[Marxism] Re: Popper

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at juno.com
Thu Dec 30 11:54:53 MST 2004

On Thu, 30 Dec 2004 17:26:09 +0100 "Jurriaan Bendien"
<andromeda246 at hetnet.nl> writes:
> The correct answer is the Popper and Callinicos are both apes. 
> Jurriaan
> _______________________________________________

Concerning Popper, as I pointed out in another
time and place:

One Marxist school that attempted to deal with, if not
answer Popper were the Analytical Marxists.
It is interesting to note Popper's influence on the Analytical
Marxist school, both positively and negatively. G.A. Cohen
in his *Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence* makes no
mention at all of Popper, and yet his book reads to me
as a kind of reply to Popper, since Cohen attempts to
reformulate historical materialism (or at least historical
materialism as understood by the Second International)
as a rigorous empirical theory of history. William Shaw
(in *Marx's Theory of History*)
and Dan Little (in *The Scientific Marx), on the other hand, 
do attempt to answer directly
Popper's criticisms of Marxism, and they both draw upon
Lakatos' critiques of Popper, in doing so. Jon Elster
in *Making Sense of Marx* presented a version of
Analytical Marxism that was actually quite Popperian
in tone, including an embracing of Popper's methodological
individualism and rational choice approach to social science.
Curiously enough, Elster makes no mention of Popper, and
yet it is hard to imagine that he arrived at his views without
having drawn upon Popper.

In connection with the Analytical Marxian school there is
another book that people may wish to look at on this issue,
the unjustly neglected book *Analyzing Marx* by Richard W.
Miller. In that book he draws a distinction between the
technological interpretation of historical materialism
which was articulated and defended by many writers
of the Second International (i.e. Kautsky, Plekhanov)
and which cast into an especially rigorous form by
G.A. Cohen in his *Karl Marx's Theory of History*,
and what he calls the mode of production interpretation
which abjures the technological determinism and
the economic determinism of the latter.

Miller draws a link between these two different
interpretations of historical materialism and
different philosophies of science. The technological
interpretation, Miller links to positivist philosophies
of science with their covering law models of scientific
explanation and their presuppostion of Humean
notions concerning causality. Here, Miller does
not draw a very sharp distinction between positivism
and Popperism. While Popper clearly did not see
himself as being a positivist, he nevertheless, still
had many notions in common with them. In Miller's
view Popper's hypothetico-deductivism placed him
within the positivist camp. In any case, Miller contends
that the technological interpretation of historical materialism
does represent the sort of theory that can be regarded
as falsifiable from a strictly Popperian standpoint.
Hence, it is scientific by Popper's criteria. The only
thing that is wring with it is that history has indeed
(as Popper had contended) falsified it, and the other
thing that is wrong with it, is that in Miller's view it
represents a distorted interpretation of how Marx
undertook the study of history and political economy.
The mode of production interpretation in Miller's view
offers us a view that is closer to the spirit of Marx's
actual methodology. But it is not falsifiable in the
strict Popperian sense. One might then think
that Miller would propose to throw away falsifiability
as a criterion of demarcation between science and
non-science but surprisingly enough he does not.
Instead, he attempts to reconstruct the notion of
falsifiability, drawing upon the work of Thomas
Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. He embraces their
historicist approach to the philosophy of science
and he develops a reconstructed version of the
notion of falsifiability. The mode of production
interpretation of historical materialism while
perhaps not falsifiable in Popper's sense, is
nevertheless falsifaible in Miller's sense and
that justifies retaining the label of science for it.
Miller also BTW contends that the postivist
(and Popperian) analysis of natural science
is fundamentally flawed so that while the
positivists were quite correct in seeking a unified
science which would assimilate the social sciences
into the natural sciences , they misunderstood
the nature of natural science. For Miller, the
antipositivists were correct in attacking positvism
for trying to force social science into a narrow mold
centering around the covering law model and
deductive-nomological models of explanation
and Humean causality, but the same flaws also
applied to their analysis of natural science. In
reality such an analysis, in Miller's view is not
properly applicable to either natural science
or social science.

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