[Marxism] Science, was . . .sociology as "unscientific" and"bourgeois"

Carrol Cox cbcox at ilstu.edu
Sun Aug 15 16:08:59 MDT 2004

Mark Lause wrote:
> As to Mike's question (which has just popped up), my views on the
> distinctions between hard sciences and the social scientists are fairly
> traditional.  Obviously, social scientists can approach specific
> problems with a scientific rigor and, in cases like physical
> anthropology, you have scientific techniques applied in specific areas
> where they are very applicable.

The word "science," in German as in English, has "hardened" as it were
in the last century. (Someone mentioned Popper, and he and the logical
positivists certainly played a large role in this hardening.) When Marx
& Engels spoke of "science" they (and their contemporaries) probably
meant something like "systematic knowledge grounded in the material
world," and "material world" would have, preeminently, referred to
_relations_ as much as, or even more than, the 'objects' brought into

Relations, of course, unlike the objects related, must be thought, not
perceived. (See _Grundrisse_ [Pelican Marx, tr. Nicolaus], p. 143. Hence
Marx's point in the Preface to the First German Edition (of _Capital_):
". . .the body, as an organic whole, is more easy of study than are the
cells of that body. In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither
microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction
must replace both. But in bourgeois society the commodity-form of the
product of labor -- or the value-form of the commodity -- is the
economic cell-form."

To assume that only that which resembles physics is science, as occurred
in the 20th century, is to obscure our understanding of science.
Political Economy (as practiced by Smith, Ricardo, Marx was and is a
science. Physics is a science. Our definition of science should be broad
enough to include both. Every other week, it seems, string theory is in,
string theory is out, string theory is in. Physics is not all that
mechanical as contrasts between it and political economy might suggest,
nor is political economy so "soft."

But what we know as the "social sciences" today (those officially so
designated) are for the most part an early 20th-century development, and
that development was to a great deal driven by the desire to "refute"
Marx. Sociology, while not so corrupt as Neoclassical Economics or most
Political Science, still _as a discipline_, moves towards mere
description masquerading as explanation, and its categories stem not
from a disinterested examination of reality but are, rather, reflections
of _common sense_, i.e., of bourgeois ideology. However rigorous the
thinker may be in handling those categories, his/her work is poisoned
from the beginning by the categories selected.

One (even a Marxist) can learn a good deal by reading Weber's _Economy
and Society_, but any careful reading of it will reveal it's grounding
in the bourgeois illusion of the isolated -- abstract -- individual
existing prior to and independently of social relations. But wherever
and whenever we find ourselves, we are always already caught up in an
ensemble of social relations, independently of which we simply have no
existence. It is this dirty little secret of bourgeois ideology that
sociology, economics, & political science exist to conceal.



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