[OPE-L:8065] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Tue Nov 26 2002 - 17:00:23 EST

Cologne 26-Nov-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb Tue, 26 Nov 2002 13:03:55 -0000:

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

Okay, we are material bodies. And we also think.
The problem for me is: Do we think _as_ material bodies? (the status of the
_qua_ in Latin, or the _haei_ in Greek). E.g. (an Aristotelean example): A
doctor can heal himself (when he is sick), but the doctor does not heal
himself _as_ doctor_, but _as_ patient: Humans think. Humans are material,
but this matter also has a form, a _look_ (Plato's _idea_). This look
(_idea_) is what inspires matter with human being, including human thinking.

> > 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.

I am very backward. I seem to end up with the ancient thinkers, whom I
regard as superior to today's "supermarket of ideas" (one of Wal Suchting's
favourite phrases).

I agree that popular discourse and scientific discourse today think of mind
as some sort of machine, most often a computer. Digital ontology dominates
today in thinking on the mind.

> 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 each other of Cartesian dualism!

No, I am not hostile (I don't understand it), and I am also not a friend of
Cartesianism at all. Aristotle is far superior, although I am not an
Aristotelean, either. The concept of matter would at least have to be
twisted well free of its Aristotelean origins to yield something akin to
what your propose: matter that thinks:

> > 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.

I think that Marx, in his Critique of Political Economy; is wanting to place
his bets (at least) two ways. He wants to ground a law of value with SNLT as
its quantitatively determining causal factor (in some sense or other), but
at the same time, his phenomenology is richer, in that it deals with the
simple everyday phenomena of commodity exchange, etc. He emulates the
Cartesian/Newtonian casting in expounding a law of value, but there is more
to his analysis of value than this (viz. the value-form).

> > 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.

Both Hegel and Marx are students of Aristotle and their respective thinking
draws on Aristotelean categories, each in their own (transformed) way.

Why do you say that "form is ... sensuous by definition"?

I don't see labour as a substance (_ousia_), Aristotle's first category.
Substance (_ousia_) is that which lies before us and presents itself to us,
ready to hand. Labour is what produces products; it is the potential to
labour (labour power) in the process of actualization, i.e. labour is
labour-power _at work_ (_en-erg-eia_). Aristotle's most distinctive
categories in his metaphysics are _dynamis_ (force, power) and _energeia_
(literally: being-at-work or at-work-ness, the standard, misleading
translation being 'actuality'). Abstract labour is such labour-power at work
viewed from the abstract relation of equalizing different products of labour
in commodity exchange. I.e. abstract labour is relational (_pros ti_) and
not substantive (_ousia_).

> 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.

Capitalist society, with its generalized or universalized practice of
commodity exchange, realizes the abstractness most consummately, but the
abstractness can already be seen in the simple commodity exchange relation
-- which Marx himself regards as the "cell".

> > 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.

So usefulness is a potential which is only actualized in the practices of
human usage (custom). A specific commodity (e.g. a coat) has a passive
_dynamis_ for being used -- by a human, who is the active _dynamis_ for
putting this passive _dynamis_ 'to work' (_en-ergeia_) by actually wearing
it. Thus usefulness is such only within the context of human practices (such
as wearing clothes). In a society in which clothes are not worn, a coat is
useless, i.e. it has no passive _dynamis_.

> > 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.

Yes, according to Marx, the residue of the abstraction performed practically
by the ubiquitous practice of commodity exchange is (quantitatively) SNLT.
But is this, in truth, what the abstract practical relation of commodity
exchange achieves? Is time the dimension within which abstract labour is
situated? And, even if the dimension of time were granted, what is the
grounding for the qualification "socially necessary"?

> > 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
> view.

I disagree. Marx explicitly excludes wage labour in his analysis of
commodity exchange (cf. the footnote on MEW23:59 "The category of wages for
labour does not yet exist at all on this level of our presentation."). What
labour produces is commodities in their concrete singularity with the
potential for being used by humans, either in consumption or to produced
further commodity products (MP). It is only in exchange that the
abstractness comes into play. The abstractness comes about only through the
_relation_ (_pros ti_), in this case, a practical relation of exchange.

> > 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.

Marx certainly rejected Aristotle's argument, but did he convincingly
dispense with it? Aristotle says that in commodity exchange  "it is
necessary for everything to be measured by some unity” (_dei ara heni tini
panta metreisthai_ Eth. Nic. 1133a26) and this unity is “in truth, use,
which holds everything together” (_touto d' esti toi men alaetheiai hae
chreia, hae panta synechei_ 1133a28), for exchange is carried on in order to
acquire the useful things which one lacks within the usages of a given

> 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'.

Aristotle does not "pass off exchange value as irrational (lacking in
substance)", but says that it is “in truth, use, which holds everything
together”. And here, in my view, Aristotle is truer to the phenomena,
whether it be in Greek society or in modern capitalist society.

> > 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.

The first step is to learn to see that the measure of abstract use or
abstract labour as it is practically brought about by universal commodity
exchange is not time, but money itself, which mediates commodity exchange.
That is, the measure itself is brought about by the abstract social

Thanks for that,
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