[OPE-L:8053] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Mon Nov 25 2002 - 11:49:37 EST

Cologne 25-Nov-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb Mon, 25 Nov 2002 12:27:28 -0000:

> Hello Michael, Jerry and all,
> Re 8046 and related posts:
> There is too much going on here than I really have time to get to
> grips with but:
> (1) I agree with Paul Cockshott that the Heisenburg uncertainty
> principle is simply a manifestation of idealism that has nothing
> positive to offer social theory.
> (2) Surely it is clear that 'dialectical materialism' attempts to
> answer the philosophical questions raised in previous posts in a
> Marxian manner. Stalin's debasement of the term must not blind us
> from the many Marxists, from Marx and Engels onwards, who have
> developed dialectical materialism. (I do not wish to enter into a
> debate on the Marx / Engels' relationship here!)
> (3) Ilyenkov, as Pilling was among the first to show, articulates
> what he terms 'materialist dialcetics' with value theory and political
> economy. In essence Newton, or at least his philsophical
> 'upholders' such as Locke, manifest 'mechanical' materialism.
> (Descartes' own mechanistic conception of matter led him to
> dualism in order to try to  account for the thinking body).
> Mechanical materialism must be superseeded by dialectical
> materialism, and the notion of scientific law is thereby superseeded
> also. The 'clever idealism' of (especially Hegelian) dialectics can
> thereby be put on a materialist basis. Thus, from this perspective,
> Michael's apparent charge that Marx is stuck at the level of the
> Lockean (Newtonian) concpetion of law, is incorrect. The charge
> ignores Marx's critique of mechanistic materialism, his critique of
> idealist dialectics and his championing of materialist dialectics.
> (4) The above is just a very brief statement of dialectical
> materialism. But I just wanted to remind people of it and to suggest
> that in Ilyenkov's, and others', hands it is a vibrant philosophy, not
> to be ignored.
> (5) Re value. It seems to me very damaging to assimilate all
> quantitative value theory to the axiomatic method. The magnitude
> of value is important. E.g. the magnitude of prices, wages and
> profits are important! To theorise them is not to be an axiomatic
> model builder. A final assertion: I do not see *how* value can
> possibly be theorised outside of a labour theory of value. Labour
> time is the only possible material property of commodities that
> could be systematically related to commodities (this is Marx's
> openning argument in 'Capital' I think). Without such a property
> then political economy would be quite impossible. I fear that
> Michael's apparent view leads down this impossible road.
> Sorry for all the brief assertions. Hope something useful in the
> above.
> Andy

Hi Andy,

I think your objections have to be unfolded a bit and I appreciate that
you lack the time to explicate. The issue of materialist dialectics is a
large one, as you say. The task here would be to interpret Marx's
references to "law of motion" and "law of gravity" in another way which
puts a distance between these obvious Newtonian references and what Marx
attempts to establish as a "law of value".

My citing Descartes' handbook of rules for attaining well-founded
scientific knowledge is to show how he lays down the _quantitative_
approach to the phenomena which, in my opinion, economics and Marx's
critique of political economy both adopt.

You apparently make a distinction between a law (of value) and an axiom.
If so, what is the distinction? For the Greeks, an axiom is what is
'valuable'. For Newton, axiom and law are synonymous (Axiomata, sive leges


I agree that "The magnitude of value is important. E.g. the magnitudes of
prices, wages and profits are important!", indeed, it is crucial for
Marx's entire critique of political economy and his attempt to say what
capitalist society is. Nothing should be taken for granted here as simply
given. So it is important to get this magnitude right, i.e. to see clearly

in which dimension at all it is situated. For, as Aristotle says -- and
Marx explicitly agrees with Aristotle when he writes "...that these
sensuously different things could not be related to each other as
commensurable magnitudes without such an equality of essence" MEW23:73 --,

when things are 'set equal' in exchange they have to be, first and
foremost, commensurable, i.e. situated in the same dimension.

>AB: Labour time is the only possible material property of commodities
>that could be systematically related to commodities (this is Marx's
>opening argument in 'Capital' I think).

That's right. Do you also know Boehm-Bawerk's objection to this, published

long ago in 1896? I myself only recently took the trouble of digging this
out. He writes:

"If Marx had accidently reversed the sequence of the investigation, with
precisely the same apparatus of argumentative conclusions with which he
had excluded use-value, he could have excluded labour and then, once
again, with the same apparatus of argumentative conclusions with which he
had crowned labour, he could have proclaimed use-value to be the sole
remaining and thus the sought-for common property and explained value as a

‘jelly of use-value’" (Boehm-Bawerk, 'Zum Abschluss des Marxschen Systems'

in: Friedrich Eberle (ed.) _Aspekte der Marxschen Theorie 1: Zur
methodischen Bedeutung des 3. Bandes des ‘Kapital’_ Suhrkamp Verlag,
Frankfurt/M. 1973 p. 89 citing MEW23:73f)

It is an interesting objection in my opinion, and is prior to any
objection made on the level of the so-called transformation problem. It is

also extremely interesting that Boehm-Bawerk makes his objection on the
background of his own reading of Aristotle! It is as if not only Marx's
and Boehm-Bawerk's but also our own thinking -- no matter whether we
acknowledge it or deny it or are oblivious to it -- is still held in the
grasp of the two-and-a-half millennia reach of Aristotle's casting.

>AB: Without such a property then political economy would be quite
>impossible. I fear that Michael's apparent view leads down
>this impossible road.

To attempt the impossible here would thus mean to risk the venture of
stepping out of the long shadow cast by Aristotle which willy-nilly shapes

and casts and moulds our thinking to the present day.

_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_- made by art  _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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