[OPE-L:8131] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Thu Dec 05 2002 - 16:02:49 EST

Cologne 05-Dec-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb Thu, 5 Dec 2002 15:03:50 -0000:

> Hi Michael,
> In 8117 you write:
> >  There may not be any
> > unifying principle to a way in which the world presents itself to
> > human understanding.
> and also
> > 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).
> Do think that your view here bears any relation to Humean
> scepticism? From my point of view your view seems to succomb to
> something like Hume's sceptical argument: we do not, within your
> schema, know that the past will be like the future. From my
> perspective your view therefore seems to be self-contradictory.

Hi Andy,

No, my view has nothing to do with scepticism. Rather, the way the world
_is_ is the way it shapes up and shows itself in human understanding. It is
only human understanding that ever makes sense of how the world _is_, and
this understanding is an historical event which can fundamentally shift when
our deepest (traditionally: metaphysical) concepts shift.

> > 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.
> I was trying to suggest that it is not just a question of being
> quantitatively 'sophisticated'; rather it is a question of *superseding*
> Descartes entire philosophy and hence his conception of 'law'. You
> seem to interpret Marx's law of value as an attempt to *reduce* all
> phenomena to quantity. I disagree with this interpretation. Value
> has magnitude. Marx attempts to theorise this magnitude. This
> isn't to *reduce* all phenomena to magnitude. The law of value has
> a quantitative *aspect* but it also, and crucially, embraces the
> substance and form of value. It so happens that the theory of the
> magnitude of value requires some equations. But if the nature of
> value magnitude is such that equations are required to grasp it then
> so be it. Marx's equations are not due to Marx being stuck in a
> Cartesian problematic. Rather, they are due to the nature of the
> object that Marx is studying.

Let's just say that Marx was not circumspect enough with Descartes'
prescription that scientific knowledge can only be expressed in quantitative
equations. This care would perhaps have opened the possibility of seeing the
'lawlessness' in the constitution of commodity value through the social
practice of generalized 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.
> Well, from a Cartesian perspective (and from many other
> perspectives) it doesn't: prices and labour times are not
> proportional. From a materialist and dialectical perspective it does:
> prices and labour times are not required to be proportional. For
> materialist dialectics, as I understand it, the main *quantitative*
> requirement is that a systematic relationship between the two is
> uncovered. Marx adequately achieves this in Vol 3. Debate re the
> TP has in general failed to grasp Marx's method.

This only makes the equation obtained more mediated. It doesn't question the
'law-likeness' of commodity exchange.

> > 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.
> >
> > 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).
> Yes but in neither society do people in general eat deadly poison
> (so long as those societies survive) and this is because of the
> material properties of poison (and humans). This shows that use-
> values are *conditioned* (delimited, determined) by their material
> properties. I don't think anyone would suggest that the material
> properties of a thing are *irrelevant* to its use-value. They are of
> course relevant, your point is simply that use-value is further
> conditioned by society. Of course I agree with this. But without
> some determinate material thing to begin with then there is nothing
> for society to further determine. In other words, social
> determination of use-value obviously cannot occur where there is
> no initial material determination, i.e. nothing, to be further
> determined. And the material determination sets fundamental limits
> on the social determination. Poison will never be food.

You say that the phenomenon of use-value is "not without" the material
properties of a thing. I agree. But I say that the phenomenon of use-value
_itself_ (i.e. not looking aside to causes or suchlike) is the way something
presents itself within the understanding of social usages. There is a unity
of practical things and lived human understanding in social usages. Another
example: the Australian aborigines are (were) known for not appreciating the
'use-value' of walls (to keep out the rain and wind, for example). When
houses were built for them, they appreciated the roofs, but tore out the
walls. The walls had the same physical properties as for whites, but they
were useless in the world which opened for aboriginal understanding.

Poison will never be food (which is for nutrition); the use-value of poison
as poison is to kill (oneself or others or vermin). In a society in which
suicide is usage (e.g. today in rural China), poison has a high use-value.
It is social usage itself which allows a use-value to be seen and understood
_as such_.

> > 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).
> The usefulness of a thing is determined by its natural material
> properties, in the sense discussed above.

Yes, "determined by", but that is not the phenomenon of usefulness itself.
You have to look _away_ from the phenomenon of use itself to see its causal
determinants. Phenomenology teaches you to keep your eye on the simple
phenomenon itself.

> Yet these natural
> material properties are entirely abstracted from in exchange.

No, I don't think so. It is the concrete use-value that is abstracted from,
and also the concreteness of the commodity as the product of a specific,
concrete kind of labour.

> In
> other words, there is clearly no systematic relationship between
> the natural material properties of commodities (height, weight, etc.)
> and exchange value.

Such physical properties are not social at all. In exchange we are dealing
with a social phenomenon of people sociating.

> Value abstracts entirely from use-value, in
> this sense. What determinate material property, one might ask, is
> left after abstraction from use-value?

None, because the phenomenon left over by abstraction can only be a social
phenomenon, not a material property (which is a metaphysical construction: a
substance endowed with properties or 'accidents' is Aristotelean
metaphysics, not appropriate for social phenomenality).

> The answer is socially
> necessary labour. Exchange value does not palpably abstract
> entirely from (i.e. have a non-systematic relationship with) SNLT.
> Therefore abstract SNL must be the substance of value. This is the
> opening argument of 'Capital', as I interpret it.

I think you interpret it correctly, but I also think the argument is
untenable. Marx didn't keep his eye on the ball.

> > > > 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.
> It is important not to confuse different levels of abstraction, yes.
> But once we *have* reached the level where wage labour exists
> then we realise that the labour that creates value is, in general,
> wage labour. I think we are agreeing here.

More or less. The conceptual determinations playing a role in the initial
derivation of the value concept do not include the determination that
specifically wage-labour produced the commodities exchanged.

> > 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. unsaleable).
> Yes this is true. Usefulness is a condition for value. But, the
> general natural material properties that determine usefulness
> (extension, age, etc.) are abstracted from in exchange, hence
> abstract usefulness cannot be the substance of value. Labour, by
> contrast, has the determinate quantity of SNLT, and this quantity is
> not palpably abstracted from in exchange. This is why abstract
> socially necessary labour is the only possible substance of value.
> Do you see what I am getting at?

I believe so, but I can't see such a determinate measure as SNLT nor even a
substance being constituted by the social practice of generalized commodity

Thanks to you,
_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-  artefact text and translation _-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_
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_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_ Dr Michael Eldred -_-_-

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