DIALECTICS VS AM (SAYERS VS COHEN)

Justin Schwartz jschwart at freenet.columbus.oh.us
Tue Apr 11 19:01:28 MDT 1995


Hans asks about my "rejection" of the doctrine of internal relations. He
seems to think that this has something to do with "actualism," which I
take to be the classical empiricist doctrine that only "external"
observable phenomena are "real" (or only talk about these is cognitively
meaningful, in the logical empiricist way of talking). On this view, there
is no sense in talking about unobservable "essences" or real causes
posited by theories but not observable by the senses.

If that is what actualism is, I think it has nothing to do with the
doctrine of internal relations, as I understand it, which is not much,
More on that later. But to the point here, if that's what actualism is, I
reject it. I am a scientific realist. I am quite happy to posit
unobservable theoretical entities as the hidden or internal causes of
observable phenomena. I am not sure that's what actualism is, but that's
what I gather from Hans' description. Anyway it is not my view.

Internal relations, as described by Ollman and others, is very different
from scientific realism. The notion goes back to Leibniz via Hegel, and
from what I can gather it is a claim about ontological individuation. It
says that Butler's doctrine that "Everything is what it is
not something else" is false. On the contrary, everything
is what is is only because it is "internally related" to everything else.
Causal relations are "external" on this view: one event causes another,
but the two are logically independent and it is in a sense contingent that
a relation holds between them. "Internal" relations means that everything
that a thing is and what makes it what it is is exhausted by its relations
to everything else. Now I do not reject this so much as fail to understand
it. I can see that some things are dependent on others to be what they
are--classes are "internally related" to each other; you can't have a
proletariat without bourgeoisie. But as a general view about the nature of
reality the idea that everything is internally related to everything else
makes no sense at all. Or, if it does, it's false.

All this is, as I say, quite compatible with realism about unobservables.

Erik Olin Wright has a nice piece called "What Is Analytical Marxism?" in
Socialist Review sometime in the last few years. It is collected in his
recent Interrogating Inequality. I don't subscribe to everything he says,
but most of it seems pretty sensible to me.

--Justin Schwartz


On Tue, 11 Apr 1995, Hans Despain wrote:

> JS> As the house analytical Marxist let me say a few words in defense
> JS> of my own current of Marxist theory and indeed of G.A. Cohen,
> JS> although I agree with some of the criticisms Sayers makes here.
>
> Justin thanks for your sympathic defense and differentication of
> Analytical Marxists.  I think it important to recognize that
> Cohen, Elster and Romer are not the only AMs.
>
> Ralph> Cohen's commitment to the analytical school involves
> Ralph> a deplorable commitment to the logic of external relations.
>
> Justin> Well, I've never undferstood the internal relations ontology
> Justin> myself, so I'm probably guilty here too.
>
> Frankly Justin this is quite susprising to me, what else are you
> putting forth when you write of "human propensities."  When you
> write of forms of domination versus forms of resistence you must have
> in mind internal mechanisms.  Why do some dominate while others
> accept (or resist) this domination.  Or are you are solely interested
> in the external manifestation.  (But still you at least recognize
> the internal cause).  In this case, the term "actualist" is again
> quite fitting (as it is for *most* Analytical Marxists).  It is
> not surprising to me that AM economists are committed to external
> manifestations, but it seems strange to me that you are committed to
> only external relations.  Once again this convinces me more that you
> assume the very mechanism which should be proven, or accept the
> "actual" for the "real."
>
> Personally this seems a very poor way to understand Marx.
>
> I think you are quite correct to point out the "empiricist"
> commitment of Cohen, as Ralph calls a Humean.  But this empiricist
> commitment is only one step from your "actualist" commitment.  I
> wonder why you reject internal relational logic?  And possiblly could
> you further explain the philosophical underpinnings of AMs.
>
> BTW, Ralph thanks for your summaries (with all the color piture-
> thoughts), I don't think I want tenure.
>
> Hans Despain
> University of Utah
> despain at econ.sbs.utah.edu
>
>
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