DAVID F. RUCCIO*

The Merchant of Venice^ or Marxism in the Mathematical Mode

Schemes alone cannot prove anything: they can only illustrate a process, if its separate elements have been theoretically explained.

Lenin (1899,62)

A mesmerizing style, like a Medusa's head, will turn us to stone if we stare at it too long; we need a talisman to draw us away from it. But the talisman itself becomes Medusa when we turn to it, and the other then must pull us back.

Staten (1984,27)

It is characteristic of the modern social sciences to insist on the importance of elaborating general, abstract models and making knowledge claims of the kind and authority usually associated with the natural sciences. Mathematics is often given a special role in fulfilling these requirements. In this sense, modem scientific methods are mathematical methods.

Contemporary Marxian theory is also being recast along the lines of modern science. Marxists are under some pressure to use the box of modern scientific tools (Amariglio 1987), especially mathematical models. This pressure is both 'external* and 'internal.* It is external, insofar as so-called professional standards and job requirements are less-than-subtle inducements to use the prevailing rhetoric of the discipline in question. However, the urge to introduce mathematics into Marxian theory is also internal in the sense that the use of mathematics is bound up with modern notions of science, and such understandings of science are shared by many contemporary Marxists.

Marxists, to be sure, have not unanimously adopted mathematics and the other so-called modem social scientific methods. Still, one can detect an increasing acceptance of the need to modernize Marxian theory and to use mathematics in developing and presenting Marxian theory. This is especially true in Marxian economic theory. There, econometrics, axiomatic logic, general equilibrium, linear algebra, and so on—by and large the arsenal of mathematical concepts and models

* Teaches Economics at University ofiNotre Dame, Illinois.

Social Scientist, Vol. 19, Nos. 1-2, January-February 1991