Chaos and dialectics

Huseyin Ozel OZEL at
Mon Nov 21 13:28:41 MST 1994

> Date sent:      Sat, 19 Nov 1994 09:27:51 -0700 (MST)
> From:           LEO MEEKS  <lmeeks at>
> Subject:        Re: Chaos and dialectics
> To:             marxism at
> Send reply to:  marxism at

Leo Meeks wrote,

> Huseyin,
> I have lifted these arguments from you remarks to comment on the
> problematic of a marxist philosophy of science that bends marxism to the
> categories of what critical theorists may call an uncritical philosophy
> of science.  i am not so sure, for example, that marxism has any commerce
> with the regulative concepts of a philosophy of science, for example
> epistemology and ontology.  Epistemology implies a substantial subject as
> both the subject and object of inquiryand reifies mind as something even
> something developmental as an eternal form which happens to be caught
> within its worldly appearance. On the other hand a dialectical approach
> to the problem of knowledge would discuss mind within an highly mediated
> economy of knowledge. This exists not within the bounds of even a
> critical epistemology and exists at best at the limit of its discourse.
> As for ontology, i am not sure how one can possibly justify marxism as an
> ontology, as an attempt to uncover what it is that determines beings as
> beings, rather, marxism has always considered itself as a critique
> of any attempt to formulate a theory of what it is that is. Except
> for Engels' *Dialectics of Nature* i am not sure why some marxists
> (down to Sartre's Critique of Dialectical Reason) participate, not
> in the philosophy of science, but actually participate in the
> positive construction of a philosophy of science.
> Marxism is first of all an economic critique: a critique of
> economies of language, the polis, the strictly economic, and so
> forth.  Marxism cannot participate in discourse as a positive
> science and still be critical. For example the minute marxists
> cease participation in the social revolution it devolves into
> revisionism of some sort.

> leo

Opposing to this, Jon wrote

>  I don't think that using terms such as epistemology and ontology
>  makes one a "positivist scientist," not by a long shot--and
>  certainly not the way Huseyin, following Bhaskar, was trying to
>  do so.


>  [sidetrack: And what is the "strictly economic" anyway? One of the
>  things I've learned from Marx and marxism is that such "strict"
>  divisions are untenable.]

>   Jon

>   Jon Beasley-Murray

I have nothing to add to Jon's comments (I especially liked the
"sidetrack"); certainly talking about ontology and epistemology does
not make one "positivist". It seems to me that the problem of being
is extremely important in Marxism; just remember Marx's critique of
Hegel's subject-predicate inversions. On the other hand, Marx's
_Capital_ is an example to a "a critique of [an] attempt to formulate
a theory of what it is that is." But this critique also is a new
theory about what capitalism is.

But my problem with Leo's position, if I understand it correctly, is
that he seems to suggest a critical theory, or a kind of
"hermeneutics", which rejects the possibility of causal explanation in
human sphere, for human sphere is characterized by intentionality, and
especially the idea of emancipation is not compatible with "science";
that is, the problem is causal explanation v. "interpretive
understanding" (verstehen). Everything else, for this
position, is positivism, for positivism has always connoted with
"naturalism", in the form of *reductionism* and/or *scientism*. But
such a view seems to have a "positivistic" conception of *natural
science*, or at least its "rejection of a naturalistic program for
social science relies on a failure to criticize adequately positivist
and empiricist philosophies of the natural sciences." (Ted Benton,
"Positivism," in _A Dictionary of Marxist Thought_ , Tom Bottomore
(ed.), 1991, p. 433-4)

Now, it is possible to be both "critical" and "scientific" at the
same time, or it is possible to be naturalist without being
positivist. The perfect example is Bhaskar's "critical naturalism",
as opposed both to positivist naturalism and hermeneuticist social
theory, which asserts that "the human sciences can be sciences in
exactly the same sense, though not in exactly the same way, as the
natural ones." [in his _The Possibility of Naturalism_, 1989 (2nd
ed.), p. 159] This critical naturalism sees sciences, like the
positivists, as unified in its essential method; and, like the
hermeneuticists, as essentially differentiated in its object.
Although there are some significant differences between two groups of
sciences, namely, ontological (activity-, concept-, and space-time-
dependency of social structures), epistemological (the lack of
constant conjunctions), and relational (social science is internal to
its subject matter whereas natural science is not) differences, these
differences do not prevent the possibility of human sciences; on the
contrary, just in virtue of these differences, social science is

If such a qualified naturalism makes sense, then there is no reason
to reject the possibility of social scientific explanation, and
further, scuh a conception of science is well consistent with the
idea of emancipation for it opens up new possibilities for
human emancipation.


Huseyin Ozel
Graduate Student
Dept. of Economics
University of Utah


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