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[Xmca-l] Re: Political economy and Objectivity/obscurantism of mathematics


I am aware that I have just committed sin on sin (my post to Andy) by
patching the objectivity of mathematics with its 'validity' and even
'truth' when tested in social practice (as you say, in its 'use' value) Š
This does indeed open another can of worms. This leads away from the
current discussion into exchange value etc.

Marx's theory of history can be interpreted in a progressive sense as
meaning that the superstructure of ideology (including mathematics?) has a
certain dialectical relation to the economic structure .. 'Valid
mathematics' one might presume, has some functionality in terms of the
efficiency of the mode/forces of production - so use/exchange value of
labour (power).

However, Im concerned about another aspect of mathematics and that is its
class-reproductive 'use' and associated obscurantism/social exclusion. My
colleague George Joseph (famed re Chinese and Indian roots of mathematics
etc) provides data that suggests that some of the very earliest -
literally pre-historic -  mathematics includes rules for altar-building
that was clearly 'functional' in the most reactionary sense of maintaining
the power of the religious elite to exclude the masses (well before

In this view, the possibility arises that we might re-interpret the
current conversation re 'validity', 'truth' and 'use'. So, not long ago I
passed an office in a School of mathematics entitled "Financial
Mathematics - Derivatives Centre" (more or less - fortunately that project
has gone now for want of funds).

Probably the philosophers of 'subject-object'-ivity did not consider this
political aspect: so what are we left with?

I am forced to admit that the validity of mathematics in
political-economic practice provides an arena for contradictions and class
antagonism. (Anna has also written along these lines in her critique of
the use of numbers/numberese in the political economyŠ)


On 09/11/2014 01:44, "mike cole" <mcole@ucsd.edu> wrote:

>My impression is that, for me at least, the conversation about
>objectivities and conventions as been helpful in focusing my thoughts on
>the issue. I have not resolved the apparent, residual uncertainties or
>contradictions that seem to be at issue.
>Julian, might I start here, and get help with a next step:
>*"Thus, the objectivity of the rules of mathematics (as with logic) rest
>ultimately on the validity of the social practices that ensure maths a
>wider validity, beyond the conventions of the clique of mathematicians who
>run the discipline. Thus the discipline is itself disciplined."*
>It seems to me that a lot is riding on the interpretation of the property
>you call validity. It seems to me that the process of validation itself,
>passim science studies, needs to be considered here. At some point, it
>seems to me that validity means something very much like "useful" and
>useful as "surplus value."  It would come very close to pragmatic
>experimentalism, as close as the phenomena in question allow such a
>So how are we to interpret, validity, in your formulation, which I am very
>interested in?
>On Sat, Nov 8, 2014 at 4:18 PM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:
>> Oh dear! some times I despair of the possibility of communication.
>> That the Earth is round is a social convention, but it is not *only* a
>> social convention; it has a sound basis in material reality. That is to
>> say, Julian, no amount of discoursing and activity can alter the fact
>> the world is round. The roundness of the Earth is also outside discourse
>> and activity, even though it is made meaningful and known for us only
>> thanks to discourse/activity.
>> Driving on the right is subject to discourse/activity. In about 1968
>> Sweden changed from left to right. RIght-hand driving is *only* a social
>> convention.
>> Simple, eh? I would have thought so.
>> Andy
>> ------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> *Andy Blunden*
>> http://home.pacific.net.au/~andy/
>> Martin John Packer wrote:
>>> And also that the earth is round is a convention! Go figure!
>>> Martin
>>> On Nov 8, 2014, at 5:55 PM, Julian Williams
>>> ac.uk> wrote:
>>>> I'm struggling to keep up here... Surely I didn't hear Andy Blunden
>>>> that 'objectivity' implies stuff that can't be transformed? I'm sure
>>>>I must
>>>> have misremembered that!.?
>It is the dilemma of psychology to deal with a natural science with an
>object that creates history. Ernst Boesch.