[OPE-L:8082] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Thu Nov 28 2002 - 09:21:54 EST

Hi Michael,

Re your [8065]: First, a question: how would you characterise your 
own philosophy? Is it a form of idealism? Does it go 'beyond' such 
characterisations? Is that what happens when we go 'beyond' or 
maybe 'away from' Aristotelian thinking?

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

I'm afraid you have lost me!  What is 'matter', in your view? In my 
view the notion of 'matter' affirms the unity of things. This is not a 
simple unity rather it is a unity-in-diversity. Matter is infinite in time 
and space and exists only in specifc forms. The totality of matter 
is, in other words, what Spinoza calls 'substance'. It seems from 
the above that you wish to divorce form from matter. By contrast, 
note how, on my view, matter exists only in specifc forms. A full 
grasp of matter requires a full grasp of these forms.

> > 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:

I have not studied Aristotle's stuff closely. Above, you seemed to 
lump in Platonic forms within an Aristotelian schema but surely 
Aristotle critiques Plato's conception of forms? I should be very 
happy for you to explain further your interpretation of Aristotle.

> > 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).

You seem to presuppose that taking abstract labour as the 
substance of value and hence quantitatively determining price (its 
own form of appearance) is incompatible with what you see as the 
'richer' task of dealing with the everyday phenomena of commodity 
exchange. From my perspective, the 'two' tasks -- in abstract 
terms, the task of uncovering the substance and form of value on 
the one hand, and the task of determining the magnitude of value 
on the other -- cannot be separated in the manner you appear to 
favour. They are better seen as two facets of the same task and 
must be 'run together', on the view I advocate. 

The abstract reason for our difference of opinion is likely to be our 
different philosophies. The philosophy you are attributing to Marx 
clearly cannot justify running what you see as two tasks together. 
The philosophy that I uphold, and attribute to Marx, necessitates 
such a unity. Relatedly, I have, albeit briefly, in previous posts tried 
to indicate how I see materialist dialectics as superseding 
mechanistic materialism, including Cartesian dualism. From this 
perspective, only a misunderstanding of Marx's own philosophy 
could lead you to attribute Cartesianism to (a strand within) Marx's 

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

Firstly, an important distinction must be made. Above I have 
mentioned a transhistorical schema incorporating the terms 
'substance' and 'form' (a schema which is an interpretation of 
Spinoza's philosophy). The question you pose immediately above 
relates, however, to the specifc case of value, a case which is of 
interest only for capitalism; it is not transhistorical. In this case, 
the terms 'substance' and 'form' are best seen as having different, 
very much more complex, meanings to the transhistorical case. 

The notion of 'form' being 'sensuous by definition' is a little bit too 
truncated so let me elaborate. The 'substance' of value is highly 
peculiar. The substance is socially necessary labour but this 
labour is 'abstract' which means it is stripped of all sensuousness. 
Murray argues that value, whose substance is abstract labour, is 
therefore analogous to Hegel's 'Essence'. The point about such an 
essence is that it needs sensuous form. It cannot appear 
immediately because it is immediately non-sensuous. Therefore, it 
can only appear through mediation. It appears only in its own 
opposite, the sensuous commodity serving as equivalent. Within 
this schema then 'form' is by definition 'sensuous form' because the 
whole point is that essence requires sensuousness.

However, Marx does sometimes distinguish between the 
'appearance form' of value, which is what I have been talking about, 
and the 'form' of value. For example, within the circuit of capital we 
have M-C-M. In this case 'C' is a 'form' of capital (and hence a 'form' 
of value since capital is self-expanding value) but 'C' is not an 
*appearance* form of value. M is the *appearance* form of value. 
Commodities are 'in love with' money because they are values but 
this true nature of theirs is not manifest. Commodities must be 
transformed into money to gain appearance as values.

> 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 agree, and I think Marx agrees, that labour is not, outside of 
capitalism, a substance. However, (only) within capitalism, Marx's 
argument (as I interpret it) is that abstract labour *is* a substance. 
This is why value is so incredibly peculiar. A complete abstraction 
has become a substance!

> > 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".

But there is a question as to the status of this cell which I come 
back to below.

> > > 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_.

I agree. The crucial point remains that use value is determined 
(meaning *conditioned* or *delimited*) by the material properties of 
the commodity: it is not 'a thing of air'.

> 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"?

Materialist dialectics, unlike your own philosophy, indicates that all 
societies must distribute social labour in definite proportions. In 
other words, socially necesary labour is determined in all societies.

> > 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.

Your disagreement with regard to wage labour is a red herring I 
think. The 'cell-form' is the *capitalist* commodity, even though 
capital itself 'does not exist for us' until quite a long way through 
the presentation of capitalism. Therefore the commodity is, 
characteristically, produced by wage labour, even though wage 
labour does not exist for us until quite some time after capital has 
been introduced into the presentation. 

We have a basic disagreement regarding the relation between the 
creation of value and the exchange of commodities.

> > > 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 society.

All I was doing was to present Marx's interpretation of Aristotle on 
value. Marx has a different interpretataion to your own (in my view). 
According to Marx, Aristotle rejects use value as the substance of 
value, and passes off value as irrational. It seems, given your 
knowledge of Aristotle, that Marx was wrong.

> > 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.

See above.

> > 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 relation.

Such a step would, from my perspective, be to move from 
something we know about, viz. SNLT, to something we have no 
clue about, money. It would preclude ever being able to grasp 
money and all the other economic categories. Perhaps a major 
point of disagreement between us is then that regarding whether or 
not 'SNLT' is a notion which makes any sense or not.

Once again, many thanks,


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