[OPE-L:8097] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Tue Dec 03 2002 - 09:06:21 EST

Hello Michael,

Re your 8083.

Thanks for the brief exposition of various important metaphysical 
categories. I was originally trying to grasp your view that the notion 
of 'matter thinking' was unintelligible. This is clearly important for 
materialist dialectics so forgive me if I first pursue this issue further 
in light of your helpful exposition thus far. You write:

> 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.

Perhaps we differ as regards our conception of the degree to which 
matter is passive or active. If, as you seem to suggest, we 
consider matter as somewhat analogous to the wood that 
constitutes a table then there seems nothing inherent within matter 
to develop specifc form. However, on my view, the totality of matter 
does have inherent propensities to develop specific forms. Such 
forms provide the objects of physics, chemistry, biology and also 
matter develops the forms of thinking and sociality, as studied by 
social science. Turning to your example, a table is not something 
that matter inherently develops, rather a table, as such, is an 
accident, or contingent occurence. However, an example of a form 
that *is* necessary developed by matter is the form of thought. 
Thought is the property, the mode of activity, of the thinking body, 
enabled by, amongst many other things, the specific material 
structures of that body (but not to be identified with such 
structures), i.e. enabled by its material constitution. 

Now, if one does not consider any specifc form to be inherent 
within (to necessarily grow out of) the totality of matter then I 
suppose it makes little sense to say that 'matter thinks'. Rather, 
matter as such would have a few sparse attributes (boiling down to 
'extension'?) and the forms of matter would indeed 'animate' matter, 
as opposed to matter developing its own forms. But then I would 
ask where would 'forms' come from? Without any principle uniting 
forms how do we know what forms we might encounter? How do 
we know that 'known' forms will have any stability through time and 

> 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.

But there seems to be more to our differences than this. You 
continue to suggest that Marx's striving for a quantitative 'law of 
value' puts him on the level of Newton / Descartes. I had thought 
that Marx's very attempt to theorise the magnitude of value had led 
you to place Marx next to Descartes. Would I be right in thinking 
that, in fact, it is his attempt to look for a 'law'  that you see as akin 
to Descartes? If so then let me try again to indicate how Marx's 
supersedes Descartes' notion of 'law'. Basically, for Marx, the 
notion of 'law' does *not* require proportionality of, in the case of 
the LTV, values to prices. Rather, the quantitative side of this law 
requires a systematic relationship between labour times and 
prices. Marx's quantitative task is therefore to specify just what this 
systematic relationship is. The transformation from values to prices 
of production achieves this specifcation and it turns out that 
systematic deviations of price (of production) magnitude from 
labour time magnitude occur. 

> 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_.

See above. Of course, Marx's *essential* criticism of Ricardo is not 
that he is fixated on magnitudes. The problems with Ricardo 'lie 
deeper'. Ricardo is unable to *develop* the law of value. Ricardo 
does not see that the very nature of value is such that it is 
inherently opposite to its appearance form; that the mediations 
between value essence and price form must be uncovered step by 
step, and that such mediations entail systematic deviation of 
labour time magnitude from price magnitude. Ricardo never 
examines the (abstract) nature of the substance of value (social 
labour). Ricardo assumes that capitalism is natural and therefore 
Ricardo is impervious to the specificity of capitalist forms.
> >
> > 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?


> 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).

This is one of our 'basic disagreements'.

> 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).

We agree as to the way in which the abstractness 'comes into 
view'. For me, the whole point of exchange is to bring value 
(congealed abstract labour) 'into view'. We *also* agree on the 
sociality of value. For me, abstract labour is a 'social substance'. 
Precisely because of this it can only 'come into view' through the 
'social relation between commodities'. The notion of 'social 
substance' is highly peculiar of course.

> >
> > > 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.

Crucial for what? As regards the abstraction from use value 
inherent in exchange it is the material determination of use value 
that is crucial, for the abstraction from natural material properties 
can then be grapsed as an abstraction from use value.

> > > 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. 

Again, this is a key point of disagreement. No time to get into it 

> > 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.

If 'primordeal' refers to historical origins then I disagree. Value is 
only properly constituted within capitalism.  

> 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.

I very much disagree with your interpretation of Marx here. Marx 
*stresses* the importance of use value, *social* use value indeed, 
to exchange. There is no exchange, no value, without use value. 
Marx simply and correctly points out that use value is entirely 
abstracted from (even though essential to) exchange value, since 
the material properties of commodities are entirely abstracted from 
in exchange. Only social labour is left hence social labour is the 
substance of value.

Many thanks, Michael, I have found this discussion very helpful.


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