[OPE-L:8150] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@lubs.leeds.ac.uk)
Date: Mon Dec 09 2002 - 13:04:52 EST

Hi Michael,

Re your 8131:

I think our philosophical differences are beginning to become clear. 
I certainly look forward to debating these further, and carry on our 
discussion below, but first want to make a point relating to the 
interpretation of Marx. For you Marx 'was not circumspect enough 
with Descartes' prescription that scientific knowledge can only be 
expressed in quantitative equations' and 'didn't keep his eye on the 
ball' having an 'untenable' argument re value. For me Marx does not 
make these alleged errors. Rather, he has a different philosophy 
from your own, viz. materialist dialectics. I think it is actually quite 
important to recognise that the abstract reason for your criticisms 
of Marx is that you have a different philosophy from him. Given 
such recognition then I think it a mistake to argue that Marx wasn't 
circumspect with Descartes and didn't keep his eye on the ball. 

> > > 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).
> >

> 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.

You stated above that we do not know for how long Netwon's 1st 
law will hold. Doesn't this generalise to the view that we do not 
know that the future will be like the past? If so, then how can you 
avoid scepticism given such a view?  Does your (Kantian?) appeal 
to *our* 'understanding' in some way have the effect of avoiding 

> 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.

But this presupposes a philosophy whereby such 'lawlessness' (I'm 
not sure what you mean by this term) of generalised commodity 
exchange is considered possible. Materialist dialectics, Marx's 
philosophy, rules it out on my view. This is not somehow to cling 
on to Descartes.
> >
> > 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.

What do you mean by 'law-likeness'?

> >
> > 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.

I have two crucial points of disagreement with you. (1) According to 
materialism, the phenomenon of use is necessarily related to the 
material form of things, such that 'looking away' from material form 
is unhelpful for grasping the phenomenon. (2) According to 
materialist dialectics usefulness 'as such' and matter 'as such' 
exist and take effect only in specific (determinate) forms.

Given (1) and (2) then the abstraction from all specific natural 
material properties of the commodity evident in exchange is an 
abstraction from usefulness *as such*. I will elaborate further below.

> > 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.

But, for materialist dialectics, to abstract from all concrete (i.e. 
specific or determinate) natural material properties is to abstract 
from use value as such, for reasons stated above and elaborated 
upon below.

> > 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.

Materialism entails that the social usefulness of the thing is 
necessarily related to the specific (i.e. determinate) material 
properties of the thing. The 'simple phenomenon' of usefulness 
cannot exist and take effect outside of any specifc (determinate) 
natural material property. Yet in exchange it is clear that all the 
natural material properties of commodities are abstracted from. In 
other words, no natural material property of the commodity has a 
systematic relationship with the magnitude of exchange value. 
Therefore usefulness *as such* is abstracted from in exchange 
(despite being a condition for exchange).

> > 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 determinate property left, on my view, is purely social. Though 
exchange abstracts from the *natural* material properties of the 
commodity, and hence from use-value, it does not abstract entirely 
from the determinate *social* property of SNLT. Social labour is a 
special property of matter (if you don't agree that matter thinks you 
won't agree with this) and it is extremely important to recognise 
that the magnitude of social labour time *can* plausibly be 
considered to be systematically related to the magnitude of 
exchange value, whereas this is true of no other property.

Clearly we disagree about SNLT. Do we also disagree regarding 
my statement about what other determinate properties might be left 
after the abstraction evident in exchange? That is, do you think that 
there is a specific (determinate) social property of the commodity 
which is systematically related to exchange value? You have 
mentioned 'usefulness'. But if 'usefulness' is to be a *determinate* 
property of the commodity remaining after the abstraction evident in 
exchange, then usefulness must have a determinate quantity and 
this quantity must be systematically related to exchange value 
magnitude. At least that is how I am using the term 'determinate'.

> > 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.

I would suggest that your view stems from your own philosophy 
rather than from Marx's error. 

> > 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 exchange.

Clearly your problem with SNLT abstractly stems from you having a 
different philosophy to materialist dialectics. The question of 
'substance' is quite complex in this case. We can fruitfully leave it 
at this stage.

As always the arguments regarding value above are subtle and 
really very tricky -- I hope I have made some progress at least.

Many thanks,


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