Making nonsense of Marx

Inquiry 29 (1-4):29 – 43 (1986)
Abstract
Elster's understanding of Marx is reviewed in three areas: the theory of value, the theory of history, and dialectics. In each area Elster goes astray in quite superficial ways, not instructive ones. There is a simple underlying reason in almost every case, viz. that Elster fails to confront the distinction in the philosophy of science between the methods of atomism and essentialism. Since Marx was an essentialist, Elster's attempt to assimilate Marx to the atomist tradition has as much serious interest as attempts to show that Kant was a utilitarian, Hegel a classical empiricist, or whales fishes. The conclusions are that the book is an unsympathetic treatment of Marx, that it is lacking in scholarship and balance, and that the standard of argument is unusually poor
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