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2014-08-04
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
TL;DR: Does anyone know of a resource where I can gain an understanding of what the current debates in the philosophy of social science are?

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Hello!

I am a soon-to-be PhD student at Notre Dame in Western Australia.
My intended area of research is Marx's dialectical method. I am very interested in what has been described as Marx's critique of 'immediacy' in mainstream social science. Immediacy is when a particular study or social scientific theory takes empirical data at face value, and does not investigate whether or not that data has been distorted by previously-constructed systems of reasoning and thought. Perhaps even more simply, ideology (here meant in its technical Marxian sense) distorts the interpretation of empirical data.

I was wondering whether anyone knew of a resource where I might be able to find out what the current debates or issues in the philosophy of social science are, so I might be able to link this interest with a current debate that is going on, so my early synopsis of my intended research project might be looked upon favourably.

Further, would anyone know of what debate that is currently going on might bear directly on my interest?

Thank you for your time,

Blair Hurley.

2014-08-11
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Blair,

You are boldly entering a swamp of controversy. The first thing I'd suggest is that you not be mislead by some vocabulary that overlaps that of Hegel. The Neo-hegelians, with young Marx among their number, were sharply critical of his idealism. Engels' Dialectics of Nature provides a good foundation if one is not mislead by his choice of vocabulary.

I believe current debates are extraordinarily shallow. During Marx's lifetime there were intellectual movements that sought to understand how life might transcend radical positivism's unequivocal (causal) determination by circumstance. Henri Bergson and German Romanticism come immediately to mind. As far as Marxism is concerned, useful is Martin Jay's book on totality.

This concern today falls under the rubric of "emergentism". There seems a consensus in the social sciences that the interaction of entities gives rise to objective improbabilities (not mere subjective novelties) that do not reduce to constituents (unfortunately, in the physical sciences, quantum mechanics has misled people to embrace the objective idealism of ontic randomness). Emergence resists explanation although it is a common observable. For example, the jargon term "subsume" is often used in the social sciences, but it only describes a relation of emergent properties that do not reduce to, are underdetermined by,  the properties of their base. It explains nothing. My own approach to the subject is in a paper that should be coming out shortly in Axiomathes, "Process Ontology". The same charge applies to the fashionable complexity theory.

Without belaboring the point, I believe a basic problem is that social scientists uncritically embrace the Enlightenment systematics paradigm, in which, because of the assumed autarchy of property, the identification of entities is based on their intrinsic or "essential" properties. The mereology that follows from this requires that effects of their interaction be assigned to a higher reified level (reified in sense that the level acquires  a causal power).

Marx's methodology, perhaps not entirely peculiar to him, is to reject entity foundationalism and to define things to have "essential" properties arising from their relations with other things, rather than assign those properties to a higher level. So the method starts by including those relations in the definition of units of analysis that account for their emergence. For example, a social class is defined as a relation of production, not a collection of empirical properties. This implies that a "dialectic" is not a causal relation of entities, but, if I may appeal to another bit of jargon, a mutual grounding of probability distributions in which one actuality enables the emergence of the other. 

Haines Brown

2014-08-12
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Haines Brown
I like the reference to process (relational?) ontology.  A.N. Whitehead observes that we succumb to (are attracted to?) the "fallacy of misplaced concresence" when we mistake a part as properly representing (or even able to capture) the whole of which we think it may be a part. Any dia-lectic can mis/under represent its 'set'. 
  Makes me wonder if discussion of dia-lectic has run its course: time for consideration of the interface of poly/multi-lectics...hmmmmm

2014-08-12
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Haines Brown
As a Whitehead fan, I eagerly await your paper.  Do keep us posted!

2014-08-12
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Haines Brown
Just for fun...since you use the word "power", is manifestation of "causal power" a symptom of coercive or persuasive "power".

2014-08-12
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Wayne, you pose a number of questions, which I'll try to answer.

The word "dialectic" is difficult to define. Its etymology suggests it means conversation, but Hegel means far more than mere dialog of things, and logicians construe the word in their own way. So I suppose the word means any thing we wish. But my original post sought to counter a common notion  that dialectic is simply a causal interaction of entities. Any study is framed by what one thinks relevant, and as you hint, often that frame has proven to be too narrow. But my point was not about widening the frame to bring in new factors, but whether our units of analysis should be framed at all. If an actuality is enabled and acquires existence by the grounding of other actualities, then the unit is open. Of course, it then ceases to be subject to an adequate empirical description as a "state of affairs". 

As for the paper, thanks for your interest. It is coming out in the next issue of Axiomathes, vol. 24, no. 3, pp. 291-312. If you search for "A Process Ontology" on line, you will stumble on a draft.

I take causal power to be equivalent to action potential, a capacity to do work. This capacity is usually referred to as energy, but the word energy is becoming rather problematic in physics. It is more descriptive than explanatory. So I prefer to couch the idea in terms of the ontic probability of an actuality that has access to a more probable value. Nothing here about coercive or persuasive power, for I was speaking primarily in physical terms. In human terms, a teacher does work, and hopefully it enables the student. It is too Foucaultian to see this power relations as coercive.  .  

2014-08-18
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Dear Blair, Good luck with your research! One area of debate among Utilitarians, Nussbaum and Sen and Rawlsians, is how to measure social welfare. You can look at some of Nussbaum's and Sen's papers to get a good idea. I am publishing something on this presently if you would be interested enough to read it, but the hot stuff is Nussbaum and Sen.--Regards, Robert Gallagher

2014-08-18
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
I could be off on this one but I think it would be helpful to start by looking at immedicacy from an epistemological stand point sometime referred to as "immediate justification". 

2014-08-18
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
"Dia" means through not two. 

2014-08-18
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Robert, I have two questions that concern your response to Blair. You point out that an area of debate is "how to measure social welfare". Does this imply that "society" is an entity having an existence that is independent of its members? I ask because I assume that a precondition for any measurement is the closure of the object under measure, its reduction to observables.

I'll accept that when "things conjoin" (disregarding the ambiguity of this phrase) they acquire emergent properties as the result. Perhaps we can identity these properties as "social". But what entity acquires them? The individuals making up society or the hypostatized society itself?

Of course, if we say that society is the emergent effect acquired by individuals as they interact, then we obviously are hypostatizing the individual. It seems to me the only escape from this conundrum is to adopt new units of analysis that are not closed. For example, the individual is an instance of
social being (probably better, species being, Gattungswesen) in that the individual combines personality as well as those social relations by means of which personality emerges (such as relations of production).

The second question is whether welfare is measurable. Surely if the index of welfare were having a good job it seems measurable, but if it were being happy or in love, it does not seem measurable in any cogent way. My point is that we need to define welfare before worrying about its measure. Let me suggest that welfare comes down to efficacy of action, the ability to satisfy needs whatever they may be.   


2014-08-18
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Haines Brown
Haines,

Since you express an interest in "Process Ontology," I wonder if you have encountered the book "Quantum Mechanics and the Philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead." It argues for a "correlation' between quantum mechanical notions wrt measurement and Whitehead's notion of "the extensive continuum".

2014-08-19
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Roy Wilson
At one time I did some worrying about Whitehead, but I was not aware of this book. I came away from Whitehead in profound disagreement with his ontic premise of a mereology. As my previous note hinted, I prefer a unit that is simultaneously open and closed. Without elaborating, I believe this is only possible if reality is seen as an ontic probability distribution.

While questions raised by quantum mechanics and by Whitehead have some parallels, I don't for that reason believe, contrary to the opinion of many, that we should infer an ontology from QM. I suppose a principle reason is that no one has any idea what its ontology is. There are rules that support very accurate predictions, but that hardly amounts to an explanation of the emergent world.

Whitehead seems to have reversed the relation of entities and their relations to see the former as emerging from the latter. All this does is flip the contradiction over, not resolve it. I'm made nervous by any suggestion that particularity can arise from abstractions, and I suspect Renscher is a fossil Hegelian.   


2014-08-20
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Dialectics is a  natural thinking process. It could be compared to Boolean pairing. But  for modern day scientists Marx;s  method of dialectical materialism still has to face  the question on the nature of the Marx's deity, The time has come to explore  the nature and elements of dialectics whether materialism or idealism  or combination of both.

2014-08-20
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to Dr. Razzak
Mohammed, I agree that dialectics is a "natural thinking process". But please allow me to raise three qualifications about it.

One that I won't justify, explain or elaborate here is that dialectical "thinking" is probably an artifact of "folk psychology"---the mind's limited ability to represent the world that is one-sided, incomplete and misleading. So it is important to distinguish dialectical thinking, as in formal logic, from a dialectical process, which is today is often taken mean a causal interactionism.

The second issue is whether Marx-Engels-Lenin really had a causal interactionism or a "dialectical thinking" in mind at all. Efforts to find evidence of it in their Nachlass have not been particularly successful. True, in the Soviet context, the term dialectical materialism (as distinct from a Cartesian "thinking") was conventional, but it referred to what we today would call ontic emergence. Neither ontic nor epistemic emergence has anything "dialectical" about it.

Third, as for Marx's "diety" I happened to encounter the notion that Marxism is a secularized religion last night in my bedtime reading (George Steiner', Bluebeard's Castle, published in 1971). This was a part of McCarthy-era anti-Soviet propaganda (a psychological reductionism) that I thought had died long ago. If I am allowed a categorical statement, Marxism was about how the working class can seize power to initiate real (economic) democracy. It was not a utopian philosophy, but an analysis of the capitalist socio-economic formation to show why real democracy is both possible and necessary. Sure, there are those who appeal to history to argue that democracy is impractical, but one cannot in principle make such predictive statements about "historical processes".   

Haines

2014-08-28
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
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2014-09-22
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method

La dialectique est l'expression des rapports contradictoires dans son mouvement. Processus inhérent à la nature et aux faits sociaux.


2014-09-22
Contemporary Debates and Marx's Method
Reply to J. C. Schwab
I'm having trouble following the thread. Manuel R. lists things he likes. The connection with dialectics was too subtle for me to grasp. If Manuel was making sense in your view, I'd appreciate your help to understand him.

And then you respond with a categorical statement I don't understand either. While one sense of the word "dialectic" may be a reference to contradictory processes, it more commonly means a causal interaction. To thus exclude the more popular definition requires some justification. I would rather like to accept both definitions, but to see causal interactionism as an artifact of the special circumstances of closure, while the other meaning applies to open processes. Because in principle all processes are open to some degree, this would be the universal rather than special meaning. 

The notion of contradictory conceptions in a logical sense seems clear enough, but when it comes to ontology don't we have to distinguish a Hegelian or objective idealist definition from a materialist one? I assume the former holds entities to have ideal essences. However, the context of the thread is Marx's views. I suspect Marx's method does not involve contradictions, but instead he seeks to define things in a way that includes the relations that account for their development. This is close to dialectics only in sense that it brings in relations, but it is quite different from a causal interactionism in that Marx focused on a particular kind of relation, that with an emergent whole, for it then represents the mechanism for the constituent to transcend its initial conditions. Although Marx may be open to the charge that he reifies a totality (this tendency in German culture had a disastrous outcome), it is at least liberating in principle (e.g. relations of production are the basis for species being) while causal interaction might seem a threat to one's essential being or authentic self.

I feel that contradiction in materialist terms has never been adequately defined. One problem is that "interaction" is unrelated to "contradiction". The interacting of entities is not contradictory unless one starts with the idealist assumption that entities have a real essence for which any causal influence is alien. 
 
I think you are on the right track to bring in movement or process, but that still does not pin down in what sense movements can be contradictory. On a hot day if I turn on the air conditioning, I am "contradicting" ambient temperature, but only in the sense that I am changing an original value. Surely we don't want contradiction to mean nothing more than movement away form some prior state. The question is, in what objective sense can processes be thought of as opposite?

I have my own views on this matter, but won't bring them up unless there is some interest in the subject.