Historical materialism and functional explanation

Inquiry 29 (1-4):11 – 27 (1986)
This paper is a critical examination of one central theme in Jon Elster's Making Sense of Marx; Elster's defense of ?methodological individualism? in social science and his related critique of Marx's use of ?functional explanation?. The paper does not quarrel with Elster's claim that the particular instances of functional explanation advanced by Marx are defective; what it criticizes is Elster's attempt to raise principled, philosophical objections to this type of explanation in the social sciences. It is argued that Elster's philosophical critique of functional explanation rests on a caricature of this kind of explanation, just as his critique of Marx's use of teleology in the philosophy of history rests on a caricature of the kinds of teleological claims Marx is concerned to make. The paper ends with a brief discussion of a recently published passage from Marx's notebooks of 1861?1863, where Elster claims to have found Marx explicitly criticizing capitalist exploitation as an injustice to the workers
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DOI 10.1080/00201748608602077
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