Ralph D, particle physics, and BS

Matt D. afn02065 at freenet.ufl.edu
Wed Jun 21 11:56:41 MDT 1995

If you'll forgive the interjection of a layman--

Rahul says:

>We also still haven't
>gotten at the question of the nature of that distinction, or how does the
>SS project differ from that of NS fundamentally and still remain scientific
>in some reasonable sense?
>On the question about consensus, I certainly did not suggest that
>oppositional thinking is less scientific or not scientific at all. In fact,
>I think oppositional thinking generally contains more of the truth than
>status quoism.

As long as the "scientific" is equated with "true" and more scientific with
more true in popular parlance, then certainly there are many areas of
intellectual and technical endeavor which will seek to bring themselves
under the umbrella of that term.

One common-sense view of the issue might be that any area of study which
attempts to be explicit (about its presuppositions, terms and methods),
explicative (of observed phenomena), and predictive (of future phenomena)
may as well be located under the rubric of "science."

I am certainly not a linguist, but my understanding was that the German word
which we were taught for science--Gewissenschaft (sp?)--has this broader
connotation, and that this was indeed the general feeling in the European
academy (another area in which I have zero expertise).

In any event, as long as both parties to the conversation are trying to
fulfill the three critera of explicitness, explicativeness, and
predictiveness, what good is served by claims of "I'm scientific and you're

>My point was about the fact that there can exist sharp
>oppositional divides that cannot be reconciled even on, in a sense, the
>ABCs of economics. If this is possible in a field, how can the field be

I guess the labor theory of value is a good example of an ABC like this?
But of course LTV and non-LTV's contest one another at least in some arenas
based on their explanatory and predictive power, don't they?  What's
non-scientific about that?

>Of course, you could say the capitalist economists are full of
>shit, and Marxist economics is scientific. Anyone want to claim this?  Of
>course, when talking about consensus, you run into the fundamental problem
>you mentioned, since the scientists themselves are objects as well as
>subjects. Still, however, development of a sufficiently powerful formalism
>should be able to compel agreement on certain points, at least. A Marxist
>economist and a capitalist economist still take a derivative the same way.

Well, if that sort of "universal" formalism is a necessary condition of
"science", then perhaps we might speak of economics as "pre-scientific"
rather than "un-scientific."

Of course, in the realm of political economy, it is precisely because
consensus on certain points (say, exploitation) might be inevitable with the
proper formalism (say, some variant of contemporary Marxism) that consensus
on that formalism will be resisted so extraordinarily vigorously.

Besides, natural science (natural history) has been working out its
formalism over at least a couple more hundred years than political economy,
hasn't it?  Give the kids a chance to catch up. :)

--Matt D.

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