[OPE-L:7015] [OPE-L:507] Designations

Alan Freeman (a.freeman@greenwich.ac.uk)
Thu, 25 Feb 1999 12:55:48 +0000

I haven't come in on this yet because it had all the hallmarks of a classic
pre-EEA distraction row. But maybe it's been useful.

I want to introduce a point that's gone missing so far but which I consider
of supreme importance: a designation applies to a *THEORY*, not a person.

If one takes a label that applies to a theory, and uses it for a person,
one is party to the classic ad hominem fallacy, which is to reason thus
"since x is a neoclassical, we know what x says is a load of rubbish,
because we know neoclassical theory is a load of rubbish." Substitute
'marxist', 'neoricardian' or 'simultaneist' for the word 'neoclassical' to
generate the fallacious and gratuitous insult of your choice. It's the
standard way in which economists avoid listening to each other. In
moderated lists, in my view, it should be strongly depracated.

The approach is logically false because people don't always stay within the
framework of the theory they endorse. Marxists can use neoclassical
arguments, and neoclassicals can use marxist arguments. They don't stop
being marxists or neoclassicals. They just become marxists applying
neoclassical theory, or neoclassicals applying marxist theory.

Even, dare I say it, simultaneists have been known to use temporal
arguments (yes, really) and temporalists certainly do deply simultaneist
arguments (yes, really). This does not alter the fact that there is a
simultaneist body of thought with well-defined theoretical characteristics,
and a temporalist body of thought with equally well-defined theoretical
characteristics. We have to address the arguments that a person uses, not
the person him or herself.

This is particularly important because of the way the term 'marxist' is
used. In past discussion over whether Sraffa was a marxist, I insisted that
Sraffa had every right to be treated as a marxist if he himself chose that
name. The converse of this is, however, that we can't deduce anything about
Sraffa's theory from this fact. We can't deduce that because Sraffa calls
himself a marxist, his theory is closer to Marx. To ascertain this, we have
to interrogate the theory, not the person.

Any other way of doing things leads to courts of ecclesiastical correctness
to decide who is allowed to attach the hallowed label 'marxist' to their
name. I'm agin all that. The only way to break this link finally and
utterly is to distinguish the theory from the person. You can call yourself
anything you want; that's the good news. The bad news is that you don't get
no credit for what you call yourself. Any credit comes from the sense of
what you say.

Therefore, the issue as to whether Fred is a simultaneist is to my way of
thinking a non-issue and the discussion on it could be positively
retrogressive. The real question, which Alejandro addresses very nicely, is
whether Fred's theory is a simultaneist theory.

I think it is; however like Andrew I am very conscious that one should not
designate currents offensively or by names they don't like used.

So I would rephrase Andrew's request: could people that don't like the
appelation 'simultaneist' as applied to the *theory* they hold to,
determine another name for that *theory*?

This leads down a much more productive avenue. For example, I think it is
also incumbent on anyone that categorises their theory to say where it
differs, and where it is the same as, other theories. COMMUNS is a great
name but excuse me, how does it help us understand the theoretical
connection between this theory and all the surrounding and related
theories? Given the privileged status of the paid intellection we have
*some* duty to our consumers, I hope.

>From Fred I'd like to know, for example, whether he considers that there
are *other* theories that can legitimately be designated 'simultaneist' --
eg Sraffa's -- and if so, in what sense does his difference with these
theories lead to his rejection of the appelation 'simultaneist'?

I think this is a more fruitful line of discussion than a discussion of
personal labels. I'm against all personal labels and their use inevitably
leads to a descent into mud-slinging. It is in my experience characteristic
of all sectarian, dogmatic and clique thinking that it identifies people
with the theories they hold.

I repeat: I'm agin it. In politics, it kills. In economics, it suppresses.
I've fought it all my life and I ain't stopping now.