Rationaly Choice Thoery?-Reply

Howie Chodos howie at magi.com
Wed Apr 5 09:57:27 MDT 1995


Aren't subject lines with multiple typos fun?

I just want to add a couple of comments to try to explore Fellini's and my
concerns with certain elements of Justin's argument. For my part I would
like to make it clear that there are aspects of Justin's argument that I
find appealing (for eg. its implicit accordance of a relatively autonomous
terrain to the political struggle), but at the same time I retain a residual
uneasiness about others. It is this that I hope the discussion will help
clarify.

I want to pursue the issue of the similarities and differences between
Justin and Wright, Levine and Sober (hereafter WLS). It seems to me that
Justin is right when he says that there is a difference between him and WLS
concerning the focus of their interventions. WLS, as Justin has suggested,
detect a certain directionality to history based on the causal asymmetry
between the tendency of the forces of production to grow and the ability of
the superstructure to constrain that growth. They see the former as being
somewhat stronger over time than the latter, and this imparts a certain
directionality to overall historical development.

Justin's argument does not have anything to do with the development of the
productive forces. But I continue to think that the structure of Justin's
argument is almost identical to that employed by WLS, and that he is in fact
applying the same type of argument to the domain of emancipation/domination
or more broadly to the terrain of justice. As I understand Justin's
argument, it is that over time emancipation is a stronger impetus to
historical development than domination because it tends to foster a greater
degree of stability. Stability, in its turn, is an essential precondition
for justice, defined as the genuine reconciliation of interests. All actors
are understood to pursue their interests which are shaped by their location
in a stratified social structure.

Looked at in this way the logical similarities between the two sets of
arguments seems to me to be strong. In both cases, and I think Justin
himself established this parallel in an earlier post, the key to the
directionality of historical development lies in a causal asymmetry. For WLS
this asymmetry lies in the relationship between the development of the
productive forces and the superstructure, for Justin between emancipation
and domination with regards to stability. (And I think that the source of
much of this line of reasonming is G. A. Cohen's notion of an "autonomous
tendency to develop" which he detects in the forces of production, but not
in the relations of production, but that is a complicated matter that is
probably best left aside for the time being; though if Justin feels that his
posts on Cohen to the other list are relevant, I, for one, would be
interested in reading them).

My uneasiness with Justin's argument lies with the role that he attributes
to stability. I read it as being the "selection mechanism" (probably roughly
analogous to the way natural selection works in the biological world)
whereby certain types of development tend to be preserved rather than others
because of the benefits that they generate. Stability thus acquires the role
of anchoring a non-perspectival approach to justice. It is something which
history does whether we like it or not. It is an "objective" criterion that
can decide between bourgeois, pro-domination views of justice and
emancipatory ones, bestowing on these latter the dignity associated with
swimming with the tide of history.

I guess my question is why "stability" acquires this asocial, ahistorical
ability to adjudicate between competing claims about justice? I am generally
suspicious of this type of claim precisely because it does situate some
social good, in this case stability, outside of society and history. Now
maybe Justin has succeeded in defending this assertion in his twenty pages
of dense prose, but I remain unconvinced on the basis of what he has offered
us so far on the list.

Howie Chodos



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