[OPE-L:5532] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Rakesh Narpat Bhandari (rakeshb@Stanford.EDU)
Date: Thu May 10 2001 - 05:16:35 EDT

re Howard's 5531

>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.

It would be a category mistake though to treat vegetal matter as if 
it were a subject and not a predicate, that is if the vegetal matter 
was then understood to have expressed itself in say mangos.

Yet the money commodity is handled as if abstract labor has 
incarnated itself therein.

The three-fold peculiarity of money then is that it is the immediate 
incarnation of value; the concrete labor expended in the production 
thereof becomes the form of appearance of abstract human labor; and 
private labor has turned here into its opposite, to labor in 
immediately social form.

Marx's point is that such money fetishism is logically absurd, an 
example of a category mistake, an expression of a mystical connection.

>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.

But it shows that Marx beat Ryle to the punch by a hundred years.

>  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.

Yet it would be absurd if we then turned around and said that the 
real abstraction of uniform, homogeneous warm bloodied bodies 
incarnated itself in pandas. And  ticks will henceforth only land on 

>  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.

But I am not saying that abstract labor is not real at this level of 

As I understand Marx, he is saying that an act of labor has two 
aspects--one concrete (tailoring, weaving, etc); another abstract 
(i.e., some aliquot of social labor time). A commodity's qualities or 
use value derive from the concrete labor embodied therein; the 
magnitude of a commodity which however is quantitatively represented 
in the exchange relation is determined by the abstract labor embodied 

Abstract labor is indeed real in this sense, yet while being a 
representation of some aliquot of abstractly general labor is 
potentially a property of each concrete commodity; abstractly general 
labor itself becomes the subject and takes a form of appearance in 
the money commodity.

It is this absurdity or mystical connection or category mistake to 
which Marx is trying to call attention in the following quote:

>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.

But Marx's point is that such logic does not work for the value form; 
the value is illogical and absurd.

>  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.

And the latter is what Marx says has to be happening for us to handle 
money the way we do (or the we have to given the nature of our social 

>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."

But isn't Marx here referring to the labor of private individuals 
engaged in gold production? Why is this labor immediately social, 
that is, its product can be directly exchanged for any other 

>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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