Marx and scientific realism: a Lockean perspective

Author: Stephen Darling

Darling, Stephen, 2019 Marx and scientific realism: a Lockean perspective, Flinders University, College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences

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In this thesis I argue for two main conclusions about Marx’s critique of political economy in Volume 1 of Capital: (1) While Marx’s critique of political economy is not an exact science like Newton’s mathematical physics, it is nevertheless a precursor of modern scientific realism since it endeavours to uncover the underlying essence of phenomena (their causal foundations) which lies hidden behind their appearances (the observable features of phenomena): it anticipates the central aim of modern scientific realism. (2) Marx’s scientific analysis of capitalism is very Lockean, since both Marx and Locke each draw a distinction between the observable features of phenomena and their causal foundations: for Marx, this is done in terms of his Hegelian distinction between appearance and essence, while for Locke it is done in terms of his distinction between the nominal and real essences of things. Prior to this, I consider the question about whether the true epistemological source of positivism is Locke’s empiricism or Hume’s empiricism, as this needs to be done if we are to accept the claim that Marx’s critique of capitalism is very Lockean. I show that it is Hume’s empiricism since all positivists from Mach through to Poincaré, Duhem and the logical positivists like Schlick, Hahn, Neurath, Carnap, Feigl, etc. all accepted Hume’s basic epistemological principle about how there can be no idea of anything unless based on an impression of it. As such, since we can have no idea of the hidden essence of phenomena, it should be discarded as unknowable. Science should just focus on the observable ‘law-like’ regularities of the phenomena of the world. And the reason why Locke’s empiricism is not the basis of modern positivism is because it is ambiguous between positivism and scientific realism. Locke’s empiricism provides us with a basis for not just inferring the actual existence of the unknown essences of phenomena on the basis of his theory of ideas but also speculating about what sorts of primary qualities they must possess and how they might interact with each other to produce the specific secondary qualities of things (as exemplified by the inner ‘corpuscular’ constitution of gold and how it produces its specific observable properties like its colour, hardness, etc.). This thesis concludes on the note that if you want to give a scientific analysis of the phenomena of capitalism then you need to go beyond immediate experience (appearances) to acquire some theoretical knowledge of how things really are (essence).

Keywords: Darling, Marx, Scientific-Realism, Locke

Subject: Philosophy thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2019
School: College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences
Supervisor: Associate Professor Ian Hunt