[OPE-L:5014] Re: ideal vs real value

Michael Williams (mwilliam@compuserve.com)
Wed, 14 May 1997 06:35:21 -0700 (PDT)

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Paul C writes:
> The difference between value form theorists and others seems to me
> to resemble that between those who have taken a realist view of
> science - that there exists a definite reality independent of measurement
> like Einstein, and those like Bohr and the Copenhagen school who
> held that science could only be about correlations between measuring
> acts.

Michael W
An interesting analogy, but:
1. 'realism' is used in a wide variety of ways. In my view the relevant
kind here is the critical realism (Bhaskar in philosophy and Lawson (eg) in
Economics) that is a variety of scientific realism that is justified
2. The opposition then is not with idealism but with empiricism (the most
sophisticated version of which is the constructive empiricism of van
3. I am (so far) a transcendental idealist.

But what's in a name? The issue is really about 'what is real and what is
not' (Robert Zimmerman): what a position's ontological commitments and
epistemological criteria are. And I believe these issues are quite
different for social as opposed to natural sciences. For social science,
the appropriate ontological commitment includes ideas, since these help to
determine beliefs and desires and thus action and thus social phenomena:
social reality is the unity of being and consciousness. It is a plausible
working hypothesis that there is a social reality out there independent of
the ideas in *my* head. It is not plausible that social science can
theorise that reality independent of its (intersubjective) ideas of it. We
cannot conceptualise without concepts (funny that) and what we know are our

What I 'see' as 'real' around me is a social system, characterised in its
economic aspects by the systemic exchange of commodities. The production of
products as (potential) commodities is embedded in that system. Of course
this social system has 'natural' determinants, for which I am happy to
accept the existence of a substructure (molecular, atomic, sub-atomic
particle, quantum). However, I do not see the force of this 'underlying'
metaphor for the social system itself - the ontolgical commitment required
here is to the systemic, interconnected nature of the phenomena. That is
what is 'real'.

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"

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