[OPE-L:3475] Re: Re: measurement of value

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Sat Jun 10 2000 - 12:27:53 EDT

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>PS will give a response to other aspects of your post next week - I
>can't bring myself to think about value any more this week! One
>thing: I have come across Aristotle's analysis of cause a number of
>times (and just now in relation to some comments made on a
>philosophy paper of mine concerning the mind-body relation). But I
>still haven't grasped it fully. This is why I would be most grateful if
>you could expand upon it. You are currently assuming a knowledge
>of Aristotle which I don't have.


A very rough answer, as I am sure you know more than I do.

 I'll just work from a high schoolish example of Aristotle's analysis of
the causes of change--making a table (it's the example Marx himself uses as

First there is matter, for the table is made of something, usually wood.
Yet this is relatively formless matter which for Aristotle nonetheless has
a potentiality.

Secondly form, for the table is not just any lump of wood, but wood with a
certain shape. Important here is that an object has a specific attribute
just in case the object is obtained by imposing a specific form on an
appropriate subtance. So this second type of cause is the form of the
object responsible for the attribute (Marx's theory of fetishism is
incomprehensible without such a conception of Aristotlean formal causality,
though this has yet to be developed I believe), while the first type of
cause is the matter on which the form is imposed.

Thirdly moving cause, for the table was made by somene, the carpenter

Fourthly final cause, for when the caprter made the table he made it for a

With this in mind consider Marx's analysis of commodity FORM.

"It is as clear as noon day that man by his industry man changes the forms
of the material furnished by Nature, in such a way as to make them useful
to him. The form of wood for instance is altered, by making a table out of
it. Yet for all that the table continues to be that common, every day
thing, wood. But so soon as it steps forth as a commodity, it is changed
into something transcendent. It not only stands with its feet on the ground
but in relation to all other commodities it stands on its head, and evolves
out of its wood brain grotesque ideas..."

Marx then asks: "Whence then arises the enigmatical character of the
product of labour, so soon as it assumes the form of commodities? Clearly
from THIS FORM itself. The equality of all sorts of labor is expressed
objectively by their products all being equally values..."

Well what is the enigmatical character of commodities? Clearly not that
value (or their value *magnitude*) is determined by labor time, nor the
various concrete forms which are 'causes' of labor's practical activity
(tables, chairs, desks, etc). The enigmatic attributes of commodities
derive from imposing the specific commodity form on an appropriate
substance--labor in the abstract.

So when produced and exchanged in the FORM of commodities, products of
diverse concrete labors are enigmatically transformed (the real
transformation problem) into specific quantity of materialised homogeneous
labor time, which itself seems to be nothing more than an abstraction.
There alas should be NO SUCH THING as abstract labor or Fruit. But that is
what gold, as an apparent category mistake, is.

The form of the product of labor determines the mysterious attributes it
will have. In the case of simple table making there is no real mystery when
the form of a table is imposed on wood. Wood acquires no puzzling
attributes thereby. But the imposition of the commodity form on a product
of labor seems to make labor acquire quite mysterious properties.

It seems to me that the value form school analysis should be based on
Marx's assumption of Aristotlean metaphysics, not Hegel's. But again I am
just trying here to suggest that there may be some conncetion here between
Marx's theory of commodity form and Aristotle's idea of formal causality
(which seems to have been revived by the way in the philosophy of biology
by Ernst Mayr).

Now all this does not speak to our other discussion about whether
commodities only acquire value at the point of exchange.

But Marx does write in this section:

"whenever by an exchange we equate as values our different products, by
that very act, we also equate as human labor the different kinds of labor
expended on them."

I just wouldn't want to even grant a potentia to value before exchange or
grant potentia either existence or reality. But this is quite complicated.
And I think Marx's writings are hardly clear here as well.

Yours, Rakesh

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