• Purple Pond
    272
    According to Karl Popper, Marx theory of history and Freud's psychodynamic theory of psychology are unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific. Yet Marxism and Freudism are still around. For those who agree with Marx and Freud do they believe that Popper's criteria of demarcation for deeming something unscientific wrong? Why do people still hold on the these theories?
  • fdrake
    1.7k
    Whether Marx is unfalsifiable depends on how he's interpreted. You can look at things like Andrew Kliman's 'The Failure of Capitalist Production' to find an example of Marx scholarship with an econometric slant. Whether it's right or wrong as an interpretation of Marx; it's still one which is right or wrong.

    Can't answer the Freudian side.

    Regardless of whether Marx and Freud are unfalsifiable some cursory understanding of both is probably required to understand a lot of the intellectual landscape left in their wake. The intellectual heritage they created, and their methodological innovations, are a good reason to study them still.

    Also, and this is a personal bias, Imre Lakatos has a modification of Popper that makes it a better description of scientific praxis. The ideas of hard-core and auxiliary hypotheses. The hard-core of a scientific theory is what is considered and held as refutation resistant, auxiliary hypotheses are those which flesh out the body of the theory. Falsification operates on sets of hypotheses rather than a hypothesis; theoretical implications usually arise out of a composition of ideas that can be distilled to a propositional form, and the falsification of a theoretical implication then refutes the iterated disjunction of the hypotheses and hard-core rather than the any specific hypothesis... Until further testing clears up what is refuted.

    I bring this up because I think there's an interesting development of Marxism that shifts its hard-core; the theory of value and the analysis of the value form are often jettisoned despite being foundational to Marx's critique of capital.

    I believe something similar happened in Freud's wake, the hard-core is considered refuted but some of the insights generated from psychoanalytic research programs were pretty good; thus psychology. That hard-core containing the partition of the self into a tripartite structure, and the unconscious/conscious distinction; the latter of which is jettisoned through dual process theory (while maintaining the sense of unconscious=automatic|conscious=effortful)

    I remember speaking to quite a few psychology students at university, it was quite fashionable to mock pretty much everything about Freud, so I would be surprised if psychology, as a contemporary research program, was still very consistent with ego/super-ego/id and unconscious/conscious typologies.
  • T Clark
    3k
    I remember speaking to quite a few psychology students at university, it was quite fashionable to mock pretty much everything about Freud, so I would be surprised if psychology, as a contemporary research program, was still very consistent with ego/super-ego/id and unconscious/conscious typologies.fdrake

    Freud died in 1939, before much of what we now call psychology developed. Not only were his ideas influential, he and a few others changed the way people think about minds forever. The idea that there are mental processes that are hidden, that consciousness is not always, or even usually, driving the bus. To judge him by today's standards is moronic. :yum:
  • T Clark
    3k
    According to Karl Popper, Marx theory of history and Freud's psychodynamic theory of psychology are unfalsifiable and therefore unscientific.Purple Pond

    Although I'm sure Popper doesn't agree, calling something "unscientific" is not the same as calling it untrue or not useful.
  • Moliere
    1.5k
    For those who agree with Marx and Freud do they believe that Popper's criteria of demarcation for deeming something unscientific wrong?Purple Pond

    Freud I can't speak to as well as Marx. But, yes, I believe that Popper's criteria of demarcation is wrong. There is no hard-line demarcation between metaphysical and scientific propositions, which was sort of what Popper was trying to get at -- not to deem metaphysics as useless or inferior, but simply to draw a line between what is properly scientific and properly philosophical. (after all, Popper held certain metaphysical theses to be true, if not scientifically supportable)

    On to Marx -- I don't agree with his theory of history, at least in the robust sense. One can provide a Marxist historical analysis, but there are other theories for writing history too. It is not a science -- it's history, which is methodologically different from science.

    Where I agree with Marx is in his analysis of capital as outlined in volume 1 of Kapital. It gets to the heart of some classical economic questions -- such as the origin of wealth -- better than its competitors.

    While Marx is often offered as writing down the Newtonian Laws of economy, I would digress on that part. Marx was a modernist, through and through -- he thought that just as the motion of bodies could be explained by scientific analysis so too could the motion of social institutions. I don't rule these things out a priori, but I also don't think that there is a single social theory out there now which can claim to provide the same sort of precise predictions which physical theory provides.

    So Marx overstates his case, IMO, largely because he was a product of his own time. But he still provides a meaningful explanation of how capitalism works, and the origin of economic value. By studying Marx we can gain an understanding of how economic institutions operate, what they are motivated by, how they generate wealth, and even economic collapse.

    Why do people still hold on the these theories?

    For Marx, at least, I'd say that it describes work-place politics better than any competing theory. I don't think it can stand alone, as I noted I don't think any social theory is as precise as physical theory. Other factors can come into play. But the base of institutional motivation in capitalism is well described by Marx.
  • Preston
    9
    It would be interesting to apply Popper's theorem to itself. Is the falsifiable principle falsifiable? This is the classic, and somewhat trite, critique of the positivists, that their theory is self-refuting. However, it is a noble endeavor to try to understand what counts as science and what does not. But, there are many different types of science and they each have their own particular sets of what counts as verifiable and what doesn't. And yet, they all have some sort of principle whereby hypotheses can be tested.

    Marx was deeply influenced by Hegel whose theory of history he imported into his materialist views. I would say the Hegel's theory is metaphysics and not science, but I'm not sure Marx would disagree. He was a man of his time and the 19th century hadn't heard of Karl Popper yet. I think that Marx is not writing a science, though, at least not by today's standard, which, like someone above said, doesn't mean that it isn't useful or important, or even true. We tend to judge everything by results and instrumental rationality today, looking for its use-value and exchange-value. Science has dominated the Western world because it has been successful in uncovering mysteries, but it still needs philosophical assumptions to proceed (thinking of Hume's notion about conceiving of the future to operate much like the past).

    I like Popper. I think he has a lot to offer. I wouldn't jettison metaphysics, but after Popper, it is useful to demarcate the proper spheres of influence between metaphysics and the sciences.
  • Maw
    1.1k
    It would be interesting to apply Popper's theorem to itself. Is the falsifiable principle falsifiable?Preston

    Popper's falsifiability theory has essentially been falsified as the history of science demonstrates that scientific theories have often advance using spurious methods and fallacious argumentation which, nevertheless, helped further our understanding of scientific phenomenon and crystallize theories. Falsifiability, while reasonable-sounding in the abstract, is far too rigid to be viably applied to science as it actually works.
  • Walter Pound
    122
    Yes, I was wondering how anyone could still be a Marxist or Freudian after Popper. It seems like the only way to do that is to challenge falsification as a necessary condition for science.
  • Crazy Diamond
    2
    In ‘The Open Society and its Enemies’ Popper has a very specific thing to say about Freud. He presents an example, or rather two versions of one scenario. In one, a man is walking along a riverbank when he hears the cry of a child, swept into the river by the swift current and drowning. The man reacts instantly, flinging himself into the dangerous flow and saving the child at great personal risk. In the second scenario, a man is walking along a riverbank when he hears the cry of a child, swept into the river by the swift current and drowning. He stops his ears to the suffering cries, and, as the child sinks beneath the water, walks grimly on.

    In the first scenario, the Freudian explanation is that the man is suffering from unresolved conflict issues with his father, and needs to prove himself and his masculinity. To do this, he risks life and limb to do a heroic deed. In the second scenario, the Freudian explanation is that the man is suffering from unresolved conflict issues with his father, and needs to prove himself and his masculinity. To do this, he forces himself to be aggressive and uncaring, and deliberately rejects the child to show how strong-willed and manly he is.

    Popper’s point is that Freudian analysis and psychological interpretation is never predictive, and consequently has nothing whatsoever to tell us. It is a belief system, one that is used to interpret whatever happens according to its own rules. Popper goes on to mention the case of the Revolutionary Socialist, who sees in every single line of the newspaper, from the front page headline to the adverts at the back, clear proof of the class struggle and the malignant effects of capitalism. We could add to this discussion the case of the American christian fundamentalist, who reads exactly the same newspaper and sees clear proof of the war between angels and demons in every line.

    So it isn’t that Freud’s claims are unfalsifiable. The point is that they are meaningless. They are a belief system though which you see the world and interpret it, just as the revolutionary Socialist and the christian fundamentalist do. It doesn’t matter what people do, how they behave, what they say their motivations and desires are, because whatever that is there will be a Freudian interpretation that can be imposed later and believed by Freudians.

    Freudian psychology never predicts, which would make it falsifiable, it just retrospectively imposes an interpretative belief system. One person says that someone did something because they were unconsciously struggling against their father for the love of their mother, another person says that they did it because the devil made them do it, yet another says it is the driving historical force of capitalism that made them do it. Popper’s point is that this is all just meaningless, and has nothing to offer at all.
    That’s his take on Freud anyway. His take on Marx occupies most of a long volume and is much more complex. And that’s because he dismisses Freud with a sneer, but he considers Marx to be one of the Open Society’s enemies, and consequently a lot more important.
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