Historical materialism and capital

Topoi 5 (2):187-196 (1986)
Abstract
It is commonly supposed that Marx's Capital is part and parcel of his theory of historical materialism. It is argued here, however, that this view is incorrect, and that Capital is distinguished from the more general theory of historical materialism in its standing as a work of social science. This conclusion rests on several grounds. First, Capital is substantially more specialized than the theory of historical materialism, since it is concerned only with one aspect of one mode of production. As a result, Capital provides a more rigorous treatment of its subject matter. Second, Capital is based on a fund of empirical evidence which is substantially more detailed than that offered in support of the theses of historical materialism. And third, given the preceding points, Capital is a developed empirical theory, whereas historical materialism is best construed as a general program of research. For these reasons Capital is epistemically distinct from historical materialism: unlike the latter, it is a substantive contribution to social science.
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