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Response to ‘Science, Social Science and Socialist Science’

Much of Roy Edgley’s article in RP
15 is concerned with showing how
there can be logical contradictions
in (social) reality. But this takes
place in the context of giving an
acceptable sense to Marxism’s selfdescription as scientific socialism.

I get the impression that Roy regards
his way of dealing with the former
issue as containing the essential ingredients for_ resolving the latter.

This strikes me as a mistake.

Roy’s account of scientific socialism consists basically in providing
an answer to the problem of ‘how to
conceive of science in such a way
that value and practice can be seen
as involved in it’ (p4). In the natural
sciences, he argues that commitment to a particular theory involves
the critical rejection of, and opposition to, the proponents of competing
theories, and the social institutions
and practices related to those
theories. But in the social sciences,
the ‘object’ itself can become the
target of critical oPPosition, since
this 6bject includes systems of practice and belief that may be contradicted by the claims made by social
scientists, and/or may be revealed
as containing internal contradictions.

This critical opposition is directed
towards the practical elimination of
such contradictions, and does not
assume that ‘the changes required
can necessarily be effected by ideas
alone’ (p7).

But although thi~ argument may
show how value and practice are
necessarily involved in (social)
science, I don’t see how it gives an
adequate sense to ‘scientific socialism’. For the way Roy characterizes
his critical social science is not dis ..

tinctively socialist: the realization
of its value of reason, i. e. the elimination of contradictions, would not,
as far as I can see, be necessarily
accompanied by the realization of
specifically socialist values such as
the socialization of the means of
production, distribution according to
need, abolition of the state, and
democratic control of social processes. Putting this point another
way: criticism of contradictions
does not exhaust the meaning of socialist criticism, at least if one
accepts the sense Roy gives to contradictIon.

To some extent, the rationale for
Roy’s account of scientific socialism appears to derive from his beHef that attempts to separate acceptance of the ‘factual’ results of social science from commitment to
the ‘values’ of socialism lead to
fE>rms of ethical socialism that are
either reformist or Utopian. But I
48

can’t see any reason why this should
be so. For example, social scientists who adopt an essentially Weberian conception of the place of values
in social science are not thereby
prevented from discovering the
causal relations between modes of
production and patterns of distribution, and can thus recognize the
futility of reformist political activity that focusses mainly on the latter
Nor need they believe that rational
political activity consists in moral
exhortation, or be led into forms of
opposition that fail to recognize the
limits of concrete historical
pOSSibilities.

One final point. Roy says that it is
inappropriate to assess the scientificity of Marxism by reference to
‘Enlightenment standards of science
articulated by Hume and Kant and
developed by their modern followers’ (p3). But, although he succeeds
in showing the critical practical
function of scientific knowledge, he
nowhere indicates how this affects
the criteria of validity which should
be applied to the theoretical knowle~ge upon which this critical activity is based. The chard.cterization
of theoretical knowledge as consisting in description, explanation, and
prediction is not expliCitly challenged; nor is it shown by what alternative, non-Enlightenment standards
a Marxist science should be judged
in its attempts to provide this
knowledge.

Russell Keat

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Notes on contributors
Roger Waterhouse is a course leader
at Middlesex Polytechnic; Colin
Gordon is a graduate student at
Oxford; John Mepham until recently
taught at Sussex University and is
now working in translation and publishing; Jonathan Ree teaches at
Middlesex Polytechnic; Brian Miller
is a BBC TV producer; Chris Arthur
teaches at Sussex University. David
Murray is an ex philosophy student ..

now a photographe.r. Tom Steele is a
tutor-organiser for the WEA
in Leeds

The second issue of
HISTORY WORKSHOP
a journal of socialist historians
has just been published.

It contains a major article by
Charles van Onselen on the drink
trade and the development of capitalism in Southern Africa, 1886-1903 the students of Soweto find today that
this is still a central issue in the
political economy of apartheid. Other
items include a study of militarism
in Britain before the Great War
(Anne Summers), an article on the
origins of the South Wales Miners’

Library (Hywel Francis), a description of the making-of a major film
on May 1968 in France (Gudie
La waetz), and the concluding parts
of E. A. Rymer’s autobiography, The
Martyrdom of the Mine, and of Tim
Mason’S study of women in Nazi
Germany. The number also contains
regular features on Archives and
Sources, Museums, Local History
etc.

240pp, photographs, illustrations,
facsimiles. Bookshop price £3.45
Subscription price for 2 issues £5
fromP 0 Box 69, Oxford OX2 7XA

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