[OPE-L:5536] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: William of Ockam's Razor and Political Economy

From: Paul Cockshott (paul@cockshott.com)
Date: Thu May 10 2001 - 07:53:43 EDT

On Thu, 10 May 2001, you wrote:
> 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 of fruit as used by biologists is a real abstraction.
It is an abstraction based upon the existence of a conserved genetic
structure that generates fruits.
Note that in biological terms apples are not fruit, as they arise
by a genetically different mechanism than oranges or mangoes and
other drupes.

> The concept "fruit," Arthur reminds, does
> >not generate apples and pears.  

When encoded in DNA it does!

>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.
> Yes.
> >   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 
> them.
> >  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 
> abstraction.
> 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 
> therein.
> 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 
> relations).
> >
> >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 
> commodity?
> >
> >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?!)
> >
> >Comradely,
> >
> >Howard

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Paul Cockshott, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, Scotland
0141 330 3125  mobile:07946 476966

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