Davie's response to Knowledge & Value.

The numbers in square brackets refer to points in Knowledge & Value where text has been added to respsond to the point made. Otherwise, comments by Andy are in square brackets and signed "AB"

First of all, I like the project. Without knowing it you have in fact embarked on what is fundamentally my own project as well - namely getting a grip on the relationship between the development of philosophy over the past 150 years and the movement of capitalism, and to uncover the precise relation between current intellectual trends and the political economy of capital.

(Marxist) economics, rather than philosophy, is much more my field, by the way. Once I've found my bearings in philosophy, including social and cultural theory, it is my intention to integrate this knowledge with what I already know about economic developments within capitalism over the past couple of decades to put together a coherent world view which can serve as the basis of revolutionary political activity.

When it comes to economics, I have no hesitation in stating that Marxism is far and away the most superior method of approach. The reason for this, I would argue, is philosophical, not only in the sense Cyril describes in his outline of what Marx was trying to achieve with his critique of political economy, but above all in its method - dialectical materialism. Here maybe Cyril and myself part company, but there is no doubt in my mind that a dialectical materialist approach is the only way to make sense of the processes at work in the world economy today, and this in fact one of the major contributions Marxism has still to offer the movement against global capital in the new millenium.

You'll have picked up by now on the fact that I treat the main currents of philosophy with a great deal of respect and am very cautious in putting forward criticisms of their approaches. When it comes to economics however, I take a very different stance. Like Cyril in respect to philosophy, I am completely dogmatic in my view that anything not written from a standpoint consistent with dialectical materialism is simply not worth the time of day. Fortunately there is some excellent material around that is consistent with Marxism, even though the authors have no idea this is so. But as for what passes as mainstream economics - quite frankly it is purely and simply crap. This includes Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman.

[1] I don't know how far you want to get into economics in this project. It is after all a subject in its own right. A couple of years ago I made a serious study of the literature in the field (about 30-40 books) and presented my conclusions at a conference we organised. I can give you a reading list if you like but I thnk that at this stage it would be a distraction. I would leave it alone for the time being if I were you. Your analysis is not so far off the mark but in order to develop it you would have to do the job properly and get stuck into the literature.

On the basic conception of the project I suggest you need to clarify the position somewhat. [2] First of all I'm not sure what you mean by epistemology. This is not as simple a question as it seems. [3] If you mean Kant's posing of the question "What can I know ?" then this is only one possible formulation of the problem, one historically rooted in his time. There is [4] [4] also the sticky question of metaphysics - ie the fundamental assumption of what the universe is made of that forms the basis of any answer to Kant's question. The social [5] foundations of metaphysical concepts is a fascinating subject, but I'm not sure how far you want to go into it.

Secondly there is [6] the tendency I have noticed in discussions and in this document to define the law of value as the central feature of capitalism. I'm not sure this is the way to go. Capitalism, as we know, is generalised commodity production, and therefore governed by the law of value as realised through exchange. [exchange came first, law of value reflects and grows out of that practice - AB] The universality of the exchange of equivalents is a major theme of Adorno's work, and clearly the point where Hegel's philosophy and political economy intersect. However capitalism can not be reduced to this, it is the production of [7] surplus value within definite historical conditions that defines capitalism, ie a specific mode of production and not simply commodity production generalised, and therefore in attempting to trace the relationship between epistemology and capitalism I think the concentration on value is too narrow.

In relation to this, I'm also not sure to what extent [8] it is worth the effort to trace the development of political economic theory, even though this is what Marx did. Apart from the fact that this will increase the scale of the task at hand, I think that political economy since Marx's day has so little to offer that its hardly worth bothering with. I include in this JM Keynes, who may be a monumental historical figure, but on the level of ideas is not very interesting at all. The more productive bourgeois economists, like Schumpeter, are difficult to place in the kind of relationship to epistemology you want to establish.

I'll now run through the document and make some passing comments.

p.3,5 'The bourgeoisie's epistemology is as barren...[9] I think you need to clarify who you include in the category of the 'bourgeoisie's epistemology'. This is something I will return to. If for example you mean contemporary trends such as post-structuralism, then I am struggling with a definition of this as 'bourgeois'. Post-structuralism is hostile to Marxism, but equally so to the existing order. To call Foucault 'bourgeois' doesn't make any sense to me at all.

[10] p.6,8 'Underlying all is the development of the productive... This begs the question, which is after all to establish exactly how this is so. The key danger here is economic reductionism. The connection is there to be found, but it is by no means direct or obvious how particular intellectual developments relate to the movement of capitalism.

[11] p.7,5 'from the mid-19th century... What about positivism ? Surely positivism in its various forms, which are still dominant to one extent or another to this day, among most scientists for example, represent the purest form of bourgeois epistemology ? This is certainly Marcuse's view, and his chief target in One Dimensional Man.

p.7,5 'irrationalism...

You'll have to state who you mean by this. If you mean Nietzsche then I have to disagree with you. [12] Nietzsche's position is precisely the opposite - he values knowledge as essential to life, although he denies it is more than this. But in any case, I find it hard to see how Nietzsche can be described as 'bourgeois'. It is here that I think much of what you are trying to do is flawed. Nietzsche is no friend of what he understands as socialism, but to deny the revolutionary content of his ideas is quite frankly not to understand him at all. The same goes for Heidegger, whose philosophy is just as revolutionary in its implications as Marx's, if not more so. In fact one of the problems for Marxism today is precisely that it is faced with critics from the Nietzschean and Heideggerian traditions who see it as far too conservative.

[AB: We'll just have to agree to differ for the moment, because I'm not ready to do a proper job on Heidegger. If Marx is "far too conservative" then what are we all trying to do? If Heidegger et al are wrong in such a characterisation, then how the hell can we describe them as "more revolutionary in it's implication than Marx"? I think you need to justify your position here, Davie]

[13] The basic point is that it is simply not possible to divide philosophy into two great camps - one bourgeois and the other proletarian. It just does not work. If you want to place the class position of philosophers then most of them fit into the petit-bourgeois category. This works well for some of them, Kierkegaard for example, and Heidegger (according to his student and critic Karl Lowith) but even with these to reduce their contributions to philosophy as simply expressions of the despair of the petty bourgeoisie is to lose sight of most of what they have to offer.

[14] The reality of the period since Hegel has been the growth of a variety of critiques of capitalism from a wide range of perspectives. And this is the point - that it is possible to criticise capitalism from other than simply the point of view of the proletarian movement. To stand outside this movement and its ideology - Marxism - is not therefore to place oneself in the camp of the bourgeoisie. I think you have to take this on board or else your entire project will stumble.

[15] Take for example the structuralists. I'm not too familiar with structuralism but as I understand it Levi-Strauss was an opponent of imperialism whose aim was to establish an anthropological basis for solidarity as the foundation of a genuinely human way of living. If you therefore define structuralism as bourgeois then your entire thesis that bourgeois epistemology is related directly to the ethics of the law of the jungle collapses.

I would argue that the only category of philosophers to who the label 'bourgeois' can meaningfully be applied are those who deliberately set out to preserve the existing order. Chief among these are the various strands of liberalism, including its post-modern variety in the shape of Richard Rorty. But also included are the logical positivists and analytical philosophers such as Wittgenstein.

[AB - I have just started reading Rorty's Consequences of Pragmatism, and I find it very interesting. I read him positively. Certainly, he is anti-communist, but in a discussion where card-carrying fascists cna be "more revolutionary than Marx", I will not apologise. I would appreciate it if you could elaborate on why Rorty is bourgeois and Levi-Strauss is not.]

p.7,6 'Engels...

[16] Does this not make Engels a positivist ? He has certainly been accused of this. Its hard to avoid this conclusion the way it is formulated here. In any case Engels was clearly wrong.

[17] p.8, 7 'Descartes & Bacon...

These two certainly represent the classical versions of bourgeois epistemology, above all in relation to the mastery of nature and its placing in the service of humanity. But surely you don't mean to defend them uncritically ? I believe this is untenable in the closing years of the 20th century. Yes, they did build a rational world view, but it is precisely this (instrumental) rationality that has come under massive assault over the past 150 years, and rightly so. Once you've tackled Heidegger, Adorno, Marcuse, Habermas, Feyerabend etc etc etc you'll see how this works. To attack this form of rationality is by no means to slip into irrationalism, as all these philosophers demonstrate. Bourgeois rationality is not the only form of rationality available to us, and as I've said before I do not believe Marxism has to nail it colours to the mast of the bourgeois on this score.

p.9,2 'Newton...

[18] Lukacs' discussion of the 'limited rationality' of bourgeois science is a devastating critique of Newton's world view. He shows how the irrationalism of Newton's religious views was entirely consistent with his approach to science. I thnk this point is one of the most important Lukacs ever made, although not usually picked up on. What it does is destroy the notion that the growth of scientific rationality Newton (ie bourgeois) style marked any kind of progress. In fact there is a powerful argument, one that Feyerabend also picks up on, that demonstrates how Newtonian science represented a massive step BACKWARDS not forwards. This was Leibniz' view at the time. The problem this poses is that it blows out of the water any idea that Newtonian science, which was classical bourgeois epistemology, was progressive in any way. For the progress it did allow in the positive sciences was gained at a massive cost when seen from the point of view of humanity as a whole, just how much a cost it took three centuries to realise once the limits of what science and technology could achieve began to become clear.

[AB: what do we mean in the contetx of the kind of analysis we are trying to do, by "from the point of view of humanity as a whole"? What was the epistemology of humanity as a whole at that time? What is it now?

There is a perception that Marxism is tied to classical notions of science, Newton-style. I think we have to fight this conception tooth and nail or else we're sunk.

[AB - I'm sorry, I will not put forward positions in philosophy in order to cater for mistaken views. The real opposite of Newton was in the person of Berkeley, and it was Hume and the philosophers o fthe Enlightenment who actually resolved that conflict. Who exactly is it politically correct to side with in this struggle?]

[19] Just what is the relationship between epistemology and ethics ? I'm not sure what you're position is yet.

[20] If you are arguing, as some Marxists have, that the progressive phase of bourgeois epistemology was represented in the forward march of the scientific world view, and that this was later abandoned when capitalism entered its period of decline then I think you're barking completely up the wrong tree.

Capitalism today involves the extension of its own form of rationality, which is not only the 'rationality' of the market and the commodity form but that of positivistic science,(ie science purely concerned with the mastery of nature no matter what the consequences), on a scale never seen before at any stage of its development. The irrationality of capitalism when seen as a whole, and this is precisely Lukacs' argument, does not stand in any kind of contradiction to this form of rationality from the point of view of positivism. In fact the two serve each other in this system, since the reality of what capitalism is doing as analysed by Marxism is denied as simply a theoretical construct. Positivism, once described by Trotsky I think as 'the worship of the accomplished fact', [I think it was Empiricism - AB] is therefore the dominant ideological view of capitalism and our main enemy.

Corporations engage in vast amounts of scientific research, and organise massive technical operations spread across the globe, in order to generate commodities that are thrown to the mercy of the marketplace. In the process, not only nature, but human beings are subjected to an epistemology that treats them precisely as Descartes' metaphysics conceived - units to be manipulated scientifically in this enterprise. This is the connection between epistemology and ethics, and this is the connection that needs to be smashed.

[AB - interesting, I see here an association of Reason and Force, of dualism of subject-object in knowledge, translated into relation of ruling class - producing class and man - nature; interesting. My only problem is that I don't want to just lump Descartes with the "original sin". But interesting!]

The fact that the enormous growth of the productive forcesof the last 200 hundred years have not led to any improvement in the ethical condition of humanity is of no consequence to capitalism, so long as commodities can be produced and sold. For us the point is not to 'work out the details in the positive sciences', but to understand the underlying connection between what 20th century philosophy has named 'instrumental rationality' and the miserable state of humanity today, to expose the connection between this form of rationality and capitalism, its reflection in the views of pioneers like Bacon, Descartes and Newton, to replace it with a different conception of rationality altogether, and then on the basis of this to engage in a struggle to bring this conception into force in the real world. This is the connection between epistemology and ethics.

[Interesting again, but I think there is a note of idealism in it, and in a sense, the idea of making the project "replace it with a different conception of rationality" reminds one of the French Revolution. - AB]

In other words we can not leave epistemology to the positive sciences and turn to ethics as something separate (p.9, 7), for if this is possible then why bother with this project here. Why not just forget epistemology and get on with ethics as something unrelated. I'm not sure this is your argument but it is how this paragraph reads. It is not the case that epistemology is simply a bourgeois affair and ethics proletarian if this is your line of thought. Epistemology has a class content in the sense that Cyril has mentioned several times, ie that the way we relate to nature is a social question. What therefore would a proletarian relation to nature involve ? This is the key question before us.

[21] [The clarification and "sharpening" of epistemology, in the light of continued progress in science must go on, so long as we are caught up in capitalist society, and I assume that Marxists will be right up there. Epistemology is not the essential task of the post-capitalist epoch though. AB]

These are not just my views, they are the condensation of the main thrust of 20th century philosophy, one that spans almost all forms of opposition to the existing order - from the card carrying Nazi Martin Heidegger to the Communist Lukacs, the Marxists of the Frankfurt School, the structuralists and post-structuralists etc etc.

[I'm not impressed, obviously - AB]

The question is where does this leave Marxism ? Well, that depends how you define Marxism. But in my view Marxism is a flexible enough body of thought to take these points on board and still preserve its core - its critique of alienation, its dialectical method, its focus on the relations of production as decisive in social developments and more besides. What is has to lose however, is its association with positivistic science, its belief that the scientific and technical development of the productive forces contains the key to the liberation of humanity. But since these were never really features of Marx's own world view I don't consider them any great loss.

[That view sounds very much like a archetypal bourgeois view, doesn't it? I think it must have been Kautsky and the Second International that started that idea. Engels' "popularisation" doubtless gave it a foothold. AB]

p.10,6 'idealistic positiism...

More heresy ! I take it you're referring to Mach. But surely Mach was simply arguing against the atomism that was predominant at that time, saying it was simply a theoretical construct and no more.

[Yes, I am talking about Mach, and a whole number of people that Ludwig Boltzmann, Ivan Pavlov, Hermann Helmholtz, Sigmund Freud, Ferdinand de Saussure, Ernst Haeckel, Plekhanov and others were also fighting against, and gradually they were overcome, in the main. - AB]

Wasn't he right ? Nobody really believes there are little cannon balls whizzing around in sub-atomic space any more than they believe there are really such 'things' as quarks.

[The job I had in Britain, I worked on this radiation detector connected to a computer. I wrote a program which processed the pulses coming in from each electron as it hit the detector and then built up a moving image of the body the radiation was being shone through. I would have found it difficult to do that job if I didn't believe in those little balls. I questioned the physicist I was working with, and for him, the quantum phenomena that the particles went through were as intuitive and 'normal' as germination of seeds is for a gardener. What's your problem Bishop Berkeley? - AB]

Physicists in a hundred years will laugh at our conceptions just as we can of those of 100 years back in the days before quantum mechanics.

[I'm sorry, I don't laugh at Newton's laws of motion or Freud's Ego - AB]

To state this is not to abandon a realist conception of science in general, its just to take a sceptical stance towards the very dubious body of physical theory today.]

[Davie, I presume you have not worked in science. This view, which wants to keep social class, surplus value, and Heidegger's Dasein and Existenz but wants atoms and electricity to be "constructs" is a very subjective view that I cannot distinguish from that of Bishop Berkeley let alone Ernst Mach - AB]

Just because Lenin laid into 'Machism' in 1908 it doesn't mean we have to continue to slander the poor man, especially when his views played such a constructive role in Einstein's breakthroughs, and not accidentally so either.

[You should not take Mach's view of that. Poincare also wants to take credit as does Suzuki (the violin teacher). Now, it is true that in order to make the break-through he did, it was necessary for Einstein to make a kind of criticism of concepts which was unprecednetly (though very much taken for granted nowadays) and the atmosphere created by the Poincare/Mach circle under which everything was being questioned was undoubtedly useful. But the fact is that Poincare and Mach were wrong and Einstein's method was completely different from theirs: materialist through and through. - AB]

Lenin's arguments were not wrong, they just weren't about Mach, but a straw dummy he set up in an internal faction fight within the Bolsheviks.

[I don't agree. Kautsky - the foremost authority and teacher of Marxism of the age, was completely enamoured by Mach, for example. It was a life and death struggle. - AB]

In the scheme of Lenin's work taken as a whole 'Materialism & Empirio-Criticism' played a very minor role, as Krupskaya's memoirs make clear. I don't think Lenin ever considered it a master piece,

[true in a sense. It was a battle he didn't want, and never wanted to return to - AB]

and compared with his Philosophical Notebooks it is of very little interest. Mach however, is interesting, not because he was an idealistic positivist, but because he wasn't. (I got this from a discussion by Feyerabend by the way)

p.12,2 'in struggle against irrationalist...

Psychology is not my area but surely the major influence of the last few decades has been Lacan, and Lacan feeds directly into Althusser and post-structuralism. How does this fit with the struggle against 'irrationalism' ?

[I don't know. I've not read Lacan at this point - AB]

p.12 'De Saussure...

More controversy ! (I warned you) I don't know much about this area either (I'm tackling it next semester) but - I can't fit your approach with my own impressions. I see Saussure as an opponent, and one influenced by Hegel above all, of the predominant positivist bourgeois view, which like all good bourgeois views sees individuals in isolation as independent units. Instead Saussure locates the meaning of words within the overall system or structure of which they are a part, without which they can have no meaning at all- just as after all the concept capital has no meaning outside of its relation to the concept labour. To me this just seems like good old Hegel and the Marxism of say Lukacs with his concept of the totality.

[I don't disagree with what you say here. Is there some misunderstanding? - AB]

p.17, 15 'Voluntarism...

I agree with you about the 'ideology of the late developer'. (I had to agree with something !) This was Adorno's argument about the fascist content of Nietzsche's philosophy, which was taken on board as the official view of an aggressive German imperialism.

However, and I think Adorno would have probably agreed, this was an injustice to Nietzsche and his ideas. Nietzsche personally was an opponent of German nationalism. To argue that his ideas became the expression of rising German imperialism might be true in a certain sense, however it would be entirely mistaken to reduce Nietzsche's philosophy to this role. There is far more to it, just as there is far more to Engels' 'Anti-Duhring' than Stalin's official 'diamat'.

[I understand that this is the case - AB]

Hope you don't mind these criticisms Andy. They reflect the somewhat different reading I have done compared to you in the past period, and therefore the picture I have been able to build up of what 20th century philosophy has done to Marxism, at least up to the 1960's. In some ways the arguments I have pitted against some of the conceptions in your document are arguments against myself of two or three years ago, which is why it was useful for me to put them down here. I hope you find them useful too.