[OPE-L:1820] [MIKE WILLIAMS] Re: question of subjectivity

glevy@acnet.pratt.edu (glevy@acnet.pratt.edu)
Thu, 18 Apr 1996 17:06:13 -0700

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I don't believe the following has been posted yet so I am re-sending it.
-- Jerry

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From: Michael Williams <100417.2625@CompuServe.COM>
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Subject: [OPE-L:1816] Re: question of subjectivity

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From: Massimo De Angelis, INTERNET:M.DeAngelis@uel.ac.uk
DATE: 4/18/96 3:08 PM

RE: [OPE-L:1816] Re: question of subjectivity

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Subject: [OPE-L:1816] Re: question of subjectivity
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> Date: Fri, 12 Apr 1996 09:12:33 -0700
> Reply-to: ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu
> From: wpc@cs.strath.ac.uk (Paul Cockshott)
> To: Multiple recipients of list <ope-l@anthrax.ecst.csuchico.edu>
> Subject: [OPE-L:1750] Re: question of subjectivity

> Paul C
> ------
> It is not clear to me that a discussion of subjectivity has any place at
> all in scientific political economy nor, for that matter in any science.
> As far as I am aware it was not discussed by Marx in Capital. There
> may be some place in Marxist theory of jurisprudence for an analysis
> of the category 'sub ject of right', but this is not the same as the
> notion of the subject that was present in the old idealist philosophies.
You don't need to look at jurisprudence to find the subject. Just
look at any of Marx's category as they represent class relations, to
find it. What is the qualitative dimension of living labour Paul?
Can't you identify in it AT LEAST an alienated subject (which is a
subject after all)? Or you cannot because you think
it is not empirically observable according to your



Scanning my first week's posting, it is indeed clear that subjectivity is a bone
of contention. To those of us who see no category of scientific subject (Paul?
or are you really just taking a strong anti-naturalist position against the
possibility/relevance of causal explanations in social science ...) I would say
the following: no doubt we can map many physiological and behavioural states
onto brain states; maybe this mapping may eventually be fairly precise and
exhaustive; maybe in that way we can establish causal accounts of those
physiological or behavioural events down through socio-biology,
neuro-physiology, biology, chemistry etc to sub-atomic particle physics; and no
doubt this is all adding to the stock of human knowledge. But is it the kind of
knowledge relevant to me as an economist, social scientist and political being?
I rather think not.

In all of those roles, I cannot avoid dealing with the willed subject and
therefore with irreducibly mental intentional states.

How then to fit the subject into a critical materialist account of the bourgeois

Well, first, I do not see how we can sustain any very revealing
idealist/materialist dichotomy. Primarily this is because of what may be
summarised as the 'paradox of realism': whilst it is inconceivable that the
social world does not exist independent of MY conceptions of it; we cannot
CONCEIVE of the social world independent of OUR (social, inter-subjective)
conceptions. (Try it!). The causal metaphors Paul chose from cognitive science
etc. for the illustrative explanation of why he had written a posting were
aesthetically pleasing, psychologically reassuring, but not useful for critical
political economy.

But this need not herald a slippery slope into whimsical post-modernist
relativism. (Nor can we affor to let it dos so, since short of a definitive
transcendence of - capitalist - modernity by post-modernity, post-modernism is
the latest trahison des clercs against the structurally deprived.)

As Massimo pointed out, at the level of abstraction of (the systematic
presentational parts of) CAPITAL, that is to say of the capitalist economy as a
moment of the bourgeois epoch, subjects appear only without subjectivity, as the
character masks, capital, labour, etc.. Marx gives many bits and pieces of hints
as to how to proceed further. One path in outline might look like this:-
To enrichen this subjectivity, the presentation must move to the level of
'competitive society', where the character masks are recognised as the bearers
not only of value-form determined (I would say ...) social relations, but also
of different income sources. But their free-will remains abstract - they can
deploy these income sources only in accordance with their character masks.
And so to the doubling into civil society and the state and the private sphere,
and the concomitant doubling of the bourgeois subject into economic character
mask, citizen and individual.

Enough - there is an immense research agenda here, but perhaps I have said
something to motivate the following assertions:

We cannot hope to build adequately on Marx without paying attention to levels
and axes of abstraction within a systemic conceptualisation of the totality of
the bourgeois epoch.

Letting in subjectivity does not close off research agenda in the way suggested
by Paul a dozen postings ago; rather not admitting it diverts research into no
doubt beautiful and worthy, but for our purposes irrelevant, avenues. We need
knowledge at the level of individuals and classes ,and their dynamic
interactions with social systemic structures.
(There are, of course, also many non-Marxist research agendas investigating the
nature of intentional relations, their compatibility with causal explanation,
the possibility of empirical investigation of them, etc, etc, (Dennett,
Davidson, Searle, etc).

Not only do people make the social world, not in conditions of their own
choosing; but they try to make it in accordance with what they
(inter-subjectively) believe those social conditions to be. Indeed I would
speculate that the reality of social systems is as much ideas and meanings and
their institutional and other precipitations as anything else.

All of which explains why my current methodological settlement is: Ontology -
transcendental idealism with realist knobs on; Epistemology: systematic
dialectical presentation, to re-present the empirical as the concrete.

Please can I still stay on our listing ...?