[OPE-L:8060] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Nov 26 2002 - 08:03:55 EST

Hi Michael,

re your [8059]

I have tried and failed to deal with the problem with my email.

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

We are material bodies. We think. What is the problem?
> 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).

Well, the dualism has certainly been under attack (my preferred 
solution is to be found in Spinoza). But far from overcoming the 
dualism what tends to happen is *not* that the dualism is truly 
overcome. Rather, the mechanistic conception of 'matter' is 
retained and 'mind' is simply blotted out of the ontology altogether. 
E.g. Searle on 'missing out the mind'. Or consider contemporary 
'materialist' conceptions of mind as advocated by Armstrong and 
the like. But, frankly, I know little of contemporary Anlgo-American 
philosophy (and would be happy for you to enlighten me on this 
score). What is, I think, true, is that the conception of 'matter' in 
popular discourse, and indeed in the discourse of social scientists, 
tends to be a mechanistic one such that the relation of mind to 
matter is not fully worked out and is prima facie problematic.

The very fact that you seem hostile to the simple proposition that 
matter thinks suggests to me that you are retaining a Cartesian 
and mechanistic conception of matter such that, for you, matter 
can't think. Obviously the suggestion that you unknowingly retain 
Cartesian mechanism is one you would flatly deny but it at least 
serves to show just how different our world views seem to be. We 
might both end up accusing eachother of Cartesian dualism! 

> 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".

The above is too truncated for me to be able to interpret your 
meaning (I fear my own posts suffer from the same problem). 
Previously you seemed to imply that a quantitative theory of value 
necessarily entailed axiomatic model building, i.e. Cartesianism. I 
think this is not the case. It seems you disagree but I can't quite 
tell why you disagree.

> 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?

Alas, I have not studied Aristotle closely so cannot comment on 
that. My use of the terms stems from Marx's own work -- also I am 
influenced by Patrick Murray's exposition -- Murray refers to 
Hegel's Logic of Essence (and here is another can of worms!) Still, 
on my view, the appearance form of value is indeed opposite to its 
substance. The substance is abstract labour and this means 
labour stripped of all sensuousness, pure homogenous labour. 
Form is, on the other hand, sensuous by definition. Thus the 
substance (that is inherently non-sensuous) must appear in its own 
opposite, the sensuous commodity acting as equivalent.

I rather doubt, however, that all this can define any true 
transhistorical schema of substance and form. This is because a 
defining feature of the above is its peculiarity, even absurdity. The 
whole notion of congealed abstract labour is a highly peculiar one, 
defining, at the most abstract level, capitalism and not valid outside 
of capitalism.

> 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?

It exists as a potential prior to actual use.

> 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? 

Yes. But the key point is that socially necessary labour time is 
*not* abstracted from. This is Marx's opening argument in 'Capital', 
in my view. And it seems quite correct to me.

Do you agree that it is the practice of
> exchange itself which (willy nilly -- "behind the backs" of the
> exchangers) performs the abstraction?

I think exchange is such because value is congealed abstract 
labour. I do not think that exchange creates congealed abstract 
labour. Wage labour creates congealed abstract labour. Congealed 
abstract labour is given appearance form in exchange. Thus I do 
not think that exchange performs the abstraction. Rather, 
exchange reflects the abstraction. This also seems to be Marx's 

> 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.

According to my interpretation of Marx, Aristotle correctly 
recognised that there must be a substance to value but Aristotle 
could not find such a substance. He could not do this because the 
society in which he lived did not reveal the 'concrete universal' 
nature of labour. Without recognition of labour as a concrete 
universal then 'labour' is no better than use value as a supposed 
substance of value. Therefore I think Marx would have rejected the 
argument that use value is the substance of value and also Marx 
believed Aristotle rejected such an argument.

Note, however, that the above exposition must be nuanced: the law 
of value did not hold prior to capitalism hence Aristotle was, in an 
important sense, correct to pass off exchange value as irrational 
(lacking in substance), for the society in which he was living. From 
Marx's perspective, it is possible to see pre-capitalist value-forms 
(commodities and money) as containing, at best, value 'in embryo'.

> > > >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.

I would very be interested to see how you would theorise the 
magnitudes of wages and profits etc. My view is that this requires 
the LTV.

Many thanks,


This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Nov 27 2002 - 00:00:01 EST