Objectivity of Social Science and Social Policy I

I Kant has left his finger-prints everywhere in this article; and on the Methodenstreit that provides this article its context. The sphere of science proper is the sphere of means, not ends. All that we may do is measure, describe, and suggest interpretive frameworks that empirically-speaking provide better or poorer understandings of the material at hand. Why we might do any of this is always and everywhere a matter of the interest of the researcher, which, in turn, is shaped by the disciplinary, cultural, psychological, and cultural context of the researcher. The researcher may, scientifically, given a specific end, weigh in on the adequacy of the means that have been selected to achieve that end; or may, given a set of means, weigh in on the likelihood these means will achieve a given end (or, may identify the ends these means are likely to give rise). But, by definition, the researcher may not weigh in scientifically on the adequacy of the ends themselves since these fall outside of the tools of scientific research.

We need to bear in mind two critical insights: (1) Weber announces a theme that later will take up central importance in Chicago: that it is not theory as such, but the practical aims of theory, that are central to economic scholarship; and (2) the impossibility that social scientific scholarship will determine the adequacy of ends.

In the first of these insights, we see the faint outlines of Milton Friedman’s preference for practical economics; economic science should not aim principally at understanding, but at doing. In the second of these insights we see the Chicago School’s impatience with economic moralizing.

Historically, however, Weber is too firmly embedded in the social subjectivity he takes as his object to appreciate the historical, practical, and non-transcendental shape of this object. The binary opposition that Weber finds in the world and in the categories with which this world is experienced and scientifically grasped, is an opposition that (note Weber’s choice) “even a Chinese” would not be compelled to recognize, because (and Weber appears to acknowledge this toward the end of section I) even these categories owe their shape to cultural forces. So, next to the trans-historical adequacy of Kant’s interpretive distinction, Weber uncritically places the socio-historical embeddedness of this distinction.

And, for this, Kant will be reprimanded by GFW Hegel. The life of the mind is socio-historically embedded. Moreover, mind does not become more, but rather less objective when abstracted from the socio-historical forces to which it owes its very shape and form. Which is why Hegel is compelled to derive the categories of Mind socio-historically from the immanent unfolding of the Weltgeist or world spirit.

But, this, in turn, becomes the object of K Marx’s mature critique. The world takes the form it does, and Mind takes the form it does, not because they are the telos or goal toward which spirit was always moving (and we may meaningfully dispute whether this is in fact the only thing Hegel is saying), but because the commodity form of capitalism assumes this two-fold form: it is both an immaterial, abstract, value and it is a material, highly differentiated, specific, substance. Hegel has not so much derived the present world and its Mind from the unfolding of the Weltgeist as much as he has read the current world and Mind back onto the past. The two-fold character of human experience to which Kant called our attention is in fact the two-fold character of a specific kind of human experience.

Kant was correct in one respect, however: these two forms cannot be reduced to one another. And Hegel was correct in another: these two forms are mutually constitutive.

Recognizing this mutually constitutive tension, we can also see why orthodox Marxists at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century (as well as Marx himself in the 1840s) would have felt that the resolution of this tension would yield a conscious totality where previously there had been only a dialectical whole (G Lukacs). They did not understand that simply restoring the totality—so that abstract value and material value are no longer in tension, or so that subject and object are no longer in tension, or, finally, so that the transcendental unity and the individual fragmentation (and hence the hiatus irrationalis to which Bloch, A Weber, and K Mannheim called attention, but which M Weber here presumes) are no longer isolated from one another—would, were it possible, entail nothing more than a rationalization of the dynamic at the core of capitalism; a restoration of abstract value and material value. This, of course, is what every consistent communism attempts to do, which is why every consistent communism cannot move beyond a fully rationalized version of state capitalism.

But we can also see why it is helpful at this point to suppress the “sociological” Marx and restore the “anthropological” Marx. If it is commodity production and exchange that give us the binary world of capitalism, then it is not symbolic representation as such that needs to be abandoned (as though this were possible), but rather this particular set of symbols grounded in the abstract representation of productive human action in abstract value, without which all human action could not achieve abstract economic equilibrium. By following the “anthropological” Marx we can see how for other different regimes of practice—regimes whose elements are even more irreducible to one another than abstract value and mere utility, but practically relatable in every community of practice—the reconciliation of value and instrumental rationality, pure utility, would not (and was not) even a valid question; even for the Chinese.

Viner’s criticism of JM Keynes’ General Theory

I know that I’m not as smart as Jacob Viner, so I’m guessing that I’m missing something in his criticism of JM Keynes’ General Theory. According to Viner, “Keynes’s reasoning points obviously to the superiority or inflationary remedies for unemployment over money wage reductions. In a world organized in accordance with Keynes’s specifications there would be a constant race between the printing press and the business agents of the trade unions, with the problem of unemployment largely solved if the printing press could maintain a constant lead and if only volume of employment, irrespective of quality, is considered important.”

Although I don’t have my GT here in Venasque, my recollection is that (1) printing presses were irrelevant since expectations of future returns arising out of future consumption and production would mean that current spending during a period of high unemployment would prove but a fraction of future receipts; and (2) because upward pressures on wages would also be suppressed only under conditions of increased purchasing power, ie, increased spending that yields increased production. Viner’s response seems based on the hypothetical of full employment.

Now that isn’t to suggest that full employment and full production capacity may not pose additional problems.

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