[OPE-L:1402] Re: Math, methodology and political economy

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Sun, 10 Mar 1996 09:46:22 -0800

[ show plain text ]

Here are some suggested responses to Jerry's questions. He's
certainly right to pose them; there is no argument that formal
analysis has been at times used inappropriately in political economy.
I trust there is also no argument that dialectical argument has
similarly at times been abused in political economy. Also, I hope Jerry
might return the favor and addressed the questions I posed in the post to
which he responds in part below:

> Gil wrote in [OPE-L:1389]:
> > This is not a question of "real" vs "unreal". Formal analysis can
> > address real, and for that matter dynamic, and up to a point, contradictory
> > phenomena as well.
> Up to *what* point can formal mathematical models be used to address
> dynamic and contradictory phenomena?

On the former, there are all sorts of dynamic mathematical models;
e.g., of dynamic games. On the latter point, I don't see
"contradiction" as an intrinsically dialectical notion, though it may
inform a dialectic. Thus one can pose contradictions in formal
terms. An example is the contradiction which lead the historical
system of capitalist exploitation based on usury to undermine itself.

> > There are also important modes of inquiry within
> > political economy which cannot be "replicated by dialectical means."
> For instance?

I gave instances in my earlier post. Questions of logical
consistency and necessity cannot be addressed by dialectical means.
As noted earlier, Marx raises such questions throughout _Capital_.

> > Using formal method in social science does not imply that one is
> > using "the same methods as physics or chemistry."
> Agreed, but there are some who believe that one *can* use the same
> methods of analysis in chemistry, physics, and political economy.

Yes, and there are some who believe that one *can* use dialectical
methods to address questions for which they are inappropriate. Both
beliefs are in error, but need not concern us.

> > > Are there not inherent problems
> > > and limitations with such a method that stem from the nature of the
> > > algebra used?
> >