[OPE-L:8059] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Tue Nov 26 2002 - 06:05:41 EST

Cologne 26-Nov-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb  Mon, 25 Nov 2002 19:12:42 -0000:

Your e-mailer seems to knock out the automatic "reply" address in the e-mail header.

> Hi Michael,
> Re your [8053]
> > 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.
> Yes and apologies for the rush.
> >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".
> Well, let me start 'nuancing' or explicating my previous post by qualifying your statement above. I would suggest that it is not the references to Newton's laws that one must distance Marx from. Newton's laws are true (approximately, within a limitied range of magnitudes of relevant variables, as Einstein showed). Moreover, they *do* share features common to all scientific laws, including those of political economy, and Marx is correct to point to this fact. Materialist dialectics does indeed suggest that there is an aspect of unity between natural and social science.
> However, it *is* important to distance Marx from the mechanistic *interpretation* of Newton's laws offered by many philosophers from Newton's time onwards. A classic such interpretation is offered by Locke. Descartes' schema is consistant also with a mechanistic interpretation. Contemporary philosophy also tends to have a reductionist and mechanistic conception of matter. The image of science and hence of matter prevalent in popular discourse is also one where matter is conceived mechanistically.
> A non-mechanistic interpretation of Newton's laws simply recognises what has come to be termed 'emergence'. Complex forms of matter require more than just Newton's laws in order to comprehend them, witness chemistry and biology. Crucially, the most complex form of matter we know is humanity and in humanity matter thinks. Thinking is thereby a property of matter. This is ultimately what it means to say that matter should not be conceived of mechanistically, as if Newtonian mechanics exhausts all laws, or provides the only 'true' laws.
> This also gives us a dialectical development: matter is opposite to thought, yet matter thinks!

If I understood what the thesis that "matter thinks" meant, I am sure I would disagree.

As to mechanistic metaphysics, this goes back to Descartes casting beings as res extensa on the one hand and res cogitans on the other. This dualism has been under attack from its inception, first of all and most notably by Leibniz, who introduces the category of vis, force, which harks back to Aristotelean _dynamis_ (a category insufficiently thought-through to the present day).

> > 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.
> Perhaps the additional comments above are helpful in communicating how I think Descartes is superseded by Marx? On my view political economy must be both qualitative and quantitative, since, to put it in the most abstract way possible, value has substance and form as well as magnitude. Marx certainly seems to take this point of view.

The phenomena of capitalist society themselves must force us to recognize that they are both qualitative and quantitative. So far I have only been focusing on and questioning a quantitative law of value. That does not mean that value has no magnitude. My question concerns rather what dimension allows commensurability of commodities as values.

To be able to formulate a law of value, a ground to the quantiative determination of exchange proportions must be posited, a ground which lies outside the exchange itself which causally (directly or in a highly mediated way, perhaps only statistically) determines the exchange proportions. Such a law would satisfy both Descartes' rule book and Leibniz' "grand principle".

Another point:
If you are comfortable with the categories: substance, form and magnitude, then your materialist dialectics must cast an alternative metaphysics to Aristotle's. Why? Because these three categories in Aristotle are _ousia_, _morphae_ and _posos_, and _morphae_, i.e. form, is the opposite of _hylae_, matter (Aristotle, Physics B 1). How does materialist dialectics rethink this opposition to overcome it? Or doesn't it need to?

> > 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 motus).
> By 'axiom' I have in mind the sort of axioms one finds in a formal system. I do not think reality can be fully comprehended in any formal system. Yet, laws must comprehend reality. Hence I do not equate laws with axioms. Marx seems also to take this view. As regards the transformation problem, he continually lambasts Ricardo for his 'formal abstractions' and basically suggests that Ricardo's insistence upon a mechanistic conception of the law of value leads Ricardo to desire that prices are proportional to labour times even as he knows they aren't (his '93 per cent' theory). Marx dispenses with the mechanistic view of a law and thereby with the view that proportionality is a requirement of the law of value. Pilling offers this interpretation of Marx, as does Ilyenkov, from whom Pilling draws a great deal. (Actually, Pilling and Ilyenkov do not make explicit the quantitative implications as I have done)
> What did Hegel think about this matter, I wonder?
> > 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.
> I agree that it is an interesting objection and also that it is prior to the transformation problem. As it happens I have a PhD chapter that goes through the objection and others in detail attempting to refute it on the basis of materialist dialectics. The essential point is that use value is *not* 'a thing of air' which means that it is not something outside of the useful properties of the commodity. Yet these useful properties are determined (conditioned) by the natural material properties of the commodity which are entirely abstracted from in exchange, hence Boehm-Bawerk's objection fails utterly, in my view. By contrast, labour time is not utterly or palpably abstracted from in exchange. There may be a systematic relationship between labour time and exchange value even though it clearly isn't a proportional one. That is a 'height' or 'weight' or 'age' theory of value is clearly a joke (as is any theory involving a natural material property), whereas a labour theory of !
> isn't.

Isn't the usefulness of a commodity, its value in use, only such within the usages, i.e. within the human practices, in which it is used?

Do you agree that, when two commodities, such as wheat and iron, are equated in exchange (in certain proportions), that not only the concrete labours that produced them, but also the concrete values in use are abstracted from? Do you agree that it is the practice of exchange itself which (willy nilly -- "behind the backs" of the exchangers) performs the abstraction?

To properly assess Boehm-Bawerk's objection, the one I quoted, would require returning to reconsider the argument in Aristotle and Marx's reply to it.

> > 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.
> I agree that this common relationship to Aristotle is interesting and I hadn't noticed it before. Materialist dialectics upholds the notion that there are universal (eternal) laws of nature. If Aristotle taps into these it might not be so surprising that his views keep resurfacing.

I disagree that there are "(eternal) laws of nature", as I am sure will become apparent in the course of time. Counter-thesis: The world, including nature, only opens to human being historically, and such historical openings are by no means eternal.

> > >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.
> Yes it would. Clearly we have different views as to whether such a move is warranted!

Or, in a given historical situation (our own), the risk is necessary and we can not cede or elude or withdraw -- that is, without failing to be a match for the situation.

> Many thanks,

Thanks to you, too,
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