Marxism as science -Reply

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Wed Apr 19 08:48:54 MDT 1995

Peter Bratisis criticizes "the conception of science held by Analytical
Marxists" as empiricist. But there is no one such conceprion of science
all AM hold. G.A. Cohen seems to be pretty much an old-style logical
empiricist. At least he holds some empiricist doctrines. But Richard
Miller (in Analyzing Marx and Fact and Method) and Daniel Little (in The
Scientific Marx) defend sophisticated versions of scientific realism. This
view--not that it is excatly one view. Erik Wright endorses Bhaskar's
version of SR, which I do not. Other AM, or people who may be broadly
understood to be AM, are constructivists (a sort of relativist), like
Milton Fisk, or even Hegelians, like Tony Smith. Milton and Tony might
resist my characterizing them as AM, but by my criteria, they are.

Contrary to what Peter suggests all SR agree at least that we
should be realistic about unobservarble entities posited in scientific
theories--is, in its modern version, very sensitive to the fact, as we
take it, that observation is theory-dependent. Less jargonistically, SR
mostly agree that there are no observations of empirical facts which can
be made without theoretical suppositions and which can be used to
(dis)confirm scientific theories. Rather, what is observed depends for its
charcaterization and significance on ther theories we hold.

Althusser, Bachelard, and other French types do have their own
conceptioins of what is scientific. I can't speak to Bachelard--I've only
read one of his books a long time ago and didn't study it carefully--but I
am deeply unimpressed by Althusser's theory of science, or indeed his
method of philosophical argument. As far as I can tell, Marxism is the
only area of scientific inquiry which A knew anything about, and
impressive as I think Marxism is as social science, it's not enough as a
basis for a theory of science. As for his philosophical approach, A
continually invokes something he calls "rigor," but what he means by this
is quite opaque to me. He argues, if that is the word, largely by
assertion. I think Alex Callinicos, another AM< fixed his wsagon in a
little book C did for Pluto about 20 years ago, Althusser's Marxism.

I'll take my philosophy of science from Richard Boyd, Richrad Miller,
Philip Kitcher, Michael Devitt, Hilary Putnam, Peter Railton,
Wesley Salmnon, Nancy Cartwright, Arthur Fine, David Hull, Wilfred
Sellars, W.V. Quine, J.C.C. Smart, Nelson Goodman,Thomas Kuhn, and
other folks who actually know some broader science as well as Marxism and
the history of philosophy. Incidentally, there';s not an empiricist in the
lot of those. But I's go with Larry Sklar, Bas van Fraasen, Clark
Clymour--the main contemporary empiricists--or Carl Hempel, Ernest Nagel,
hans Reichenbach, Rudolph Carnap, and the classical logical empiricists
before I went with Althusser.

I have doubts about whether empiricism is connected in any way with bad
politics. Otto Neurath, one of the Vienna Circle, was a marxist. Carnap,
Hempel, Ayer, etc. were left social democrats and democratic socialists to
the person. Russell's politics were odd but generally very good. The
empiricist record stacks up favorably against Althusser's role in the
Stalinist PCF, Lukacs' reconciliation with Stalinism (whatever his
personal views), or, on the other side, the flirtation of worse of
Heidegger and his proteges with fascism. However, I think a philosopher of
science has to be judged by the standards of how well it does on science,
not by its proponent's political views.

Incidentally only a handful of AM are members of the No Bullshit Marxism
Group, a circle of reserachers including Elster, Cohen, Wright, Bob
Brenner, and some others who meet every year in London to discuss work in
progress. Other AM, like me, are not part of this group.

==Justin Schwartz

On Tue, 18 Apr 1995, Pete Bratsis wrote:

> Sorry, I got cut off.  Continuing -
> This conception of science is directly opposed to that held by empericists.
> Science is not based on observation.  If anything, observation hinders
> science since it creates this focus on apperences and a fixation with
> the first experience.  Thus, we will 'abstract' or 'generalize' from
> this experience so that our particular relation with reality becomes
> what Bachelard would term 'false' science.  (For a brief example
> see ch. 5 of The Psychoanalysis of Fire, or, read The New Scientific
> Spirit).
> At any rate, I am tring to make explict that AM is not necessarily
> more 'scientific' than other Marxisms - although it certainly is more
> empericist than most others.
> (An excellect examination of the misrepresentations of science
> through empericism and its negative effects within contemporary political
> theory is John Gunnell's  Between Philosophy and Politics.)
> It is also no less 'bullshit' just because it adopts empericist methods.
> For example, what we could term
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