Re: [xmca] Re: déjatel¹ nost¹

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 02 2008 - 16:46:07 PDT

Oops! It was meant to go to xmca.
Sorry. And thanks Steve.

Steve Gabosch wrote:
> Thanks for your message, Andy. I had never seen that Marx preface on
> the cell-form before, thanks for sending it along. And I appreciate
> being pointed at that section of Grundrisse - it is well worth
> re-reading, and in fact, a close study. And congratulations on getting
> the Hegel Logic out and for publishing your lectures. Bravo! What an
> excellent resource.
> I think you should post exactly what you wrote below on xmca - others
> will appreciate it, too. And your post is a good place to cap off this
> discussion. it seems like a good place to leave it for now. I would
> probably just say a sentence or two along the lines of thanks, that you
> have given me a number of interesting ideas to think about, and move on
> for now. Others may comment on your post or this thread, or maybe this
> discussion will take a nap. Sooner or later all these questions will
> come up again in new forms, of course. I have enjoyed this round.
> Cheers,
> - Steve
> On Oct 2, 2008, at 12:52 AM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>> 1. I glanced today at Marx's Preface to the First Edition of Capital:
>> where he gives a nice summary of these points.
>> Good little read.
>> 2. You are correct Steve in (I think) pointing to two distinct phases
>> in the development of a science. The same two phases that Marx refers
>> to in the Grundrisse:
>> As Marx says in 1. above, it took 2,000 years to "get to the bottom of
>> it" (phase 1) and find a starting point for (phase 2) political
>> economy. But identifying this starting point is the big question.
>> 3. Yes, I rely heavily on Hegel, as did Marx and Vygotsky. Like Marx
>> and Vygotsky I do not shy away from correcting Hegel where he needs
>> correcting, but he is the reference point. See my Foreword to Hegel's
>> Logic here:
>> 4. What do I mean by "a rational science ... does not proceed
>> empirically ..."
>> Let's say you enroll for Physics 101. You go to lectures and you get
>> taught all sorts of *laws* of nature, probably in mathematical form.
>> You don't get taught about the history or methology of science which
>> would tell you where these laws came from and how they were worked
>> out. You just get the finished product. As Vygotsky said in relation
>> to learning, if you only see the finished product, you miss the
>> movement, the real thing itself.
>> But in the lab. classes, they will probably give you experiments to
>> do, taking various measurements and so on, possibly meant to "confirm"
>> the accuracy of the "laws" you have learnt, or at least to learn how
>> they are manifested in human practical activity. But it gives the
>> false impression that such experimentation is the origin of these
>> laws. They may even get you putting a line through some points on
>> graph paper to lead you to believe this. I.e., you get two
>> contradictory messages:
>> (1) These laws "govern" nature with the power of necessity - things
>> *must* go like this, for some reason, and
>> (2) You can discover for yourself how things move by observing them.
>> So they give you both the rationalist message and the empiricist
>> message, but the real act of creation is hidden, the original
>> formulation of the conception in the first place. Science does not
>> proceed like you proceed in the lab. class, fitting observations onto
>> a graph or something. Nor does it proceed like it seems to in the
>> theory class, where you pretend to prove things mathematically. It is
>> the dialectical unity of the two, both real and necessary.
>> Hope that helps, Steve.
>> Andy
>> Steve Gabosch wrote:
>>> Your description of how a "rational" science develops is intriguing,
>>> Andy. I like its general evolutionary approach, but some questions
>>> about some of its particulars occur to me.
>>> The statement "Being a rational science, it does not proceed
>>> empirically ..." does not seem to be an accurate description of
>>> science in modern times. However a more or less purely "theoretical"
>>> (philosophical, theological, etc.) and largely non-empirical approach
>>> does characterize important aspects of official science in many
>>> pre-capitalist societies, such as European feudalism and Ancient
>>> Greece and Rome. Such a statement might be less true about
>>> pre-European China, which had a much longer continuous history, and
>>> much more cohesiveness, resources and territorial hegemony at the
>>> ruling class level, due to the necessarily centralized irrigation
>>> systems, but the motivation for using science to break out of its
>>> form of feudalism was minimal, so many of China's remarkable
>>> scientific discoveries in that era were treated more or less as
>>> amusements, rather than inspirations for social change.
>>> This generalization about the general lack of empirical research in
>>> science in pre-capitalist societies should also be qualified with the
>>> point that practical science, meaning the application of folk
>>> knowledge about agriculture, animal husbandry, the productive crafts,
>>> health care, housing, transportation, domestics and so forth and so
>>> on, has always been highly active and inventive, in every social
>>> system - and when certain socio-economic conditions have emerged, can
>>> surge forward, straining and eventually laying the basis for
>>> revolutionizing the existing social order. Practical science -
>>> according to this way of viewing the evolution of science, which I am
>>> pretty much basing on Marx and Engels and others who have written on
>>> the history of science in the historical materialist vein - while it
>>> was very "empirical" at the practical levels of work and daily living
>>> - it was not normally directly reflected in "official" (ruling
>>> class-organized) science and theory in most societies.
>>> There are many important partial exceptions to this general rule to
>>> keep in mind, however - especially Arab mathematics and other
>>> scientific work during the Dark and Middle Ages. A quick look around
>>> Wikipedia reveals Abu Musa Jābir ibn Hayyān a.k.a. Geber (c. 721–c.
>>> 815) as a marvelous example of Islamic science all in one person - he
>>> is considered a "polymath" who was a "chemist and alchemist,
>>> astronomer and astrologer, engineer, geologist, philosopher,
>>> physicist, and pharmacist and physician," and is "considered by many
>>> to be the father of chemistry". The modern bourgeois sciences,
>>> including their empirical traditions, owe a deep debt to the sciences
>>> and cultures of medieval Islam. And then in Greco-Roman times there
>>> were numerous now well-known scientist-engineers, mathematicians,
>>> medical researchers, etc., such as Archimedes, Euclid and Galen, and
>>> undoubtedly, many others not so well remembered. Aristotle did not
>>> conduct empirical experiments so far as we know, but he is considered
>>> by many to have been an amazingly keen empirical observer, although
>>> not flawless.
>>> But returning to the general point I am making: despite various
>>> exceptions, what amounted to a kind of disdain for empirical science
>>> in the official circles of many pre-bourgeois societies completely
>>> changed in the modern era. Since about the 17th Century or so, when
>>> the bourgeoisies in various European countries began to form on their
>>> own (or just plain grab hold of) more or less official social
>>> institutions, and generally push aside or overthrow feudal forces,
>>> empirical research began to become one of the hallmarks of official
>>> science - and what is now called the scientific revolution emerged.
>>> The scientific method, which included the development of vigorous
>>> empirical research efforts, began to be generally formulated and
>>> continuously honed, and has eventually come to dominate not only all
>>> the sciences, but many aspects of modern bourgeois culture as a
>>> whole. At the same time, and I infer this from your description of
>>> the usual development of a science, Andy, **cultural assumptions**
>>> about the world, society, the individual, the human body, animals,
>>> plants, the cosmos, etc. etc. drive the way leading scientists and
>>> their supporters in any given situation determine what they see as
>>> the objects and basic units of investigation. In turn, these
>>> cultural assumptions, objects and units in turn greatly impact what
>>> kind and what amount of empirical research is imagined, sought and
>>> supported. Your example of the "lifestyle" versus "virus" paradigms
>>> debate over the cause of HIV/AIDS is perfect.
>>> Well, that is my attempt at describing a little history of empirical
>>> science. So back to my main question - what do you mean by "a
>>> rational science ... does not proceed empirically ...."? Have I
>>> misread your meaning?
>>> Another question about what you wrote: your statement that a science
>>> begins "with a clear concept of its object" seems to leave out much
>>> of the history of a science prior to the time it forms a clear idea
>>> of its basic "units of analysis", such as chemistry before the
>>> discovery and comprehension of the chemical element, and then the
>>> molecule, and then valence - or biology before the discovery and
>>> understanding of units like the cell, and then the inherited
>>> adaptation, the gene, the protein - and, especially relevant to CHAT,
>>> psychology - where its basic unit remains undiscovered, or is at
>>> least highly disputed to this very day. Perhaps I am
>>> misunderstanding your point here as well?
>>> If convenient, could you give a shot at outlining the history of a
>>> science to illustrate your conceptual framework? I don't mean to ask
>>> you to go out of your way, just briefly show how your framework
>>> corresponds to the the evolution of some area of science that is
>>> characterized by a well established object and basic unit. That
>>> might help make your points more concrete, and perhaps draw an
>>> interesting counterpoint to the way I am trying to frame this history.
>>> And - again, not wanting to bother you too much - could you offer a
>>> little summary of how you view Hegel in relationship to science. As
>>> I understand it, Hegel was highly knowledgeable of the sciences of
>>> his day, and did some writing on scientific subjects himself, such as
>>> astronomy, and sometimes laced his writings with examples from
>>> empirical science. Hegel was another of history's great polymaths.
>>> He supported empirical research in science, insofar as he saw this
>>> kind of work as a prelude to what he saw as a genuinely philosophical
>>> understanding of nature. He saw physics, chemistry and biology as
>>> the central empirical sciences, which he said were irreducible to one
>>> another, and he opposed the quack so-called sciences of phrenology
>>> (analyzing skull bumps) and physiognomy (analyzing facial features)
>>> which claimed to deduce personality traits from these analyses. At
>>> that same time, Hegel was an ardent critic of philosophical
>>> empiricism, with arguments that have some interesting parallels (and
>>> of course, important differences) with the Marxist critique of it.
>>> Perhaps you would flesh this description out a bit more.
>>> Finally, am I correct in surmising that this conception which you
>>> have outlined of how a science evolves is derived mostly from Hegel?
>>> - Steve
>>> On Oct 1, 2008, at 5:24 PM, Andy Blunden wrote:
>>>> :) Maybe we'll never get over this difficulty Martin. Let me take a
>>>> little step back and try though.
>>>> How does *any* "rational" science operate? The science begins with a
>>>> clear concept of its object, be it "conditioned reflex" or
>>>> "commodity" or "right" or whatever. It then pays close attention to
>>>> what is actually going on. Aided by the fact that it's "unit of
>>>> analysis" is an empirically observable unit of social life, not some
>>>> hypothesis or "force" or "thing-in-itself" or foundation myth, it is
>>>> able to observe the changes and transformations in its object, and
>>>> comprehend these through the specific lens given by its unit of
>>>> analysis. Being a rational science, it does not proceed empirically,
>>>> but refuses to rest until the observed transformations have been
>>>> made intelligible in terms of the "germ cell." At every step this
>>>> initially abstract conception becomes richer and more concrete,
>>>> provided of course that it was wisely chosen in the beginning. The
>>>> achievement of making the empirically observed phenomena rationally
>>>> intelligible means that the movement (actually already empirically
>>>> observed) can be reconstructed rationally, *as if* not relying on
>>>> empirical observation. ANY theoretical science must proceed in this
>>>> way, even if at a given moment in its development, there are some
>>>> phenomena which remain unintelligible. How otherwise can we have a
>>>> theory of the Big Bang? By "observation"??
>>>> I find this quote by Hegel in the Introduction to his "Philosophy of
>>>> Right" helpful (note that this book cover not just law (Rechts), but
>>>> world history, economics, family relations, ethics, politics, etc.,
>>>> etc.):
>>>> “The science of right is a part of philosophy. Hence it must develop
>>>> the idea, which is the reason of an object, out of the conception.
>>>> It is the same thing to say that it must regard the peculiar
>>>> internal development of the thing itself. Since it is a *part* [of
>>>> philosophy], it has a definite beginning, which is the result and
>>>> truth of what goes before, and this, that goes before, constitutes
>>>> its so-called proof. Hence the origin of the conception of right
>>>> falls outside of the science of right.” (Introduction to the
>>>> Philosophy of Right §2)
>>>> but then he adds:
>>>> “In philosophic knowledge the necessity of a conception is the main
>>>> thing, and the process, by which it, as a result, has come into
>>>> being is the proof and deduction. After the content is seen to be
>>>> necessary independently, the second point is to look about for that
>>>> which corresponds to it in existing ideas and modes of speech.”
>>>> (Introduction to the Philosophy of Right §2)
>>>> Andy
>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>> "Much of volumes 2 and 3 of Capital are concerned with
>>>>> crises. This particular crisis is certainly to be
>>>>> anticipated from his point of view, but after all he died in
>>>>> 1883, so it would be nonsense to talk of him "predicting"
>>>>> it."
>>>>> Andy,
>>>>> Yes, Marx emphasized that crises are endemic to capitalist economy. He
>>>>> described the ways companies will appeal for government regulation
>>>>> to save
>>>>> them from the consequences of their own competitive impulses, so the
>>>>> government "bail out" this week is really nothing new. And he also
>>>>> described
>>>>> the process of abstraction in capitalism, so the highly abstract
>>>>> character
>>>>> of these "toxic" products would not have surprised him. He did a
>>>>> tremendous
>>>>> job of identifying tendencies in this kind of activity (just one of
>>>>> many, as
>>>>> you note) which continue to this day. My point about prediction was
>>>>> the
>>>>> narrower one that in Capital Marx didn't anticipate all this merely
>>>>> from an
>>>>> analysis of *simple* exchange, as I think that Leontiev claims. He
>>>>> looked
>>>>> back on simple exchange from the vantage point of nineteenth century
>>>>> capitalism, and reconstructed the course of its history.
>>>>> Martin
>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>> xmca mailing list
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>>>> andy.blunden
>>>> Hegel's Logic with a Foreword by Andy Blunden:
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