Marxism as a Learning Process: The Epistemic Rationality of Precedential Reasoning

Abstract

My aim in this paper is fairly modest. I obviously do not claim that there has never been or could never be an instance of irrational or fallacious appeals to quotations from canonical sources in the marxist tradition. Instead, I claim that the practice of using quotations from canonical sources is not, as such, irrational. If we understand the epistemological infrastructure of the practice -- the rational underpinnings of it -- we can grasp how these citations appeal to the presumptive authoritativeness of formulations that condense or concisely convey the core of insights that emerged from learning processes that the intellectual tradition of marxism has already traversed. The rational underpinnings of the practice include, first, the neo-Hegelian idea that we can justify a view we now hold by rationally reconstructing the insight-motivated learning process from which it emerged, and second, the convention that these rational reconstructions do not have to be elaborated in each insistence, but can be invoked in a short-form way, such as by citing the name of a decision or a concise statement of it (like a short quotation), as is common in the epistemologically similar practice of precedential reasoning in common law juridical justification. No claim is true just because of who made it; but a claim might be presumptively authoritative in cases where it was made at the end of a learning process, which has not been overtaken by a change in the circumstances or further learning.

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Stephen D'Arcy
Huron University At Western

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