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« The politics of objectivity II | Main | The politics of objectivity IV »

October 09, 2006

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Jim Farmelant

Given your interest in Richard Miller, I wonder if you have ever taken a look at what I consider to be his unjustly neglected book, "Analyzing Marx". In that book he drew a distinction between what he called the technological interpretation of historical materialism which had been articulated and defended by many writers of the Second International (i.e. Kautsky, Plekhanov) and which cast into an especially rigorous form by the Canadian/British philosopher. G.A. Cohen, in his "Karl Marx's Theory of History," and what he calls the mode of production interpretation which abjures the technological and economic determinism of the latter.

Miller drew a link between these two different interpretations of historical materialism and different philosophies of science. The technological interpretation, Miller linked to positivist philosophies of science with their covering law models of scientific explanation and their presupposition of Humean notions concerning causality. Here, Miller does not draw a very sharp distinction between positivism
and Popperism. While Popper clearly did not see himself as being a positivist, he nevertheless, still had many notions in common with them. In Miller's view Popper's hypothetico-deductivism placed him within the positivist camp. In any case, Miller contended that the technological interpretation of historical materialism does represent the sort of theory that can be regarded as falsifiable from a strictly Popperian standpoint. Hence, it is scientific by Popper's criteria. The only thing that is wrong with it is that history has indeed (as Popper had contended) falsified it, and the other thing that is wrong with it, is that in Miller's view it represents a distorted interpretation of how Marx undertook the study of history and political economy.

The mode of production interpretation in Miller's view offers us a view that is closer to the spirit of Marx's actual methodology. But it is not falsifiable in the strict Popperian sense. One might then think that Miller would propose to throw away falsifiability as a criterion of demarcation between science and non-science but surprisingly enough he did not. Instead, he attempted to reconstruct the notion of
falsifiability, drawing upon the work of Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. He embraced their historicist approach to the philosophy of science and he developed a reconstructed version of the notion of falsifiability. The mode of production interpretation of historical materialism while perhaps not falsifiable in Popper's sense, is nevertheless falsifiable in Miller's sense and that justifies retaining the label of science for it.

Miller also BTW contends that the positivist (and Popperian) analysis of natural science is fundamentally flawed so that while the positivists were quite correct in seeking a unified science which would assimilate the social sciences into the natural sciences , they misunderstood the nature of natural science. For Miller, the antipositivists were correct in attacking posiitvism for trying to force social science into a narrow mold centering around the covering law model and deductive-nomological models of explanation and Humean causality, but the same flaws also applied to their analysis of natural science. In reality such an analysis, in Miller's view is not properly applicable to either natural science or social science.

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