[OPE-L:7527] Alfredo on VF theory II

From: Christopher Arthur (cjarthur@waitrose.com)
Date: Wed Aug 21 2002 - 17:27:26 EDT

Part II
There are a couple of issues in Alfredo's section on dialectic which I
connect with VF (see post I).

On p. 8-9 A distinction is drawn between two things
a) mental abstraction/generalisation based on a collation by the theorist
of items that appear to them to be similar in some respect;
b) 'real abstraction' whcih is taken to yeild the 'concrete universal'
which is an essence that particularises itself.
IMO (b) should be disaggregated. One reason is that Alfredo identifies his
'concrete universal' as analogous to Hegel's, yet H always attacked
'abstraction' of any sort. More relevant is the oddity of identifying
something 'abstract' with something 'concrete'; clearly there is some
unhelpful conflation.
To sort it out requires granting 'real abstraction' its own status
different from both 'mental generalisation' and 'concrete universal'. So :
c) 'real abstraction' is real in the sense that it arises not from thought
but from the way exchange really trats a bundle of heterogeneous items as
similar (see Sohn-Rethel). What it yeilds, however, is like the mental
version, namely an empty form lacking essentiality. I suggest this is
exactly what the VF is (Marx;C;Pref. 'VF is empty of content').
This explains why theory has always had trouble with it, since inscribed
within it are not only genuine commodities but honour and conscience etc.
Although we want to argue that this form can be grounded on labour so as to
become the phenomenal expression of the essentialities of production, three
things prevent this being a standard case of the unity of form and content;
i) the above-mentioned things that appear in commodity form alongside
products of labour ii) this form is alien to the content and requires the
negating not just of differences of use value but UV itself and counts
concrete labour only as an abstraction of itself; iii) as real this alien
form is potentially active on its own account, forming the content into the
appropriate shape (real subsumption), rather than the dynamic being on the
side of the content.

On p. 18 Alfredo cites approvingly Rosenthal's complaint against new
dialectics that it amounts to a formalistic ordering of a pre-given
content. And on p. 19 says 'pure conceptual reasoning cannot explain why
relations that hold in the analyst's head also hold in the real world';
conceptual determination is one thing; causality another.
I cite from my upcoming book:
"There are two possible answers to this complaint. For Tony Smith the
logical categories are not themselves supposed to be efficacious in their
own right. But it is useful heuristically to sort out the various
conceptual frameworks that our thought about reality employs into a logical
order such that we can grasp a real domain at its appropriate level of
complexity. But nothing can be read off from logical form as such; genuine
knowledge requires scientific work on the content, but the question to be
asked may well be informed by the logical apparatus. For Hegel, however, I
believe, contrary to Smith, that something stronger is claimed. For an
idealist ontology the logic is indeed to be taken as efficacious on its own
account. I believe this too but only in a special case, a case where for
good material reasons an objective reality has the shape of an ideality.
For this ideality, even though it is embodied from the start in commodities
and their relations, logical categories are effective because the
signalling devices that regulate the market are indeed abstractions, real
abstractions not thought abstractions of course. Thus money  (to take the
most obvious case)  stands in a logical, rather than material relation to
commodities. It Œstands forš their universal aspect, their identity with
each other as values ideally posited through exchange. Capital itself is in
part Œconceptualš in nature (as Adorno saw), albeit that as an objective
ideality it must inhere in material practices and structures. The Œideaš of
capital articulates reality in dimensions of a logical sort. This is why it
is possible to model it on Hegelšs logic of the concept (see chapter 5).
Marx may have taken Hegelšs logic simply as an aid to exposition but for me
the logical framework has ontological import." (p.9)
In sum, for me conceptual determination is not confined to the head of the
theorist; real abstraction unleashes the *objectivity* of the
self-determining concept, i.e. capital. It isn't we that value commodities,
capital values our contribution to its self-valorisation.

Chris A

17 Bristol Road, Brighton, BN2 1AP, England

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Sat Aug 24 2002 - 00:00:03 EDT