In Praise of Marx

In Praise of Marx

At the 1979 meeting of the American Sociological Association in Boston, one session was devoted to a debate between Lewis Coser and Lewis Feuer on the subject, “Should We Bury Karl Marx?” Feuer said yes, Coser no. We print here the paper by Lewis Coser.
— EDS.

I shall argue here that Karl Marx bequeathed us a set of theories that continue to be indispensable for the pursuit of a number of important sociological inquiries. In order to assess the value of Marx’s theories, I have chosen to follow the lead of Sir Karl Popper. He has laid down three essential requirements that a theory must fulfill if it is to contribute to the growth of knowledge. I shall then argue that many of Marx’s theories meet Sir Karl’s requirement. Paradoxically, even though Popper has consistently denied the scientific status of Marx’s contributions, it turns out that this status can be established on the basis of Popper’s own criteria.

• The first requirement for a new theory, according to Popper, is that it “should proceed from some simple, new, and powerful, unifying idea about some connection or relation . . . between hitherto unconnected things . . . or facts . . . or new theoretical entities.”

• The second requirement postulates that “apart from explaining all the explicanda which the new theory was designed to explain, it must have new and testable consequences . . .; it must lead to prediction of phenomena . . . which have not so far been observed.” This second requirement ensures that a new theory will be fruitful as an instrument of exploration. It will suggest new inquiries, “and even if’ in his words, “these should at once lead to the refutation of the theory, our factual knowledge will have grown through the unexpected results of new experiments.”