[OPE-L:8117] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Wed Dec 04 2002 - 11:45:12 EST

Cologne 04-Dec-2002

"Andrew Brown" <Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk>schrieb  Tue, 3 Dec 2002 14:06:21

> 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.

Hi Andy,
Thanks for writing.

> 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 specific 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
> space?

You ask three questions.
i) Where do forms come from? They come from beings showing themselves qua
beings and thus presenting a 'look' which we humans understand, for we humans,
as human _beings_, are susceptible to these 'looks' of beings, which we can
then also address through the _logos_ (speech).

ii) What forms might we encounter according to what unifying principle? The
forms we encounter depend on the way we understand the world. This
understanding changes historically. There may not be any unifying principle to
a way in which the world presents itself to human understanding. In the
Christian era in the West, for instance, an underlying, unifying principle was
God, the "supreme being", who 'underlay' all beings as their creator. The
forms within which beings presented themselves to human understanding were
thus as created beings.

iii) How do we know that 'known' forms will have any stability through time
and space? We don't. "Stability" is a conception of being which has long been
with us (since the Greeks). E.g. we do not know for how long physical beings
will present themselves to our understanding as bodies moving uniformly and
persevering in their motion through mathematically conceived dimensions of
homogeneous time and space (Newton's First Law of Motion).

> > 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 specification and it turns out that
> systematic deviations of price (of production) magnitude from
> labour time magnitude occur.

I agree that Marx has a sophisticated approach to the quantitative so-called
law of value. This approach is still within Descartes' Rules which specify
only that, for the purpose of scientific knowing, all phenomena be approached
from the quantitative aspect and ultimately be reduced to some sort of
equations. If one is aware of this Cartesian heirloom in Marx's thinking, it
may make one aware of other aspects of the phenomena under investigation, e.g.
commodity exchange.

The other thing to mention here is whether a quantitatively conceived law of
labour value works at all. E.g. the so-called transformation problem has been
raging, or at least smouldering, ever since the publication of the third
volume of Das Kapital in the 1890s.

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

In commodity exchange I do not only see the sociation of labour under an
abstract form of the products of labour, but also the sociation of various
concrete use-values under an abstract form.

> > 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.

I mean "crucial" for seeing the phenomenon of use-value and how it is modified
through the social practice of commodity exchange. The phenomenon of use-value
_itself_ (and not some explanation of why something is useful, say, because it
has certain physical properties) is that things show themselves to humans as
useful-for-such-and-such within a social usage. E.g. we don't eat grasshoppers
in Western Europe. In Africa they do. The use-value of the grasshopper depends
not on its "natural material properties" (which are presumably similar in both
Europe and Africa) but on the way in which grasshoppers are disclosed within
the context of a social usage (eating, in this case).

The social practice of the exchange of commodities "sets equal" (gleichsetzt
Marx; _isasthaenai_ Aristotle) very different concrete use-values, thus
abstracting from them, literally, thus 'drawing off' their concreteness.
What's left is their abstract usefulness (they must be useful for something or
other in a social usage for them to be worth anything at all).

> > 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
> now.
> > 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.

No, I mean primordial in the sense of how thinking can grasp the phenomenon.
Philosophical thinking's peculiar strength lies in its abstractness, i.e. in
its power to leave aside the concrete empirical details and move within the
abstract determinations themselves. As I read Marx's Kapital (Marx being a
pupil of Hegel), the presentation first moves through abstract determinations
of the phenomenon of commodity exchagne, and it is important to respect this
abstractness -- and not mix in more concrete determinations before they have
been thought through.

> > 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.

As I see it, the social practice of commodity exchange abstracts from both the
concrete use-values of the commodities and also the concreteness of the
labours which produced them. Under the sway of this practical, sociating
abstraction, commodities are abstractly useful. One phenomenal indication of
this is that a merchant can be a trader in many different commodities with
innumerable useful applications without regard to this concreteness. It makes
no difference whether he is trading in pig's bellies in the morning and LCD
displays in the afternoon -- it's all the same to him, i.e. he is trading
abstractly in commodities. Nevertheless, they all have to have some use or
other (i.e. be abstractly useful); otherwise, they would be worthless (i.e.

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

Thanks too,
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