How is/what makes Marxism "scientific?" - Politics Forum.org | PoFo

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By Vera Politica
#13320377
Using Lakatos' analysis (a philosopher of science), Marxism as it stands can be classified as a degenerative research program. Classical Marxism, in its day, constituted all the requisite characteristics for being a research program. It was heuristic and had predictive and explanatory power (due to its economic and social analysis). Thus, Marxism made some very bold, stunning and famous predictions (some of which came true others which became false). It would be difficult to classify Marxism along the natural sciences, but it can certainly be classified among the social sciences (in fact Marxist analysis gave birth to modern social science). However, given this, much of Marxist scholarship has simply been to explain away anomalous data rather than giving way to any new predictive success. In this sense, then, it is a degenerative program since it now offers explanations after the fact in order to protect the hard-core of the research program from refutation (i.e. it sets up auxiliary hypothesis designed to explain away facts after they have happened). The point would be to turn Marxism into a progressive program once more (i.e. to turn it from bad science or pseudo-science into a truly progressive scientific theory as its classical version stood in the 19th century).
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By Potemkin
#13320477
I would agree with Vera Politica's comment. However, I think it's worth pointing out that much of science (even the 'exact' physical sciences) involves doing precisely what Lakatos implied is done only in a 'degenerative research programme' - inventing plausible explanations as to why some of our observations seem to contradict our theories' predictions. In fact, any functional scientific programme must be both a progressive and a degenerative research programme simultaneously, otherwise promising new theories and hypotheses might be killed off prematurely. After all, very often our observations are actually misleading or even wrong. Furthermore, raw observations must be interpreted before they become 'facts', and that process of interpretation is itself theory-laden. I think it was Einstein who once said that sometimes a scientist must have the courage to believe the theory and disbelieve the evidence.

Having said that, if almost the only thing you find yourself doing is trying to invent plausible 'explanations' of anomalous data points in order to save your theory, then something is clearly badly wrong. I think that Lakatos' characterisation of Marxism as a degenerative research programme is basically correct, and that this is a very undesirable thing. The question is, what to do about it?
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By Vera Politica
#13321030
Potemkin wrote:However, I think it's worth pointing out that much of science (even the 'exact' physical sciences) involves doing precisely what Lakatos implied is done only in a 'degenerative research programme' - inventing plausible explanations as to why some of our observations seem to contradict our theories' predictions. In fact, any functional scientific programme must be both a progressive and a degenerative research programme simultaneously, otherwise promising new theories and hypotheses might be killed off prematurely.


I agree, but I wouldn't necessarily state that setting up auxiliary hypotheses necessarily makes a research program degenerative, in Lakatos' sense (it can still have a very powerful explanatory heuristic. Einstein's relativity, for example, may still require auxiliary hypotheses to explain anomalous data, but it still has a powerful predictive capacity and remains progressive, in this sense). Then again, Lakatos' conception is extremely problematic only because he thought that it wasn't necessarily intellectually dishonest to take up a degenerative program (he was, after all, a Marxist - although a revisionist in many ways). This is what prompted Feyerabend to think that Lakatos was an epistemological anarchist and was a 'rationalist' only in name - he did not have a solid basis for deciding when to abandon a 'degenerative' program. You are right, however, that science is mostly 'puzzle solving' (in the Kuhnian sense). Lakatos' theory was an attempt to save rational progress in science (since it seemed lost with Kuhn).

It is clear, however, that Marxism is not a progressive program in any sense, but this does not mean that it may not be made progressive (its auxiliary hypotheses, for one, could be the basis for a powerful heuristic and predictive success. Although, as it stands, I do not think Marxist scholarship is headed in this direction).
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By Potemkin
#13321066
I agree, but I wouldn't necessarily state that setting up auxiliary hypotheses necessarily makes a research program degenerative, in Lakatos' sense (it can still have a very powerful explanatory heuristic. Einstein's relativity, for example, may still require auxiliary hypotheses to explain anomalous data, but it still has a powerful predictive capacity and remains progressive, in this sense).

Agreed. My point is that any functional scientific programme must contain both progressive and degenerative tendencies simultaneously, but the progressive tendencies must dominate (in some sense), otherwise what you're doing becomes gradually less predictive and hence gradually less useful. In Marxism, the degenerative tendencies are now dominant, and have been for some time.

Then again, Lakatos' conception is extremely problematic only because he thought that it wasn't necessarily intellectually dishonest to take up a degenerative program (he was, after all, a Marxist - although a revisionist in many ways). This is what prompted Feyerabend to think that Lakatos was an epistemological anarchist and was a 'rationalist' only in name - he did not have a solid basis for deciding when to abandon a 'degenerative' program.

I don't see how it is possible to know when a degenerative programme should be abandoned. In practice, degenerative scientific theories just fade away rather than being refuted at some definite moment in history (though that can happen). There are still some people who believe in the phlogiston theory, for example; it's just that nobody pays any attention to them. The point is that there's no telling when a degenerative programme might suddenly revive and become progressive again. Wegener's theory of continental drift might be an example of this.

You are right, however, that science is mostly 'puzzle solving' (in the Kuhnian sense). Lakatos' theory was an attempt to save rational progress in science (since it seemed lost with Kuhn).

It's important not to apply a quasi-Hegelian teleology to the development of science - scientists are not trying to move collectively towards some sort of 'rational progress', but are merely trying to 'save the phenomena', defend their own theories, and establish a career for themselves.

It is clear, however, that Marxism is not a progressive program in any sense, but this does not mean that it may not be made progressive (its auxiliary hypotheses, for one, could be the basis for a powerful heuristic and predictive success. Although, as it stands, I do not think Marxist scholarship is headed in this direction).

I think it should be borne in mind that Marxism was an unfinished project when Marx died. I believe he had planned out a 12-volume magnum opus, but had only published the first volume (Capital vol. 1) when he died, leaving the next two volumes in an unfinished state and not having even begun the other volumes. Marxists inherited an unfinished palace, and have been busy adding more wings and outbuildings and trying to put a roof on the whole edifice, sometimes not in a very coherent manner. And frankly, some of the builders were cowboys who didn't follow proper building regulations. It's also arguable that the theoretical development of Marxism was derailed by the Russian Revolution and the need of the Soviet state to pragmatically use Marxism as a tool to maintain themselves in power; Marxism thereby became primarily an 'ideology' rather than a science. The collapse of the Soviet Union, while a temporary setback to the Marxist cause, may have actually cleared the ground, so to speak.
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By Ombrageux
#13321090
Marxism is a particular method and school in social sciences that attempts to take a holistic view encompassing sociology, economics, politics, culture and so forth. The original claim of Marxism as "scientific," as distinct to "bourgeois" social sciences and economic theories, is bogus.

I think it should be borne in mind that Marxism was an unfinished project when Marx died. I believe he had planned out a 12-volume magnum opus, but had only published the first volume (Capital vol. 1) when he died, leaving the next two volumes in an unfinished state and not having even begun the other volumes. Marxists inherited an unfinished palace, and have been busy adding more wings and outbuildings and trying to put a roof on the whole edifice, sometimes not in a very coherent manner. And frankly, some of the builders were cowboys who didn't follow proper building regulations. It's also arguable that the theoretical development of Marxism was derailed by the Russian Revolution and the need of the Soviet state to pragmatically use Marxism as a tool to maintain themselves in power; Marxism thereby became primarily an 'ideology' rather than a science. The collapse of the Soviet Union, while a temporary setback to the Marxist cause, may have actually cleared the ground, so to speak.

Yes.

We need to particularly look to the Marxists who were both truly engaged in politics and worker's movements and yet also left theoretical work (Trotsky, Gramsci, Luxemburg). Today, Marxism is so divorced from political action and the masses that it has not regained coherence.
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By Eauz
#13321136
Potemkin wrote:Marxism thereby became primarily an 'ideology' rather than a science. The collapse of the Soviet Union, while a temporary setback to the Marxist cause, may have actually cleared the ground, so to speak.
We could argue forever about this point, but the reality is that even if Marxism itself became an ideology under the Soviet Union, and now that its collapse has occurred, I think it scattered a lot more dust into the Socialist camp, allowing for more minor ideologies and philosophies to grow and develop within the camp itself. I think the collapse left a lot of rubble uncleared, not actually clearing any ground to move Marxism away from an ideology and towards a science.
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By Vera Politica
#13322183
Potemkin wrote:It's important not to apply a quasi-Hegelian teleology to the development of science - scientists are not trying to move collectively towards some sort of 'rational progress', but are merely trying to 'save the phenomena', defend their own theories, and establish a career for themselves.


This is certainly true, but I never read Lakatos as applying a teleological description to the scientific development but, rather, to think of rational progress without the need for teleological explanations (teleological explanations for scientific development were pretty much nailed in the coffin with Kuhn's SSR.) Then again, it would be interesting to see how much teleological influence there was in Lakatos' philosophy - he was immensely influenced by both Hegel and Marx and dialectics was the basis for his most important work Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery. I admit I have only read snippets of this work.

Potemkin wrote:I don't see how it is possible to know when a degenerative programme should be abandoned. In practice, degenerative scientific theories just fade away rather than being refuted at some definite moment in history (though that can happen). There are still some people who believe in the phlogiston theory, for example; it's just that nobody pays any attention to them. The point is that there's no telling when a degenerative programme might suddenly revive and become progressive again. Wegener's theory of continental drift might be an example of this.


This was Feyeraband's point. If we cannot find any mechanism to describe when a theory should be abandoned, then the development of science is not rational but anarchic.
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By Potemkin
#13322209
This was Feyeraband's point. If we cannot find any mechanism to describe when a theory should be abandoned, then the development of science is not rational but anarchic.

Indeed. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why anyone would think that the development of science is rational. The way in which the theory of continental drift became established as part of science rather than a 'crackpot theory', which it had been for decades after Wegener first suggested it, is rather instructive in this regard. :D
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By Cookie Monster
#13322256
It's all about relativity. Marxism is like astronomy compared to the astrology of our market friends.
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By Vera Politica
#13322999
Potemkin wrote:he way in which the theory of continental drift became established as part of science rather than a 'crackpot theory', which it had been for decades after Wegener first suggested it, is rather instructive in this regard.


Could you elaborate on this or point me to some good references on the subject?
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By Potemkin
#13323390
The Wiki page on Wegener is a good place to start. Specifically:

Wiki wrote:In his work, Wegener presented a large amount of circumstantial evidence in support of continental drift, but he was unable to come up with a convincing mechanism. Thus, while his ideas attracted a few early supporters such as Alexander Du Toit from South Africa and Arthur Holmes in England, the hypothesis was generally met with skepticism. The one American edition of Wegener's work, published in 1925, was received so poorly that the American Association of Petroleum Geologists organized a symposium specifically in opposition to the continental drift hypothesis. Also its opponents could, as did the Leipziger geologist Franz Kossmat, argue that the oceanic crust was too firm for the continents to "simply plow through". In 1943 George Gaylord Simpson wrote a vehement attack on the theory (as well as the rival theory of sunken land bridges) and put forward his own permanentist views [5]. Alexander du Toit wrote a rejoinder in the following year[6], but G.G.Simpson's influence was so powerful that even in countries previously sympathetic towards continental drift, like Australia, Wegener's hypothesis fell out of favour.

In the early 1950s, the new science of paleomagnetism pioneered at Cambridge University by S. K. Runcorn and at Imperial College by P.M.S. Blackett was soon throwing up data in favour of Wegener's theory. By early 1953 samples taken from India showed that the country had previously been in the Southern hemisphere as predicted by Wegener. By 1959, the theory had enough supporting data that minds were starting to change, particularly in the United Kingdom where, in 1964, the Royal Society held a symposium on the subject.[7]

Additionally, the 1960s saw several developments in geology, notably the discoveries of seafloor spreading and Wadati-Benioff zones, led to the rapid resurrection of the continental drift hypothesis and its direct descendant, the theory of plate tectonics. Alfred Wegener was quickly recognized as a founding father of one of the major scientific revolutions of the 20th century.

My own mother has told me of how, when she was at a Scottish school in about 1960, her geography teacher once spent half an hour ridiculing the theory of continental drift in front of the entire class, telling them how absurd the idea was and how no sane person could possibly believe such a crackpot theory. A few years later, of course, it became part of mainstream science and a tidal wave of observational evidence poured in to support it. :lol:
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By Potemkin
#13323410
Them's fightin' words! >:

I didn't say that science itself is irrational; I said that the development of science is irrational, a very different thing. :)
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By Cookie Monster
#13323412
Indeed. Quite frankly, I cannot understand why anyone would think that the development of science is rational.
The development of science is something different than the cognitive basis of science. Many scientific discoveries were by coincidence. Nevertheless they were rational in the sense they had an empirical basis.
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By Potemkin
#13323419
By the 'development' of science, I don't mean individual scientists formulating theories or making observations (the narrative of 'science' which is usually taught at secondary school); I mean the process by which scientific theories are either accepted or rejected as part of the canon of mainstream science. And to assert that the overall collective development of science is irrational is not equivalent to asserting that individual scientists are thinking or behaving irrationally. Individual rationality can lead to collective irrationality, as the capitalist mode of production itself demonstrates.
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By Cookie Monster
#13323425
My bad, I didn't see your reply to TheClockworkRat.

Individual rationality can lead to collective irrationality, as the capitalist mode of production itself demonstrates.
Very interesting, I see this very often with legal norms too.
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By The Clockwork Rat
#13323432
Potemkin wrote:I didn't say that science itself is irrational; I said that the development of science is irrational, a very different thing.

My claim still stands, but now no longer threatens your status as Marxist since they could both say it.

This does raise a point that I know nothing about. Did Marxism arise out of circumstance? All the events leading up to that point may have had irrational causes, and therefore by extension, the rise of Marxism would be irrational.
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By Potemkin
#13323571
TheClockworkRat wrote:This does raise a point that I know nothing about. Did Marxism arise out of circumstance? All the events leading up to that point may have had irrational causes, and therefore by extension, the rise of Marxism would be irrational.

That may be so, but it wouldn't necessarily mean that Marxism itself is irrational. However, it is a fundamental tenet of Marxism (ultimately derived from Hegel) that the development of human society through the historical process is fundamentally rational in the sense that its trends can be understood through rational analysis. This does not negate the contingency of particular historical events, however.
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