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BOOK REVIEWS 331 Jon Elster. Making Senseof Marx. Studies in Marxism and Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Pp. xv + 556. N. P. This new series jointly published by Cambridge and Editions de la Maison des Sciences de rHomme is "intended to exemplify a new paradigm in the study of Marxist social theory." If the paradigm is that of bringing late twentieth-century decision- and gametheoretic tools to bear on Marx's nineteenth century corpus, then Elster's Making Sense ofMarx is a magnificent exemplification. For Elster's purpose is to reconstruct Marx's thinking in "modern" terms, to show among other things that "Marx's views on technical change, exploitation, class struggle and belief formation retain an importance beyond the value they may have as instances of the Marxist method" (3). One of Elster's main theses is that Marx introduced into the social sciences a "three-tiered" explanatory scheme, moving from O) causal explanations of belief states through (2) intentional explanation of individual actions in terms of these states to (3) causal explanation of aggregate actions in terms of individual actions. Marx's special contribution is that he tried (though often unsuccessfully) to explain unintended consequences of actions. Another of Elster's theses is that Marx's "Hegelianism" is of little value, and in fact may have prevented Marx from carrying both his social-scientific and his revolutionary projects to their logical limits. According to Elster, there are two distinct methodological orientations in Marx's writings. These are on the one hand methodological individualism, and on the other, methodological collectivism, consisting of two closely connected but slightly different ideas, functional explanation and dialectical deduction. Copiously citing texts from the Neue RheinischeZeitung through the Theoriesof Surplus Value, Elster shows how Marx switched back and forth between (or among) these methods. In Capital vol. 3, for example, Marx predicts the inevitable demise of capitalism due to the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. The "law of the falling rate of profit" is explained by discrepancies between the intentions of individual capitalists pursuing technical innovations for labor-saving, and the unintended net effect on capitalists as a whole as displaced labor contributes to a "crisis in underconsumption." This is clearly a methodologically individualist account (though in Elster's judgment a naive one). In the Grundrisse, and in Capital vol. l, however, the demise of capitalism is also "explained" by the inevitable "negation of the negation," as capitalist relations of production fetter the "productive forces" of capitalism. This is an example of"dialectical deduction" whereby each successive historical stage contains the "seeds of its own destruction." Also in Capitalvol. 1, as well as in the Economicand PhilosophicalManuscriptsand TheoriesofSurplus Value, Marx "explains" exploitation of labor by capital in terms of the benefits capital receives in so doing. This is a species of functional explanation, which Elster roundly criticizes Marx for employing whenever Marx comes across a feature of capitalism which he (Marx) finds sinister or at least counterintuitive. Elster moves studiously through discussions of Marx's philosophical anthropology, economic theory, "moral theory," theory of history, and theories of class, class consciousness, ideology and the state, showing that functionalist or Hegelian accounts are generally senseless, if not simply false. For Elster, to make sense of Marx's most important contributions is to reconstruct 332 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 26:2 APRIL 1988 them in intentionalist, utilitarian, decision- and game-theoretistic terms. In so doing, Marx's failings come clear. For example, alienation occurs as needs are frustrated, but had Marx specified more fully a theory of needs, he might not have put so much stock in this concept as the social-psychological demon of capitalist society. According to Elster, had Marx understood "adaptive preferences" ("sour grapes") and the trade-off between "breadth and depth" in self-actualization he might have reconsidered his belief that under communism there would be no alienation (68-78). On another point, Marx argues that technical change occurs because capitalists seek to cheapen products, exacting more surplus value through the greater "productiveness" of labor which technical innovations provide. According to Elster, Marx failed to recognize that surplus value will rise through technical innovation only if...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 331-333
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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