Parametric Determinism

Parametric determinism refers to a Marxist interpretation of the course of history formulated by Prof. Ernest Mandel, and it could be viewed as one variant of Karl Marx's historical materialism or as a philosophy of history.

In an article critical of the Analytical Marxism of Jon Elster, Mandel explains the idea as follows:

Dialectical determinism as opposed to mechanical, or formal-logical determinism, is also parametric determinism; it permits the adherent of historical materialism to understand the real place of human action in the way the historical process unfolds and the way the outcome of social crises is decided. Men and women indeed make their own history. The outcome of their actions is not mechanically predetermined. Most, if not all, historical crises have several possible outcomes, not innumerable fortuitous or arbitrary ones; that is why we use the expression ‘parametric determinism’ indicating several possibilities within a given set of parameters.

In formal-logical determinism, human action is considered either rational, and hence logically explicable, or else arbitrary and random. But in dialectical determinism, human action may be non-arbitrary and determinate, hence reasonable, even although it is not explicable exclusively in formal-logical terms. The action selected by people from a limited range of options may not be the most logical one, but it can be shown to be non-arbitrary and reasonable under the circumstances, if the total context is considered.

What this means is that, in human situations, typically several "logics" are operating at the same time which together determine the outcomes of those situations:

  • the logic of the actors themselves.
  • the logic of the parameters constraining their behaviour.
  • the logic of the interactive relationship between actors and their situation.

If one considered only one of these aspects, one might judge people's actions "irrational", but if all three aspects are take into account, what people do may appear "very reasonable". Dialectical theory aims to demonstrate this, by linking different "logical levels" together as a total picture, in a non-arbitrary way. "Different logical levels" means that particular determinants regarded as irrelevant are excluded at one level of analysis, but are relevant and included at another level of analysis with a somewhat different set of assumptions. - depending on the kind of problem being investigated. For example, faced with a situation, the language which people use to talk about it, reveals that they can jump very quickly from one context to another related context, knowing very well that at least some of the inferences that can be drawn in the one context are not operative in the other context. That's because they know that the assumptions in one context differ to some degree from the other. Nevertheless, the two contexts can coexist, and can be contained in the same situation. This is difficult to formalize precisely, yet people do it all the time, and think it perfectly "reasonable".

Read more about Parametric Determinism:  Brief Explanation of The Concept, Ten Implications, Perceptions and Illusions, Skeptical Reply, Historical Latency and The Possibilities For Change, A Dialectical View, Quotation, Criticisms

Other articles related to "parametric determinism":

Parametric Determinism - Criticisms
... This raises several questions whether the theory of parametric determinism in history is faulty whether Mandel's application of the theory in his analyses was faulty how much we can really foresee ...
Parametric Determinism - A Dialectical View
... Mandel believed that his theory of parametric determinism in history is a dialectical one, insofar as it interprets the dualism of free will versus ... experienced no real freedom at all, they would be unlikely to believe in parametric determinism ... they wanted at each moment, they would also reject a parametric determinism, because whatever the situation might be, it would have no effect on their actions ...

Famous quotes containing the word determinism:

    Old-fashioned determinism was what we may call hard determinism. It did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation, and the like. Nowadays, we have a soft determinism which abhors harsh words, and, repudiating fatality, necessity, and even predetermination, says that its real name is freedom; for freedom is only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom.
    William James (1842–1910)