Marshall Feldman MARSH at
Fri Jan 20 09:14:39 MST 1995

>Posted on 20 Jan 1995 at 09:08:49 by TELEC List Distributor (011802)
>Re: foundationalism
>Date: Fri, 20 Jan 1995 08:45:11 -0500 (EST)
>From: Philip Goldstein <pgold at>
>To: marxism at
>Reply-To: marxism at
>        Marshall Feldman poses an interesting issue about
>overdetermination: "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."
>        I think that overdetermination only works in particular contexts.
>What it tells us is the many areas, forces, influences, etc., which go
>togther to produce or explain a particular historical event, literary
>text, or other work. In other words, it resists the Marxist master
>narrative whereby history evolves by necessary stages to its final state.
>In that sense, it is compatible with Rorty's critique of master
>narratives. Why concrete "assertions about society" must necessarily
>commit an analysis based on overdetermination to a traditional
>philosophy, I don't know. Does this claim assume that any concrete
>analysis is always anti-relativist? anti-skeptical? e.g., foundational?
>Philip GOldstein

Basically I'm arguing along the lines that Kuhn argues, that scientists
necessarily make "metaphysical commitments."  The fact that we are silent
about considering such metaphysical issues as causality while still
claiming that causal patterns exist in any concrete instance should not
fool us into thinking we are not making tacit metaphysical assumptions.
Given this, the question then becomes what happens if the tacit assumptions
are made explicit?  We'd either wind up with a set of ad hoc, piecemeal, and
contradictory metaphysical assertions, or a coherent one resembling one of
the philosophical metaphysical schools.  Rorty is right that Philosophy has
no monopoly or special insight into metaphysics; Kuhn is right that
metaphysics are everywhere science is.

Your analysis of overdetermination is also consistent with Bhaskar's
realist analysis.  Multiple underlying processes determine concrete
events in a contingent fashion.  I have no problem accepting this, but I think
it is a form of foundationalism (which I think is unavoidable).  What I
object to is using the label of foundationalism to keep every question
perpetually open: sure, you and I might agree on this notion of
overdetermination, but since we cannot know if there is not someone somewhere
in the world who does not, we can only treat our notion of overdetermination
as the overdetermined outcome of our histories and therefore as having
only and purely discursive status.  To me the argument seems hopelessly

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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