Re: [OPE-L] David F. Ruccio, (Un)Real Criticism, Post-Autistic Economics Review, issue 35

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Wed Dec 07 2005 - 01:03:58 EST

Hi Jerry and all,

Thanks very much Jerry for posting the Ruccio piece.  This is a very good

I will try to come back to it.  I wanted to follow up on Ian's comments.
Let me make quickly a couple of points and then come back to the  point
about verticality.

First the idea that

> > Economists literally see and analyze different
> >economies, according to the discourses (or paradigms or theoretical
> >frameworks) they use,

sounds like classic postmodern appropriation of Kuhn -- scientists who work
with a different world view work in a different world.  Unfortunately,
although the statement is there in Kuhn's text, it's one he was more than
uncomfortable with and, as I understand it, as a realist he tended to reject
postmodern uses of it.

The idea that there is a dialectical interchange between social reality and
social discourse that in the last analysis is completed by the discursive
construction of reality -- "the hermeneutic circle is closed" -- ultimately
rejects the relevance of practice to theory.  Perhaps I'm missing something.
If I'm not, it's unfortunate to see marxists lagging behind non-marxists in
the philosophy of science on the relevance of practice.  Suppose you and I
decide discursively that there is a body of water off on the horizon.  We
discuss and evaluate according to our best theories.  We construct social
reality discursively.  Then we walk off into the distance and find out if it
was a mirage or not.

The hidden secret of all such versions of postmodernism is that they cling
to the ontological assumptions of the positivism they reject.  It's like
being on the north side of the field rather than the south, but sharing the
same field.  One such clinging is clinging to the legacy of Descartes that
science is about certainty.  Like the person who feels so much better after
he stops beating his head against the wall, once we give up the phantom
search for certainty and accept that all our understandings of the world are
fallible, reviseable and come to us a posteriori, then we can open a door
for practice to enter.  Because once we get to the horizon we still have to
evaluate what we find and we might be wrong about how we interpret our
practice too.

I'll put my points on verticality and depth in a separate post.

There is very much to chew on in Ruccio's review and I've read very
hurriedly.  I'm happy to be corrected and I'll try to come back to a much
closer reading.  Here I wanted to follow up on the thread Ian opened.


----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ian Wright" <wrighti@ACM.ORG>
Sent: Tuesday, December 06, 2005 12:27 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] David F. Ruccio, (Un)Real Criticism, Post-Autistic
Economics Review, issue 35

> Hi Jerry
> This essay is very pertinent to our recent discussions.
> Some general observations. Ruccio's essay encourages my belief that
> "postmodern Marxism" is both anti-science, at least science as I
> understand it, and anti-Marxist. (These are not arguments against
> Ruccio's propositions, but I think it is helpful to categorise the
> postmodern current).
> Let me try to back that up with some "anti-science" examples from the
> According to Ruccio
> >It makes no sense, then, to imagine or to specify a
> >relationship of approximation or correspondence between the product
> >of theorizing and the social reality that exists "out there,"
> >outside theory.
> That's because, according to postmodernism, social ideas beget social
> ideas, and social reality is constituted by such ideas, and this
> hermeneutical circle is closed: we can think and imagine pretty much
> what we like. Perhaps if we think or try really hard and wish to think
> social reality differently -- then it will change! (That must be
> possible, after all, since no distinction can be made between social
> reality and the ideas we have about social reality).
> And so:
> >The postmodern way of handling this problem is to refer to the
> >discursive construction of social reality.8  Again, proceding at a
> >relatively general level, postmodernism emphasizes both the way
> >different social discourses produce different social realities and
> >the idea that social reality itself comprises social agents and
> >entities that use different discourses to construct the reality in
> >which they exist. Thus, there are two, different but related, senses
> >in which the economy can be said to be discursively constructed.
> >First, different economic theories—mainstream and heterodox, from
> >neoclassical to Marxian—produce different conceptions of economic
> >and social reality. Economists literally see and analyze different
> >economies, according to the discourses (or paradigms or theoretical
> >frameworks) they use. And such "economic realities" may be and often
> >are radically different and incommensurable, produced and elaborated
> >according to different concepts and conceptual strategies. Thus, to
> >choose but one example, neoclassical economists perceive an economic
> >reality characterized by rational choices, factor payments, and
> >equilibrium whereas Marxian economists see commodity fetishism,
> >exploitation, and contradiction.
> So there's no way of comparing theories -- all are relative, just
> different Nietzschean perspectives. Here comes an important bit:
> > And, from a postmodern perspective,
> >there is no transdiscursive or nondiscursive standard whereby such
> >different realities can be validated or adjudicated (although, of
> >course, such judgments often do take place within particular
> >discourses, leading to quite different conclusions).
> The collapse into relativism means that there is no way of judging
> whether a particular social theory is true or false, or whether a
> social theory is a better explanation of a particular phenomenon
> compared to another (truth or falsity, better and worse, are not words
> that are used much in postmodern texts, presumably because they are so
> vulgar and unsophisticated).
> For example, I think it is false, and can be shown to be false, that
> the profit that accrues to capitalist owners is quantitatively
> connected to the productive contribution of the capital they own. It
> is false because, in practice, within the capitalist firm, there are
> no mechanisms that attempt to measure such productive contribution and
> distribute the residual income accordingly. In this case, the ideas
> don't match the reality.
> Unless there is the possibility of distinguishing social theories
> according to objective criteria, and thereby separate ideology from
> science, then any critique of social reality loses all bite and
> purchase. To deny that possibility is to deny the possibility of
> social science. In that sense, I think this approach is essentially
> anti-science.
> -Ian.

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