From: cyrilsmith- at -cix.compulink.co.uk (Mr C Smith)
Subject: Mathematics and Economics
Julio puts his finger on one point: It seems to me that the problem with the use of math in economic analysis has to do with the qualitative determinations underlying those 'quantitative statements'. If we have them wrong -- if social forms and material processes are fused -- math will cover up more than elucidate.
Or, as Marx puts it (Capital, Chapter 1, Section 3 (2)):
'Whether 20 yards of linen = 1 coat, or 20 coats or x coats, ie whether a given quantity of linen is worth few or many coats, ... Linen = coat is the basis of the equation.'
This is the heart of Marx's critique of the Ricardian 'labour theory of value'. By getting hung up on the quantitative side of things, political economy lost sight of the qualitative basis. But that was the way that the brutal reality of bourgeois social relations was expressed in the scientific work of men like Ricardo.
Yes, people are like things in many ways, especially within this social form. The heroic attempt of the Enlightenment to treat people as ends, not mere means, failed, because the laws of private property made the real world in which we lived into a jungle. Hegel's critique of the Enlightenment began to uncover this, in his analysis of Being. But he could not carry this to its conclusion, which lay outside philosophy.
A man has some mechanical properties which are similar to a sack of potatoes. In undertaking the chemical engineering work which made Auschwitz a reality, the chemical and mechanical characteristics of humans had to be studied.
Julio starts at the wrong end. The questions I am trying to raise are not about whether it is possible to capture some features of the human within mathematical forms - that can certainly be done, and in that sense is 'admissible' - but how to uncover those features which are specifically human. It is this task of 'unfusing social forms and material processes' which is hampered by 'applying' purely quantitative categories to humanity.
That, it seems to me, is what all discussion of Hegel and Marx is primarily about.