[Marxism] Eating is not over-consumption

Barry Brooks durable at earthlink.net
Thu Apr 23 04:00:58 MDT 2009

It would be reductionism to claim that limits are fixed.  No doubt 
limits vary, depending on many factors. The limits that we face are soft 
and slow and more dangerous for it... like a frog in hot water.

The class nature of capitalism sets many unnecessary limits, but that 
does not mean that other limits doesn't exist...in addition.

Could we fish-out the ocean without capitalism? Why be exclusive about 
it?  Capitalism prevents doing anything about it. What would socialists
do about too many poles in the pond? Nothing is not a good answer.

Hard upper limits can be calculated in theory, but the practical limits 
where quality and quantity must be compromised are soft and subjective, 
and already in our faces.

Precision calculations are not required to know there is trouble in 
over-shoot and die off. To claim maximum population is a scientific 
constant would be reductionism.

In many cases there is no "scientific" answer. People are too 
complicated, situations are unpredictable, and the things that matter 
are hard to measure and impossible to list.

In social sciences scientific results are like shoes that don't fit, 
maybe better than being barefoot. One doesn't need rain gauge to come 
inside, which is usually the reasonable response.


-from: M. Sillman
-to: rpa list

As I recall arguing in a dialogue I published many
years ago, scientific reduction is a matter of modeling
and simplification; it is a set of purpose-built tools
for specific phases of the intellectual process that is
science (or any systematic search for knowledge). It is
probably indispensable (one is tempted to say
irreducible!) for any such inquiry. To critique
something (such as Wilson’s Sociobiology) as
reductionistic is to level the charge that it has in
one way or another misused the tool; it need not, and
had better not be, to reject wholesale the tool as
such. By analogy, one really does need a hammer to
build a house, but we would rightly reject as invidious
“hammerism” any attempt to use the hammer as a
paintbrush, to clean the windows with it, or generally
to imagine that once the hammer’s work was done the
house was complete.

One of the reasons reductionism, on the model of
hammerism, is a fair criticism of some attempts to
extend scientific findings into socio-cultural or moral
principles is that the reduction model used for the
(generally analytic) objects of scientific study
ignores the emergence of properties in complex systems
that are neither predictable from nor reducible to the
properties of the components of those systems. Life
emerges from combinations of water and minerals,
obviously, and studying those components is vital, but
an organism is more (because of its self-replicating
organization of them, for example) than the sum of its
component elements. The concept of irreducibly emergent
properties is not unrelated to Marx’s employment of
Hegel's notion of dialectic.

Reductionism remains a permanent trap for intellectual
pursuits, precisely because we need the tool of
reduction to understand things, and so always risk
imbuing its more striking conclusions (such as
Wilson’s) with more weight than they can bear, and
applying them unmodified to a level of complexity
within a system for which they are demonstrably unsuited.

Matthew R. Silliman, Philosophy Mass. College of
Liberal Arts



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