Re: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Dec 30 2005 - 02:13:51 EST

Hi Antonio, Jurriaan, and all,

Apologies of my own, Antonio, for delay.  Apologies also because I will have
to take up my reply in chunks.

First on mind independence.

I tend to agree with the overall thrust of your main points as I understand
them:  (1) our experience, natural or social, is always interpreted; (2)
even where social processes ultimately depend for their persistence on how
we think of them, nonetheless, they may be embedded in nature and behavior
in such a way that as a practical matter we lack the ability to change them
in ways we might intend -- we might need a whole different level of social
organization, for example.

Questions remain, though.  Perhaps they're gathered in the parentheses you

ANTONIO:  "(I will also add that even if there were to be some 'aspect' of
reality that could be argued to be mind-independent, the certification of
that aspect would not suffice to support a theoretical project to seek
mind-independent 'structures.'  Structures, it seems to me, presuppose
networks of causal relations, and as soon as you go from 'elements' to
'structures' such networks would need to be invoked.)"

"Even if there were" suggests you doubt we could locate mind independent
aspects of the world.  Your comment that natural processes 'can more
practically be considered as independent of mind' reinforces this, in so far
as to practically consider something doesn't take any position on the
ontology of the matter.  Perhaps that's the more accurate way to put it.
How the world appears to us in our practical engagement with it is
sufficient.  We don't need the confusion of ontology.

There are points of agreement here.  We agree the point of interpreting the
world is to change it, but I want to add that our interpretations refer to
structures of the world that are causally potent in order to get our
practice right.  That is, if we succeed in picking out relevant causal
mechanisms, then we can accommodate our practice to them, otherwise not.
The really decisive point is that the causal powers of material things are
not socially constructed.  Causal relations are not something we make unless
we actually function causally as parts of nature.  We can put litmus paper
in acid to see if it turns red.  We produce the result.  But to do so we
have to accommodate our practice to something that does not depend on how we
think of it -- the potent chemical process that causes acid to turn litmus
paper red.  It's the accommodation of our practice to the process that's the

So I'm confused by the next part of the statement.  If I understand
correctly you say that structures presuppose causal networks and if they
involve networks, then they can't be mind independent.  That's the
implication I draw anyway.

Is this because you are presupposing a Humean notion of cause?  For Hume
cause couldn't be mind independent because causal relations were nothing
more than a psychological habit of mind.  So the point follows.

Or is it because networks of any sort, causal or not, can't be mind
independent?  If this is your meaning, the point is not explained and I'm
not otherwise familiar with it.  Why can't there be networks or structures
or mechanisms of things in nature that operate whether we are there to
experience and interpret them or not?

Again, I agree with you, as I emphsized above, if there are mind independent
structures it will still be the case that we will not have any theoretical
grasp of them except by means of interpretation.  But their existence is one
thing and our interpretation another -- or is that a contestable statement?

In turning to social processes it's probably useful to distinguish two broad
kinds.  Some remain always deeply embedded in material processes, or the
other way around, such that they may come to escape altogether our capacity
to do anything about them.  They're like the litmus paper example
(scientific experiment is a social process).  That is, the natural
mechanisms embedded in the social processes of pollution, global warming,
etc. are such that if we are to do anything about them it will be because
our theories approximately accurately reflect the way these mechanisms are
structured and how they work.  Hegel says a flung stone belongs to the devil
and the meaning here is surely that once we act our actions are subject to
forces we do not control.

But there are also social processes that although they are practically
independent of us depend more or less altogether on our consciousenss of
what we are about.

So the decisive question seems to turn very much on what you mean by causal
structures or networks and why it is these cannot be mind independent.

Jurriaan, very quickly on objectivity.  You seem to want 'objectivity' to
mean 'neutral', but recognizing it can't, hope we can at least approximate
an ideal of objectivity.  Is that a fair understanding of your arguemnt?
But doesn't this still reflect the idea that we can have some kind of pre-
or uninterpreted access to the world?  Post postivist realists have argued
instead that objectivity is best captured as an understanding that actually
corresponds to the way the world is.  Our view is objective when we get it
right about how things are.  A woman may come to understand patriarchy
*because* of her anger, not because she puts it aside in order to view
things without bias.  The result is a more objective view of the world, not
the opposite.  We rely on the miner in the pit to describe the condition of
the mine.  This doesn't foreclose the possiblity that she may be confused
and we may not accept her report.  But all things being equal we would
expect her report to be more objective precisely because of her social



----- Original Message -----
From: "antonio callari" <antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU>
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 9:37 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

> this is a response to Juriaan's side comment.
> No issue here, Juriaan, I don't think. My posting in response to
> Howard's questions (you can see my first paragraph there) made a
> distinction between social relations that are independent of "any
> 'one'" mode of consciousness (and certainly independent of the
> consciousness of any one individual) and social relations that are
> independent of the realm of consciousness altogether. I would never
> (nor do I think that anyone has) reduced social relations to a
> particular individual's consciousness. The discussion about
> overdetermination/postmodernism/ etc. etc. seems to be to be about
> the question of whether the "social" can be understood as independent
> of consciousness/mind writ large--and whether, therefore, there are
> "objective" deep structures which can be identified and accessed
> independently of theoretical/cultural considerations/positions.
> When, for example, you say (below)
> >  "A social "structure" in this case refers to a relatively stable
> >(reproducible) complex of objective social relations, which may be
> observable, or observable indirectly through the empirical effects it
> That could well be a "market" structure. This structure is not
> independent (nor can it be correctly thought of as being independent)
> of a number of issues of consciousness: a general buying by social
> agents into private property, a culture that quantifies wealth, a
> social/cultural distinction between the private and the public
> spheres (since some products of labor are produced inside the
> household and not as commodities, and an overview of the whole system
> of a division of labor would have to include that as an element),
> etc. etc. (Jack Amariglio and I wrote an article on this kind of
> stuff--on commodity fetishism--a while ago, and I think that, by and
> large, it still is to the point). The fact that the relations are
> empirically observable (even if one could ever divorce an observation
> from theoretical frameworks being used) does not mean that these
> relations are "objective" in the sense of being independent of the
> realm of culture/consciousness.
> Antonio
> >>My answer here, Howard, is that I can't think of a "social structure,"
as I
> >>said above, that is (in your words) "mind independent.
> >
> >Side comment:
> >
> >Surely the point is that the social structure exists, not without minds,
> >rather regardless of what individual people may think, i.e. they are
> >necessarily related in certain ways, regardless of what they may
> >individually happen to think about it, or even regardless of how they may
> >act.
> >
> >In my wikipedia contribution to the article "social relation" (
> > ) I distinguish the
> >typology of social relations:
> >
> >  a.. the subconscious social relations (for example at the level of the
> >collective unconscious or between parents and children,
> >  b.. social relations which exist only in subjective awareness or
> >subjective perceptions (a person might act as though a social relation
> >exists),
> >  c.. intersubjective social relations involving shared meanings conveyed
> >through communication,
> >  d.. objective social relations which exist whether someone is aware of
> >them or not (they might nevertheless be communicated insofar as we
> >communicate with everything we are and do);
> >  e.. social relations in the process of being transformed from one kind
> >into another, or being interrelated with each other;
> >  f.. spiritual or intuitive social relations of some kind.
> >
> >A social "structure" in this case refers to a relatively stable
> >(reproducible) complex of objective social relations, which may be
> >observable, or observable indirectly through the empirical effects it
> >Precisely because it exists independently of what any particular
> >thinks, the real nature of this structure may be accurately or falsely
> >interpreted, and to reveal this real nature may require scientific
> >or at least comprehensive experience of the social world.
> >
> >Jurriaan
> --
> Antonio Callari
> Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Professor of Economics
> F&M Local Economy Center
> P.O. Box 3003
> 713 College Avenue
> Lancaster PA 17604-3003
> e-mail:
> phone: (717) 291-3947
> FAX:  (717) 291-4369

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