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Cohen Marxism And Functionalism Notes
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Gerry Cohen - Functional explanation, consequence explanation, and Marxism
1. Marxism, Functional Explanation, and Game Theory
● Marxism relies on consequence explanations, in which consequences are used to explain their causes
○ according to Elster, consequence explanation is available to biology but not to the social sciences
■ Elster claims that Marxism should rely upon game theory rather than functionalism
● but this is not possible to historical materialism, which necessarily relies on consequence explanations
○ historical materialism claims that:
● the level of development of the productive forces in a society explains the nature of its economic structure
● its economic structure explains the nature of its superstructure
■ for this to be consistent with the following Marxist theses, the species of explanation must be functional:
● the economic structure of a society promotes the development of its productive forces
● the superstructure of a society stabilizes its economic structure
■ functional explanation = 'e occurred because the situation was such that an event of type E would cause an event f type F'
● Historical materialism cannot contain game theory because it is not a theory of behaviour
○ rather it is a theory of the forces and relations constraining and directing behaviour
■ the short term outcomes of class struggle may be determined by behaviour, but the long term outcomes are governed by a dialectic of forces and relations of production, not by behaviour
2. Functional explanation and the theory of chance variation and natural selection
● Functional explanation = where something is explained by its function, or where something is explained by the function of something or other (possibly not itself)
○ consequence explanation = where the fact that E causes F helps to explain the occurrence of E
○ evolution is an example of consequence explanation, because 'it is because an environment is such that in it a certain feature would improve the reproductive capacity of members of a species that the species acquires that feature'
○ the central Marxist explanations are consequence explanations, but not necessarily (or not clearly) functional explanations
● Does evolution provide/justify functional explanations?
○ do particular organisms develop certain features because they are or were functional for that organism?
■ no - features are developed in particular organisms because of genetic endowments, regardless of whether they are or were functional for that organism
● particular organisms have no way to remove features that are no longer functional
○ do particular organisms develop certain features because they are or were functional for something other than it (e.g. the species)?
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