Marxism as science -Reply

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Wed Apr 19 13:59:02 MDT 1995

On Wed, 19 Apr 1995, Pete Bratsis wrote:
> I don't find Althusser's notion of science compelling either.  I was just
> trying to bring the discussion from one of 'science' to a more specific
> notion of what we mean by sciecne.  And that, of course, AM is not
> necessarily more scientific of any other Marxism.

AM don't usually talk about "Marxism as a science." Rather we try to do
it, which is rather different. And by this we mean formulating testible
hypotheses precisely enough to know what would make them true or false
and then investigating whether they are true by the best generally
accepted research methodologies. In that sense, AM investigations are more
scientific than the quote-mongering that passes for Marxist reserach in
some circles or the attempts to derive empirical conclusions from general
dialectical principles in others.

> I am also generalising from the AM people that I have read, Elster, E.O.
> Wright, and Przowarski, in general -  rational choice/methodological
> individualism types.

Right, but RCT Marxism is the opposite of empiricist--it proceeds
deductively from a normative theory (RCT). Although in fairness to Wright
and Przworski, some of the RCT crowd aldo do empirical (not empiricist)
research. Cohen, the one nore or less genuine empiricist among the AM, is
not a RCT Marxist or a MI-ist. Anyway, if the objection is to RCT Marxism,
that and not empiricism should be the target.

> Perhaps we should narrow the discussion to a question of objectivity.
> Does Marxism (or, a partcular form of it) produce objective knowdedge?
> Does scientificity mean objectivity?

I have a paper on this--"The Paradox of Ideology," Canadian Journal of
Philosophy, Dec 1993.

> On this issue I think there would be agreement between Althusser and, say,
> the Elster of - Explaining Technical Change -.  While for racidacly different
> diffent reasons.  (By the way, I think Althusser notion of rdicalgur refers to
>  keeping the concepts of a problematic pure, free or contamination from
> other problematic and being consistent and explicit in their use).
Well, I'm old-fashioned--probably comes from having been trained as an
analytical philosopher and a quantitative social science. I think rigor
means being exhastive and explicit in the details of your arguments,
laying out your premises explicitly, and getting to your conclusions by
tightly linked chains of arguments without gaps. Also answering the
outstanding objections to your claims and arguments.

> I would argue that it does not produce objective knowledge since this is
> an impossibility.  For Althusser because it would mean a discourse that
> is subjectless.  A discourse is scientific when it is a subjectless
> discourse.  A discourse that is impossible.

I don't know what this means. Is what is impossible to have claims to
knowledge from no particular point of view? But surely that is not the
only concept of objectivity about.

  For Elster because it would
> mean a complete knowledge of cause.  I position which he has recently
> moved away from (cf.  Nuts and Bolts) in favor of causeal mechanisms.
> He recognizes the role indeterminancy place in causal explanation and
> the impossibility of positivly stating cause.

I am unaware of anyone who has maintained that to be objective an
explanation must be complete.

> (the reference to Gunnell was on the relationship of empericism to
> political theory, not politcs.)

Well, a lot of mainstream political scientists, especially at places like
Michigan, think they are empiricists--at least that is what they teach in
the the brief sections on scientific method before they get down to
business. The better ones of them of course completely ignore this in
their actual research. By "political theory" here do you mean empirical
political science? In the field, "political theory" means what
philosophers call political philosophy--Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc.--not
reserach in causes and explanations. I Mean the latter.

--Justin Schwartz

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