[OPE-L:5531] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: howard engelskirchen (lhengels@igc.org)
Date: Thu May 10 2001 - 03:05:38 EDT

Rakesh --

I was extremely interested in your discussion of formal causality and hope
we will have a chance to pursue this further.  If its a matter of
salvaging, the emphasis must be on recovering the thing for further use.
But why do you limit this to a "semantic sense"?  I don't really understand
the meaning here.  Formal causality cannot be reduced to event generation,
but it plays a decisive role in the tendency and pattern of events.

> yes like fruit exists only in and through the mental act of abstracting
>from organes, apples, mangoes, etc. 
>    But surely
> for the Marx of Chapter 2 abstract labor is a real abstraction, practically
> made by acts of exchange in the market.
>  agreed. abstract labor is not only a real abstraction, we treat the the
>money commodity (assuming a commodity theory of money) as if itself
>incarnated abstract labor. But abstract labor should not be incarnated in a
>thing, much like it would be mystical to say the real abstraction Fruit
>itself took the form of mangoes (this would seem to be similar to the
>realist position of Ockham's time).

With respect to absraction, you are right that "fruit" exists only in and
through the mental act of abstracting from oranges, apples, mangoes, etc.
-- it is not a real abstraction.  The concept "fruit," Arthur reminds, does
not generate apples and pears.  But that is not to say such things are not
possible with a little different mix, so to speak.  Suppose I take oranges
and mangos and apples and bananas and treat them as compost.  Now I am
uninterested in the particulars of specific fruits and instead think only
in terms of so and so many pounds of vegetal matter.  Moroever compost does
generate soil, and quite a miracle it is, too.  Abstract labor is like that.

Or another example.  Relative to the universal equivalent, Marx wrote in
the first edition, "It is as if alongside and external to lions, tigers,
rabbits and all other actual animals, which form grouped together the
various kinds, species, sub-species, families, etc. of the animal kingdom,
there existed also in addition *the animal,* the individual incarnation of
the entire animal kingdom."  But this example is more likely to mislead
than to inform and he dropped it.  Anyway, there is a better example,
though for value generally rather than for the universal equivalent:
Mammals are warm-blooded.  It doesn't matter if it's a lion or a tiger or a
bear, it's warm blooded.  Now if you're a tick, you hang on a branch and
drop whenever any warm-blooded thing passes by.  It makes no difference
what kind of warm-blooded thing and you couldn't tell the difference
anyway.  So, acting as humans, there are concretely different and
incommensurable lions and tigers and bears, but if you relate to the world
as a tick, as a parasite and a bloodsucker, there are only uniform,
homogeneous, warm-blooded bodies.  Unlike the concept "fruit," this is a
real, not a mental abstraction.  Abstract labor is not just a way of
conceptualizing things, that, unlijke it, are real particulars.  Abstract
labor is real in the ordinary sense of the word, though, because its
content is expended energy in time, it is non-empirical, just as the work
of wind against rock leaves only a sign of what happened.

Your quote from Marx about the inversion by which the sensuously concrete
counts as the form of appearance of the abstractly general is fascinating:

> "This inversion (Verkehrung) by which the sensibly-concrete counts only as
>the form of appearance of the abstractly general and, not on the contrary,
>the abstractly general as property of the concrete, characterizes the
>expression of value. At the same time, it makes understanding it difficult.
>If I say: Roman Law and German Law are both laws, that is obvious. But if I
>say Law (Das Recht), this abstraction (Abstraktum) realises itself in
Roman >Law or in German Law, in these concrete laws, the interconnection
becomes >mystical." 

This is exactly the point!  But notice that it does *not* lead to the
conclusion that seems to be generally drawn -- that while the methodology
works for the value form, if it were applied to the study of law it would
generate mysticism.  On the contrary, the same methodology *must* be
applied to the study of law:  I certainly can say that the senuously
concrete behavior of others not interfering with my possession of a
commodity is the form of appearance of my right to it, and this is not
mysticism.  But of course I do get mysticism if I take a mental abstraction
and then say it actualizes itself in particular instances, and this is as
true of economics as it is of law: e.g., if I said, "production in general
actualizes itself in interest, wages and rent," or some such thing.

The other thing about the quote is that this is exactly what accounts for
the peculiarities of the equivalent form . . . or almost does.  The first
peculiarity is that use value becomes the phenomenal form of its opposite,
value.  So far so good.  The second peculiarity is that concrete labor
becomes the form under which abstract labor manifests itself -- again, the
sensibly concrete can be considered the form of appearance of the
abstractly general.  But then what of the third peculiarity?  Instead of
saying *private labor becomes the form of expression of social labor,* the
text reads that "the labour of private individuals takes the form of its
opposite, labour directly social in its form."

What accounts for this peculiarity of the third peculiarity?

In other words, the third peculiarity does not show the inversion we might
have expected.

To emphasize the point:  we expect to hear (and often do hear in fact)
someting like, "commodity producing labor is not directly social labor but
only becomes so in exchange."  But Marx says something different here:  the
text reads, "the labour of private individuals takes the form of its
opposite, labour directly social in its form."

My own guess is that the answer goes some way to respond to the general
climate of dissatisfaction with Chapter One.  Labor, whether generalized
commodity production or not, if it is independent (private) and useless to
its producer, and if it is at all regular and repeated in this form, is
labor that is labor for others.  Thus the structures of production, even
though characterized by private labor, are social in form.  As such they
generate exchange, not the other way around.

But I'd be interested in others' takes on the peculiarity of the third
peculiarity.  (And why does the example of Aristotle render intelligible
peculiarity #3 (and #2), but not peculiarity #1?!)



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