Marshall Feldman MARSH at
Thu Jan 19 13:38:38 MST 1995

>Date: Sat, 14 Jan 1995 17:12:40 -0500 (EST)
>From: Richard Wolff <rwolff at>
>To: marxism at
>Reply-To: marxism at
>        Reply to Marshall Feldman:
>                It is precisely the nature of our use of the term
>        "overdetermination" - as in the usages made of this and
>        closely allied terms by many of the others grouped around
>        the journal RETHGINKING MARXISM - that it does NOT take
>        itself as foundational. That is, overdeterminationist
>        perspectives admit and indeed proclaim themselves to be just
>        that - perspectives related to overdetermination. Other
>        perspectives are not "wrong" or "without foundation" because
>        they do not share "our foundation."

But what if someone challenges the notion of overdetemination itself?  Are
they ruled out of consideration?  It seems to me that any SINGLE concept
of overdetermination must carry a whole lot of baggage (some individuation
of the world, some notions about causality, some notions about human
consciousness, etc.).  In short, specific versions of all the stuff that
Rorty and his ilk want to deny Philosophy can offer.  I agree with his
argument that Philosophy can't be the master narrative, but I also think
any concrete assertions about society necessarily presume some answers to
these traditionally "Philosophical" questions.

Grouping together multiple versions of overdetermination does not work as
a demonstration of true theoretical pluralism any more than grouping together
multiple versions of methodological individualism, subjectivism, technological
determinism, etc.  Instead, there would have to be true acceptance revealed in
action (in theoretical practice at least) consistent with the divergent

Moreover, your basic premise does not preclude realists and others, whom
you may or may not label "foundationalist" -- I'm not sure yet, from coming
to other conclusions about diverse theoretical perspectives.  Realism, of
course, maintains there is a complex reality that exists independent
of thought, but beyond that realism tends towards a consistency theory
of truth.  For example, many realists would argue that our most closely
held beliefs license the notion of deep structures, and that this would rule
out casual dismissal of such terms as simply being alien to one's
overdetermined perspective.  In other words, to be consistent, one would
have to revise one or another part of one's beliefs.

I have your book on economics, and I'll look at it and the one on class and
knowledge so as not to take up too much bandwidth unnecessarily.

>                However, to argue that we have some concepts that
>        serve as means and bases for other concepts, while certainly
>        the case, does not thereby make us "foundationalist."

No, but arguing that overdetermination licenses theoretical pluralism does
because it does not allow for an anti-overdetermination perspective.

>        Unless you have a very atypical definition of that term.
>        As Rorty and others attack it, foundationalism is above all
>        the claim that you have a foundation which is and must be THE
>        foundation for everyone. That is precisely what overdetermination
>        rejects - hance its apposition to foundationalism.

But it does not seem a question of either or.  Reasonable people may disagree
on some things, while agreeing on others.  To the extent that there is mutual
agreement (among an intellectual community or within a culture or across
cultures), the area of agreement is (in fact) THE foundation for everyone
(I'm not sure there's direction here which the metaphor of "foundation"
seems to imply).  Asking for consistency seems a reasonable way to make
the area of agreement serve a "foundational" role: either we find further
disagreement or one of us revises our views.  Of course, we may decide
that more than one viewpoint is consistent with the things we agree on.
Then we have to ask, what kind of argument will convince us?  Perhaps
there is none.  But I always find discussions of this sort ultimately
relying on a form of Cartesian skepticism that, of course, can't
be disproven but serves as a useful rhetorical strategy nonetheless.
Still, even the most ardent Cartesian doesn't walk out of ceilings.

>                Excuse the plug, but the Resnick and Wolff books,
>        Knowledge and Class and Economics: Marxian vs Neoclassical try
>        to systematically develop this point partly at the level
>        the philosophy and methodology of the social sciences and partly
>        in terms of economic theories and the contemporary battles
>        among them.
>        R. Wolff

Marsh Feldman
Community Planning                      Phone: 401/792-2248
204 Rodman Hall                           FAX: 401/792-4395
University of Rhode Island           Internet: marsh at
Kingston, RI 02881-0815

"Marginality confers legitimacy on one's contrariness."


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