Determinism, chaos, emergence, and Marx's PREFACE

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Thu Dec 8 04:16:34 MST 1994


Since I was asked, here is something about the precise wording of
Marx's Preface.  Indeed I have a few remarks about the Preface in the
appendix of the current version of my Capital notes (contact me if you
want a copy).  The sentence which I would translate as

 It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being,
 but, on the contrary,
 it is their social being that determines their consciousness.

is in German:

 Es ist nicht das Bewu\3tsein der Menschen, das ihr Sein, sondern
 umgekehrt ihr gesellschaftliches Sein,
 das ihr Bewu\3tsein bestimmt.


Here "determines" is the correct translation of "bestimmt."
I translated the German "Sein" with ``Being''  rather than ``existence''
because for Marx existence is their immediate material existence,
while their being (as humans) is emergent from their existence.
This is one of the places where Marx is turning Hegel on his feet:
for Hegel, existence is mediated, for Marx is it immediately given
(and all the translations miss that).

But I think one can make some indirect conclusions about how this
determination is meant if one looks at the wording in different places
of the preface.  The sentence preceding the one just quoted says:


 The mode of the material production of life
 conditions the social, political and intellectual
 life process in general.

In German:

 Die Produktionsweise des materiellen Lebens bedingt den
 sozialen, politischen und geistigen Lebensproze\3 \"uberhaupt.


 With the translation
 ``the mode of the material production of life''
 I am leaning on an identical formulation in
 the First Edition of Capital.


 Here to the word ``bedingt'' deserves attention.
 I see it like the laws of physics which condition everything in nature,
 but do not determine it.  More about this below.


And a few sentences later Marx writes:

 Mit der Ver\"anderung der \"okonomischen Grundlage
 w\"alzt sich der ganze ungeheure
 \"Uberbau langsamer oder rascher um.

or in English:

 With the change of the economic foundation
 the entire immense super-structure transforms itself
 more or less rapidly.

(all this is my own translation and I am presently not aware how
much it deviates from the usual translations).

 What is here translated with ``transform''
 is in German ``umw\"alzen,''
 which literally describes a gradual rolling over
 (I always think of what you have to do to a big bale of hay to move it).
 This same word
 will be used three more times in the following passage.
 It has a very special connotation:
 first the relations in production are changed,
 then the superstructure which rests on it
 has to be gradually overturned,
 presumably because it not longer
 finds its prerequisites and reinforcement in the altered base.


So far the preface text.

Another comment about chaos and its birth in weather forecasting.
I apologize for being very brief, due to lack of time:

(1) One should distinguish between the impossibility to forecast
weather and the question whether weather is actually indeterminate.
(Huseyin Ozel said something like this in an earlier posting, perhaps
using a more technical language.)  Confusing these two questions is
Bhaskar's "epistemic fallacy," i.e. the fallacy to transpose all
ontological questions into epistemic ones.  And of course, in my view
the weather *is* indeterminate, the world we live in *is* open.  But
no modern mathematical theory has until now been able to model this
openness satisfactorily.  Perhaps it comes from the expanding
universe, which opens pores everywhere in space-time which are not
filled, not even with vacuum, but which are up for grabs.  (This hunch
is isnpired by modern theories about the arrow of time and Bhaskar's
aphorism in his 1993 Dialectic that one of Hegel"s greatest errors was
was that he thought every negation was a determination.)

(2) Given this physical indeterminacy of the world, certain structures
impose their own determination on it.  Just like the weather we as
humans are not determined by the initial conditions of our physical
body states. But unlike the weather the humans impose their own
control on the physical laws which their bodies have to obey by using
enzymes, catalystis, to inhibit certain chemical reactions and to
promote others.  This is Hegel's cunning of reason.  It is the concept
of emergence.  But I don't quite agree with Andrew Collier that
determination in the last instance is the same as emergence.  I am
thinking along the lines that the link of economic and superstructural
social sturcutres is that they all are emergent from the purposeful
activity of the same human individuals.  This is what I think relative
autonomy means.  This also gives those structures very peculiar laws
of motion: reasons can become causes, as Bhaskar says, because these
structures are carried on by thinking individuals. This is the
justification of functional explanations as well as Marx"s
Hegelianisms in CAPITAL.


Hans G. Ehrbar                                    ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Economics Department, 308 BuC                     (801) 581 7797
University of Utah                                (801) 581 7481
Salt Lake City    UT 84112-1107                   (801) 585 5649 (FAX)
For Info about our Graduate Program Contact  program at econ.sbs.utah.edu


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