determination

fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu fellini at keynes.econ.utah.edu
Tue Mar 14 17:19:28 MST 1995



Howie Chodos has recently made some important points about the
"determination" problem, and this posting will be a rejoinder to
Chodos, for I believe he (?) asks "the right questions in a right
way". I have two points.

First, when we talk about the word "determine", if we took it as
saying that "whenever this, then that", this would be exactly what
Bhaskar calls "actualist" position (see Ehrbar's recent post), behind
which there lies Humean conception of causality as constant
conjunctions of discrete, atomistic events. But such a conception of
causality is entirely alien to Marx's historical materialism in
which what we may call "holistic causality" is essential, in its
emphasis of the totality of any society.

In this regard, secondly, in the proposition "social being determines
consciousness" the word 'determine' does not necessarily imply a
one-way causation. In my view, it refers to  the idea of 'praxis' in
which man 'makes himself' in the sense that "consciousness can never
be anything else than conscious existence" Here some quotes
from German Ideology (page numbers refer to GI, edited by C.J.
Arthur, International Publishers)

     The production of ideas, conceptions, of consciousness
     is directly interwoven with the material activity and
     the material intercourse of men. Men are the producers
     of their conceptions, ideas, etc.; consciousness can
     never be anything else than conscious existence, and
     the existence of men is their actual life-process. (p. 47)


     ...men, developing their material production and their
     material intercourse, alter, along with this their real
     existence, their thinking and the products of their
     thinking. Life is not determined by consciousness, but
     consciousness by life. (p. 47)
     ...

     The production of life ... appears to be a double
     relationship: on the one hand as a natural, on the
     other, as a social relationship. By social we
     understand the co-operation of several individuals, no
     matter under what conditions, in what manner and to
     what end. It follows from this that a certain mode of
     production, or industrial stage, is always combined
     with a certain mode of co-operation, or social stage,
     and this mode of co-operation is itself a "productive
     force". (p. 50)
     ...
     Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning, a
     social product, and remains so long as men exists at
     all. (p. 51)
     ...



But still, these ideas should be supplemented by an adequate
conception of society, especially in regard to the contact between
social structures and individual actions. Otherwise we would
relapse to a 'technological determinist' position in which there is no
place for real people or individuals. In other words, we should
equally avoid both individualism (or 'voluntarism') and 'holism' (or
'reification').

I don't claim that I know much about the alternative conceptions of
society within Marxism, but Bhaskar is especially important in this
contact between structures and individual agency, about which Howie
written. I agree with them. Any individual action is characterized by
intentionality in which 'second-order monitoring' capacity is
essential; yet intentional action will have unintented consequences,
like the reproduction and/or transformation of social structures.

On the other hand, of course Bhaskar is not the only person who
developed such a model; as a matter fact, Anthony Giddens's
'structuration theory' is almost identical to Bhaskar's
'transformational model of social activity' (though Giddens does not
identify himself as Marxist). Both models are based on the idea of
what Giddens calls "the duality of structure".

According to Giddens(*), social actions consist of social
practices, situated in time-space, and organized in a skilled and
knowledgeable fashion by human agents. But such knowledgeability
is always 'bounded' by unacknowledged conditions of action on the
one side, and unintended consequences of action on the other.
This conception is called by Giddens as the duality of structure,
in the sense that "the structured properties of social systems
are simultaneously the medium and outcome of social acts."
(Giddens 1981, p. 19) On this conception, societies or social
systems cannot exist without human agency, but nevertheless it is
not the case that actors create social systems; they reproduce or
transform them, remaking what is already made in the continuity
of praxis  (Giddens 1984, p. 25).

"The concept of the duality of structure connects the production
of social interaction, as always and everywhere a contingent
accomplishment of knowledgeable social actors, to the
reproduction of social systems across time-space." (Giddens 1981,
p. 26) The reproduction and/or transformation of social structures,
which take place in the continious activity of "situated" or
"positioned" practices, be studied without attributing any
teleological properties whatsoever to social systems. (Giddens 1981,
pp. 26-28)


Such a conception seems to me the best way to interpret Marx and
Engels's historical materialism. I take this as a specific
model which outlines genreal features of Marx's implicit social
theory. And I don't think such a conception shoul be taken as
"banalities under a ton of philosophical terminology", as Ralph
Dumain suggests.

(*) Giddens 1981: A contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism.
    Giddens 1984: The Constitution of Society: An Outline of
    Structuration Theory.


Regards,

Fellini



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