… is from page 155 of Fritz Machlup‘s 1954 essay “The Problem of Verification in Economics,” as it is reprinted in the 1978 collection of some of his essays on scientific method, Methodology of Economics and Other Social Sciences(original emphases):
Where the economist’s prediction is conditional, that is, based upon specified conditions, but where it is not possible to check the fulfillment of all the conditions stipulated, the underlying theory cannot be disconfirmed whatever the outcome observed….This does not mean complete frustration of all attempts to verify economic theories. But it does mean that the tests of most of our theories will be more nearly of the character of illustrations than of verifications of the kind possible in relation with repeatable controlled experiments or with recurring fully-identified situations. And this implies that our tests cannot be convincing enough to compel acceptance, even when a majority of reasonable men in the field should be prepared to accept them as conclusive, and to approve the theories so tested as “not disconfirmed,” that is, as “O.K.”
As Hayek noted, economics and other social sciences deal with complex phenomena. This reality means that the real-world phenomena studied by economists and other social scientists are influenced by numerous variables that cannot be controlled by the observing scientist, and that are always changing – and changing in ways that are often unobservable even in principle (and, even more often, unobservable in practice). For this reason alone, sound reasoning – reasoning that is coherent, logical, grounded on plausible foundations, and that gives to those who follow it a genuine sense of being able to better understand observed reality – is especially important.
If, of all the ages of recorded history, the 20th century was most prominently characterised by paradox, its first decade was not without its share of this phenomenon. While the British Conservative leader Joseph Chamberlain happily announced, “ ;The day of empire has come!” Madame Cama unfurled the flag of free India at Stuttgart, proclaiming the end of empire!
The Indian National Congress, founded in 1885 consisting of 71 delegates, was “possible under British rule; under British rule only,” announced its first President, W.C. Bonnerjee. Delegates to the second Congress were even entertained by the Viceroy.
However, it was not easy to stomach for an organisation representing the nation to countenance Viceroy (1894-1899) Lord Elgin’s blusters, like “India was conquered by the sword and by the sword it shall be held,” or Viceroy (1899-1905) Lord Curzon’s, “Indeed, truth has never been an Indian ideal,” accompanied by the latter’s pernicious action of partitioning Bengal. Nor did the Muslims feel flattered by East Bengal’s first and last Lt. Governor Fuller’s romantic revelation that he had two wives, one Hindu and one Muslim; the Muslim was his favourite. 8:13 AM
Hey Nate – let’s see what I can get out before the laptop crashes again…
On this: yes, absolutely. Although I tend to veer away from this vocabulary, because I don’t like how it’s been used by, say, folks like Sekine, who argue that Capital is trying to represent ideal capitalism, and who use this reading as an excuse to strip away large sections of the text – so that they end up reading Capital as though it’s simple description of ideal capitalism, and sort of miss how the work operates as a critique. Or, for that matter, the form of systematic dialectics that misses that Marx is putting forward a critique of idealist dialectics when he spoofs dialectical derivations of his categories.
I know this isn’t where you’re coming from at all – just explaining why I might seem to be over-emphasising the historical elements in Marx’s work. I’ll need to think about how to say this better in the book – the historical passages are idealised, in some ways, for the same reason Marx also idealises his theatrical representations of specific forms of practice (see my other comment if this makes no sense!): because it makes it easier for him to illustrate specific implications of complex historical processes. Although to be fair, when he does use the “classic form” terminology, he also does tend to append at least a quick discussion of the other ways things have played out on the ground – say, in the working day chapter, where he provides the “classic form” discussion, but then also includes brief discussions of things that have happened in other parts of the world, some of which directly contradict the trends demonstrated in the “classic form”. I think this demonstration – and the direct claim that things can play out on the ground in such contradictory ways – is also a really important dimension of his argument, and not an afterthought. I think this becomes more explicit toward the end of the book, where the “classic”, geographically bounded, story of the development of capitalism in England is expressly situated in a global context, and Marx says that the truth of capitalist production is exposed clearly in the colonies, etc.
But this doesn’t keep the history from being idealised or abstracted – I think in the service of making more explicit the political implications of our collective practices. It’s a sort of politicised version of Brandom’s point about the possibility of making explicit the tacit commitments we’ve entered into, whether we’re aware of those commitments or not. I don’t think the vocabulary of “commitment” quite works for what Marx is doing – but certainly I think there’s an argument going on here that we’re accidentally showing ourselves, collectively, that better social institutions are possible – and Marx is trying to make explicit how we’re doing this – and also demonstrate a method other people can use for extending this kind of analysis in more concrete ways.
But I better post before the laptop crashes and I lose this. A bit incoherent and associative – apologies…