[OPE-L:1514] RE: Laws of motion

Wed, 20 Oct 1999 19:08:08 +0100

Juriaan wrote:

> The operation of a "law of motion" may be suspended temporarily or for a
> period of time, without however abolishing the law itself. It is the same
> thing with e.g. the "law of gravity". Under certain conditions it does not
> operate, but we would not say the law stopped to exist or apply.
> Furthermore the law may be modified in its effects by specific
> circumstances (intervening variables) or the interaction with other laws.
> Since this is almost always the case, the laws of motion specified by Marx
> are properly speaking only "developmental tendencies". These tendencies
> exist and persist despite the fact that they may be modified, temporarily
> suspended, or in some way deflected by intervening circumstances
> (exogenous
> factors) or the interaction with other laws.
        Given all the (very general) qualifications mentioned, virtually any
(natural) scientific law could also be labelled a developmental tendency.

        There are two possibilities:

        (1) that Marx was simply making an analogy with physical laws: "My
account of capitalism will be as fundamental *in the history* of social
science as the law of gravity has been in physical science".

        (2) that Marx was speaking literally: "My account of capitalism will
include forces whose *operation* is as fundamental in society as the law of
gravity is in the natural world".

        I think Jurriaan's comments have to be regarded as either internally
inconsistent, or as incompatible with (2); it is *not*, I think, fair to say
that the law of gravity or other natural law can be "suspended temporarily
or for a period of time, without however abolishing the law itself" simply
because it seems to me that the whole point about an (alleged) law of nature
is that it is supposed to be true at all times and places.

        If at some particular point the action of such a law *appears* to
have been suspended, this is merely because the local effects of some
*other* (equally universal) natural laws are quantitatively great enough to
counteract the original law. Thus (heavier-than-)aircraft stay up not
because of any "suspension" of the law of gravity, nor because the law of
gravity is merely a "tendency", but because an aircraft's horizontal motion
brings into play aerodynamic forces large enough to oppose those resulting
from gravity.

        (Incidentally, I often wish that those who go on about
"counter-acting tendencies", etc. might distinguish more carefully between
purely *external* counter-actions such as those in the aeroplane case, and
"internal" ones that result from the operation of a law itself.

        An apposite illustration here is the balloon. Unlike
heavier-than-air craft, these stay up *not* because other physical effects
counter-pose the law of gravity, but precisely through the operation of the
law itself. Lighter-than-air craft work because the gravitational attraction
of the earth on (a given volume of) the atmosphere is greater than it is on
(a given volume of) the gas filling the balloon.)

        My own view is that Marx meant (2) -- but *without* any implication
that e.g. what has come to be called the "law of value" had the same
*really* eternal or universal force as the law of gravity -- rather that it
must *appear* to have such force as long as humanity failed to grasp the
essence of its social existence.


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