[OPE-L:8046] Re: magnitude and givens in philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Sun Nov 24 2002 - 17:12:56 EST

Cologne 24-Nov-2002

gerald_a_levy schrieb Sun, 24 Nov 2002 09:51:47 -0500:

> Re Michael E's [8044]:
> Thanks again for another informative and stimulating post. You raise --
> at least -- a couple of issues:
>    ==========
> > Re 1) If we're talking about capitalism and economic social science of
> > capitalism (Marxist economic theory being one candidate among many),
> > then we  have money-mediated phenomena in view. Money itself
> > provides the quantitative dimension through which such phenomena can
> > be grasped, in line with Descartes'  rule that beings have to be
> > "comprehended  under the term 'magnitude'" (Rule  14.4) and so put
> > into relation with each  other in certain proportions. All  kinds of
> > economic theory do this, both micro  and macro, econometrics doing
> > this  perhaps most exclusively through statistical  and other methods.
> An observation -- which you may or may not agree with:
> No doubt that when attempting to systematically comprehend capitalism we
> must have "money-mediated phenomena in view".   Yet, only the simplest
> comprehension of that phenomena is gained by the mere recognition that money
> has a quantitative dimension and must be grasped as magnitude.  That much
> is obvious -- and forms part of the *starting point* of the systematic
> comprehension of the bourgeois mode of production:  thus it is obvious even
> to bank tellers, cashiers, and consumers that commodities necessarily have a
> quantitative dimension and come to be expressed as money.  What is less
> obvious is the qualitative dimensions of money and value which can not be
> adequately grasped by an examination of magnitude alone.

Thank you, too, for the stimulation.

Yes, that's the point: that money quantities and the dimension are taken as
self-evident (by what Hegel calls "natural consciousness"). The dimension of
value and money is not even seen but taken for granted (and it is granted in
some mysterious way). The task of thinking is to disclose this dimension, to
rescue it from its dumb, obvious self-evidence and immediacy -- by mediating the
phenomena in thinking.

> A history of thought question:
> What challenges have there been historically to Descartes' Rule 14.4?  Has
> it been critically evaluated, for instance, from a Marxian perspective?

I don't know about Marxian perspectives on this. I only know that the Cartesian
paradigm for what counts as scientific knowledge has been put into question by
philosophers such as Dilthey, but it takes centuries for such insights to
trickle down. It is still taken for granted today, in 2002, in the mainstream
social sciences that if it ain't measurable, it don't exist.

>       ======
> > In economics, under the powerful influence of the success of Newtonian
> > physics  in the 17th and 18th centuries (Newton's magnum opus
> > _Philosophiae naturalis  principia mathematica_ was published in 1686/87),
> > the 'holy grail' has been to  discover and found principles or axioms upon
> > which economic phenomena could be  put into a deductive order.
> > Candidates for such scientific theories have been  the labour theory of
> > value, marginal utility theory, equilibrium theory. They  all require some
> > sort of theory of prices. All these theories come to grief,  however,
> > precisely on the phenomenon of money itself since the monetary
> > quantities with which economic theory must work CANNOT BE SIMPLY
> > TAKEN FOR GRANTED if the theory is to be well-founded (emphasis
> > added, JL)
> Thus, in order to systematically comprehend the subject matter of
> capitalism,  monetary quantities can not be simply taken as being "given"?
> What do you think was the role of "givens" in Hegel's and Marx's social
> theories: i.e. what role did "givens" play within the systematic ordering of
> their presentations and thereby the reconstruction of the subject matter in
> thought?  *Background*: are you familiar with the perspective of  [OPE-L
> listmember]  Fred [Moseley] on the role of givens in Marx's _Capital_
> especially as it relates to magnitudes?

No, I am not yet acquainted with Fred's thoughts on this.

Re your first question: Money quantities indeed cannot be simply taken as being
"given". That is the task of thinking, viz. to uncover the dimension of money
and value. This is the point emphasized by Hans-Georg Backhaus' work.

Re Hegel: His thinking is not just social theory, but, as he puts it in the
introduction to his Logic, the Logic, which forms the basis of his system, “is
the presentation of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of
nature and a finite spirit” (dass dieser Inhalt die Darstellung Gottes ist, wie
er in seinem ewigen Wesen vor der Erschaffung der Natur und eines endlichen
Geistes ist. Wissenschaft der Logik I, Werke Bd. 5 Einleitung. Allgemeiner
Begriff der Logik p. 44).

But Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, as the propaedeutic to the Logic,  is
concerned with "leading the individual from its uneducated/unformed
[ungebildeten] standpoint to knowledge", i.e. with "observing the universal
individual, self-conscious spirit, in its education/formation [Bildung]"
(Ph.d.G. Bd.3 p. 31) -- from "sensuous certainty" to "absolute knowing".

Re Marx: As a student of Hegel, Marx too proceeds in his Critique of Political
Economy (Das Kapital) from the most abstract determinations to the more and more
concrete. It is the abstract starting-point which causes the biggest problems,
and in Marx's presentation, this is the analysis of commodity exchange, money
and the concept of value which forms the basis for all that follows.

Everything thus depends on taking the familiar phenomenon of commodity exchange
and first elaborating a concept of value, the first and decisive concept in the

> > Re 2) The alternative to seeking a predictive social science is to regard
> > the  phenomena of association which constitute social relations
> > themselves and try to see (negatively) why and how they elude
> > prediction. This could lead  (positively) to an appreciation of what a
> > social relation between humans is _at all_.
> > (Max Weber's sociology, for instance, distinguishes between Erklaeren
> > und  Verstehen, explanation and understanding, but the understanding
> > he himself  practises does not amount to unearthing the deeper dimensions
> > of the phenomenon  of society. His sociology takes too much for granted.)
> Thus a deeper comprehension of the subject matter of capitalism is gained
> by *not* taking phenomena which can be expressed as magnitude as being
> given?   What is the Hegelian understanding on what should happen in a
> theoretical presentation _after_  an aspect of a phenomena is _assumed_ to
> be given?  That is, if we assume at one level of the presentation that
> something is given,  doesn't that impose a theoretical requirement  that we
> then have to _inquire_ at a subsequent stage in the analysis about the
> phenomena that we have assumed to be given?

Yes, I agree with this. The presentation is a thinking-through, which is the
literal meaning of 'dialectic', a passing-through the phenomena in the medium of
the _logos_. With respect to a _social_ theory the decisive and principal task
is to first open up the social dimension in thought. In Marx's presentation [no
matter whether ultimately it is successful or not], this task is assigned to the
value concept. The value concept is the first concept of "sociation" (M.
Williams and G. Reuten), or, in the language of Plato and Aristotle, it is the
first concept of _koinonia_.

> > In the case of economic theory, the phenomenon that needs to be
> > investigated in  relation to money is, first of all, the simplest
> > commodity exchange relation,  i.e. that goods are exchanged for each
> > other in certain proportions mediated by  money. There are, in my
> > opinion, two great forerunners who have undertaken a  phenomenology
> > of simple commodity exchange relations: Aristotle and Marx
> > (whereby Marx engages in a philosophical altercation with Aristotle).
> Where do you think the 'philosophical altercation' with Aristotle occurs?

In Das Kapital, Vol. I, Chapter 1, MEW23:73f -- his altercation with Aristotle
Eth. Nic. Book V Chapter v, and then in Chapter 4, "The Transformation of Money
into Capital" (MEW23:167), where Marx crucially employs the distinction
Aristotle makes in his Politics Book I Chapter 3 between "economics" (household
management) and "chrematistics" (money-making) in order to make the transition
from "simple commodity circulation" (MEW23:167) or C1 -- M -- C2 to the
"circulation of money as capital" (ibid.) or M1 -- C -- M2. Marx's altercation
with Aristotle at each of these points should give us pause for thought and lead
us to consider, in turn, the phenomena with which Aristotle is dealing at each
of these points, and this in the context of Aristotle's thinking as a whole.

> > The greatest difficulty is not to skip over the simple phenomenon and
> > treat > them as self-evident, given. Rather, the most obvious and even
> > banal given has  to be allowed to slowly reveal its mystery, its depth
> > for thinking.
> Please expand on the above.  If I understand you correctly -- which may
> not be the case -- then I think I agree with you.

With respect to a theory of capitalist society, thinking aims at saying what
capitalist society _is_. This is the form of question posed by philosophy since
its beginnings, the famous Socratic question _ti estin...;_ "what is...?". What
something is is the question as to its essence. Marx starts with an analysis of
commodity exchange in order to gain a first, preliminary, but all-decisive
answer to this question. He starts with a familiar phenomenon of sociation,
namely, the exchange of goods between people. The practice of exchange sociates
(or, to use a more familiar word, associates) humans with one another. So the
question is: What is going on when people sociate through the exchange of
commodity goods?

Significantly, Plato and Aristotle, too, start with a division of labour and the
exchange (_allagae_) of goods in their respective writings on the polis (Plato's
_Politeia_ or Republic and Aristotle's _Politics_).

Marx himself starts with the example of a quarter of wheat exchanging for "x
boot polish or y silk or z gold, etc." He says, taking a further example, that
in exchange "a given quantity of wheat is set equal to some quantity or other of
iron, e.g. 1 quarter of wheat = x hundredweights of iron" (MEW23:51). He goes
on: "What does this equation say? That something common of the same magnitude
exists in two different things..."

There is an echo from Aristotle here where he writes:
"without exchange no community would be possible and without equality there
would be no exchange, and without commensurability there would be no equality."
(Eth. Nic. V v 1133b17).

But even this is still skipping something, namely, that it is useful things that
are exchanged and that it is humans who do the exchanging, something which Marx,
of course, does not overlook. So we are already presupposing that we understand
what useful things and humans are. We therefore also require some explicit, if
rudimentary and preliminary, clarification of what useful things and uses are
and above all, who we ourselves are as humans.

This is getting a bit long, so I'll stop for now.

> As before, I look forward to further discussion -- and hope that others
> join in.

I do too.

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