[OPE-L:1722] Re: Definitions and subject matter

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Mon, 8 Apr 1996 17:15:14 -0700

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Jerry (old)
Is capitalism merely an abstract construction or does it express a
"material entity" (a rather ambiguous term, BTW)?

Paul C. [OPE-L:1720]
It is an abstract category.

Jerry (new)
Is it not a representation in thought (a "abstract concept") of an
underlying material and social relationship?

Jerry (old)
My question, ..., concerned the *form of presentation*.
While we want our theories to be rooted in material reality, on what
basis must the logical presentation and unfolding of a subject matter
include the historical evidence?

Once a science has matured there is a tendancy for textbooks to
restrict themselves to the logical presentation of a subject, perhaps
playing down the confirming evidence.
This is perhaps permisible for elementary didactic purposes once
the confirming evidence is well established. But it can give rise to
the illusion among readers that its validity is based only upon
its logical coherence: that what is logically coherent is in consequence

Firstly, there's that old question concerning whether or not political
economy is a "science" and what that expression means. Secondly, I
agree that the validity of a theory can not be based *solely* on its
logical coherence. In that sense, I agree that there
can be an "illusion" regarding logic. However, ...

When establishing a theory one must not fall prey to this self delusion.
One must attempt to discover if there is evidence to back up ones
thoughts. Given the Hegelian mode of presentation with which Marx in places
coquetted, there is an temptation among some of his readers to fall into
such idealist self delusions. Marx, himself, with his, copious historical
details, tried to avoid this temptation.

... I believe that you are assuming that the mode of presentation *alone*
was Hegelian. What about the mode of investigation? If it was *only* a
question of coquetting Hegel's style of writing, what do you make out of
Marx's comments on method in the "Introduction" to the _Grundrisse_?
While we should not fall into the idealist illusion regarding
abstract theory, we must equally avoid the empiricist illusion of
believing that the outward surface appearances represent fully the
underlying social relationships.
Since this thread emerged out of the discussion on defining
accumulation and petty commodity production, let me note the following:

"Here we take no account of the export trade, by means of which a
nation can change articles of luxury either into means of production or
means of subsistence, and *vice versa*. In order to examine the object
of our investigation in its integrity, free from all disturbing
subsidiary circumstances, we must treat the whole world of trade as one
nation, and assume that capitalist production is established
everywhere and has taken possession of every branch of industry"
(Vol 1, Ch. 24, Penguin ed., footnote, p. 727).