Marxism as science -Reply

Justin Schwartz jschwart at
Sun Apr 23 09:16:22 MDT 1995

On Sun, 23 Apr 1995, Philip Goldstein wrote:

> 	Justin Schwartz writes that "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"
> I believe that Althusser knew about more sciences than Marxism. In
> Philosophy and the Spontaneous Philosophy of Scientists he wrote about
> natural scientists. He would know about biology, chemistry, and physics
> from Bachelaard and Canguilhem, who wrote historical accounts of those
> sciences.

Knowing about science from reading philosophy of science is like knowing
about music from redaing musicology. The classical positivists at least
knew science from studying and in some cases doing it. Bridgeman was a
Nobel prizewinner in physics, Frank a Harvard physics from. Reichenbach
made contributions to relativity theory. The better contemporary
philosophers of science have studied science--not just its philosophy. I
myself had grad courses in physics and (in social sciences) economics: I
got a Ph.D in political science.

 He know psychoanalysis, though you may not grant its claims to
> science,

How did you guess?

 and he knew linguistics.

Well, at least he knew Saussere. But he seems innocent of jacobson or
Chomsky, much less mathematical linguistics. Still, Saussere's real science.

> 	Now that I have listed the many sciences he knew or may have
> known, I have to wonder whether or not knowing sciences is an adequate
> criterion for calling a view scientific.

I didn't say that. I said it was necessary but not sufficient for talking
sensibly about science.

If Bachelaard and Canguilhem
> were right about what a science is, then Althusser's account, which draws
> on their views, would be scientific, no matter how many sciences he knewe
> or did not know.

So much the worse for them.

> 	As for rigor, which Justin considers a vague criterion,

No, I said I didn't know what A means by rigor, since it isn;t what I mean
by it.

 he means
> it, I think, in a positivist sense -- precision in the use of language,

I explained what I meant by it, and precision ans claritya re only one
part of it. There is also explicitness, completeness in argument, and
throughness in answering objections. I don't think this is a "positivist"
sense, although the positivists, to their credit, manifested rigor in this
sense toi a high degree. Any good and careful scholarship is rigorous.

> although he does not grant the positivist claim that standards for such
> precision are universal or logical; rather, he describes these standards
> in terms of a discipline's or discourse's formal standards.

No, I didn't relativize rigor to a discipline or a "discourse." There are
kinds of rigor which are thus relative. But there are also general
standards any careful scholarship manifests.

> 	As for Callinicos's critique of Althusser, which Justin also
> praises, I believe that Callinicos states what is now a familiar attack
> on Althusser's rationalism, namely, that Althusser makes a mistake to
> divorce theory and practice because he cannot ensure the correspondence
> of theory's results and objective nature, truth, etc. One answer to this
> argument is that the rigor of science is as close as one can come to
> ensuring such correspondence, objectivity, or truth. Appeals to data,
> facts, evidence, experience, do not in themselves ensure such truth.

Nothing can _ensure_ truth. But mere internal theoretical coherence is
only a necessary and insufficient criterion for justification. Lots of
internally coherent theories are quite loony.

I don't actually recall the destails of C's argument. I read it long ago.

--Justin Schwartz

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