Dialectics of Nature

Hans Ehrbar ehrbar at marx.econ.utah.edu
Sat Sep 14 23:02:49 MDT 1996


I am glad to answer to Hinrich's post of Sat, 14 Sep 1996 11:21:37
+0200.  I am willing to explain more what I meant.


HK> In his post *Adam Rose's "exposure" of Hans Ehrbar*, dated Fri, 13
HK> Sep 1996, Hans Ehrbar put it the wrong way once again:

>> Let me say it again: Marx did not need to be a philosopher; he had
>> his worldview buried deep in his head, an invisible compass which
>> allowed him to develop extremely relevant revolutionary science.
>> But for those of us who are not Marx or Lenin it may be helpful to
>> make these unspoken philosophical premises explicit.  This is what
>> Bhaskar is about.  He sees the philosopher as the "underlaborer" of
>> the scientist.

HK> 1.  Marx had neither an *invisible compass* nor a *worldview* in
HK> his head, nor any first principle or genius insight in his brain,
HK> when he was developping scientific socialism.

The worldview or the invisible compass I was talking about does not
come from any first principles programmed into Marx's brain.
Rather you need the following chain of arguments to see where it
comes from.  What I am going to say now cannot be found in Marx
and you may find it very unfamiliar.  It is Bhaskar:

(1) Start from the "stylized fact" that humankind,  through
a social activity which is commonly called "science,"
is able to gain more and more knowledge about the world.

(2) From this you can infer that the world is such that
those procedures which are known as science are able to gain
knowledge about it.  This is not an a priori statement.
Worlds would be thinkable which are so chaotic and irregular
that it wouldl be impossible for someone thrust into this
world to learn about the world.

(3) By observing those procedures by which the scientist gains
knowledge about the world, the philosopher can draw certain
conclusions about the world, which are different than the conclusions
the scientist himself draws.  They are conclusions about the necessary
prerequisites for the scientist's activity.  They are conclusions
about those characteristics of the world which make science possible.
The scientist need not necessarily be aware of these characteristics.
They are what Bhaskar calls the "philosophical ontology" or
"metaphysics" (not in an a priori sense; Bhaskar is putting Kant on
his feet), and I tried to convey with the words "worldview" or
"invisible compass" or Marx's "unspoken philosophical premises."

Let me give some examples.  From an analysis of experimental activity
Bhaskar is inferring that the world is governed by a number of
*different* mechanisms; Bhaskar says the world is "stratified." The
world is not running off like a complicated clock governed by one
world formula (monism), but it is "open."  The laws of physics do not
determine everything; there are for instance irreducible biological
phenomena that cannot be reduced to physics, and there are
psychological phenomena which cannot be reduced to biology, and social
forces which cannot be reduced to individual psychology.  Marx was
saying very similar things, for instance in Grundrisse he says that
society does not consist of individuals but of the relations in which
these individuals stand.  Or: "the dialectical method is only correct
if it knows the limits of its applicability" (for instance don't try to
explain primitive accumulation by the laws of capitalism; it is
pre-capitalist, etc.)  I find it very exciting how Bhaskar supplies
a rigorous argument which leads to the conclusions which you can
find in Marx's writings.  For someone who knows Bhaskar it is amazing
how many passages of Marx could come straight out of a textbook
about critical realism.


HK> For socialists the
HK> proof of the pudding of their materialism is the ability to answer
HK> the following question without relying on a deus ex machina: Why
HK> and how was Marx able to decipher the two-fold character of
HK> labour?

HK> "I was the the first to point out and to examine critically this
HK> two-fold nature of the labour contained in commodities. .. This
HK> point is the pivot on which a clear comprehension of Political
HK> Economy turns." [Capital, vol. I, p. 49]

HK> Was it that Marx had to resort to Hegel, or was it rather a
HK> specific historical situation where the real social movement
HK> enabled him to abstract and to formulate the internal structure of
HK> capitalist societies and hence to open the insight into the
HK> connection of society, nature, and thought?

The double character of labor is not a philosophical question; it is
not philosophical ontology but scientific ontology.  But there are
philosophical questions right underneath.

Let me formulate it as a challenge to you or to anyone else
interested.  Marx criticizes Ricardo left and right for only
concentrating on the quantity of value and ignoring the quality of
value.  Why do we need to know the quality of value?  Who cares that
the quality of value is *human labor in the abstract* and not just
*labor*, i.e., what do we need the *double* character of labor for?
Is this really the most basic insight about capitalism on which
everything else turns?  Who else in the modern sciences emphasizes
quality in this way?  Do geneticists talk about the quality of
evolution, modern economists about the quality of money, statisticians
about the quality of probability?  What is going on here?  Please try
to answer this question, and if you or someone else does, I will try
to point to some philosophical issues buried in here.


HK> Characteristically, Hans overlooked the few hints which Adam
HK> touched in his post.

I am still not getting them.  Can you be more specific?


HK> 2.  Scientific socialism or the System of Critique of Political
HK> Economy do not need at all any philosophy as a
HK> road-bed. Philosophers may consider themselves as "underlaborers"
HK> of science, but it is obvious that both natural sciences and
HK> social sciences will sway at once without empirical foundations.

You just made a philosophical statement, and a false one at that.  You
wrote: "Both natural sciences and social sciences will sway at once
without empirical foundations."  This is what philosophers call
"empiricism".  You call it obvious, but it only seems obvious to you
because you overlook one crucial fact: empirical observation of the
world will flood you with evidence without any indication of which of
your empirical observations are relevant, or for what caussaly active
mechanism they are evidence of.  It is wrong to say that science is based
on empirical observation alone because science is necessary to
evaluate the empirical observations.


HK> 3.  We even don't need *these unspoken philosophical premises*,
HK> neither in an implicit, nor in an explicit form. Once scientific
HK> socialism has been formulated in its outlines, there is a
HK> connecting thread for future generations. As Engels put it:
HK> Acquire Marx' System of Critique of Political Economy, apply it in
HK> analyzing a given period of contemporary history within a concrete
HK> country, and develop appropriate political tactics of the
HK> proletarian movement!

This smacks of what Bhaskar calls "cognitive triumphalism."
You are ignoring not only the differentiation between science and
philosophy but also that between the different sciences and
that between that what science can do and what it can't.
This is the very dangerous idea that the Communist Party has
all the answers and that everything can be planned.  There is
a direct link between this and Lysenko and Stalin's show trials.
This is "totalitarianism" at its worst.


HK> Nowadays we still have to add: continue to reconstruct scientific
HK> socialism, and continue to fight its trivialization!

I agree with you there.  After Marx, it took scientific socialism
a long time to get back to the heights at which Marx himself was.
This is why we are reading *Capital* still today.


HK> 4.  Actually I am not very interested in this discussion on
HK> philosophy of science at this moment, nor do I have the time to do
HK> this in a more extended way. [A collective examination of the
HK> situation of classes in an international comparison - this would
HK> be my favourite topic in the next round of a responsible list
HK> discussion.]

HK> And those who visit the Marx-Engels-Internet-Archives from time to
HK> time may know that Hans and I belong to the bunch of Marxists who
HK> share a common goal in bringing Marx' Capital to the Web.

HK> I intervened into this banter on Capital, dialectics, and
HK> philosophy of science at this turning point of *Marxism space*
HK> because I think it is of some political significance to point to
HK> the fact that one of the most enthusiastic members of the Spoon
HK> Collective with some influence on how to provide and shape these
HK> lists is a supporter of a bourgeois understanding of
HK> methodology. This has nothing to do with an "exposure", as Hans
HK> tried to talk us into believing by changing the subject line of
HK> this thread, but it is a political point of matter to some extend
HK> - at least in this tiny box of the real world.

I take it you don't want to call it "exposure" because you think I am
not aware of the bourgeois methodology behind my Marxist intentions.
I would still call it "exposure", you are trying to expose something
which is hidden to myself.  Of course, I do not agree with you that it
is bourgeois methodology, but I agree that it is an important issue.
The whole idea which is so popular among Marxists that philosophy is
unnecessary, that all philosophical questions can be resolved into
scientific questions, is wrong.

This issue can probably not be resolved in a few postings on the
Internet.  I have two suggestions for those who are interested: (1)
join the Bhaskar list.  (2) join my class on Marx's *Capital* and show
me in detail where i am wrong with my interpretation of Marx.  (send
me a private email if you want to join this class.  It is conducted
over email and goes from Sept. 25 - December 4.)  I am extending this
invitation not only to Hinrich but to everybody who is interested.  I
have written an extended commentary of selected Chapters of Marx's
Capital, with a new translation, in which I try to interpret Marx's
Hegelianisms in terms of Bhaskar's transcendental realism.  I will put
up this commentary in the archives and give information at a later
time how to get this commentary.  It is still rough and tentative
at places, but I think you will also find many worth while passages.

HK> Hinrich Kuhls

Comradely, Hans Ehrbar.



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