We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Discussion Point II

Do libertarians have anything useful to learn from Karl Marx?

102 comments to Discussion Point II

  • guy herbert

    Has anyone anything useful to learn from Karl Marx?

    Perhaps. But not from his theories: from his shameless self-promotion, singleminded egotism, and unremitting energy. I’m not sure they are admirable, but they are certainly instructive for those who want to change the world.

  • Sure. We’ve learned from Marx that poorly reasoned ideology isn’t just fodder for intellectual debate; it can also kill millions. Conversely, morally sound ideology is a great benefit for human society, as the freer countries are relatively peaceful and safe.

  • Yep. We’ve learnt plenty.

    What not to do. What doesn’t work.

  • Sure. We’ve learned from Marx that poorly reasoned ideology isn’t just fodder for intellectual debate; it can also kill millions. Conversely, morally sound ideology is a great benefit for human society, as the freer countries are relatively peaceful and safe.

  • gattsuru

    We’ve learned exactly how not to do things. And how to commit a particularly painful form of suicide. And how to really poison a debate.

    The man’s ideas were neither particularly unique nor particularly successful.

  • Bruce Hoult

    Absolutely!

    The problems that Marx saw and described in early industrial society were very real, and needed solving. That his solutions were wrongheaded and unworkable doesn’t detract from that.

  • If you want to build capital capitalism is the way to go.

    Marx said that.

  • How to grow beards which are truly epic in scope.

    What Che and Marx can teach us is how to coopt symbols of what we oppose (namely, statism) into something we support (capitalism in the form of making money from the symbols of what we find abhorrent).

    Seriously, everyone should consider support their local independent capitalist by buying a shirt featuring a communist figure that is only possible because of a free market.

  • K

    We learn that any ideas can lead to unexpected results.

    What was called Marxism in last century didn’t have much to do with what he wrote.

    And was called Marxism in this century won’t either; we just can’t read about it for another hundred years.

  • Not only were the problems Marx identified real (hence the massive support for his ideas in the early 1900s), they are currently resurgent after a lull through the middle to latter part of the 20th Century. Wealth and control of the means of production are once more becoming highly concentrated into the hands of the few. Money is being restored as the only means of access to the services essential for future success in the capitalist system (health, education, transport, communications, information), creating a self-perpetuating cycle of privilege and power (i.e., feudalism mixed with laissez-faire capitalism).

    Personally I have also learned from Marx that a great many fools will never be able to distinguish between an economic and social model (Communism) and a form of government (totalitarianism), or indeed between a political theorist (Marx) and a ruthless, power hungry ideologue (Lenin, Stalin, Mao).

    What I find particularly interesting is that many libertarians are unable to see the clear similarities between the ultimate objectives of Communism as a philosophy and the goals of libertarianism. Both seek to establish a system whereby centralised control is replaced by autonomous, independent groups who control their own economic and political destinies. Marx envisaged a society which would reach a point where the role of government would simply fade into irrelevance and people would effectively self-govern at a local level: isn’t this what you want?

  • nick g.

    Even if Karl correctly described society in his day, his prescription was wrong. We know this because many societies have tried Communism, and none of them were/are societies that people think of as Paradise a la Terre (I utter my first and only apology to the french for the way I misuse their language).
    The only part that he seems to have gotten right was that part about repetitions being farcical. The first time we had Marx the philosopher and revolutionary, then history repeated with the Marx brothers. Seriously, did any of his ‘scientific’ iron-laws-of-history prophecies work out as he predicted?

  • Not only were the problems Marx identified real (hence the massive support for his ideas in the early 1900s), they are currently resurgent after a lull through the middle to latter part of the 20th Century. Wealth and control of the means of production are once more becoming highly concentrated into the hands of the few. Money is being restored as the only means of access to the services essential for future success in the capitalist system (health, education, transport, communications, information), creating a self-perpetuating cycle of privilege and power (i.e., feudalism mixed with laissez-faire capitalism).

    Personally I have also learned from Marx that a great many fools will never be able to distinguish between an economic and social model (Communism) and a form of government (totalitarianism), or indeed between a political theorist (Marx) and a ruthless, power hungry ideologue (Lenin, Stalin, Mao).

    What I find particularly interesting is that many libertarians are unable to see the clear similarities between the ultimate objectives of Communism as a philosophy and the goals of libertarianism. Both seek to establish a system whereby centralised control is replaced by autonomous, independent groups who control their own economic and political destinies. Marx envisaged a society which would reach a point where the role of government would simply fade into irrelevance and people would effectively self-govern at a local level: isn’t this what you want?

  • Tex

    Life long mooching?

    Really awful prose?

    Bad facial hair?

  • Sunfish

    Marx envisaged a society which would reach a point where the role of government would simply fade into irrelevance and people would effectively self-govern at a local level: isn’t this what you want?

    That depends: will I be able to self-govern by owning my own business and hiring or not hiring and firing or not firing whoever I want, and making whatever goods I want to make, or providing whatever services I want to provide, however I like best, without regard to what the rest of the community wants?

    Personally I have also learned from Marx that a great many fools will never be able to distinguish between an economic and social model (Communism) and a form of government (totalitarianism),

    Either people own themselves, their labor, and their fruits, to do with and dispose of as they will, or they don’t. If the community owns what I make and what I do, then I don’t own my own actions.

    It’s that simple: do you approve of my ability to own myself and my productivity, or do you consider me a slave?

  • K

    They can learn that what Marx said was not what was called Marxism in the last century.

    And in a hundred years the same sentence will apply.

  • michael farris

    His analysis of some social problems and social structures wasn’t bad, occasionally really good.

    His model for what to do about it was fatally flawed in that assumed that human nature could/should/would change and is/will be unworkable in the real world (not unlike libertarianism in that respect which also tends to assume things about human nature that aren’t observable in the real world).

    And the governments that actually invoked him were nothing like anything he envisioned (which was closer to the welfare states of western europe).

    In other words he wasn’t a bad descriptivist but he was a terrible prescriptivist.

  • guy herbert

    Marx envisaged a society ….

    On the contrary, he didn’t. There’s next to nothing in Marx about what communism would be like. Which is why it is also wrong to describe it as “an economic and social model”. The economic and social models that Marx did make were of historical and contemporary systems, and frequently hopelessly wrong. Occasionally good, as michael farris says, but very occasionally. (And rather marred by Marx’s apparent instistence he had never been wrong, even when his position was self-contradictory – in the usual, non-Marxian, sense of inconsistent.) It may not have been obvious at the time they were, but it certainly ought to be now.

  • guy herbert

    Walter,

    Conversely, morally sound ideology is a great benefit for human society, as the freer countries are relatively peaceful and safe.

    We couldn’t have learned that from Marx, if your premise (like mine) is that he was wrong, and his followers did great evil.

    In what way, apart from the insertion of the rah-word “morally” is that assertion about “sound ideology” different from that of the Marxians and others who claim to have the key to improving society? Is this an example of how you have learned from Marx how to leapfrog reason and evidence?

  • Brian Naughton

    The Labour theory of value, nope.

    The shaping of society from the bottom up, i.e. Dialectical Materialism, nope.

    The inevitable political and economic failure of Capitalism via recurrent and increasingly destructive recessions/depressions and monopoly, nope.

    I think a better question would be: what did Marx get right.

  • nic

    “I think a better question would be: what did Marx get right.”

    His stuff on Ideology wasn’t too bad. Although I am not sure how original that was as I haven’t read many of his predecessors.

    In fact, his ideas can quite usefully explain how many terrible things are happening in society now. The expansion of bureaucracy through the jobs section of the ideological powerhouse of the Guardian, for example! There the convergence of so many ideals such as equality, multiculturalism and environmentalism create the perfect cover for a class of a new elite of powerful civil servants. It is ideology, rather than a simple “scam”, because the people who are most deluded are the class that generate it and benefit, in the short term, from it.

    So that part of his thesis is good. But today it is better applied to marxists themselves, who Marx himself wouldn’t approve of.

    As an economist, he was terrible. As a prototype sociologist… well there have been a lot worse since!

  • Sunfish, you asked;

    That depends: will I be able to self-govern by owning my own business and hiring or not hiring and firing or not firing whoever I want, and making whatever goods I want to make, or providing whatever services I want to provide, however I like best, without regard to what the rest of the community wants?

    You couldn’t do that regardless of what the community wants. If you make something there is no market for you’re never going to sell it. You can only provide products and services which there is a market for if you want to be profitable, otherwise you’ll spend so much on marketing (telling people that they really want what you’ve made when actually they don’t) that you won’t make any money. And you will want to be profitable so that you can buy the goods and services which you need to keep body and soul together.

    One thing I learned from marx:

    Religion is the opiate of the masses.

    You can replace religion with anything which serves to distract ‘the masses’ from what’s really going on. Currently its reality TV, celebrity worship, the various bugbears of the Daily Mail *spit*, and the use of politica as a personality contest. Give a populace any excuse not to face up to reality and they will take it and let the world go to hell around them.

  • James of England

    What Guy Herbert and Michael Farris said, with additions from Kojeve in the 50s.

    What Marx is good at is the lead up to capitalism, and even getting better forms of capitalism once you’re there. Where he went wrong was that he thought that you would see the working class, as the largest class, overthrow the middle class as the middle class had overthrown the upper, the upper class the nobility, and the nobility the king.

    Instead, the way forward is to grow the middle class until it becomes the largest class. Anyway, yeah, the forward looking stuff was lousy. What we want Marx for is understanding the development models leading up to capitalism. We’ve still got places that aren’t capitalist, and his development of the theory of class consciousness is often very helpful for understanding why feudal and other pre-capitalist structures are that way. I often find him invaluable in understanding why the Palestinians put up with their awful leadership, for instance.

    Also, Marx wrote about hope and relatively inevitable progress. Libertarians often talk about how important it is to be vigilant and watch out for the bad things coming our way (dictatorship et. al.) Fear of the future seems to be a better tool of the state than of its enemies, though. A belief that we will overcome all odds, that our children will have a brighter world than we do, is vital to people’s confidence and we are much more likely to be free if we are confident. Marx reminds us why Malthus was wrong, why the Club of Rome was wrong, and why Gore is wrong today.

  • Keith Erskine

    Manifestos are best written after several stiff drinks!

  • Ian Bennett

    You couldn’t do that regardless of what the community wants.

    Under Libertarianism, you could; you would be allowed to test the market, you would be allowed to make mistakes, would be allowed to try and fail. Under Marx, you wouldn’t even be allowed to try.

  • hardatwork

    He certainly knew how to make an untested idea popular. Even in the face of massive socialist failure in the 20th century his ideas are still more popular than, say , Friedman’s.

    Philosophically there is nothing to learn from him.
    I can’t think of a single instance where Marx had any worthwhile answers. His ideas have concentrated power amongst the few and impoverished almost everybody else.

  • Lindsay

    Perhaps a good way of approaching the question would be to look at what modern-day sympathisers, preferably un-dogmatic ones say about Marx, then to ask: does this offer any important lessons for libertarians?

    Jon Elster’s Making Sense of Marx is a good example. He starts with the question: what is living and what is dead in Marx? From the synopsis:

    Professor Elster insists on the need for microfoundations in social science and provides a systematic criticism of functionalism and teleological thinking in Marx. He argues that Marx’s economic theories are largely wrong or irrelevant; historical materialism is seen to have only limited plausibility (and is not even consistently applied by Marx); Marx’s most lasting achievements are the criticism of capitalism in terms of alienation and exploitation and the theory of class struggle, politics and ideology under capitalism, though in these areas too Elster enters substantial qualifications.

    So, even from someone pre-disposed to be sympathetic to Marx, but resolutely undogmatic, what we can learn from Marx is mainly (not wholly) restricted to:

    1. The criticism of capitalism in terms of alienation and exploitation.

    2. The theory of class struggle, politics and ideology under capitalism

    I am sure other Marxian sympathisers would add items to this list, but it is at least a good starting point. May I suggest that (in terms of 1) many libertarians have defined away these problems, or blamed them on ‘statism’ or whatever. Sunfish’s answer may be close to that of most libertarians I have met

    It’s that simple: do you approve of my ability to own myself and my productivity, or do you consider me a slave?

    Marx’s point is that in industrial societies it is not that simple, because people who own nothing but their own labour-power are not much different from slaves. I think libertarians could learn something by taking Marxian aguments seriously, and debating Marx and his successors on this issue.

    On 2, others have made some good comments in the discussion above. I agree with some of the things nic said.

  • Brad

    The Marx that sought to overthrow superstition, the Marx that sought to define human action in terms of a plain material world, and the Marx who sought to end the old order of class privilege, that’s the Marx I agreed with. So the first 70% of his analyses made sense. It was the turn left at “ownership” of the means of production that we parted ways. It has to be accepted that someone has to dictate why, when, how, who, and where. There is no escaping this. It is choosing who (and the rest follows), by market forces protected by a minarchic state or by the State and its functionaries (the inevitable consequence if the market is shunned). But is it surprising that Marx took the leftward turn as he sponged off the wealth created by another (Engel’s father)? It never fails that those philosophers who have never produced anything always take the leftward turn.

    But Jefferson needs to be brought in at this juncture, the left or the right turn, because no matter what initial form the economic structure has, and no matter how basic the State is at at the beginning, it will eventually become self serving. Via the left turn, the means of production will be controlled directly, via the right, if we aren’t vigilant, indirectly by taxes, regulation, and intimidation. Is there really much difference?

    To sum up what was learned form Marx (or the attempts to practically implement his ideas) is that believing that private ownership, and the State protection of those rights are the seeds of tyranny, is true, but the alternative of no private ownership is a much more direct route. But the seeds HAVE BEEN sown, it is up to us to keep it in check.

    And over the last 80 years we’ve failed miserably.

  • Nick M

    Thaddeus,

    Cat
    +
    Pigeons
    = Well actually quite reasoned thoughts.

    I’m surprised.

  • Jacob

    Personally I have also learned from Marx that a great many fools will never be able to distinguish between an economic and social model (Communism) and a form of government (totalitarianism),

    Well, there is no distinction.
    You can’t have the “economic and social” model of communism without totalitarian government. The one necessarily creates the other.

    Could we add to Marx’s many failures his inability to make the connection between the two, his inability to understand that there can be no abolition of private property without totalitarianism. Or maybe he undestood this but choose not to write about it so as not to hurt his popularity ?
    My late father used to say that Marx was a power hungry charlatan, not unlike most of his followers to this day.

    Another lesson to be learned: beware of German philosophies.

  • Jacob

    the Marx that sought to define human action in terms of a plain material world

    Indeed, he did. The “materialist interpretation of history”.
    And he was dead wrong here too.
    You can’t reduce history, or interpret it using only material arguments.
    Many factors affect history, many of them are irrational, random or obscure. Material factors are one set among many factors, and not even a very important set.
    We don’t really undestand exactly what drives history, it’s too complicated.

    What is fairly obvious is that Marx’s interpretation is over simplistic and dead wrong.

  • Lindsay,

    “Marx’s point is that in industrial societies it is not that simple, because people who own nothing but their own labour-power are not much different from slaves. “

    Balls. Complete balls.

    Slaves cannot accrue wealth through their own hard work, either to earn more money or to improve themselves through education.

    Slaves cannot improve their own lot by being prudent and forgoing quality of life in the short term in order to save either for their own future or, critically, to give their children a better chance in life.

    Slaves cannot improve the lot of their children.

    In short, slaves have no positive incentives.

    All this “future time orientation” clearly makes a racist, but you get the point.

  • Brad

    Jacob,

    Regardless of the internal experience native to each individual, the fact remains that the individual interacts with a material world. And it is complicated to be sure. That’s why a market allocates material resources best, as tastes are in conflict, wants unlimited, and resources scarce. To reduce it to a simple dialectic was wrong.

    It is the inability of many (statists all) to understand scarcity. It is the immaterialists, the romantics, the economically ignorant that live in a world of limitless resources. And if they do happen to comprehend a concept of a finite material world, they seek to superimpose their sense of value over it.

    In the end, a person is his actions in a material world (naked and without possessions as the day one was born certainly isn’t the objective of life). The question is how all of us interrelate with each other, given our inate inconsistencies of taste. The practical applications of Marxism was to drive out inconsistencies. The market simply accepts it and is the function by which material resources are best allocated. Those who best serve the wants and needs are rewarded and, if there is to be an application of some function of “best for society”, their capital surplus is protected from pillaging so that they can continue on their course. Of course when the those appointed to be the protector become the biggest pillager of all, we have gone off course.

    So Marx’s understanding of mans’ interrelationship with the material world is what starts him out on the right track. But he then reinvents a new romantic notion that, via guidance from he, the Philosopher King, man could be shifted away from his desire to prolong his life by creating a pile of goods and protecting it with a sharp stick. This will never happen.

  • Guy, I mean that Marxism is a counterexample, and that moral (I mean that to purposefully vague) government is a great good. Marxism being profoundly immoral, although not necessarily ill-intentioned, causes great harm. Isn’t that a lesson well learned?

  • Marx clearly was good at getting his ideas out there in a form that was easily understood by the biggest nitwit on the planet. That is something libertarians need to learn as they too often over intelletualise their message.

  • Jacob

    Regardless of the internal experience native to each individual, the fact remains that the individual interacts with a material world. And it is complicated to be sure.

    Ok. It is complicated.
    The complication is that his interactions aren’t determined or guided solely by material factors as Marx postulated. Individuals’ actions are guided by many factors, of which the material ones are perhaps in the minority.
    Marx recognized no other factors, and even the materialist factor he interpreted in a wrong way – as depending on class, whereas individuals care for their own material goods, regardless of class theory.

  • Brad

    So what makes up the majority of non-material considerations?

    I’d assert that EVERYTHING we do has a material basis. Whatever that organo-chemical process of the brain that has us recognize (and value) ourselves certainly is ultimately meaningless without a material reality around it, and interaction with it. Every philosophical notion, no matter how removed it seems, or flowerily defined, ultimately speaks to mans behavior relative to the material world. Perhaps some merely add a superstitious element to explain the Big Why, but certainly isn’t necessary. But it is certain that those who purport to know the Big Why are more apt to force their perception of correct behavior on others, usually by force.

    So Marx was on the right track initially, as he endeavored to strip away superstitions and began to define the World in a rational sense in which man interacted with the material around him, not based on fear mondering by the then Leaders of Men. He merely decided that self-interest would disappear of its own accord or be forced out of one. And he based this on his own misperceptions and axiomatic definitions about history. That, coupled with his subsidized existence, led him to his faulty conclusions. He simply didn’t carry his analysis forward enough. His philosophy was still anchored in the era of absolutes, he merely traded the existing versions for his own.

    So I grant that all this reaches back to epistomlogical roots, but that’s where I find agreement with Marx unlike other absolute systems mired in superstition. Our differences arise with his definition of labor, exploitation, lack of understanding (or allowing for) specialization and division of labor, labor as a commodity, capital, voluntary association, etc etc. He was mired in the era of guilds and craftsmen and such. He perceived a world in which artisans worked in consort with each other. His system worked so long as everyone was in agreement. But when one man looks at a tree and sees firewood, and another man sees a set of table and chairs, disagreement starts, and someone has to decide.

    His base analysis was on the right track, his simplified description of history as a dialectic was faulty, which pointed him in completely the wrong direction.

  • Lindsay

    My dear friend Cleanthes,

    You wrote:

    Slaves cannot accrue wealth through their own hard work, either to earn more money or to improve themselves through education.

    Slaves cannot improve their own lot by being prudent and forgoing quality of life in the short term in order to save either for their own future or, critically, to give their children a better chance in life.

    Slaves are for the most part (there are historically exceptions) both legally prevented from and deprived of the opportunity to do all these things. Non-slaves are legally permitted to do these things, but for a Nineteenth century industrial worker, what opportunities were there?

    If (as Marx did) you apply to Labour markets Ricardian-esque theory of rent with the assumption that jobs were scarcer than workers*, then where does that leave the ‘surplus value’ (if I may call it that on this board) which workers were supposed to assign to investment versus consumption? Captured by capitalists, that’s where, competed away by workers. For the first half a century of the industrial revolution (to 1870) wages barely rose, while productivity expanded hugely. How do you explain that?

    Of course there were at that time some workers who did well enough to be able to invest in their (and their childrens’) future. Is it your vew, Cleanthes, that all the others were mostly simply profligate?

    To repeat myself a little, if there is anything for libertarians to learn from Marx, they might best do so by engaging with these arguments, however they so do. As a response, “Balls” won’t really teach us much.

    *Certainly not an assumption you would want to make these days, except for the most un-skilled jobs. Marx’s argument was that this situation was a deliberate product of public policy

  • Sunfish

    You couldn’t do that regardless of what the community wants. If you make something there is no market for you’re never going to sell it.

    That’s not what I was asking. If I start selling MP3 players with built-in cupholders pre-loaded with the Hank Williams Jr. canon and nobody buys them, then I go broke. My problem. If I offer MP3 players with blah blah blah and the state comes and tells me to knock that shit off because society actually needs me to produce fluffy green sweaters, that’s a different matter.

    Will I be threatened with force for producing MP3 players pre-loaded with Hank Jr. and with cupholders installed if someone wants me to make something else?

    Marx’s point is that in industrial societies it is not that simple, because people who own nothing but their own labour-power are not much different from slaves.

    Are they free to walk away and do whatever they want, when the needs of the community suggest that they should stay at the fluffy green sweater factory?

    Put another way, let’s say that, tonight, I’m in the middle of citing someone for failing to stop at a steady red signal. In the middle of the contact, I say to myself “Screw this, I’m tired of being the bad guy” and I leave my shield and my ID in the ashtray and leave the car sitting there and go home. Here, I’d almost certainly be fired. Fine, okay, whatever. After Marx, what penalties would I face for not doing the work that the commune thinks that it wants me to do? If your answer contains any form of “Anything worse than being fired,” then we have a problem.

    People don’t own other people’s stuff. Confusion about that leads to stolen car stereos, neighbors borrowing my snow shovels and never returning them, and the county assessor’s office.

    People also don’t own other people. Confusion about that leads to millions of Africans being stuffed into boats and shipped across the Atlantic, and thousands of people being sent to southeast Asian countries that nobody had ever heard of.

    Any person who cannot say “Fuck you, I don’t want to play” is not free.

  • Lindsay

    Any person who cannot say “Fuck you, I don’t want to play” is not free.

    Agreed, but where jobs are scarcer than workers, it is unlikely that someone in marginal employment (an industrial worker in the 1850s for example), the fact that one may say it, doesn’t imply that one can say it. Real freedom requires something more.

  • Do libertarians have anything useful to learn from Karl Marx

    Remember to buy razors.

    Or a little less fatuously, his analysis of the path to Capitalism wasn’t that bad likewise is analysis of some of it’s imperfections has merit.

    However his predictions where wrong, as most are. From this we can learn that trying to predict future of something as complex as human society isn’t that useful as you will be wrong so often. Best not try and just let people freely find their own paths with a system that lets them try as many different ones as needed till they find theirs. Currently a market based society is best for this. But of course something better might be found in future.

  • Gabriel

    Freedom is not the same as power, Lindsay, nor does it (or could it) entail an absence of consequences.

    Even if I had a 5 million estate and complete security, I would still have to accept that the consequences of saying ‘fuck you, I don’t want to play’ would include some stony expressions at the pub. Freedom is having to take respsonsibility for choosing between the choices available even, perhaps especially, when none of them are attractive. That’s why a lt of people don’t like it.

    Personally I believe that, as a general rule, people are better at making their decisions than the government, but very often worse than their parents, for example.

    Marx recognized no other factors

    To be fair this was a flaw of many classical political economists. Indeed, you could claim it was a legitimate assumption of economic discourse as long as you then accept the collary that economics thus constituted can only provide a model of an accuracy such that it couldn’t serve as a basis for detailed economic prediction and planning.

  • Jacob

    I’d assert that EVERYTHING we do has a material basis. Whatever that organo-chemical process of the brain ….

    That is true on some abstract, philosophical level.
    But that’s not what Marx spoke of. He said that men are driven solely by material considerations – here material meaning not your “organo-chemical process of the brain” but plain simple material goods (food, clothes, stuff). Marx said that men, and history – is driven solely by the wish to acquire more goods and live better.
    This is a gross oversimplification. There are a lot of other factors that drive men, many of them irrational. Like religion, pride, love, national pride, prejudices, etc.

    That men also strive for a better life and more material goods – that goes without saying, that is trivial. It is a gross error to claim that this is the only thing that drives men. It is even more stupid to rewrite history and ignore all other factors that are plainly discernible in the past, and try to find a material (economic) reason for everything. Take for example two major events of the past: WW1 and the Crusades. Economics played a negligible part in setting these events in motion !

  • Jacob

    Do libertarians have anything useful to learn from Karl Marx?

    Yes, of course.
    Don’t succumb to the danger of building abstract ideological structures – devoid of any relation to reality.
    Many libertarians do this – for example: the anarchist libertarians.

  • sean

    >>Has anyone anything useful to learn from Karl Marx?<<

    Karl Popper learned that Marxism/Socialism was not scientific, and went on to solve the problem of induction with falsification with this observation. Well done Karl! (Popper that is)

  • You can’t have the “economic and social” model of communism without totalitarian government. The one necessarily creates the other.

    I would be interested to hear some justification for this line of argument. We currently live (loosely) in a democracy which nevertheless imposes a large number of extremely rigid social and economic rules on the way we live, which, cumulatively, add up to the present capitalist-socialist hybrid in the West. For example: I must pay tax if I earn money; there are rules about investment in companies; there is only one legal form of currency; and so on.

    How do you differentiate this system from Communism? Our present arrangement still dictates who may own what, who may earn what, who may receive what from the government. Just because the sliders controlling it are in slightly different places does not mean that this system is any more inherently compatible with democracy, or any less dependent on a modified form of ‘totalitarian’ government, than Communism.

    I also suggest that the argument that no Communist country was ever democratic mixes up cause and effect to a certain extent – the only way Communism could be tried in the environment of the 20th century was through revolution or violent imposition from outside (i.e. the Soviets conquering Eastern Europe), as any democratic attempts to establish it were ruthlessly suppressed by the fascists and old world elites (see for instance: Italy; Germany; Greece; much of South America). Revolution naturally leads to dicatorship in many historical scenarios (see: France; Britain) so it’s not surprising that the countries in which it was established were also totalitarian.

    It’s a great shame no democracy was ever able (allowed?) to vote in a Communist government. Then we might truly understand the flaws of the system, rather than merely observing the horrors of totalitarianism through a Communist lens and calling them the same thing.

  • The state is not “abolished”. It dies out. (Engels: Anti-Duhring, Part III)

    The Marxist equation contains a number of variables. One of them is the raising of consciousness. Unfortunately Marxists generally have a limited going on negative understanding of levels of consciousness, which is perhaps the primary reason why the revolution hasn’t happened and will not happen and why attempts to make it happen have ended in tears.

    Where reality conflicts with ideology, ideology must cede, instantly.

    There are other tensions directing humanity besides capital, tensions inside people. ‘Green-water man’ Marxism, dictating that if you change people’s external circumstances you change them inside, is a preposterous and vicious naivety, humanity as an empty vessel – fill it with green water, you get green-water man.

    ….
    Marxism says there has to be a history of change before the state can wither away. Certain conditions have to be brought into existence.

    Notes towards a C21st non-statist Marxism (1)(Link)
    Some libertarians could perhaps usefully take on board that not everyone is a mover and shaker and people need encouragement to think they can change things, opportunity to organize their own lives and develop themselves, find their inner resources, before a stateless society is feasible.

    Learn from Marx that the Left is at root a rationaist, humanist, atheist construct and any supposed Leftist who surrenders to a world-view based on fantasies about a sky-fairy is by definition a fake. Pointing out to the kitsch Left that to real Marxists religion is the opium of the people and that consequently the CPGB conducts atheist propaganda is one of the small pleasures of modern life, preferably after they have confidently declared that anyone who fails to succumb to Islam is a neo-con and probably BNP

    The Communist Party says that the state should consider religion a private matter. However, from the point of view of the Party, itself religion – whether it be an established cult or a residual belief in the supernatural – is nor a private matter. Our Party cannot be indifferent to the ignorance, gullibility and irrationality religion engenders in the minds of the masses. The CPGB therefore conducts atheist propaganda.

    Draft Programme of the CPGB(Link)

  • Sunfish
    Any person who cannot say “Fuck you, I don’t want to play” is not free.

    Agreed, but where jobs are scarcer than workers, it is unlikely that someone in marginal employment (an industrial worker in the 1850s for example), the fact that one may say it, doesn’t imply that one can say it. Real freedom requires something more.

    For some values of freedom, anyway.

    Freedom is freedom to take the consequences of your own acts, be they positive or negative. Freedom means that if you quit your job, your boss will stop paying you.

    Or, are you arguing that it’s now my obligation to subsidize other people’s choices? Does that mean that, if someone else chooses unwisely, he has a right to dip into my property?

    Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll quit my job tonight. As a result, I’ll be unable to make my house payment and definitely won’t be able to afford nachos and beer. If you would, please post your address and I’ll come sleep on your couch and raid your fridge.

    Charity is good. I like charity. There are a few that I support liberally with my time and my money. But that’s voluntary. And you need to understand something about the state: nothing that it mandates is voluntary. And every law is backed by the threat of force in its implementation.

    You can’t have the “economic and social” model of communism without totalitarian government. The one necessarily creates the other.

    I would be interested to hear some justification for this line of argument.

    Try this: I presently own about ten acres of fruit trees, mixed pines, vegetable patches, a small brewery, and a decent home shop. In other words, if I decided to not be a cop anymore, I could probably produce some food and do contract welding. I believe these are the means of production, no? And yet, they’re mine. I bought them, I paid for them, and I own them. It’s that simple.

    Collective ownership of the means of production means stealing my property. How else do you plan to make it produce for the benefit of society as a while, depriving me of my rights of ownership and whatever profit I might have coming? And how do you plan to take it? Let’s say that you produce some sort of court order or eminent domain condemnation. What will you do when I refuse to leave?

    Let me let you in on a little clue: At the end of this chain of events your hired goons shoot me. I can spell it out for me if your grasp of history is so poor that you can’t visualize it for yourself.

    So, how do you plan to get around the fact that I worked hard for the life I have and don’t propose to be bullied out of it at the demand of someone who talks gooey platitudes about “production for need instead of profit” or similar nonsense?

  • For the first half a century of the industrial revolution (to 1870) wages barely rose, while productivity expanded hugely. How do you explain that?

    Very easy to explain and it has in fact been explained many times by many people: Technology. The capitalist investor invested in more advanced tool and techniques, which act as a multiplier on productivity.

    This process of harnessing technology and innovation (the two are related but not the same thing) to create addition value is exactly what capitalist system are so vastly better at than politically directed systems because both the motivations and (above all) the location of the capitalist is close to the means of production, organisationally, emotionally, intellectually and often literally (as opposed a political director, who is by necessity closer to the political structures of coercion than the means of production).

    Pretty obvious really.

  • Collective ownership of the means of production means stealing my property. How else do you plan to make it produce for the benefit of society as a while, depriving me of my rights of ownership and whatever profit I might have coming? And how do you plan to take it? Let’s say that you produce some sort of court order or eminent domain condemnation. What will you do when I refuse to leave?

    I think you’ll find that your property is already “stolen” in the form of taxation. My point was that you cannot necessarily ideologically differentiate between the two, and both require coercive mechanisms to enforce whether they involve taking your real property or just your money, ergo, capitalism in its current implementation is no less prone on that basis to totalitarianism than communism. Which led to my ultimate point, which was that the connection between communism and totalitarianism in the 20th century was the violent and revolutionary environment in which communism was implemented, not the philosophy itself.

    You’re obviously fond of hypothetical examples, so how about this one. The entire world consists of one farm and, next to the farm, a single village with no other industry of any kind. You happen to have inherited (or received inter vivos, if you prefer) the whole of the farm from your father, and he from his, as far back as anyone can remember. Please tell me which of the following is a valid exercise of your ‘freedom':

    – you offer to give a bare minimum amount of food to the villagers if they come to your land to work slave-like hours to improve it for your personal benefit

    – you gift the whole of the land to your firstborn child

    – the starving villagers reject your offer in the first example and instead offer you the choice of sharing the farm or having your ass kicked

    – you burn the farm to the ground, rendering it unusable for the foreseeable future and guaranteeing that everyone will starve to death

    Your version of ‘freedom’ works if there are unlimited opportunities, everyone starts from zero at birth, and you believe in a pure meritocracy in which the less able or ‘wise’ deserve, and receive, a lower quality of life. Otherwise it is just as inherently unworkable as anything Karl Marx wrote.

    Let me let you in on a little clue: At the end of this chain of events your hired goons shoot me. I can spell it out for me if your grasp of history is so poor that you can’t visualize it for yourself.

    I note with interest that you are a cop. That would involve my taxes paying your salary while you march around enforcing society’s intrusions into my freedom to behave as I wish whether I agree to those intrusions or not: true/false? Let me let you in on a little clue: you are the hired goon with the gun.

  • Nick M

    Yeah, Ysabel. The CPGB is all so rationalist and atheistic it worships dialectic materialism rather than God. I’m not even sure outright atheism is rational and even if it were I wouldn’t embrace it just because a mooching, Hegel quoting, razor-dodging kraut git says so. Fundamentally Communism is believing in Das Kapital the same way a muslim believes in the Koran or a scientologist believes in Battlefield Earth.

    I have said this before and I’ll say it again. There is no profit in German philosophers. You start off doing a bit of Kant and think you can handle it and before long you’re past your first antinomy and you’re reading Nietszche (what is it with Hun “thinkers” and facial hair?) or that appalling bullshit-meister Martin-fucking-Heidegger (who also had a ‘stache).

    There is a coke in it for anybody who can come up with an explanation of anything in “Being and Time”. I couldn’t even disagree with Heidegger because I had not the slightest idea what he was going on about.

    And I do mean “German” in the national rather than linguistic sense. There have been some rather good Austrians.

    Sean,
    Popper didn’t quite entirely solve the problem because there are always auxiliary hypotheses! I always preferred Neurath’s approach:

    We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.

    Oddly enough Otto Neurath was also a Marxist but then nobody is perfect. I also always thought that there might be something in Quine but he’s a bugger to read being somewhat technical. That’s logicians for you.

    PS. I’m aware previous commentators on this thread characterized Marx as “razor-dodging” and a “moocher”. I steal from them unashamedly. From each according to their ability to each according to their needs and all that.

  • Religion is the opium of the people

    That’s useful to remember, and then remember that Marxism-Leninism was the most successful religion of the 20th Century…

    Marx has also led some people to libertarianism, admittedly because they view libertarianism as the best way to advance capitalism to its ultimate end and then bring about communism…

  • Nick M

    Round where I live, opium is the opium of the masses.

    Well, crack anyway.

    Marxism is a religion. Apart from anything it’s very teleological and promises something akin to salvation. Not quite 72 virgins, mind which is why, along with Sov cash drying-up the malcontents of the mid-east have canned pan-arabism with all it’s vaguely commie overtones for back-to-basics Islam.

    The end of the Cold War dumped us out of the Marxist frying pan and into the Islamist fire.

  • Hernando de Soto, evangelist of capitalism for the poor and downtrodden, insists that he learnt loads from Marx. I’m willing to take his word for it.

  • hardatwork

    Patrick,

    Your hypotherical scenario: “The entire world consists of one farm and, next to the farm, a single village with no other industry of any kind. You happen to have inherited (or received inter vivos, if you prefer) the whole of the farm from your father, and he from his, as far back as anyone can remember.”

    That’s North Korea.

  • hardatwork

    I should have mentioned that I was referring to P Bateman’s post.

  • sean

    Nick M SAid >>>>> Sean,
    Popper didn’t quite entirely solve the problem because there are always auxiliary hypotheses! I always preferred Neurath’s approach:

    We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.Ill let Dr. Sanity fill you in(Link)

  • sean

    SORRY ABOUT THE LAST POST, STRANGE THINGS ARE HAPPENING ON THIS SITE!

    Nick M said >>>>> Sean,
    Popper didn’t quite entirely solve the problem because there are always auxiliary hypotheses! I always preferred Neurath’s approach:

    We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.< <<

    Twaddle, We can OBJECTIVELY say that the sun will rise tomorrow, based on the available evidence at this time of writing. Problem solved, No more post-modernism please!!

    Just a note on Marx and Democracy. Human civilization roughly works on a trial and error basis.

    Being a democracy does not follow that you are a "open Society", though it does follow to be a "open society" you will have to be a democracy... (Venezuela come to mind at this time)

    Marxism cannot ever be compatible with an open society because it represent a blueprint of the perfect society. If you believe in the false promise of a Marxist or even Islamist paradise on earth through this given blueprint, you have rejected the central pillars of liberalism (classical philosophical liberalism).

    Marx is yesterdays problem, Todays problem is Thomas Kuhn and post-modernism or Neo-Marxism as i prefer to call it.

    Ill let Dr. Sanity fill you in(Link)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Slaves are for the most part (there are historically exceptions) both legally prevented from and deprived of the opportunity to do all these things. Non-slaves are legally permitted to do these things, but for a Nineteenth century industrial worker, what opportunities were there?

    Quite a few. By the middle of the 19th Century, workers already formed things like Friendly Societies – the precursors of the modern insurance industry – and had built their own modest, but vital stock of capital. And capital is not just about physical stuff, it is about the knowledge and skills people can and do carry in their heads.

    Let’s confront the slavery issue head-on. When a Marxist says that the labourer with no capital or reserve money is “exploited” by the man who employs him, one might as well say that anyone who has something that another wants can exploit people. But so long as there is more than one employer, and the possibility of more employers coming along, then no labourer is enslaved in the way that say, people can be enslaved by a totalitarian government with a monopoly on all job allocations.

    Marxists make the huge error of confusing freedom and power. For libertarians and classical liberals, freedom is negative, it is the absence of coercion. For socialists of various sorts, it is the capacity to a thing, like the ability to have a three-course meal, get medical care or whatever. The lack of such things is not the lack of freedom, but a material lack.

    This confusion of freedom and power was one of the most deadly errors in Marx.

    His labour theory of value was also bunk although he was and is not the only person to make that error. To this day, people assume that wealth is something physical, and do not understand how entrepreneurship, inventiveness, swiftness to exploit ideas, etc, creates real value. This is at the core of the current furore over private equity buyouts, etc. It was not until the marginal revolution in economics that people realised that value and therefore wealth is a subjective thing.

    We can learn a lot from Marx, though. First, he praised production. The modern post-modernist left does not praise it, and seems to regard wealth as something that just happens. Marx was also a fan of science, and I have no idea what he would have made of those spoilt upper class twits in the Green movement. Marx, remember, wrote of the “idiocy of rural life”.

    Marxism and libertarianism share a utopian element. We are both not happy with the current state of affairs and want something better. We also tend to write, argue and read thick books with lots of references in them, and tend to encourage eccentrics and oddballs. Nothing to be ashamed of. I can much more easily enjoy a chat with an old-style socialist than some NuLab robot.

    For a superb demolition job on Marx, but a scholarly and temperate one, read David Conway’s “A Farewell to Marx.” Highly recommended.

  • Nick M

    sean,

    No we can’t. Not about everything. Do you want me to bring up Australian swans? Hume demolished naive induction as an entirely rational basis for science. Induction is essentially a circular argument.

    Unfortunately, it is pretty much the best we’ve got because Popper’s attempt to cut the Gordian knot was a brave attempt but ultimately failed because any scientific hypothesis can’t be taken and entirely tested purely on it’s own merits. That’s not post-modern dogma – that’s just my personal experience of several years being a physicist.

    Science can’t be proved to be entirely rational because it relies inevitably on the unprovable principle of empirical induction. That doesn’t mean that science hasn’t pulled off some stunning coups in it’s time. That doesn’t mean I believe the existence of atoms or the germ theory of disease is in any significant sense a matter for personal choice.

    What it means is that I can’t prove these ideas with the same rigour that I can prove that the square-root of 2 is irrational. Instead I choose to believe them not because they can be followed back to some single “firm principle” but because I know these ideas are so interwoven with so many other theories for which there is much interlocking evidence.

    Science isn’t top-down or bottom-up, it’s centre-out. It’s a web of self-supporting theories and structures. Ultimately it isn’t provable by appeal to an external principle but it is made plausible by it’s internal consistency and it’s capacity to answer significant questions about the real world in a much more compelling and useful way than earlier modes of knowledge.

    The web-concept also goes some way towards explaining the fact that some scientific ideas are vastly more securely held than others.

    I love science. I just don’t pretend it’s math.

  • Twaddle, We can OBJECTIVELY say that the sun will rise tomorrow, based on the available evidence at this time of writing. Problem solved, No more post-modernism please!!

    Ok, now prove to me that the sun rising, and indeed everything, is not an illusion. Can you prove you are in fact living in virtual reality or that the world is not just a delusion in your own mind?

    I cannot ‘prove’ that is not the case and neither can you, however I have better theories to explain reality than “reality is all in my head”. I form a critical preference for the theory that the sun will indeed rise tomorrow because if x, y and z rather than accept I am just dreaming the sun exists. My preferred theory is a bloody good theory and I would be more than a tad surprised if it gets falsified (to say the least) but it is just a theory.

    Reality may be objective but as we cannot perceive more than a small fraction of it with our imperfect senses, our understanding of reality is always going to be conjectural and based on theories (some extremely robust and others less so).

  • Nick M

    Actually, Perry. Some of our theories are almost certainly perfectly true. Statistical Mechanics is to a very large extent a mathematical (and therefore a priori) structure which enables the gross features of collectives to be predicted from the properties of the constituents. You can’t argue with Gibbs and Boltzmann. Of course the properties of those constituents and the tractability of the resulting equations is another matter…

  • sean

    >>Ok, now prove to me that the sun rising, and indeed everything, is not an illusion. Can you prove you are in fact living in virtual reality or that the world is not just a delusion in your own mind?<<

    Well, You could be right of course, I could be a bot living in some supercomputer thats taken to reading up on Karl Popper (who may or may not have existed in the first place, but could just be a program running somewhere in cyberspace) , or I really could be a real person with a real computer, writing on these boards on what I as a human see and belive to be real?

    Place your bet Perry, based upon your objective knowledge.

    What do you say Perry, all theories are equal and relative, or some are likely to be more true than false and better than others?

  • sean

    >>I love science. I just don’t pretend it’s math. <

    Thus its a social science? both the logical positives and popper agreed that science was value free, ie, on its sole merits alone. sadly like Lee Smolin you have come to the wrong conclusion.

    Falsification is a bit like taking a lump of stone and smashing what is false out of it, to be left a close an image as possible to the truth, but some images we have are near certain to be the truth, they are that clear. (note I said NEAR certain)

    btw, Ive been to Perth, WA and I have seen the black swans and i can objectively say, with a high degree of certainty, all swans are not white

  • Jacob

    Ultimately it isn’t provable by appeal to an external principle but it is made plausible by it’s internal consistency and it’s capacity to answer significant questions about the real world …

    Who cares about proving ? At least about that ideal (and therefore impossible) absolute proof ?

    Science is valid and important not mainly because of it’s “capacity to answer significant questions about the real world”, but because it PRODUCES results – via technology, and production processes.
    Science is important and proven by the tangible results whose production depends on it.

  • Nick M

    sean,

    “Social science” is an oxymoron. Part of Kuhn’s SSR examines why the physical sciences have made vastly more progress than the social sciences. He comes to the conclusion that it’s because different schools of social science can’t even come to an agreement about the meaning of basic terms. I think he’s got a point. I’ve seen some vicious arguments in physics but generally not over what “adiabatic” means or what a “Lorenz Gauge” is.

    I honestly don’t think a Marxist economist and one of the Chicago boys could probably agree on basic terms of their discipline sufficiently to even have a rational debate. Similarly, I’ve seen some muslim forums/blogs where it has seriously been put forward that you can only be “free” by submitting to Allah. I happen to think that’s a load of pony. I think that because my definition of “free” involves beer, bacon and my bird not wearing a tent in public.

    Where Kuhn almost goes wrong is in not addressing why this convergence of terminology has occurred in the physical sciences but not in the social ones. I say “almost” because this question is not really central to his thesis so I can understand why he glossed over it.

    My personal feeling is that the physical sciences essentially deal with more permanent (and frankly more important) phenomena than the social sciences do. If you look back to the start of this thread then you’ll see a few non-Marxists stating that Marx provided a pretty reasonable description/analysis of the state of the working-class in the early C19th. I’m not going to argue that one way or the other. That may be true but what is tacitly acknowledged by these commentators is that that analysis is fixed in the aspic of the 1850s and is utterly irrelevant to the modern age. Somehow, I suspect the mass of an electron or the permeability of free-space hasn’t changed over the same time frame. This is not really a criticism of Marx per se. It is a criticism of all social scientists who believe their observations are timeless verities.

    In physics (especially astrophysics – my bit) you pretty much have to presuppose that the laws of physics are immutable through space-time (to what extent they are entirely knowable is another matter) otherwise you get into all sorts of problems. Yes, I have read papers which have postulated physical law or physical constants changing over time (in particular in order to explain an apparent periodicity in large scale cosmological structure) but you ought to look very hard before you pull that communication cord. Very hard indeed.

    BTW I include many aspects of biology and some parts of medicine in my definition of “physical sciences”.

  • sean

    >>Who cares about proving ? <<

    I do.

    I am off to make a cuppa, I am very sure that if I add heat to the water it will vaporise and turn to steam. If it does not work, I will not assume that the theory has been falsified, but will head down to Argos to get a new kettle, at once. But I will be honest with you, I am optimistic on this one.

    Science is about predictability, its central to human progress, as when we have a bad idea we need to replace it with a good idea.

    Marx claimed his ideology was science, He made predictions about the course of human history. He was proved false.

    1, His theory of prices, did not include risk, thus the workers did not own all profit except that off their labor. so no need to murder the capitalists, and everyone else who disagreed with them, which was quite a lot of people.

    2, Game theory proved that capitalism/free trade was not a zero sum game and as such was highly unlikely to play itself out (late capitalism) or destroy itself.

    3, Popper before all this was widely known, He through his theory of science proved Marxism was not science, he also made a prediction based upon it.

    In Open Society 2, the fate of socialism “In the end they must become mystics, hostile to reasonable argument” He scientifically predicted that this ideology would mutate into faith, or as we know it “post-modernism”

    I would also add Max Weber to this list, in “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” he refutes Marx and his Historicism theory

    So as you can see, Proving is very important in order for the human race to avoid the perils (and they are mighty big perils) of both National and International Socialism, and other statist models of society.

  • Nick M

    Jacob,

    To a large extent that’s what I meant. The sort of significant questions are often things like technology. The sort of stuff the boys and girls at Boeing and Airbus are asking themselves every day.

    And yes, you guessed it. When met with virulent anti-science type I always ask ‘em why they haven’t chucked out their CD player or heart medicine.

    But, there is another aspect. Science provides arrows of explanation (to use TH Huxley’s phrase). Genesis states what happened (or at least it’s own claim to what happened), Darwinism (especially when combined with modern knowledge of genetics) explains what happened. Many Arabs don’t think much beyond the idea that their oil is a special gift from Allah for the founders of Islam, end of explanation. I suspect most geologists would disagree. Not only are those geologists vital to solving the technological problems of exploiting that oil, they are also capable of providing a vastly more compelling narrative as to how it got there in the first place. “A gift from Allah” is an assertion. The geologists provide an explanation.

  • sean

    Nick, With respect, I think you should go back and read Logic of scientific discovery again.

    The general assumption held is that Popper divided things up into science and non-science, I think he did not.

    Imo, He divided things up into three, science, non-science and pseudo-science, He states although something is not science, that does not mean it does not have merit, for example he was a Cartesian dualist, of which he admits there is no basis for this in science, but he sees merit within it to believe it. ( I could use the same arguments for super string theory, which gives the best possible story to explain the currently available facts)

    Popper main concern was Pseudo-science off which Marxism was central but not only argument, he rightly Imo, saw this type of thesis as uniquely dangerous, as proved the case.

    Now take our era, and Islamism, they are making the same claims as the National and International socialists did before them, they claim to have certainty (science) and as such have special rights to setting the world order, just as Marx did.

    What we have is a non-science, a faith that has through the claim of certainty mutated into an ideology, into pseudo-science.

    The demarcation is of these issues is central to our progress.

    Science has to be something that is testable in an open and free environment, where everyone has access to the facts. If not its not science.

    Scientists like yourself have special responsibility in protecting the lines of demarcation, for all our sakes.

    Math is pure science btw, and social sciences do have merit, but not the same merit as physical sciences, which I think we both agree upon.

  • Well, You could be right of course, I could be a bot living in some supercomputer thats taken to reading up on Karl Popper

    Indeed… but I have formed critical preference for the
    theory that you are not.

    Place your bet Perry, based upon your objective knowledge.

    A critical preference is, after all, an informed bet based on what acknowledge is currently available.

    What do you say Perry, all theories are equal

    A ludicrous notion. If a theory is falsified, it cannot be equal to a theory that has withstood attempts to falsify it.

    and relative

    Relative to what?

    or some are likely to be more true than false and better than others?

    Some theories are clearly better than others… when we conclude which is which, that is what we called ‘forming a critical preference’… (i.e. “that theory sucks but this one seems a better explanation”).

    When you drop a tea cup, an invisible genie grabs it and smashes it into the floor. That is certainly a theory which could indeed explains what just happened. Personally I think the theory of gravity does a far better job and so I have formed a critical preference for theories that do not involved invisible genies breaking my tea cups.

    Just because reality is objective that does not make our understanding of it any less conjectural.

  • Lindsay

    When a Marxist says that the labourer with no capital or reserve money is “exploited” by the man who employs him, one might as well say that anyone who has something that another wants can exploit people.

    No, no, no. Of course ‘exploitation’ is a loaded word, and I am trying to be positive, not normative.* Would it make any difference if I said that the ‘rent’–the surplus from the transaction accruing from the employment transaction–was mostly captured by employers? And note I have not (yet) made any claim about the desirability or otherwise of this. And I am talking about the first fifty years or so of industrialisation in Britain only.

    Very easy to explain and it has in fact been explained many times by many people: Technology. The capitalist investor invested in more advanced tool and techniques, which act as a multiplier on productivity

    That technology was increasing productivity is understood, Perry. The thing that requires also to be understood was that until about 1870, workers were not able to capture much of the benefit, but rather it accrued to capitalists in the form of higher profits. Remember also, demand for industrial labour was increasing during this time. **

    *Hence, I think the point Sunfish made in response to me above: “Or, are you arguing that it’s now my obligation to subsidize other people’s choices?” is trying to impute to me an ‘ought’ derived from an ‘is’, which was no part of my intention–By the way, Sunfish, I would be happy for you to come and sleep on my couch, but I would expect you to show the courtesy due from any house guest ; )

    **For the answer, I am still a big fan of W. Arthur Lewis’s “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour.” Manchester School 22 (May 1954): 139-91. Athough regarded by most as a ‘left-wing’ economist, Lewis was a student of Lionel Robbins, and learned Robbins’s emphasis on rigourous analysis.

  • sean

    >>critical preference< <

    Yes I will assimilate that into the ongoing program of the Matrix :0)

    But does not preference imply that there is a choice to be made? if reality is indeed objective then the choice you or I make is irrelevant as reality is separate to your or my experience or interpretation of it. (as opposed to the post-modernist view that only "real" is the one that we impose) if you are only making a choice as to see the truth or not, then by default reality must have proved itself. Which I think was your original conjecture that It could not be proved.

    >>Just because reality is objective that does not make our understanding of it any less conjectural.<<

    Was it not objective reason that put a man on the moon, or is there still an on going debate as to its validity? all I know is that I stood watching the moon landings on TV in my nappy wondering when it would be my turn.

    I think we agree more than we disagree.

  • Nick M

    sean,

    There are many things which are valuable and aren’t science. I like Blondie and Bach and defy anybody to come up with a scientific (or indeed pseudo-scientific) reason for either preference.

    I’m actually an ex-scientist. I’m now a self-employed IT type. When I was a scientist I had a responsibility to do science in my field. I have zero tolerance of pseudo science and have frequently said so to a great many people (including my mother-in-law(!) who faffs about with all manner of new-age crap).

    I don’t regard math as science as such. It is logic, science is something else. Science is connecting induction and deduction. Math just is. I agree with you on strings. It’s a beautiful theory that makes a number of compelling post-predictions such as gravity but it is not empirically testable with any currently conceivable technology. To the extent that sting theory is math it’s all true. Whether the physical postulates its derivation is started from are true is another matter entirely. As is the question of its relevance. I can construct and solve differential equations that have absolutely no relevance that I know of to the physical universe. If I can do that, I sure as hell know Ed Witten can.

    Perry,
    Why precisely don’t you believe in the tea-cup genie. I’ve got my reason why that pesky little blighter is barred from my thinking. I’m curious why you’re not a fan.

  • sm

    Sorry Nick, Math is more than logic.

    As ive pointed out in previous posts, science is about being able to predict the course of a future event or events.

    2 + 2 predicts the future or end to this experiment, as does boiling a kettle for a cuppa :0)

    This is how it relates to the rest of the world and in this case Marx, who claimed falsley his ideology was science.

    btw, Bach and Blondie is Art, art unlike science is value driven. Lets not let science become art. they are opposites

  • Nick M

    sm,

    I think that’s pretty much what I said about my musical tastes. I said they had nothing to do with science. That was my point. “Art” & “Science” aren’t opposites. They’re just different in the way that a kettle isn’t a vacuum cleaner – they both have different roles in life.

    You’re wrong. 2+2=4 isn’t predictable. It just is, by definition. It can be demonstrated from set theory. It may be true as an empirical observation that two apples and two apples make four apples but that is not why 2+2=4. I think all the major schools of mathematical philosophy: formalist, Platonist and constructivist would concur. Maths is not a generalisation from counting fruit, it’s a priori.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No, no, no. Of course ‘exploitation’ is a loaded word, and I am trying to be positive, not normative.*

    Lindsay, I thought you were using it the derogatory sense. Apologies. Perhaps we need to be a bit clearer.

    Actually, it interesting how the word “exploit” has taken on a negative meaning. For example, Miles Davis “exploits” my love of jazz when I listen to him, or George Best “exploited” my admiration for football brilliance, or a farmer “exploits” my hunger by his cleverness at growing crops, etc. The word exploit did not start out that way.

    As for the actual history of the Industrial Revolution, the baleful impact of Marxian historiography has only recently worn off. EP Thompson, Christopher Hill, and many others influenced how people viewed the industrial era. The usual cliche has it that lots of happy peasants who owned their own land and gambolled like lambs in the woods were cruelly kicked out by enclosure in the 18th century, “forced” to work in black satanic mills, until they were saved due to unions, legislation and the Welfare State. This view of history ignores how the population of Britain grew fast from about 1750 through to the end of the 19th Century and would have starved without a, mass industrialisation and improvements in agricultural output due to modern tech, and b, mass emigration to Canada, Australia, South Africa, etc.

    I am that rarity, a libertarian pro-free marketeer who despises a lot about Marx – he was a terrible liar – but who can recognise some of the boldness, curiosity and impact of that rather grumpy Rhinelander.

  • SEAN MORRIS

    I can assure you with A high degree of certainty, that I will be adding up 2+2 next Tuesday morning and it will as usual or priori, once again equate to 4 (a predictable event, if i get up of course)

    be it prior or not, we still went through the scientific method to discover and formulate what was already there, ditto water vaporising at boiling point. (experience) I did not have an inborn expectation of either, did you?

    For all I know between now and next Tuesday there may be a unknown shift in nature and the laws of physics might have evolved or changed and the answer might be different? is this not what Smolin proposes?

    Art and science are exact opposites, science is value free pursuit of knowledge, Art is value driven expression of our existence. they work in fundamental different ways, a bird may be a living thing but its nothing like a whale, they are quantitatively different things.

    Both are Human or sentient pursuits, both are what define us as Humans, science is the discovery of truth, truth allows us to plan better for tomorrow. It gives us a little more predictability in a sea of uncertainty

    The sting in the tail, and I think the bit that is smoking your bacon, is the more we know, the more we become aware of what we don’t know, and as a basic human reaction we don’t like to think that we might never know.

    We hate uncertainty, those like Marx and all the other statists know this and offer us certainty in the exchange for our freedom. “ID cars are just the trick for defeating the terrorist foe” , “hand us more of your taxes and we will care for you from cradle to grave” sadly too many off us are lazy and let them get away with it.

  • Steph

    < >

    This is only plausable if one knows nothing of 19th Century history. The number of oportunities was equal to or greater than the oportunities now. Think of all the regulations that choke off business oportunites today. For example in any boom town getting into the hotel-bording house business involved renting a property and subletting and cooking a meal or two for the subletters, all free of regulation. Think of the fact that labor was cheaper and employment really at will, so a budding entrepuer could easily hire labor and dismiss the unsatisfacory. Even if you read the critical literature of the period with an open mind you will be shocked at the oportunities then available, which now are illegal or impractical due increases in the living standard.

    < >

    In Re Ricardo, Marx took the worst parts of Ricardian theory (which even Ricardo had realized was in error and over simplified) and then made it worse. The idea that jobs are scarser than workers is childish.

    Re wages, do you mean real wages or nominal wages?

  • Steph

    >

    This is only plausable if one knows nothing of 19th Century history. The number of oportunities was equal to or greater than the oportunities now. Think of all the regulations that choke off business oportunites today. For example in any boom town getting into the hotel-bording house business involved renting a property and subletting and cooking a meal or two for the subletters, all free of regulation. Think of the fact that labor was cheaper and employment really at will, so a budding entrepuer could easily hire labor and dismiss the unsatisfacory. Even if you read the critical literature of the period with an open mind you will be shocked at the oportunities then available, which now are illegal or impractical due increases in the living standard.

    >

    In Re Ricardo, Marx took the worst parts of Ricardian theory (which even Ricardo had realized was in error and over simplified) and then made it worse. The idea that jobs are scarser than workers is childish.

    Re wages, do you mean real wages or nominal wages?

  • Lindsay

    Steph,

    I would be much obliged to you if you would point to me the textual (or other) evidence that Ricardo realized the parts of his corpus thst I invoked were false–and keep in mind that I have invoked less than Marx did. Don’t bother me with the labour theory of value.

    As for the idea that jobs are scarcer than workers being childish, your comment is an assertion, not an agument. I look forward to hearing your argument in due course. Sir Arthur Lewis earned a Nobel Prize for just this idea, so you counter-argument that he is not only wrong but childish will surely win you great acclaim. I congratulate you in advance.

  • But does not preference imply that there is a choice to be made?

    Are you really asking is there is a choice to be made between different theories that attempt to explain reality???

    if reality is indeed objective then the choice you or I make is irrelevant as reality is separate to your or my experience or interpretation of it.

    Which is completely irrelevant. Reality may be objective (and that is certainly the theory I subscribe to) but our understanding is conjectural.

    Was it not objective reason that put a man on the moon,

    Reason is reason and objectivity is objectivity. It was theories (conjecture) about reality (objective) that were derived via the scientific method (which is quite Popperian) that lead to the moon landing.

    I think we agree more than we disagree.

    Ok.

  • Midwesterner

    “As for the idea that jobs are scarcer than workers being childish, your comment is an assertion, not an agument. I look forward to hearing your argument in due course.”

    Lindsay, I think it is encumbent on you to prove why the number of possible jobs is not practically infinite. Clearly you (and the people you follow) are placing substantial anti free market qualifications on the definition of ‘jobs’. There are always more jobs than workers. Jobs are infinite, workers are finite. The market sets the lowest wage, the rest of the jobs are not filled.

  • Nick M

    Sean Morris,

    If you don’t know the difference between why a mathematical proposition is true and why a physical proposition is likely then frankly you’re a total fucking imbecile.

    The fact that I wasn’t born with an intrinisic knowledge that “2+2=4″ is as completely irrelevant to the truth or falsehood of that proposition as the fact that I wasn’t born knowing thermodynamics and the laws of fluids (your boiling kettle) is to the truth or falsehood of “Morris’ Law of Boiling Kettles”.

    How you come to learn something has nothing to do with it’s truth value. Does the truth value of de Moivres’s Theorem depend upon whether you learnt it at Nottingham or Chicago Universities? Or indeed on whether you were Abraham de Moivre yourself, or if it was handed to you written on stone tablets incised by fire?

    Science and the “Arts” are totally different for the very simple reason that they are about utterly different things and to state they are opposites is glib 1st year undergrad bullshit. I think GR is the best pony in the park when it comes to understanding gravitation. I think the Rokeby Venus is the best picture in the National Gallery. I think these not for opposite reasons rather totally different ones. And the Rokeby Venus has a better ass.

    No, Sean, scientists love uncertainty, they thrive on paradox. Paradoxes can be incredibly illuminating. Read a bit of Feynman’s later stuff and you’ll see quite how ambivalent scientists are to achieving finality. Please don’t connect science and Marxism like that. I went into science because of the feelings of awe it inspired and because it was fun and important to properly figure stuff out. I didn’t go into it to reassure anybody, least of all me.

    I’m sorry. Your idea of the endless frontier (the more we know, the more there is to know) is pure Vannevar Bush* triumphalism (he was shilling for more science funding to fight the Cold War at the time). There is no reason why it is true. Even if it is true there is no reason why that stuff left to know can ever be found out. Some of it would be getting into the realms of a Laplacian view of the universe. Almost certainly a lot of science will forever remain the undiscovered country. Do you honestly think paleontologists will ever unearth the entire fossil record? With every missing-link? Or astrophysicists catalogue every star? The search may continue with (eventually) diminishing returns but that’s probably your lot.

    I’m not sorry if I insulted you because if you can’t tell the difference between reasoning deductively from axioms (maths) and empirical science (physics) you are a fucking moron.

    *Yup, a relative.

  • Mike Smith

    Population grew and may have suppressed wages, but people were increasingly living better and capitalism (and freedom) were the causes.

    Jump to the last line of the abstract below…

    Reasons for the Decline of Mortality in England and Wales during the Nineteenth Century (from Population Studies)

    Abstract

    Five diseases or disease groups accounted for almost the whole of the reduction in mortality between 1851-60 and 1891-1900: tuberculosis (all forms), 47.2 per cent; typhus, enteric fever and simple continued fever, 22.9 per cent; scarlet fever, 20.3 per cent; diarrhoea, dysentery and cholera, 8.9 per cent; and smallpox, 6.1 per cent. In order of their relative importance the influences responsible for the decline were: (a) a rising standard of living, of which the most significant feature was improved diet (responsible mainly for the decline of tuberculosis, and less certainly, and to a lesser extent, of typhus); (b) the hygienic changes introduced by the sanitary reformers (responsible for the decline of the typhus-typhoid and cholera groups); and (c) a favourable trend in the relationship between infectious agent and human host (which accounted for the decline of mortality from scarlet fever, and may have contributed to that from tuberculosis, typhus and cholera). The effect of therapy was restricted to smallpox and hence had only a trivial effect on the total reduction of the death rate. Reasons for the rise of population in the pre-registration years are discussed in the light of these conclusions. Neither therapy nor sanitary reform made any significant contribution, and it is suggested that the marked and sustained rise in population before 1850 cannot plausibly be attributed solely to a fortuitous shift in the relationship between infectious organisms and the human host. We conclude that, whether more importance is attached to the birth rate or the death rate, the most significant influence until 1850 (indeed until 1870) was a rising standard of living.

  • sean

    >>then frankly you’re a total fucking imbecile<<

    Thats about as far as I got, I think its pretty obvious when people start turning to insults they have lost the argument.

    Just remember next time you get on a brand new aircraft and the brouchue says “constructed with the cutting edge of postmodernist design” for all our sakes please stay in your seat.

    Happy flying!

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Lindsay, if I read you correctly, you are advocating what economists call the “lump of labour” fallacy – the idea that there is, at any one time, a fixed quantity of work to be performed, ergo, if the number of people suddenly increases, the average price of a job goes down. Arguments like this are usually trotted out to limit immigration, population growth and so on, and the French used them about 10 years ago to justify the 35-hour week (why not go the whole hog and introduce a 5-hour week and really cut unemployment).

    The argument is rubbish. The amount of work that can be performed is infinite and in a dynamic economy, the number of jobs expands. Yes, in the very short run, an increase can reduce wages, but as workers learn skills, those skills are forms of non-physical capital, and boost productivity, and hence real wages over time. In the knowledge economy of today, that point applies even more so than in the 18th or 19th centuries.

  • Nick M

    Sorry Sean,
    I was out of order. It’s just that I’m not a post-modernist and being called one really annoys me. The rest of my post might just illustrate that point.

  • SEAN MORRIS

    Thank you :0)

    OK then, IMO your view of science is that their is no definitive structure to how science is conducted, thus in a sense adhoc?

    Now my reading of Kuhn is that he does not believe in absolute truth, thus science takes place in a paradigm or problem solving within belief systems. (thus the belief system confers values on the pursuit of science)

    This IMO is what marks out post modernism, so if you accept this theory, then their is very little option to come to the conclusion that you support this point of view.

    But to be honest with you, the person who I think best represents your view is Paul Feyerabend who believed their are no methodological rules which are always used by scientists.

    But IMO Feyerbend makes the same mistake as Kant does, an honest one but a dangerous one. Kant in order to marry the two wings of philosophy left the door open for god, and is now used by the postmodernist as a way back after the defeat of Marxism, they are really saying, “well if Marx is not science then does science matter and what is it really anyway.”

    What Popper does brilliantly is that he builds on Kant and slams the door shut on all forms of faith (not that faith is without merit!) and he does this by setting the new gold standard of falsification, a standard where no forms of subjectivity or relativism are allowed.

    Does this all matter? well i went to East Berlin through checkpoint Charlie in 1983 and was horrified by what I saw. Science can live easily and happily with non-science, but when non-science morphs into pseudo-science and pretends to be Science, We are all in trouble, as I found out in East Berlin.

    Be careful not to disarm us. Falsification is by no means a perfect system (it was never meant to be) but it is objectively the best gold standard there is, and its our best weapon against our enemies both new and old.

    -s-

  • Nick M

    Thanks Sean,
    The apology was sincerely meant and you have replied in kind. I’m surprised you didn’t tell me to sod off. Now, I’ve got stuff to do but I’ll e back to you, soon.

  • Paul Marks

    The philosophy presented by Karl Marx is false, and his theory of history is false – indeed the two are linked.

    And his economics is false (it is linked with the thinking on philosophy and history).

    For those interested in Karl Marx’s economics (what most of the above comments are about), perhaps the best place to put him into context is Murry Rothbard’s history of economics (Marx is covered in volume II – although many of “his” ideas are covered in volume one).

    Most of Karl Marx’s ideas on economics were not original, and those that were original were false (in fact most of the unoriginal ideas were false as well).

    A democratically elected Marxist government:

    Whether the public power in the period “between socialism and communism” should be called a “government” is of no interest to me. If a group of people try and steal other people’s land, factories or whatever I do not care whether they call themselves “the government”, “the people”, “the working class”, “the vanguard of the working class”, “the community”, “society”, or anything else.

    There are indeed different types of Marxist.

    Some hold that there should be no price of bread (no money).

    Some hold that the price of bread should be set by the government (whatever name they use to mean the government).

    And some hold that some sort of state controlled “market” should set the price of bread.

    However, no type of Marxist believes that capital goods (factories and other such) should be privately owned and freely bought and sold.

    Therefore no Marxist order can come close to being equal (let alone superior) to what they call “capitalism”, and libertarians call civil society.

    The tactics of Karl Marx and his followers:

    The tactics of such folk, for example telling lies (which started with Karl Marx doing such things as deliberatly misquoting Gladstone to make it look like Gladstone believed wages were falling, and Frederick Engels pretending to be anti Marxist in order to write misleading newspaper reviews of the writings of Karl Marx) may work for Marxists, but they will not work for us – our objectives are different.

    If one’s objective is dishonourable (the destruction of civil society), dishounarable methods may work (for example appealing to what is most base in man by pretending that other people’s property is not really theirs – by useing the labour theory of value/suplus value “exploitation” trick). But if one’s objective is honourable (the rolling back of the state and nonstate violation of persons and possessions), dishonourable methods are not likely to work (whatever one may say to oneself).

    Indeed evil means tend to corrupt the ends.

    Lies should not be fought with lies, they should be fought with truth.

  • Patrick, you wrote: “It’s a great shame no democracy was ever able (allowed?) to vote in a Communist government.” Didn’t it just recently happened in Venezuela, and less recently in Chile?

  • Sunfish

    I think you’ll find that your property is already “stolen” in the form of taxation. My point was that you cannot necessarily ideologically differentiate between the two, and both require coercive mechanisms to enforce whether they involve taking your real property or just your money, ergo, capitalism in its current implementation is no less prone on that basis to totalitarianism than communism. Which led to my ultimate point, which was that the connection between communism and totalitarianism in the 20th century was the violent and revolutionary environment in which communism was implemented, not the philosophy itself.

    I’m a little confused at what you’re trying to claim here: Communism, which requires the theft (or appropriation, if you’re incapable of recognizing a theft when it occurs) of private property is not necessarily coercive. The reason why communism is not coercive is: In our present-day mixed capitalist-ish system, taxation exists.

    If my translation of your post is inaccurate, would you mind correcting it?

    There are, after all, options besides “Communism” vs. “Whatever it is we have right now.” There are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

    Your version of ‘freedom’ works if there are unlimited opportunities, everyone starts from zero at birth, and you believe in a pure meritocracy in which the less able or ‘wise’ deserve, and receive, a lower quality of life. Otherwise it is just as inherently unworkable as anything Karl Marx wrote.

    Your hypothetical is nonsense. It accurately describes North Korea, as noted above, and that’s about it. No one entity in the present-day world owns all of the farmland in existence. Nor does anyone come close enough to prevent competition, absent state influence in support of the monopoly. Not in farming, nor anywhere else. A previous US adminsitration tried to claim that Bill Gates was doing the same thing with desktop operating systems. I found that amusing, since I mostly read about the MS antitrust suit on computers running various “free” unix variants.

    Further, I don’t see what’s so unworkable about “keep your mitts off my stuff.” Certainly, that’s nowhere near as unworkable as trying to promote human freedom by collectivizing the means of communication and mass communication, or trying to exchange goods and services efficiently by evaluating them according to the labor theory of value.

    I note with interest that you are a cop. That would involve my taxes paying your salary while you march around enforcing society’s intrusions into my freedom to behave as I wish whether I agree to those intrusions or not: true/false? Let me let you in on a little clue: you are the hired goon with the gun.

    I note with interest that you didn’t acknowledge the threat of death backing every single state mandate. How many people do you want to kill to build your perfect world? When do you decide that it’s been TOO bloody for you?

    I’m well-acquainted with the facts of my profession, thank you. I’m further well-acquainted with the ethical issues faced in my profession, and especially with the unusual questions faced by a running dog pig flunky of the entrenched capitalist state who also holds strong libertarian leanings. And I’ve decided for myself when it’ll be time to leave. If you have a HELPFUL contribution to those ethical questions, I’m interested. Otherwise, you offer precious little to interest me.

  • Paul Marks

    I wonder how Marxists in Norway apply the Marxian theory of history.

    According to the theory, the tools we use to create goods (forget how these new tools come into existance and replace older ways of doing things, for the moment) “the forces of production”, lead to certain “relations of production” (ways of organizing production) and this is the “economic base” which determins the “cultural superstructure” (law, culture, and so on).

    Supposedly (for example) certain technology (forces of productiuon) in farming means that that there will be serfdom (in relations of production) because at this level of technology is best for farming. This is the (Marxist definition) of the “feudal mode of production” which leads to the superstructure of “feudal society”.

    But Norway (like Frisia and other places in Europe) has never had serfdom, and there is no evidence that different tools were used in farming or that the soil was fundementally different from places that did have serfdom.

    Perhaps Marxists in Norway just dismiss the above as “vulgar Marxism” and do not bother their heads about it – just getting on with gaining as much influence as they can.

  • Nick M

    Sean,

    There’s not much more for me to say. I’ll just re-iterate the importance of auxiliary hypotheses which make scientific work much more complicated than Popper seemed to think.

    I’m glad you mentioned air-safety. That’s a prime example of a very complex question which can be addressed by using scientific and engineering techniques. I’m sure you’re aware though that merely posing the question is a Boeing 767 a safe plane: Yes/No is practically meaningless. Instead you have to look at engine-out flying characteristics, fire-suppression, ease of evacuation and a hoard of other things.

    Science as it is currently practised is always like that. Look at one of the real big current questions: is global warming anthropogenic? It is impossible to define that question in a way that is falsifiable. Let’s imagine that the whole world “goes green” in a meaningful way and global warming abates. I will bet you dollars to donuts that there will be young climatologists out there who will put together cogent enough arguments to get a PhD that it would have happened anyway and we’d just witnessed a statistical climate “blip” or a cyclical process.

    You’ve got to remember that getting a PhD doesn’t mean anything other than having a thesis that is defensible in a viva. It’s about plausibility and not necessarily hitting some bed-rock of TRUTH.

    My MSc thesis was about a cosmological model that almost certainly doesn’t pertain to the real world but the exploration of which shows some interesting issues in General Relativity. Strict empirical falsifiability didn’t come into it.

    And then there is Quantum Mechanics. I don’t like being called post-modernist because I really do care what’s actually “out there”. So far (and quite possibly forever) in QM what’s “out there” is up for grabs because there is no way to falsify any of the major interpretations of QM. A lot of people can the assorted hidden variables approaches but that’s got nowt to do with Popper, that’s just good old Occam’s razor. You can of course take a purely instrumentalist approach to QM but to me that seems decidedly post-modern (“We don’t think about how it works, we just care that it does”).

    Science (at least physics) is awash with meta-physical ideas. They are deeply interwoven into our scientific understanding of nature. Popper was naive to dismiss them and try and get it all down to a simple, empirical “gold standard” test. Ultimately, the falsification principle is a failure – a glorious failure – but a failure nonetheless.

    In his book “Dreams of a Final Theory” Weinberg trys to define science and he opens with a rather provocative example. He contrasts too potential cures for scrofula. The first is a king’s touch and the second is chicken soup. He dismisses the first out of hand because he can see no conceivable mechanism by which it could work. The second he sees as having enough merit to be potentially worth testing. Chicken soup is made up of a huge number of complex organic chemicals after all. I like Weinberg’s idea because it is closer to how scientists actually arrive at ideas than Popper’s throw enough handfulls of mud at the wall and see which handfull sticks. It is also the reason people like me are highly sceptical of alternative medicine.

    Let’s look at homeopathy. One of the reasons this guff persists is that it can’t in principle be double-blind tested. Why not? The dilutions required are so extreme that it is statistically highly unlikely that any of the active ingredient remains so the “drug” is essentially chemically identical to the placebo! Science therefore can’t disprove homeopathy by falsifying it. It can disprove it to anybody who is vaguely rational on the basis that taking sugar pills never cured anybody of anything (although they might be handy for a diabetic having a hypo attack) but then so might a can of coke.

    (The “water has a memory of what was dissolved in it” approach is clearly rot. It is rot because nobody ever defines their terms in ways that are physically meaningful and in any case the physics and chemistry of H20 are pretty well understood and no physicist or chemist has ever detected such behaviour.)

    Science is messy and while a “gold standard” principle is an appealing idea there is quite simply no substitute for knowing one’s subject and applying a little critical thought to it.

  • Paul Marks

    Non violent communism:

    Such egalitarian communities already exist. Whether religious (monks and nuns, but also non celebate religious communities) or secular (such as the various forms of Israeli commune – at least how they once were).

    “Capitalism” (civil society) will not prevent people joining such communities, but only a small minority of the population have every done so – in spite of case (such as Israel) where plenty of land and capital have been provided (by money from overseas in the case of Israeli communes – indeed it was once the fashion for young Westerners to do out and give them free labour as well, odd though that seems in these “anti Zionist” days).

    The Austrian school of economics would argue that such an egalitarian (communist) system with collective ownership (socialism) of capital can not function as well as as private ownership of freely traded capital goods – but the opportunity has always been there to prove such economics incorrect.

    The United States has had many such efforts (and not all celebate.

    For example, there was a Robert Owen style community near to where Dallas was founded. Indeed after it collapsed many of the craftsmen moved to Dallas.

    So, no, the “we could have have socialism, but the C.I.A. will not let us” line will not work.

    Of Karl Marx himself had a great dislike of such voluntary communities – they were a version of the “utopianism” he despised.

    He wanted revolution and produced a “scientific” theory to justify it.

    It was that way round (the early manuscripts prove it -as Antony Flew and many others have pointed out).

    Karl Marx wanted a violent revolution to produce an egalitarian society from his early adult years – the “scientific” stuff was added on later as a justification. The philosophical demand came first, the “history” and “economics” came later.

    I doubt he ever believed in such things as the “Labour Theory of Value” – after all he was a German speaker and read works on political economy. So it is likely that he read the works of Gossen or at least Rau (the best selling German economist of the day) who also showed Ricardo’s ideas to be false.

    In France the Say family followed Turgot (for all their praise of Adam Smith) in supporting economic value to be subjective.

    In Italy Ferrara and the other best selling economists did not go alone with Ricardo.

    And even in Britain what of such writers as Richard Whately and Samual Bailey? Both well known in early 19th century Britain.

    John Stuart Mill went along with Ricardo because he was one of his father’s (James Mill’s) closest friends, but what excuse did Marx have? Other than Ricardo’s theory (when messed about with quite a bit – as the “Ricardian socialists” had already done) gin=ving a justication for “surplus value” and “exploitation” – and (hence) for the claim that a factory owner did not rightfully own the factory (an “ethical” propaganda trick for the “scientific” theory).

    And all this was long before Menger, Jevons and Walras in the 1870 period.

  • Wow, this thread started out quite boring, but evolved into one of the best ever. I just had to add a couple of points:

    1. Math is not science, it is a discipline, that produces a set of tools which in turn are useful in interpreting and applying science. 2+2=4 is not a scientific fact, it is an agreed upon convention. Just like in decimal math 1+1=2, but in binary math 1+1=20 (sort of).

    2. Science and art can be opposites, and they can be not – it depends on the context, just like apples and oranges. If the context is starch content in fruit, than apples and oranges are not opposites, but bananas and oranges are. If the context is fruit that can be eaten with their peel or not, than apples are the opposite of oranges, but bananas and oranges are not opposites.

    Who cares about proving ? At least about that ideal (and therefore impossible) absolute proof ?
    Science is valid and important not mainly because of it’s “capacity to answer significant questions about the real world”, but because it PRODUCES results – via technology, and production processes.
    Science is important and proven by the tangible results whose production depends on it.

    Oh, boy. How about satisfying natural curiosity, and the search for truth? Is that not valid and important enough? And isn’t that what motivated so many (no, not all) scientists from the very beginning, who could not even imagine that their discoveries could have practical applications?

    There, I feel relieved now.

  • Sunfish

    *Hence, I think the point Sunfish made in response to me above: “Or, are you arguing that it’s now my obligation to subsidize other people’s choices?” is trying to impute to me an ‘ought’ derived from an ‘is’, which was no part of my intention–

    Here’s the issue: Everyone has the freedom to quit his job, at least in the present-day US. However, the boss has the freedom to not sign paychecks anymore. If the owner decides to keep his money or use it to hire people who won’t quit, how does that make the ex-employee less free? From here, I don’t think I follow how the ex-employee is any less free, unless your argument is that he needs to be paid to quit in order to be free to quit.

    On the other hand, my internet reading is through a thick ethanol filter.

    By the way, Sunfish, I would be happy for you to come and sleep on my couch, but I would expect you to show the courtesy due from any house guest ; )

    The stories about me not refilling ice cube trays, drying socks in the toaster, and taking the last beer, are all scurrilous lies!

  • OK then, IMO your view of science is that their is no definitive structure to how science is conducted, thus in a sense adhoc?

    How do you deduce that? The scientific method is really quite a well known intellectual structure. There is nothing ‘ad hoc’ about it.

  • Paul Marks

    1+1=2 is not a “convention”, but nor is it scientific (in terms of how Karl Popper understood the scientific method).

    It is part of logic. Just as “I am myself”, “A is A”, “I am not you” are all part of logic.

    Unlike the “logical positivists”, Karl Popper did not divide things into “science and nonsense”, he divided them into “science and nonscience”.

    Something could be true and important, but not science. Indeed science could even depend on things that were themselves not part of the experimental scientific method (such as mathematics).

    That things could be important and true without being part of science is not just true of such logical things as mathematics. It is also true (according to Popper) of ethics.

    It is not a “convention” that (for example) to rape someone is an evil act, but nor can it be shown by “scientific method”.

  • 1+1=2 is a convention in pure mathematics (although it is not in “real life”, where it is more akin to a “scientific fact”. Math is not “real life”, although it is extensively used to describe and interpret it, including scientific phenomena).

    Math is not logic, although it is based on it in part.

    Math, indeed, is a non-science.

    Math is part of the experimental scientific method, in so far as it is an essential tool without which any measurement and interpretation of scientific experiments and phenomena would be impossible.

    Raping someone is a convention – a social one.

  • Sorry, the social convention is that raping someone is an act of evil, obviously.

  • SEAN MORRIS

    A lot has passed since I last looked at this thread, so Ill wait and see if anyone is still looking :0)

    Imre Lakatos, Poppers pupil came up with a formula of falsifying mathematical statements (yep I know he was a raging Marxist but I prefer to deal with people and their ideas in an objective way as I can)

    Thus thru a formula of dialectics mathematicians are falsifying their own statements, thus Math really is a science.

    Just a note of priori knowledge, in philosophy they have something called a synthetic priori, thus we might be talking in two different languages if we don’t understand the context of each.