[OPE-L:8083] philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Thu Nov 28 2002 - 16:40:15 EST

Cologne 28-Nov-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb Thu, 28 Nov 2002 14:21:54 -0000:

> 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?

I characterize my kind of thinking as phenomenological, i.e. the attempt to
get the phenomena into view through the medium of the _logos_ (words). I don't
think big labels such as idealism, realism or materialism are very helpful.

> > 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 specific forms. A full
> grasp of matter requires a full grasp of these forms.

'Matter' in Greek is _hylae_. In normal everyday ancient Greek _hylae_ meant
the wood from the woods used to make houses, tables, beds, etc. In Aristotle's
thinking, the famous distinction between matter and form is that between
_hylae_ and _morphae_. This distinction goes beyond simple everday things
(_pragmata_) such as beds and tables, although Aristotle very often uses such
simple examples to enable the reader to see the phenomena in his arguments.
Substance in Aristotle's thinking and in later metaphysical thinking is called
_ousia_, also an everyday Greek word signifying 'estate' (German: Anwesen),
i.e. all those practical things ownen by somebody and 'lying before' one as
presently available for use. What 'lies before one' is Greek _hypokeimenon_,
literally, 'that which underlies', or 'subject'. The _hypokeimenon_ is the
underlying substrate which bears all the properties of a thing and which is
also the 'subject' of all predications, i.e. of all the properties which can
be ascribed to a thing in being addressed by the _logos_ (words, speech).

All beings -- natural or made --, in Aristotle's thinking, are a unity of
matter and form (a distinction which you apparently accept). Thus e.g. a table
is matter (wood) in the form of a table. Neither Aristotle nor I wish to
"divorce form from matter"; rather, beings are a unity of matter and form.
Nevertheless,  the distinction between the two is important to keep in view
before one's mind's eye.

> 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.

Yes, Aristotle does criticize Plato's conception of forms, which are the
_ideai_, i.e. the ideas. Instead he calls the forms _morphae_. This criticism
of Plato comes about because the phenomenon of movement (in four primary
senses) is central to Aristotle's thinking. Aristotle is the thinker of
movement (_kinaesis_), and he thinks movement as "putting into a definite
form". The definition is how a being comes to stand in its shape or form which
can be addressed by the _logos_. Plato's great discovery was that beings offer
themselves to view in their 'look' or _idea_. The word _idea_ is the noun from
the Greek verb 'to see': _idein_. That is why I translate _idea_ as 'look'.
Each being has a 'look' which it offers of itself to human understanding. This
'look' is the being's being. E.g. we can only see/understand a tree _as_ a
tree because it stands in the look of 'treeness', treeness being the idea of
the tree's being.

A lot more needs to be said about the being of beings, movement in it various
senses, etc., but I will leave it at that for the moment.

> >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.

Our difference does not lie in me wanting to separate the determination of
substance and form of value from magnitude of value but i) in seeing where the
abstractness of abstract labour comes from and ii) in determining the
dimension within which value has its magnitude. As I see it i) the
abstractness arises not substantially, i.e. in an _ousia_, but in the
practical _relation_ (_pros ti_) of exchange, and ii) the dimension of
magnitude is to be located in the universal medium (money) which mediates
commodity exchange relations.

_Ousia_ is the first and principal of Aristotle's categories, the category
through which something is addressed as being _what_ it is. The very word
'category' comes from the Greek verb _katagorein_, 'to address'. The
categories are the various ways in which a being is addressed by the _logos_
(words, speech) in its being. The following categories with which Aristotle
deals and which recur again and again in his thinking are quality (_pos_),
quantity (_posos_), relation (_pros ti_), and so on (he mentions ten in all).
What I am saying is that the magnitude of value is not one arising from
substance, but from the abstract relation of exchange practice.

> 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
> work.

I think there is a confusion of various strands of argumentation in Marx's
theory. He certainly criticizes Ricardo's fixation on magnitudes but, in my
view, he does not dispense radically enough with the remnants of a labour
theory of value which can be employed as a theory of prices. I am not accusing
Marx of Cartesian dualism in this, but rather am pointing out that the very
attempt to establish a "law of value" is Cartesian-inspired in the sense of
Descartes' _Regulae_.

> 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.

That means that abstract labour, on your understanding, cannot be perceived by
the senses?

> 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.

OK. I think I now understand you better. I have two problems with this. The
first is that I do not see that abstract labour is a substance in itself which
comes to appearance. Rather, I see that abstract labour is the commodity
product of labour seen in the practical _relation_ of commodity exchange. This
practical relation is abstract, and only by virtue of this abstract relation
does the commodity product of labour itself become abstract. This abstractness
can then also be attributed to the labour which a commodity embodies, or to
its use-value (abstract usefulness).

The second problem I have is that this abstractness is not ordinary
sensuousness seen by the senses. The abstractness only comes into view for the
_mind's_ eye considering the practice of commodity exchange, i.e. we do not
see the abstractness sensuously by regarding the commodity, but only in
considering the nature of the practice of commodity exchange. This means that
value is a _social_ phenomenon through and through -- the being of a commodity
as value is social-relational, and not substantial. This social-relationity is
seen by understanding, not in _aisthaesis_ (the senses).

> 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 agree that value consummately comes to appearance in money, but this is
because money is the consummate mediator of commodity exchange. Monetary value
itself is the medium or dimension of value. Otherwise, the value of
commodities is understood in that we understand that they have some value or
other expressed in their potential prices which they could have on being sold.
Their value is not immediately sensuous, but only insofar as we understand
them as valuable in being worth such-and-such.

> > 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!

Here we disagree, and I disagree also with Marx in positing a substance of
value. Money could be the only candidate for substance of value, but money
itself is a social relation and nothing at all outside of the social relation
of commodity exchange. Value is the first concept for grasping capitalist
_society_ and therefore it is a concept conceiving _sociation_, i.e. it is a
relational concept which arises in thinking from considering _social_,
sociating practice.

> > 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.
> > 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'.

I disagree. The crucial point is not that the commodity has material
properties (which of course it must have), but that it is customarily _used_.
That is what makes it a _use_-value. Use-value, too, is a social phenomenon
depending on the usages of a society.

> > 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 necessary labour is determined in all societies.

This concept of socially necessary labour as you describe it, it seems to me,
is too general to be of any use in determining the magnitude of value in
generalized commodity exchange relations. Of course, labour making different
things must be somehow distributed in all kinds of society, but the task is to
understand the forms of association and distribution of various labours. This
is perhaps first possible in capitalist society in which concrete labours have
come under the sway of a simple universal (value).

> > 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.

Let me put it this way: To understand commodity value in its primordial sense,
the determination of commodity-producing labour as specifically wage-labour
plays no role.

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

We certainly do.

> > 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.

I think you gave a fair presentation of Marx's criticism of Aristotle. I also
think that Marx did not appreciate the full depth of Aristotle's masterly
analysis of commodity exchange, for Aristotle keeps the relational aspect of
commodity exchange in view and emphasizes that exchange is for the sake of the
various usages and uses in a society. It is these disparate uses in disparate
usages that "holds everything together" (1133a28) in necessitating exchange.
In asserting abstract labour as value substance, Marx obscures the sociating
nature of the practice of commodity exchange.

> > 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.
> > 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.

Yes indeed, we disagree on SNLT. I regard the qualification 'socially
necessary' as highly problematic and vague, so I don't think we know about

> Once again, many thanks,

Thanks for the discourse, Andy,
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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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