> were starting to do just this on ope-l. This is at minimum a very inefficent
> way of resolving the problem. We're just not going to agree.

But I have a little more faith in the process than that. Surely we
can agree on at least a) what Marx did or did not say in specific
passages, and b) if given arguments are logically valid. Indeed,
subject to some (unavoidable) noise, I think we're iterating to such
an agreement, or at the least an agreement as to what the
irresolveable point of conflict is. That's a step forward.

> But I do think interpretative issues can be solved, because, as I argued in
> several posts a few months back, I think the adequacy of different
> interpretations is an *empirical* matter, resolvable in the same way and to
> the same extent as other empirical disputes. It always amazes me that the
> most "rigorous," "scientific" types often try to make interpretation a
> matter of subjective taste.

I have much less faith in this assessment. The nature of the
connection between theory and empirical evidence is that at best
there is a line of implication from theoretical claims to evidence.
There is no such line of implication from given empirical results to
a given theory. Indeed, as theory develops we discover more and more
observationally equivalent claims.

> I think falsifiability is important here. My interpretation would be
> falsified if someone discovers statements in Marx such as the following:
> "The values and prices of the inputs are by defintion equal to the values
> and prices of the outputs."
> "The value of a commodity cannot be affected by past deviations of prices
> from values."

If this is understood as a condition on the expression of value
indicated by Marx's definition, Marx does indeed make such a
statement--p. 130 of the Penguin edition:

"Commodities which contain equal quantities of labour, or which can
be produced in the same time, have therefore the same value..."

"The value of a commodity would therefore remain constant, if the
labour-time required for its production also remained constant."

I note that the expression of value v = pa + L violates both
conditions, since by this expression commodities which can be
produced in the same time might yet have different (pa) terms,
and since a commodity's value might change over time due to changes
in p even if the labour-time required for its production remained
constant. More on this in my next post.


> Now, barring the discovery of such passages, how *else* can disagreements
> over interpretation be resolved. I say that the most adequate interpretation
> is that which best makes sense out of the whole. And I maintain that the
> theoretical conclusions of the text are indeed a part of the text. An
> adequate interpretation must be able to replicate the text's theoretical
> conclusions. There's one exception--the text might be internally
> inconsistent. But that must be *demonstrated.*

I think I've gone one better: I've shown that the conclusion of
Marx's value-theoretic argument presented at the end of Ch. 5 is
invalidly derived from the premises advanced in Ch. 5. Since this
conclusion is essential to what follows, this is a significant step.


> Finally, I'm sure Gil didn't mean it, but one can infer from his comments
> that the TSS interpretation is not a good-faith interpretation of Marx's
> texts, that people have discarded evidence, constructed readings they
> know don't make sense, in order to get the conclusions to fit. That's
> one possible inference of course, not the only one.

Indeed, Andrew, I intended no such inference. Read closely and
you'll see that I'm only suggesting that your approach repairs a
necessary inconsistency in Marx's own argument--not that you've
discarded evidence, or Marx sforbid, "constructed readings [you]
know don't make sense." Of course, the "necessary inconsistency"
clause above is still being debated.


> The really weird thing about all this is that the alleged "proofs" of
> Marx's internal inconsistency were almost universally accepted without
> complaining about the interpretation that led to the inconsistencies.
> Now people seem very reluctant to accept the refutations of internal
> inconsistency afflicting Marx's value theory. Why are the criteria
> for accepting refutations of the "proofs" so different from the criteria
> people had employed in accepting the proofs in the first place???

No complaint about this, except on my reading you are not so much
"refuting" the standard interpretation so much as demonstrably
discarding one of Marx's two hypotheses about the connection between
price and value. Yes, I know that's still under contention as well.

> Anyone who is still not convinced that the TSS interpretation has
> refuted all the usual proofs of inconsistency and error in Marx's
> quantitative value theory, I ask you: what are your criteria for
> an adequate refutation--criteria that are falsifiable in principle???

For a starting point, see my next post in response to Alan.

In solidarity, Gil

> Andrew Kliman