[OPE-L:5521] Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Tue May 08 2001 - 23:52:28 EDT

Re Michael's 5517 and Rakesh's 5519:

One of the hares I noticed loose, Michael, was the idea of "living in an
epoch driven by pure form."

I wonder what that could mean as a matter of social science?  Social
science, like natural science, is about explaining causal mechanisms.  If
it were a matter of saying that understanding the causal mechanisms of
society depended above all on something pretty much like what Aristotle
meant by formal causality, that this was key, then I could follow.  But
this kind of causality would not be referred to as "pure form," and
although Marx's analysis of capitalism is certainly the first example in
social science demonstrating its significance, I don't know why formal
cause in this sense would be specific to the capitalist mode of production.
 As a consequence, I don't know why there would be any special unease (for
*that* reason) that would attach.  But then "driven by pure form" must
refer to the kind of thing usually meant by causality in the modern world,
which is efficient cause, the wind against the windmill, the thing that
pushes.  In this case I wonder if this isn't a category mistake.  That is,
I don't understand how "pure form" can push a windmill.

And, to think the unthinkable, Rakesh, I wonder if the point can be right
that abstract labor "should only exist in the act of mentally abstracting
from various kinds of concrete labor."  I understand you to be asserting
this proposition as correct -- if I have misread, forgive me.  But surely
for the Marx of Chapter 2 abstract labor is a real abstraction, practically
made by acts of exchange in the market.  Then what is the ontological
status of a "real abstraction"?  Why isn't it just the same embodied labor
(no metaphor), differently grasped or seized (metaphor) and differently
measured?  Concrete labor gets measured by a clock and any particular
instance is incommensurable with any other.  But the same labor, taken as
an aliquot part of all the market's labor, and measured, as to time, in
weights of gold (no clock fetishes allowed), is abstract labor.  Suppose I
have to bend a sword into a plowshare (no metaphor).  Then putting a bend
in a piece of metal can be a way to measure time:  "it took me 20 minutes
to do that."  Time objectified in a bend.  Embended time.  And whether an
identical object counts as one thing or another often depends on relational
context;  this is not just true of commodities.  I remember an early modern
drawing of an Inca pouring molten gold down the throat of a conquistador.

As for the "existential contingency of content," Michael, are there so many
different ontological categories of content that we can speak of
contingency?  Following Marx there are relations of (1) labor, or, more
broadly, behavior as the material transformation of the world, (2) force,
and (3) consciousness or information.  What else is possible for social
science?  Paper money has "objective social validity" because of compulsory
action of the state, and credit money, which has its source in promise, a
relation of consciousness, also depends on the state's compulsion ("if he
do not pay, his goods will be sold by the sheriff").  In what sense does
ontological coherence here depend on contingency?



>What I was trying to get at is simply this: Occam's razor is not 
>about simplicity  as you and Jerry are suggesting but about *mistaken 
>ontological commitments*. Marx's critique of fetishism can be read as 
>an analysis of how it is impossible not to make mistaken ontological 
>commitments in everyday market relations, e.g., as Robert Paul Wolff 
>has noted, the money commodity came to incarnate abstract labor which 
>however should only exist in the act of mentally abstracting from 
>various kinds of concrete labor. Colletti (see Riccardo B's 
>elaboration) had already argued that it is not Marx but capitalist 
>reality which is to be "blamed" for those mistaken ontological 
>commitments which Marx's critics would have us to do away with.

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Jun 02 2001 - 00:00:06 EDT