Re: [OPE] Models and Marx

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Sun Feb 13 2011 - 13:40:21 EST

Hello Jerry,

Yes, your point is important -- marx takes great care to identify the
"differentia specifica" that differentiate capital from other modes of
production, and the effort to give a real definition of capital as a social
kind must establish those features that do so. You can often specify
elements that will apply generally to several modes of production, and Marx
does so, but then the force of your analysis is correspondingly limited.
For example, in both the section on labor rent in book III [47.2] and in the
chapter on Absolute and Relative Surplus Value, chapter 16 in book I, and no
doubt elsewhere, Marx makes the point that you may have the possibility of a
surplus product -- natural productivity, available free time, etc -- but it
is "rather compulsion which turns this possibility into reality." So we
take from this the basis of a theory that force is necessary to reproduce an
antagonistic relation of production, but we don't know how this plays itself
out in any specific mode of production or the specific modes of exploitaiton
that correspond to it.

If we take seriously the idea that it is the business of science to discover
the causal structure of the world, then the task of refining a theory so
that we neither overshoot or undershoot, is just a process of "regularly and
ambitiously insert[ing] ourselves into the causal nexus" (Railton) and
incorporating the feedback we get from the causal mechanism we've
targeted -- or not. There's no guarantee, but if we meet success, some of
it novel, then we've grounds to hope we're on the right track.


----- Original Message -----
From: "GERALD LEVY" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Saturday, February 12, 2011 11:41 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE] Models and Marx

>> > Hence we can also say that the theory of phlogiston modeled the causal
>> > mechanisms involved in combustion but did so poorly based on the
>> > criteria by which we judge or rank competing theories: empirical
>> > accuracy, logical consistency, generality and simplicity.
>> What causal mechanisms involved in combustion did the theory of
>> phlogiston
>> pick out or refer to?
>> There's a difficulty here. Phlogiston is a substance given off in
>> combustion. There is nothing in nature that corresponds to this. You
>> don't
>> call my model of fairies in the garden 'poor'.
> Hi Dave Z and Howard:
> There's another difficulty: how do we determine whether a theory is
> overly-general and overly-simplistic? Here, it seems to me, that care
> must be taken in the specification of what the theory is a theory _of_.
> If, for instance, a 'theory of capitalism' can apply equally well to
> a theory of other modes of production based on exploitation then there is
> something seriously wrong with that theory.
> In solidarity, Jerry
> _______________________________________________
> ope mailing list

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Received on Sun Feb 13 13:41:29 2011

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