Marxism as science

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Fri Apr 28 01:29:08 MDT 1995


It is ironic that Juan Inigo includes Althusser in his list of
bugbears, since his own argument is Althusserian to the marrow.

>our own determination as the real concrete form we are ..... The
>point is always: "what is to be done?"

Doesn't this come from Althusser's treatment of Lenin?

>As soon as the process of cognition is seen by the consequently
>alienated consciousness as being deprived from its immediate
>determination as the regulation of human action upon reality,
>reality itself appears as an abstraction (and thus, assertions
>as "learning about reality" "assuming that there is such a
>thing" arise).

In general, this is a very astute explanation and describes the
social basis of subjective idealism, though I can't agree with
your ultimate conclusions about philosophy.

>So the alienated process of cognition faces the necessity of
>starting by dealing with reality as the abstraction it has
>turned it into. And the only way of doing it is by interpreting
>reality. Scientific cognition is thus placed as needing to be
>based on a general interpretation of reality: a philosophy.

Now this is an intriguing argument.  I hesitate whether to
disagree or to agree.  There is an inherent ambiguity here which
hinges on the word "based".  One does not "base" scientific
cognition on a philosophy per se, any more than one "bases" a
civilization on it.  "Based" to me suggests: deduced as
conclusions from the premises of.  It seems to me that philosophy
organizes or generalizes one's perceptions, thoughts, notions,
interpretations after they actually occur, not before.  And yet,
philosophy is implicated in assessing the validity of any
generalizations about reality as well as the methods by which they
are to be reached.  Science as well as other cognitive activities
manage to proceed without being "based" on some philosophy in the
sense of being built up on some philosophical foundation, and yet
philosophy, which I consider to be the fundamental abstracted
principles of both thought and external reality, does evaluate,
affect, and penetrate into scientific as well as other endeavors.
Philosophy is used in organizing and justifying, if not "basing",
one's notions about reality, and scientific cognition (for
example, judging the validity of purported scientific cognitions)
is included here too.

>Marx revolutionarily discovers that the overcoming of alienated
>consciousness takes shape in the overcoming of interpretation of
>reality through the "reproduction of the concrete through the
>path of thought."

Or as Lenin put it, there is nothing like abstraction (the proper
kind) to achieve an intimate penetration of the concrete.  I do
not believe, though, that this takes place only through what are
called scientific theories.  I do not believe the
"epistemological" break between "philosophy"/"Ideology" and
"science" works the way Althusser conceives it.  I'm not saying
you are an Althusserian, you just walk like one and quack like
one.

>This reproduction brings philosophy to its historical end as the
>basis of science, making it visible as a purely ideological
>form, that is, as a form that only belongs in the alienated
>consciousness.

Only the word "basis" saves this assertion from being utter
twaddle.  Before Marx, Hume brought the old fashioned philosophy
based on a priori metaphysics to an end.  Philosophy could no
longer be the "basis" of science.  Of course the development of
the natural sciences proved fatal to the old kind of natural
philosophy (also naturphilosophie in particular).  But the rest of
your sentence is rubbish.  This is the same sleight of hand
Althusser pulls.  There are three fundamental flaws in this claim,
based on these implicit assumptions:

(1) That perfected scientific theories covering all phenomena
exist, so philosophy is obsolete.

(2) That elaborated and validated scientific theories do not
themselves stand in need of interpretation by the abstractions of
philosophy;

(3) That philosophical thought is inherently mystification or
ideology (in the modern sense), and cannot function cognitively or
epistemically in a similar materialistic manner as scientific
theories.

These three suppositions depend on one another and as a whole
explain the dynamic of this argument.  I reject all three.  There
is no end of history when it comes to the need for interpretation
of phenomena and ideas through abstract categories; this is not
alienated consciousness.  Subjective idealism or epistemic
nihilism (relativism) in the absence of absolute proof, is
alienated consciousness, and deconstructionism/postmodernism is
its latest boring incarnation.  That is not all of philosophic
cognition, however, and is a shameful fraud to pretend that it is
so.

>It is then that philosophers as Althusser (claiming that
>ideological interpretations necessarily precede science),

But your argument is 100% Althusserian; what else can you think?

>Bhaskar (claiming that science unavoidably needs the
>"underlabouring" of philosophy)

I can't speak much about Bhaskar, but given the way science gets
practiced -- crackpot notions in cosmology and particle physics,
sociobiology, the Bell Curve -- it seems to me philosophy is
needed more than ever to ferret out the dishonest gimmickry that
takes place under the aegis of science.  Real mathematicians by
the way are often the most forthcoming about the legerdemain
practiced with their tools.

>or those of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR (with their
>philosophical text-books) arise.

Well, what do these textbooks have to say?   Of course, one can
wipe one's ass with the sections on "scientific communism", also
the sections on historical materialism, but in the treatments of
dialectical materialism (objective dialectics exclusively, note),
there are general and reasonable assertions made about basic
philosophical categories, the relation between mind and matter,
the levels of organizations of matter, substance, etc.  As general
guidelines these are not bad principles for organizing one's
notions about the world.  For all their faults, the Soviets at
least adhered to some rationality in their outlook on the natural
world, which was consonant with their technocratic productivist
aims.

>These philosophers personify a specific necessity of present-day
>society in the production of alienated consciousness: that of
>crudely negating Marx's revolutionary advance in scientific
>method by inverting Marx himself into a philosopher, by
>producing a Marxist Philosophy.

Since I have no taste for defending Althusser, Bhaskar, or the
Soviets, I won't argue with the "these philosophers" part.  But
the objection to Marx as a philosopher and to Marxist philosophy
really turns my stomach.  Since Marx never even finished his
economic theory, let alone a complete theory of historical
materialism, not to mention everything else that is involved in
social, psychological, and cultural life, what are we to make of
Marx's ideas in these areas, since they presumably do not have
scientific status?  Did all of Marx's ideas about the world
outside of economic theory vanish into air because of the alleged
epistemological break which produced political economy?  You are
following in Althusser's footsteps and strewing his rubbish all
about.  What about general notions of human nature, above all the
Marxian notion of human agency?  One cannot begin to understand
Marx without understanding his notion of human agency, which may
well be a part of 'historical materialism' as a world-view (for
those who don't leave it out) but not a parameter in a
tightly-knit scientific theory (political economy) as far as I can
see.  (By 'human agency' I do not mean 'rational choice' either,
gag me with a spoon.)  And this is not an academic issue but one
which matters first and foremost to the great masses of people,
who will not accept a crude behavioristic notion of environmental
let alone economic determinism.

Let 100 sciences bloom, and elaborate them all to kingdom come,
and I dare you to make sense out of the whole mess without some
philosophical view.


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