Marxism and mathematics

John Landon nemonemini at
Thu Feb 8 00:45:57 MST 2001

to Julio Huato's post
(By the way, there was just a lot of email on the
Pen-L about this issue of neo-classical economics,
equilibrium and Arrow-Debreu.)

Your comparison of my statement about allocating study
time to economics is interesting and amusing, but I
don't ascribe any mathematical theory to that.

As to why mathematical economists have troubles and
not physicists so much is the Big Enchilada Question
that has haunted science since Newton. The reason I
brought Kant into the question, although that seems
odd, is that he saw the trouble coming early  on and
attempted to determine the boundary between questions
that have answers and those that are
crypto-metaphysical. Economists must, maybe, be
crossing the boundary here. Not hard to find where.
Utility is a substitute for free choice, I didn't say
free will necessarily. That doesn't tell us much, only
why we failed, not how to succeed. This is one of the
'Whatch out' points in Kant. Are you going to choose
pure causality and eliminate free choice, to get one
law, one answer, a science? Or, are you going to allow
two answers, a causal and a free choice answer. If the
latter, you lose the math, and can only 'write
history', describe, not predict. Period. So to get the
math, you must eliminate the right question.
So I would guess somewhere in there the answer to your
question is that a Kantian 'idea of reason' is
concealed in the foundation, which is like bad cement
for a building.
I don't know, really, it makes no sense.
As to Wesley Mitchell, I merely meant to suggest that
the study of how economies actually behave is just as
important as spinning theories from books of
differential equations.
One of the achievements of Marx and Engels, with
Sismondi one of the first, is to bring home this
behavior of actual systems. I am sure you are right
and that Mitchell's ideas may have flaws. But my point
was only that, if theories are suspect, then
experience is the best guide, and that's what it boils
down to in the end. We are always satisfying Kant's
antinomy, i.e. in this case making choices about
economies, and, to some degree, reacting to economic
The confusion arises from the simplicity and good luck
of physicists. You have one small blob of matter and
you can write a nice equation to predict what it will
do. This nice math got everyone confused into thinking
they would do the same thing to social science.

As to dialectics, I don't know. It is likely to
confuse the study of math. Hegel's dialectical logic
is not built on Either-Or, while mathematics is. There
is certainly a resemblance of dialectical processes to
contexts of change, but it could be confusing to mix
the two domains.

John Landon


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