[OPE-L:2161] Insults and Characterisations

Alan Freeman (100042.617@compuserve.com)
Sat, 11 May 1996 06:00:13 -0700

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The last few days have been interesting.

Re Paul #2135 and Jerry #2139, personally I think insults can be
quite productive but Paul does himself an injustice. I think the term
'Scholastic ideology' considerably sharpens and clarifies the
discussion. It is not an insult but a characterisation, with a
definite meaning, which usually takes discussion forward.

More reprehensible is to abuse a *person*, by confusing an individual
with a theory or method of argument. But I don't think this has
happened. I support characterising theories and arguments as sharply
as required. Characterising a person is more extreme but I don't
recall Paul ever doing so. So perhaps we should discuss the
characterisation and not get too upset about whether it is an insult.

Paul considers our views as scholastic on the basis that we seek
refuge in Marx as absolute authority. This misstates the issue, which
is not whether Marx is right but whether he is rightly represented.

There is such a thing as a duty to truth. If any enquiry into what a
theory actually says is Scholasticism then academia has a license to
represent anyone's theory in any way it chooses. Is that what Paul

What is Scholasticism?

As far as I can make out Paul defines Scholasticism to mean
'discussing other people's theories'. I am in favour of discussing
other people's theories but against Scholasticism. My view comes from
Bacon, who initiated the critique of the Scholastics [and
incidentally rejected Copernicus and stoutly defended the theory that
the sun went round the earth] so I think I am on firm ground.

Bacon does not argue against studying either theories or texts. He
disputes the methods by which it is done. He argues first that the
'Schoolmen' are wrong not to enquire into first principles, second
they are wrong not to collect all relevant data, thirdly he
recommends the Inductive method should take priority over the
syllogism, and fourthly that this must include the search for
negative refutation as well as positive affirmation.

The Renaissance objection to Scholasticism, leading through
Rationalism to Speculative Philosophy, is thus not that the
Scholastics interrogated theory too much but that they did not
interrogate it enough: they did not question the basis of their own
knowledge, which they therefore assumed absolute.

This gives rise to my own personal formula for 'portraying reality':

(a) explaining all the known facts
(b) doing it better than any other theory
(c) doing it on the basis of the minimum postulates.

This is far from a basis for holding up any theory as absolute or
beyond question. Quite the contrary it is a basis for discriminating
between theories, on the assumption that the development of theory is
a process of continuous evolution of all thought and that a perfect
theory cannot exist.

But to discriminate between theories one has first to say what
constitutes a theory. A theory is not a collection of bright but
incoherent suggestions. It is a definite body of concepts with an
underlying methodology, a measure of internal consistency and not
least an empirical methodology.

My most basic point is that TSS should be recognised as *a* theory,
along with nondualism, new solution, the VILE theory, Schumpeter-Marx
credit-cycle theory and for that matter PostKeynesianism, etc.

At present it is not so recognised. People write potted histories of
economic theory from which it is conspicuously absent, refute it by
ascribing to it things it does not say or airily dismiss it as
'orthogonal' to discussions in progress. They present lectures and
books asserting no consistent marxist answer to the transformation
problem exists - which means writing out of the record all theories
(including Bruce's, Fred,s, Duncan's, and Gerard's) that *do* claim
to supply a consistent marxist solution.

People don't on the whole do that for other theories (and when they
do it is just as unacceptable). This *is* deeply offensive and
responsible for a great deal of the heat, apart from being utterly
unscientific. That is why whenever Paul or anyone else ducks the
question of whether his opponent has a genuine theory, the debate
will get more heated than it need be.

Heat I personally can stand, but it may offend the more delicate.

To deny a partner in discussion the status of theory is to assert a
fundamentally unequal relationship. It is indeed to set up one's own
theory as the arbiter of all disputes. I do not presume to make my
theory the arbiter of Paul's positions. I seek only to discuss on the
basis of equality what our two theories have to say about the world.
But I cannot do this if Paul refuses to recognise that I do in fact
have a theory, or if he rejects it on any other basis than what it
actually says, rather than how he chooses to interpret it, or if he
insists that his own theory - including his own definition of what
constitutes data and how it is to be interrogated - is the only
standard by which it can be judged.

This fundamental question is in my view independent of the connection
between TSS and Marx. But the connection with Marx is also essential.
The courtesy of understanding and discussing each other's theories in
their own terms extends to the dead, including and particularly Marx.

Paul himself wishes to proceed with his investigations independent of
what Marx says. That is his right. But he does not live in a vacuum.
He is not a monad. The isolated nature of marxist work, imposed by
the current stage of the class struggle, is something to be overcome,
not celebrated as correct method or perpetuated as good practice.

He lives in a world populated by people who do not follow his
programme, some of them extremely hostile to Marx. Such as the
bourgeoisie. It therefore matters to intellectual debate, not to
mention world politics, how Marx is characterised and what is said
about his theories. Paid intellectuals should defend the basic ideal
of truth: to make known to the world, factually, what Marx actually
says so the world can judge for itself instead of taking the word of
his opponents. I don't see what is scholastic about that. It is just,
to repeat, a duty to truth.

Just as we do not accept that paid hacks should be given a license to
tell the world that 'Marx promoted the totalitarian state', we should
not give them license to tell the world that 'Marx could not
reconcile values with prices'.

The problem we have at present is that there is no uniformly agreed
view of what Marx says. In a way this is progress because twenty
years ago there *was* a uniformly agreed view, namely v=va+l or
'simple commodity production' as the definition of value, which was
systematically used to crucify him, not to mention the left in

The task of the present moment is not to replace the old orthodoxy by
another but to secure public recognition that there is a *debate*
about what Marx says, and as far as possible acquaint the public with
that debate as accurately as we can.

The most scholastic view is proposed by Paul, who has finally
answered Andrew by saying without realising it that there is only one
interpretation of Marx, namely Paul's. The view we argue - that there
is a debate, and the different interpretations in this debate should
be accorded the relevant status and assessed as such - is the very
reverse of scholasticism.

But this does not mean a kind of PostModernist 'anything goes'. If
there is a debate about what Marx actually said then in this debate,
the works of Marx are *data* and there are questions that can be
objectively settled about what he actually said. We can empirically
*test* whether Marx used the words 'simple commodity production' by
asking the CyberMarx search engine to find these words in Marx, which
I did before entering the Fred/Gil debate. It does not find them.
Less pedantically and better, we can enquire whether the
corresponding *concept* appears in Marx, as no less an authority than
Engels claims it does. This is not a scholastic debate. It is a
necessary duty to truth, to uncover the actual structure of Marx's
theory, and an essential prerequisite to any 'extension' of Marx or
for that matter any refutation of Marx.

Second and thusly, it isn't enough just to recognise what is a theory
and what is not. We also have to understand each theory in its own
right, and its relation to other theories. I'm sorry Paul finds this
tedious, but there is no way out of it. Thought is a social act. You
cannot construct a theory in a direct relation to nature unmediated
by contact with other thinkers. That means you have to define the
rules of engagement with those thinkers. That means you have to have
a methodology for discussing and analysing theories and texts.

It is important and necessary to know that for example Fred and
ourselves agree on the valuation of constant capital, but that we
both disagree with the New Solution on this, and with each other on
historic or reproduction valuation.

When Duncan and ourselves recognised that our common point of contact
was the concept of the value of money, this was in my view a vital
insight which told us what had to be explored to take our debate
forward. It told us where the work had to be done.

When Steve writes down a set of difference or differential equations
to model the progress of an economy over time, we have a very
definite point of contact and a point also of cleavage; we must
necessarily agree that the price of each period is a function of the
price of the previous period and *not* just the technical conditions
of the given period, and this places us in opposition to all
simultaneous theories for whom price is necessarily a function only
of the technical conditions of the given period. At the same time, I
believe such models cannot be closed without introducing a condition
which is in one way or another equivalent to a theory of value, and
he believes they can. This is a testable hypothesis, which Paul
acclaims; but this fact is only brought to light by exigesis, against
which he fulminates.

It is important to know also that these are consequences, not of the
personality of Alan, Andrew, Fred, Ted, Duncan or Steve but of the
*theories* we represent. It constitutes information about the logical
structure of thought: of our theories, which serve in this discussion
as objects, as data.

This sort of tracing of the relations between theories is, I would
insist, a fundamental aspect of intellectual activity, which is a
necessarily collective endeavour.

It tells us not only the logical structure of the body of thought we
both represent, but allows us to focus accurately on what has to be
discussed. It also tells us incidentally what has to be tested
empirically. The function of empirical testing which Paul seems to
ignore is that it *discriminates* between theories, rather than just
confirming or denying an absolutely independent theory with no
relation to any others.

The theory of Marx himself must be present in this type of discussion
precisely *because* he is not a source of absolute authority. He is
in the last analysis a theorist like any other. He marks a definite
(though rather decisive) point in the evolution of modern thought.
But that means, just as we have to establish the relation that each
of our theories bear to each other, we must also establish the
relation they bear to the theory of Marx. It matters, and it is
important, that neoclassical theory is not the same as Marx's theory,
indepedently of whether either of them is wrong or right. It matters,
and is important, to establish whether as is conventionally assumed
the difference centres on the use of marginal techniques or, as I
would argue, on the assertion of Say's law.

Therefore, it is rather important, and not scholastic, to decide
whether any particular theory squares with, or does not square with,
Marx's conceptual framework and methodology. It matters both because
of the insight this affords into Marx, and because of the insight
this affords into the theory itself.

A second post follows.