Saturday, February 26, 2005

From the horse's mouth

Venezuelan trade unionist Ricardo Galindez recently spoke to a meeting in Cambridge (the university town in the UK, not the posh little place with the neat watertower near Hamilton) about the political situation in Venezuela and workers' control in the paper, sugar and oil industries (see the Q and A section, at the end). Fascinating stuff - read it here.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

A sort of side issue here concerns the ways in which people change their minds about politics and other subjects. Some commenters at Kiwiblog suggest that leftists hold on to their beliefs in an essentially dogmatic way, ignoring evidence that ought to make them change their minds. On the other hand, many on the left charge advocates of free market capitalism with an essentially religious attitude toward their doctrine, and a failure to absorb the lessons of recent history.

When someone from the left or the right does change their mind on an important subject they tend to be criticised rather than applauded. Jim Bolger, for instance, hasn't won many plaudits from his old comrades for his rethink of neo-liberalism, and Christopher Hitchens became a hate figure for the left when he abandoned Marxism for neoconservatism and became a supporter of George W Bush and the war in Iraq.

It seems to me that most us would consider dogmatism a bad thing, but that at the same time we are suspicious of people who seem to change their minds suddenly about important subjects. When we change our own minds we tend to do so incrementally and incompletely rather than rapidly and radically.

I think the philosopher of science Imre Lakatos developed a compelling explanation for the way that both scientists and people in general assimilate evidence and modify their beliefs.
Lakatos argued that every 'research programme' - that is, every body of beliefs about the world - has both a hardcore and a softcore of ideas. The hardcore ideas are the ones we cannot throw away without fundamntally changing our minds, and abandoning our research programme. We hold to them in a somewhat dogmatic way. The softcore ideas are, however, dispensable. We can drop them if they seem to be contradicted by evidence, and replace them with other ideas. The softcore ideas exist to protect the hardcore from refutation.

Lakatos argued that a research programme could be either degenerating or progressive. If it was progressive it was explaining more and more facts and generating new ideas; if it was degenerating it was doing the opposite. Lakatos considered Marxism a degenerating research programme. He thought that the

If we looked at the 'programme' of the National Party, in the eight or so decades since its creation, then we can identify advocacy for and defence of private business and the farming sector as two of its hardcore ideas. They've remained intact over time, but less important 'softcore' ideas

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