Re: [OPE] Thermodynamics and labor theory of value

From: Howard Engelskirchen <>
Date: Thu Sep 18 2008 - 21:41:40 EDT

Hi Charles and Paul,

Charles, the suggestion that metaphor is just
license and not scientifically helpful doesn’t
really reflect what’s out there today. The
philosopher of science Richard Boyd has an essay
called “Metaphor and Theory Change: What is
Metaphor a Metaphor For?” at 356 to 408 of Andrew
Ortony, ed., Metaphor and Thought. In it he
challenges the idea that terms in science are
always literal and that metaphor is “license” unhelpful in science.

Think of waves hitting an ocean pier and waves
running through an audio device – pretty clearly
two different realms of reality. Of course it is
true that metaphor does not mean that what obeys
laws in one realm will necessarily do so in
another. But if there is evidence to suggest
important similarities, you can exploit the
respects of similarity to suggest undiscovered
causal features of the world that might not
otherwise have been on the radar. Think of the
widespread use of “feedback” as a metaphor. So
you go with the metaphor alert to the possibility
that the similarities you thought helpful may
have run out and are no longer useful or were never there in the first place.

Metaphor gets a bad rap because traditionally
it’s been assumed that definition fixed reference
in science. Boyd suggests instead that reference
is non-definitional and dialectical – it's a
matter of accommodating our use of language to
the causal structures of the world. We use
‘water’ to refer to water and then learn that H2O
is the causal source of the information we have
about it, so we refer to water as H2O. But the
definition now is a way of giving expression to
the way we find the world to be, not of whether
we use words correctly. Metaphor too works if it
refers to causal features important to us and suggests paths of discovery.

Without equations, I’ve used the analogy to the
kinetic theory of gases to help understand Marx’s
analysis of value in an essay called “On the
Clear Comprehension of Political Economy: Social
Kinds and the Significance of Section 2 of Marx’s
Capital,” which appeared last February in a book
edited by Ruth Groff called Revitalizing
Causality: Realism About Causality in Philosophy
and Social Science (Routledge). I attach the
relevant excerpt. The kinetic theory of gases
was first explained in a satisfactory way by
Ruldolph Clausius in a paper published in 1857
and this quickly gave rise to an extended
exchange between Maxwell and him that appeared in
The Philosophical Magazine. Marx would have been alert to that kind of thing.


At 08:03 PM 9/18/2008, you wrote:
>Paul writes:
>The principle Of entropy maximisation under a
>conservation law is an abstract property Of the
>Boltzman distribution, and this tendancy to
>entropy maximisation Is a very fundamental law of the universe.
>Paul previously wrote:
>So modern physics has shown that not only was
>Marx right in his basic analysis, but he was
>right because his conclusions follow from the
>most basic laws of physics, the laws of thermodynamics.
>The Boltzmann distribution is a mathematical
>function of several variables. It is not physics
>or economics; as the saying goes, it has
>applications to this and that. Paul's argument seems to be:
> Gases and other physical systems are
> described by the Boltzmann distribution.
> Exchange economies are described by both
> Marx's labor theory of value and by the Boltzmann distribution.
> Therefore, Marx's labor theory of value follows from laws of physics.
>Even changing "described" to some other verb,
>still, this is obviously not a logical argument. What am I missing?
>Charles Andrews
>ope mailing list

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Received on Thu Sep 18 21:48:03 2008

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