DONATE NOW TO HELP UPGRADE LIBCOM.ORG

A critical review of David Graeber's Debt

169 posts / 0 new
Last post
Antonio de cleyre
Offline
Joined: 20-02-12
Oct 18 2012 23:42

These are the sorts of articles routinely published in journals of the philosophy of science:

http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10539-012-9340-4

http://www.ehu.es/ojs/index.php/THEORIA/article/view/11

http://userwww.service.emory.edu/~philrnm/publications/article_pdfs/Inte...

Those of them that concern a specific field (psychology and biology in this case) are written by people who know that specific field quite well. Indeed all the philosophers of science I know personally (it's a speciality of my department) have done at least some dual research- doing some work in physics or biology or psychology. My old professor Paul Griffiths got involved with some very important research on primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary protein fold structures.All of them are quite technical- most of them could be at best partially understood by a philosopher without specialist knowledge in the philosophy of science. One of them (the first one, the one on biofilms) could probably only be fully understood by Phil of biology sub-specialist.

Two thirds of the articles do not concern science as a whole, but rather a sub-area. Research like this is increasingly prized, though there is still room for broader debates, they are often conducted in the context of some specific theory or question.

My two cents on the debate that's currently being conducted, over the priority of theory or data. I think you should seriously scrutinise the presupposition that there is a sensible distinction between theory and observation. In reaching a position on that broader question, which is far more interesting, you'll probably resolve the narrower question.

andy g
Offline
Joined: 24-02-12
Oct 19 2012 07:40

this one seems to have ranged a long way from the OP (quelle surprise!!)

not massively up on contemporary philosophy of science but ISTM that LBird is presenting a caricatured version of a basically correct argument, viz

- "facts" are theory-laden, produced by the application of "observational theories" to sense impressions. there is no unmediated contact between knowing subject and the natural/social world

- science proceeds by formulating hypotheses about the underlying (and not usually manifest) structures and mechanisms that produce observable phenomena that are deemed significant

- these hypotheses can never be inductively justified by reference to specific events (Humean problem of induction) and positively "proved" : they are provisional, best approximations to truth

I do think that science develops by posing itself "problems" and constructing solutions that are then subject to empirical testing. I think LBird is overdoing his "theory comes first" case and tending to apriorism and down playing the role of empirical testing

fuck knows what this is adding to anyone's understanding of Graeber's book though!

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 19 2012 09:01
Antonio de cleyre wrote:
My two cents on the debate that's currently being conducted, over the priority of theory or data. I think you should seriously scrutinise the presupposition that there is a sensible distinction between theory and observation. In reaching a position on that broader question, which is far more interesting, you'll probably resolve the narrower question.

Well, Einstein claimed that 'It is one's theory that determines what one can observe', so perhaps that gives us a clue to what probably the foremost physicist of the twentieth century thought on this issue. And perhaps the recent 'discovery' of Higgs Boson illustrates this method.

andy g wrote:
...LBird is presenting a caricatured version of a basically correct argument...

Given that this is an internet forum, it's not surprising, is it, that any attempt to outline difficult issues would appear as 'caricaturing'. All we can do here is try to persuade comrades of the seriousness of these debates in relation to Communism, and hope that they read further.

andy g wrote:
I think LBird is overdoing his "theory comes first" case and tending to apriorism and down playing the role of empirical testing

Well, if anyone has read anything I've written before about the philosophy of science and dialectics will know that 'tending to apriorism and down playing the role of empirical testing' is a false charge.

But, it is still true to maintain that 'theory comes first', especially in the face of the 'common sense' position, that bolsters the social authority of both scientists and the state, that somehow, just using 'facts', one can come to a true theoretical understanding of nature and society. Of course, scientists and the state claim just such a 'priestly' position for themselves. They know 'the Truth', and argue we should just trust them.

Or does everybody just think that it's a coincidence that in bourgeois society there is a group of people, ie. scientists, who 'know better' than the rest of us?

We should challange that elitist, ideological stance.

andy g wrote:
fuck knows what this is adding to anyone's understanding of Graeber's book though!

Perhaps if David had outlined his theoretical presuppositions at the start of his book, a bit like Marx in Capital, some of the unfortunate misreadings of his work and mis-assumptions about his meanings would not have happened.

andy g
Offline
Joined: 24-02-12
Oct 19 2012 09:46
Quote:
Perhaps if David had outlined his theoretical presuppositions at the start of his book, a bit like Marx in Capital, some of the unfortunate misreadings of his work and mis-assumptions about his meanings would not have happened.

Cos Capital has never been subject to misinterpretation and Marx's "method" is completely clear and undisputed!!!

Antonio said

Quote:
I think you should seriously scrutinise the presupposition that there is a sensible distinction between theory and observation. In reaching a position on that broader question, which is far more interesting, you'll probably resolve the narrower question.

I agree (I think) - IIUC this is the idea about the "production" of fact by means of the application of observational theories and LBird has misunderstood Antonio's point

Antonio de cleyre
Offline
Joined: 20-02-12
Oct 19 2012 11:35

This is quite a good survey of the issues.

http://www.jstor.org/stable/3543048

Antonio de cleyre
Offline
Joined: 20-02-12
Oct 19 2012 11:35

(Though I disagree with the conclusion)

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 19 2012 12:08
A d c's link wrote:
Inductive underdetermination is not what most philosophers of science have in mind when they discuss the underdetermination of theory by data. In recent discussions, 'underdetermination' usually refers to the idea that there may be theories between which no possible evidence can decide, not merely no actual evidence. If two theories are underdetermined in this stronger sense, then however much empirical data we collect in the future, we shall never be able to decide between them on empirical grounds

This is a step further in what we have been discussing. Not only is 'theory' prior and unavoidable, but the worth of competing theories can't be decided by empirical investigation.

In effect, for science, as for all human ideological activity, axioms are chosen on the basis of something other than evidence. This is Lakatos' position (although this article doesn't mention him).

If one chooses Communism to understand the world, one can't be shown to be in the wrong by appeals to 'the real world'.

Now that's the sort of scientific method we should argue for.

Railyon's picture
Railyon
Offline
Joined: 4-11-11
Oct 19 2012 12:48

I think von Mises would applaud you on that if he were still around.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 19 2012 13:02
Railyon wrote:
I think von Mises would applaud you on that if he were still around.

I'm not sure if this is aimed at my post, Railyon, but I'll have to assume it is.

Are you referring to von Mises' open and strong ideological views?

Do you think 'science' under Communism will be conceptualised and practised in the same way as it is under bourgeois class rule?

Or do you think that a 'scientific method' exists outside of society? If you do, we disagree.

I'm a Communist, and try to use Communist ideology to understand the world, and I'm open about this, because I think that 'openness' about one's inescapable ideological biases is the only way to achieve any sort of 'social objectivity'.

For those reading this who claim to be Communists, but who don't also claim to be 'Communist scientists', but just 'scientists', we have big differences.

andy g
Offline
Joined: 24-02-12
Oct 19 2012 14:11
Quote:
This is Lakatos' position (although this article doesn't mention him)

This is a caricature and a false one.

AFAIK Lakatos argues that scientific hypotheses don't "stand alone" but form clusters that he called research programmes. The core propositions of these research programmes - the heuristic - are not themselves subject to direct empirical disproof. They genrate sets of auxillary hypotheses which are subject to disproof. The validity of a research programme can be judged by if it can predict or accommodate new "facts" or if testing and research serve to disprove more and more of the auxiliary hypotheses and the heuristic itslef is called into question. That's when you get the discontinuities in scientific development - paradigm shifts, epistemological breaks or whatever. (apologies to those more conversant in this area than me -may well have butchered Lakatos here!)

This a helluva a long way from what LBird is arguing..... in fact he seems to be heading full pelt for a kind of post-modern relativism that makes competing theories incommensurable and equally valid as expressions of power-interests.


Quote:
Appeal to reality to justify your views, pah! I spit on your crude empiricism! I have no need of facts as I have my magic Theory!

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 19 2012 15:46
andy g wrote:
This a helluva a long way from what LBird is arguing...

Well, I argue that 'theory' comes first, and can't necessarily be disproved by empirical investigation.

andy g wrote:
AFAIK Lakatos argues that scientific hypotheses don't "stand alone" but form clusters that he called research programmes. The core propositions of these research programmes - the heuristic - are not themselves subject to direct empirical disproof.

What's a 'heuristic' if not a 'theory'? And it is not subject to empirical disproof?

Sounds the same to me. I think you're nit-picking, andy. Perhaps you don't like me personally, but you shouldn't let that cloud your judgement. I don't think we're that far apart, if you're also influenced by Lakatos.

andy g wrote:
...in fact he seems to be heading full pelt for a kind of post-modern relativism that makes competing theories incommensurable and equally valid as expressions of power-interests.

Well, we'll leave it to others to decide if what I'm arguing is 'post-modern relativism', because I've no time for it. Linking ideas to classes, in some way, doesn't make one a 'relativist', or at least only in the 'class' sense, which I presume all Communists do.

andy g, caricaturing LBird, wrote:
Appeal to reality to justify your views, pah! I spit on your crude empiricism! I have no need of facts as I have my magic Theory!

As I'm a critical social realist, this couldn't be further from the truth about my views. Taking the piss only works, andy, if you illustrate some truth with it, rather than misrepresent someone's ideas.

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Oct 19 2012 16:02
LBird wrote:
andy g wrote:
...in fact he seems to be heading full pelt for a kind of post-modern relativism that makes competing theories incommensurable and equally valid as expressions of power-interests.

Well, we'll leave it to others to decide if what I'm arguing is 'post-modern relativism', because I've no time for it. Linking ideas to classes, in some way, doesn't make one a 'relativist', or at least only in the 'class' sense, which I presume all Communists do.

I don't mean to wade in unannounced but I think andy has laid down a serious charge and you have yet to properly rebuke it. TBH I thought the same as andy when you spoke about the democratization of knowledge. It looked very much like what some sociologists of knowledge and science say (truth claims as a matter of convention). It does seem like you are bracketing truth claims in the name of democratic consensus. I think calling this view 'pomo' is a little bit polemic and will cause one to automatically knee-jerk against it. Would it be fairer to say, following T. Kuhn, that scientific theories are always historically situated? If we don't accept this view, then what alternative is their for making truth claims? (or, as Althusser might have it, the difference between 'ideology' and 'science') I'm asking because I'm genuinely interested in what people have to say. I have no wish to trip anyone up.

** I'm also slightly concerned about the 'communist' notion of science and what we are talking about when we band around 'science'. As was mentioned earlier, the philosophy of science is quite often situated in very specific fields. In what sense can we have a philosophy of science that accounts for truths in biology or say, sociology or marxism. Is there an over-arching philosophy of science? Can we talk about a communist geology?

ocelot's picture
ocelot
Offline
Joined: 15-11-09
Oct 19 2012 16:46

Or a communist biology? Oh, no, wait. We've been here before...

Ogion
Offline
Joined: 8-05-12
Oct 19 2012 17:12

Or perhaps a communist ophthalmootorhinolaryngology? A branch of medical science which combines the treatment of the eyes, ears, nose, throat, and communist ideas? That would be the coolest.

andy g
Offline
Joined: 24-02-12
Oct 19 2012 17:12
Quote:
Taking the piss only works, andy, if you illustrate some truth with it, rather than misrepresent someone's ideas

nope, wrong on both counts!

Quote:
Not only is 'theory' prior and unavoidable, but the worth of competing theories can't be decided by empirical investigation.

would have said this is pretty close to my piss take

Quote:
What's a 'heuristic' if not a 'theory'? And it is not subject to empirical disproof?

you should take your own advice and try not to misrepresent ideas - what I went on to say was that heuristics (loosely a set of basic presumptions that say " do this and not that") are subject to disproof indirectly, via the auxiliary hypotheses they generate and which are subject to empirical testing. To give an example, Marx's idea on the determinant role of the mode of production or the underlying anthropological view of man as producer is a heuristic. It's value can't be established in the abstract (barring assessments of internal consistency I guess) but only by its ability to successfully guide historical research.

Not sure I know what you're asking, Arbeiten, even less sure I could give you an answer...

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Oct 19 2012 17:41
andy g wrote:
Not sure I know what you're asking, Arbeiten, even less sure I could give you an answer...

I guess I was asking LBird whether he is trying to put forward a general theory of science or speaking about a specific field. There is a long history of 'proletarian science' that we should be wary of, as you probably well know. Sometimes when talking about 'communist science' I am reminded of this bit in Sartre's Search for a Method,

'Men and things had to yield to ideas - a priori; experience, when it did not verify the predictions, could only be wrong. Budapoest's subway was real in Rakosi's head. If Budapest's subsoil did not allow him to construct the subway, this was because the subsoil was counter-revolutionary.'

looks awfully like this,

Not only is 'theory' prior and unavoidable, but the worth of competing theories can't be decided by empirical investigation

Arbeiten's picture
Arbeiten
Offline
Joined: 28-01-11
Oct 19 2012 17:42

BTW, this has gone really far off the original topic. Good conversation though, I have enjoyed A d C's input a lot. If we are to carry it on I suggest the new post be in a new thread?

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 20 2012 06:55
Arbeiten wrote:
There is a long history of 'proletarian science' that we should be wary of, as you probably well know. Sometimes when talking about 'communist science' I am reminded of this bit in Sartre's Search for a Method,

'Men and things had to yield to ideas - a priori; experience, when it did not verify the predictions, could only be wrong. Budapoest's subway was real in Rakosi's head. If Budapest's subsoil did not allow him to construct the subway, this was because the subsoil was counter-revolutionary.'

looks awfully like this,

Not only is 'theory' prior and unavoidable, but the worth of competing theories can't be decided by empirical investigation

Arbeiten, you are unfortunately following a disturbing trend on this site, which apparently tries to rubbish any attempt to argue that the revolutionary Communist proletariat should democratically control the social activity of 'science'. I think you are doing this with the best intentions, though.

But ocelot has, yet again after others have done so in the past, given a link to 'Lysenkoism' when asked about their position on 'proletarian science'.

And you have also used the same method to denigrate my position.

My 'position'? 'Democratic control by the proletariat of science'.

My detractors examples? 'Authoritarian control by a Stalinist Party of science'.

Lysenkoism and Stalinist Hungary.

Once again, a simple question: 'If not democratic proletarian control of science, then who or what controls science?'.

'Scientists'? Don't make me laugh!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_D._Watson

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Oct 20 2012 17:16

Read the book, duskflesh. It's one thing to criticize a book without having read the book. That's at the intersection of arrogance and sloth.

It's another thing to criticize the critiques of those who have read the book without reading the book yourself. That's a faith based exercise.

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Oct 20 2012 17:19

Come on L Bird. Quit flogging your Spécialité de la cuisine. The subject is Graeber's analysis of debt.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 20 2012 18:25
S. Artesian wrote:
Come on L Bird. Quit flogging your Spécialité de la cuisine. The subject is Graeber's analysis of debt.

'Spécialité de la cuisine'? From me? That's a bit rich, mate, given the constant harping on about the intricacies of Capital, in its most arcane, and indeed most indigestable, forms, from you!

However, it must be said, on a comradely note, that I'm keen to learn from you and the other Spécialistes de la cuisine du Marx. But I'm also keen to probe further about this issue of method, which I think also applies to David's book, and from which I'm sure we can all, as Communists, also learn.

And it wasn't me who brought the subject up, but other posters whose grasp of scientific method is a bit shaky. Bit like your grasp of the links between scientific method and the proletariat, y'know, democratic dialectics! Only kiddin', mate!

S. Artesian
Offline
Joined: 5-02-09
Oct 20 2012 21:06

Well, no, I don't bring up the "intricacies of Marx" except in the threads that are about the intricacies of Marx.

You have no idea about my grasp of the "scientific method and the proletariat." All you know is that I don't think dialectics are a ready made recipe for democracy; that democracy as a form is the "determinant being" of dialectics

Start a thread on "democractic dialectics" so I can ask how such "dialectics" differ from "undemocratic dialectics>"

Anyway, do you have anything to say about Graeber's analysis, conclusions re debt?

Choccy's picture
Choccy
Offline
Joined: 9-12-04
Oct 20 2012 22:29
Antonio de cleyre wrote:
Those of them that concern a specific field (psychology and biology in this case) are written by people who know that specific field quite well. Indeed all the philosophers of science I know personally (it's a speciality of my department) have done at least some dual research- doing some work in physics or biology or psychology. My old professor Paul Griffiths got involved with some very important research on primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary protein fold structures.All of them are quite technical- most of them could be at best partially understood by a philosopher without specialist knowledge in the philosophy of science. One of them (the first one, the one on biofilms) could probably only be fully understood by Phil of biology sub-specialist.

I dunno (off topic but I like this tangent) but I'm not sure it's true that that many philosophers of science have done technical work in the relevant area, although many certainly have undergrad training in those areas. I know that say Elliott Sober has worked in Lewontin's lab, and many other philosophers of biology also conduct/conducted biological research (Pigliucci, Okasha, Sahotra). But a flipside is those like Ruse or Kitcher, or the late Hull, who are prominent but were dismissed by people like Ernst Mayr for not having real technical biological backgrounds. Actually Mayr had a go at Sober too, but I'm almost positive I'd read he'd worked with Lewontin.

But anyway, sorry to butt in wink

Jason Cortez
Offline
Joined: 14-11-04
Oct 21 2012 21:17

Nice derail L Bird, please get into the habit of making new threads when discussion goes off in a tangent like this.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 22 2012 05:29
Jason Cortez wrote:
Nice derail L Bird...

On a point of fact, Jason, it was duskflesh who took the thread into the realms of 'method', with their mistaken advice to move from 'fact' (sic) to 'theory'. Therafter, a number of posters joined in on the derail.

So, either duskflesh or a group of named posters should be given your editorial slap on the wrist.

Perhaps I should change my tag from LBird to SGoat?

Jason Cortez
Offline
Joined: 14-11-04
Oct 22 2012 08:22

Well, it was your response that started it all. No surprise that you will broke no criticism of your posting style eek But still the second half of sentence was a plead to everyone, to start new threads, but I can see why you would think it was directed solely at you as it was poorly written. so apologies for singling you out.

I will try again.

Nice derail L Bird. Please can folks get into the habit of making new threads when discussion goes off in a tangent like this.

Split thread

syndicalistcat's picture
syndicalistcat
Offline
Joined: 2-11-06
Oct 27 2012 03:58

inductive reasoning can work, but its ability to do so often depends on a hypothesis. Bertrand Russell pointed out that it can work if one assumes "natural kinds." This would be limited to reasoning about things like chemical compounds, gem stones, living things. "Natural kinds" is itself a hypothesis. So, in other words, where inductive inferences work, they typically are explained by some hypothesis. They are not tyipically the way that hypotheses are arrived at. Making a hypothesis is a unique form of reasoning, not reducible to deduction or induction. Checking hypotheses can involve things like complex uses of mathematical probability (common in the social sciences, as with multi-variate analyses).

Anyway, yeah, it's generally not held these days that there is some pure unalloyed "data" that hypotheses get checked against. Doesn't mean there is no such thing as objectivity. I tend to agree with Israel Sheffler ("Science & Subjectivity') that where you have communities of highly critical & informed researchers who are ready to doubt and disagree with each other's proposals, proposed hypotheses will tend to get tested. And when claims hold up persistently against various arguments against them, various attempts to refute, then a consensus may tend to develop. Of course, the community doing this testing may be biased in some way...think of economics departments at universities, and their relationship to the money power. Assuming no such biasing factor, it's a reasonable hypothesis that the consensed positions are closer to the truth of the matter, that is, to the way things are. And this is a form of objectivity. Testing is a form of practice. So we can think of hypotheses being tested against practice. And in reality this is something that humans do all the time, it's just that in scientific "communities" people become adapted to a particular culture and its techniques and tools for discovery.

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 27 2012 07:26
syndicalistcat wrote:
inductive reasoning can work...

No, it can't, mate. A pre-existing theory is always required to select and make sense of data.

sc wrote:
...but its ability to do so often depends on a hypothesis.

No, it always depends on a hypothesis.

The rest of your post goes on to make that very point, with the terms: 'assumes', 'limited', '"Natural kinds" is itself a hypothesis', 'typically are explained', 'checking', 'probability', etc.

sc wrote:
Anyway, yeah, it's generally not held these days that there is some pure unalloyed "data" that hypotheses get checked against.

You're spot on, here, syndicalistcat. The obvious step to take, though, is to openly proclaim the necessity of starting with 'theory', not 'data'. 'Induction' is a dead method.

sc wrote:
Doesn't mean there is no such thing as objectivity.

No, you're right. But the nature of this 'objectivity' needs some careful discussion: it's a 'social objectivity', not something that emerges from 'nature' without any input from humans. To take that stance would be to return to some form of 'positivism'.

Why not start a thread on that very issue, of the 'nature of objectivity'?

duskflesh
Offline
Joined: 27-07-11
Oct 27 2012 09:25

This is so silly

when a theory has empirical implications it is thus vulnerable to being tested for it's correctness through testing.

There is a fallacy in lb's argument here

“theory” brings data into being
“theory” is therefor not basied off of data
therefore theory has primacy over data and data tells nothing about the world

the problem here is that there are two theory’s that are fallaciously equated, theory that is used to point the out data and theory used to map out patterns in the data

I had anticipated this along time ago and I have already broken lpbird's case a few posts ago...my position is far closer to contemporary understanding of modern science than lb's

ok lets look at a concert example

I have a theory about what is relevant to economics
through this theory I deduct what I consider the relevant data
from the data I develop a hypothesis about the paterns in the theory

I might add a theory that deducts the data and brings it into being dose not have any implications on it's own
for example no theory about “what is relevant to economics” by it self will never undoubtedly prove the labor theory of value by itself...only a theory that trys to find patters in data can

so when one says that Marxist economics or any other bullshit-onomics school is unscientific it means that they don't base their theory on developing patters in the data but their a-porioa assumptions(which have nothing to do with a theory of data, but rather anthropological assumption or false analogising)

because the objects in science are man made creations we should only look at how the data fulfills(how well a theory maps on) in order to grasp reality not our own man made creations

I might also add that theory that is used to bring relevant data can also be revised when we start to discover that things that we did not anticipate start show relations to out objects of investigation

LBird
Offline
Joined: 21-09-10
Oct 27 2012 10:15
duskflesh wrote:
There is a fallacy in lb's argument here

“theory” brings data into being
“theory” is therefor not basied off of data
therefore theory has primacy over data and data tells nothing about the world

You've not quite got this, duskflesh.

'Theory' brings data into being in the sense that 'data' is selected from innumerable sources of external information. 'Data' doesn't present itself for examination.

'Theory' is tested against 'data', and in this sense is 'based off of data'.

'Theory has 'primacy' in the sense that theory is needed to pre-identify relevant data for the testing.

'Data', in itself, can't tell us anything on its own. We would be swamped by 'data' if we did not 'select' what is considered to be 'relevant' to our enquiry.

duskflesh wrote:
ok lets look at a concert example

I have a theory about what is relevant to economics
through this theory I deduct what I consider the relevant data
from the data I develop a hypothesis about the paterns in the theory

But you've missed out the word 'relevant' from the last line.

Then, it would read "from the relevant data I develop a hypothesis about the paterns in the theory".

So, 'hypothesis', 'patterns' and (latter) 'theory' are already dependant upon the (initial) 'theory'.

duskflesh wrote:
so when one says that Marxist economics or any other bullshit-onomics school is unscientific it means that they don't base their theory on developing patters in the data but their a-porioa assumptions...

But this is clearly what all schools of economics do - how can 'developing patterns in data' be determined without an apriori theory (assumptions/axioms) to tell us what counts as 'developing' and what counts as a 'pattern'?

Please start a new thread to continue, duskflesh, otherwise I'll be told off, yet again.