[OPE-L:8167] Re: philosophy and political economy

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Thu Dec 12 2002 - 18:43:31 EST

Cologne 13-Dec-2002

Andrew Brown schrieb Mon, 9 Dec 2002 18:04:52 -0000:

> 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.

Thank you for writing.
The test for any philosophy must be the issues themselves and how they are
brought to light.

> > > > 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
> scepticism?

I don't think it's much use arguing over general philosophical positions
such as skepticism or material dialectics or idealism or realism or
what-have-you. The differences only become apparent and arguable with
respect to specific questions.

> > 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'?

In this case, I mean that some sort of relationship between quantities is
sought expressible in some sort of equation or set of equations (and be it
only in terms of probability distributions).

> > > 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.

I am asking you to consider the phenomenon of usefulness itself, not its
material determinants. You say yourself that "the phenomenon of use is
necessarily related to the material form of things". Something which stands
in _relation_ to something else is not the thing itself. That's what I mean
by "looking away".

> (2) According to
> materialist dialectics usefulness 'as such' and matter 'as such'
> exist and take effect only in specific (determinate) forms.

I would say that usefulness itself is only every concrete, whereas matter is
a concept that only makes sense within the context of metaphysics (whether
it be Aristotelean or some later metaphysics). I am using the term
metaphysics here as a synonym for ontology, i.e. the _logos_ concerning
beings in their being.

> 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.

Labour, too, only ever exists in a concrete, particular form, so your
argument would apply also to labour.

> > > 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.

Here, again, you are only understanding use-value through natural material
properties. But properties are not the phenomenon of usefulness itself.
Usefulness, as the word says, is the potential for use. Potential in Greek
is _dynamis_, one of the most important categories in Aristotle's
metaphysics. Use is a phenomenon involving a relation between humans and
things in which humans understand the things as suitable for a certain
concrete use and employ them according to such understanding. Without such
understaning, there would also be no use. Your insistence on "material
properties" neglects these aspects of usefulness and use and therefore
one-sidedly truncates the phenomenon.

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

Here, again, you are arguing from an abstraction from "natural material
properties", and not from usefulness itself.

> > > 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.

A property inheres in a substance and therefore cannot be social, which is a
phenomenon of relation.

> 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.

I don't think that social labour can be a property of something at all. And
I don't agree that focus on the _magnitude_ of exchange value is
appropriate. The insistence on quantitative considerations prejudices the
view of the phenomenon of exchange, which has manifold aspects that need to
be adequately conceptualized.

> 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'.

Yes, you seem to assume that everything depends on explaining the magnitude
of exchange value, i.e. the proportions in which commodities exchange, in
terms of something, which would be the quantitative explanans for exchange

> > > 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, my view stems from my own philosophy which allows me to see Marx's
error. But that's no help, if my own philosophy is to be anything more than
a personal opinion. All I can do is to try to show up the error of
conception in Marx's presentation (and therefore also in most Marxist

> > > 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?
> >
> >ME  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.

The question of substance inevitably leads back to Aristotle's metaphysics.
Marx adopts the language of substance, form and magnitude of value. The
concepts of use-value and exchange-value also rely on a notion of potential
(for use, for exchange), a phenomenon first thought through by Aristotle.
Aristotle developed the category of _dynamis_ in order to adequately account
for the concept of movement. With regard to natural beings he investigate
four kinds of movement:
i) growth
ii) change (as when the leaves of a tree turn colour in autumn)
iii) locomotion (change of place) and
iv) procreation (the movement that brings forth another being of the same

His thinking-through of movement (_kinaesis_) is indeed subtle and in its
depth has scarcely a parallel in the history of philosophy.

Later thinkers, such as Hegel and Marx (to name just two), owe a large debt
to Aristotle. In the presentation of the concept of value, Marx's reliance
on Aristotelean categories is as plain as day. The question for us is
whether these categories (such as substance, form and magnitude) are
adequate to the social phenomenon of exchange (and production and use) which
is at the focus of attention.

It is significant to note that when Aristotle approaches the phenomenon of
exchange (Eth. Nic. Bk. V Ch. v), he does so in the context of another
phenomenon, namely, justice (_dikaiosyne_ Eth. Nic. Bk. V) which, as he
underscores from the outset, is always concerned with others (_pros heteron_
literally: 'to another'). This context should make it apparent that, when an
attempt is made to think through the phenomenon of commodity exchange in
capitalist societies, that the fourth Aristotelean category of relation
(_pros ti_ literally 'to something') should be kept in view. That is, value
is first and foremost a relational concept. Value _is_ only in a relation.
Value is not a substance which only expresses itself as a certain magnitude
in the exchange relation.

In considering justice as the fair 'allotment' of goods (whether they be
material goods or other social goods such as honour and esteem), and the
exchange of commodity goods in particular, Aristotle points out that there
are always "at least four terms" involved, namely, two goods exchanged and
two people exchanging.

It's worth thinking about further in relation to Marx's concept of value.

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

Many thanks to you, too, Andy,

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