[OPE-L:3498] Aristotle

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@Princeton.EDU)
Date: Wed Jun 14 2000 - 10:19:04 EDT

[ show plain text ]

It seems to me that Patrick Murray (Moseley and Campbell, eds) recognizes
the work of Aristotlean formal causality in Marx's critique of political
economy but then reduces it to an ancestor of the Hegelian form-content
relation to which he assigns great importance in Marx's theory of
scientific knowledge. II Rubin too speaks of the relation between form and
content (Hegel), not form and matter (Aristotle). As does Chris A.

In Marx and the Ancients George E McCarthy lists twelve actively pursued
topics of research in the Aristotle-Marx relation (p.58-59), which does not
include Marx's adoption of Aristotle's theory of scientific explanation!
McCarthy however recognizes the centrality of form determination to Marx's
theory though doesn't link it specifically to Aristotle's theory of formal

Scott Meikle, along with Richard Miller, also does not discuss it, for he
focuses on Marx's debt to Aristotle in the moral evaluation of the ends of
activity (economics vs chrematistics)

Once causality was reduced to the efficient form, it seems that the main
topic has been whether that too has collapsed into probablism. Marxists are
now basically only fighting to retain efficient causality in the face of
its evaporation by simultaneism. But this is not the whole of Marx's causal

In biology, formal causality however has remained on the margins (D'Arcy
Thompson, Ernst Mayr, Gerry Webster and Brian Goodwin), while final
causality has been refasioned (see recent piece by Francisco Ayala in
Nature's Purposes).

In Explaining Explanation, David Hillel Ruben analyses the relation between
Aristotlean four pronged causal theory, which he convincingly sees as a
scientific theory of explanation, to its metaphysical assumptions, but says
little about formal causality. In the Nature of Explanation Peter
Achinstein gives a short summary of Aristotle's theory of causes which
seems to me to have obviously undergirded Marx's analysis of the confusions
of classical economics (collapsing the material and formal). GER Lloyd will
obviously be important to study.

It seems to me that Marx in a realist vein initially split real properties
from attributes (I am not saying this is tenable, only that Marx seems to
have thought so) and argued that while goods have several real properties
as use values, goods have the attribute of value not because as the neo
ricardians claim they are congealed labor (which is really to accept the
reduction of causality only to event generation by *energy transfer* from
one entity to another) but only in virtue of the commodity form.

But such a causal claim will necessarily seem metaphysical to those
immersed in the denuded bourgeois scientific world view (for an expression
of it, see Mario Bunge, Causality). And it this conception of causality and
implicitly explanation which has made it so easy to dismiss Marx as a
metaphysician even by those who are trying to defend him. As Pilling
pointed out long, Meek, Sweezy, Dobb all neglected the value form (Pilling
agrees with me that Grossmann's best American friend William J Blake is the
heroic exception here).

Moreover, Marx shows that value in the form of the commodity is only a
potentia until the perfected *form* of the universal equivalent is imposed
on this substance via successful ex-change. And it is only by virtue of
ex-change, that is a change in form, that the potentia becomes actuality,
another Aristotlean couplet (which despite his stark Copenhagen outlook
Heisenberg would also controversially reintroduce in Physics and
Philosophy). Moreover, it is only in the form of the universal equivalent
that the matter of gold apparently acquires fetishistic properties.

In this perfected form of money--this is Marx's theory of the necessity of
money--the once value potentia now becomes a form of capital, which is self
expanding value. Money then itself acquires attributes as a form of

The main terms of this theory are potentia & actuality and material &
formal causality, not content/form or essence/appearance. Marx's value FORM
theory is Aristotlean, not Hegelian (indeed as many have noted, Marx uses
the logical structure of his critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right in his
analysis of the three peculiarities of the value form). Yet I can find not
a single reference to Marx's debt to Aristotle's theory of scientific
explanation in my small library of Marx books.

One would explain the ability of a statue to bestow a heroic status on a
person in terms most probably of its form, not the statue's metallic
content--refererence to which would be positively misleading. So why do we
explain the fetishistic attributes of commodities by virtue of their
congealed labor content or money by its metallic content? The reason the
pseudo scientific economists can't understand Marx is because of the
reduction of the theory of causality by the modern scientific world view.

I should add that Marx is *not* trying to prove the labor theory of value
here. In fact it is exactly not in virtue of their being congealed labor
that commodities have many of the fetishistic attributes Marx is exploring
in part one--this is his point! Form, not matter, is often the cause! And
form is historical. Which is another reason why those who would eternalize
bourgeois relations would overlook its characteristic form--the commodity

It seems to me that there are two possible reasons why Marx's Aristotlean
scientific methodology has been overlooked . The first part of Capital has
been rightly taken to be an explanation of Aristotle's inability to
penetrate the value form (ironically enough!), so it has been missed that
Marx is also critiquing classical economics on the basis of an
inattentiveness to Aristotlean formal causality. That is, Marx has been
understood as a critic of Aristotle, not his student.

Two, Marx did not openly declare himself a student of Aristotle. Perhaps so
that he would not be dismissed as some kind of fuddy duddy, out of touch
with modern science. Hegelians represented an active force which he had to
both critique and coopt, so he coquetted with their language. Or perhaps
it was only in its Christianized and mystical form that Marx could reveal
to modern readers the Aristotlean origins of his theory of scientific
explanation? Just a speculation.

Best, Rakesh

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Fri Jun 30 2000 - 00:00:04 EDT