[OPE-L:8265] Re: the 'starting point'

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Thu Jan 02 2003 - 06:13:50 EST

Cologne 02-Jan-2003

Re: [OPE-L:8258]

gerald_a_levy schrieb  Wed, 1 Jan 2003 08:03:06 -0500:

> Re Michael E's [8250]:
> > (snip, JL) I  am indeed going beyond the capitalist-bourgeois epoch
> > as it emerged from the  medieval period, but only back to the beginning
> > of the West with the Greeks -- a  highly _specific_ beginning which is
> > part of the tradition that binds us and  which can be thought about.
> > The West dates from about two-and-a-half millennia  ago, not much
> > considering how long humans have been around, and this specific
> > beginning of Western history is to be distinguished from other historical
> > ways  of human living in other parts of the world. (snip, JL)
> > The starting-point (_archae_) of the West, including modern capitalism, is
> > the ancient Greek beginning.
> Happy new year, Michael (and everyone else).
> If the subject is (an abstraction called) "the West", then -- from a
> historical perspective  -- the 'starting point'  could be traced to the
> "ancient  Greek beginning".  That, however, is a very different subject
> than capitalism which requires for its comprehension in thought a separate
> 'starting point'.  Put simply: different subjects require different starting
> points (a variation on "different horses for different courses", I guess).

By all means, "different horses for different courses", but when you start to
notice that one horse has been sired by the other and that everything you want
to say about the one horse depends somehow on what has been said about the
other, then you realize there is a dependency.

"Starting-point" also has polyvalent meaning. The various meanings of _archae_
are explicitly discussed by Aristotle in Book Delta of his Metaphysics. In
particular, the historical hold which the Greek beginning has over all our
Western thinking to the present day _without us being aware of it_ has to be
distinguished from the starting-point adopted when trying to think about what
capitalism is.

Of course, thinking about capitalist society requires focusing on the phenomena
we are familiar with in modern capitalist society and starting with these
phenomena (of, say, generalized commodity exchange). But in the attempt to say
what capitalist society, we find ourselves using terms such as substance,
magnitude, form, essence, appearance, potentiality, actuality, etc. which all
have a tradition which cannot be simply shaken off. We are tied willy-nilly by
the tradition in thinking. If we are not aware of this, then we only entangle
ourselves in these concepts and fail to see the phenomena clearly.

Another aspect of _archae_ is that capitalist society and modern technology
never would have emerged without the ground that was laid in Greek philosophy.
Although Christianity hijacked Greek philosophy for well over a millennium (in
which Aristotelean philosophy became scholasticism), in the Renaissance a start
was made with shaking this off. This has now been going on for centuries (the
'law of inertia' in thinking should not be underestimated). The attempts to
reread the Greeks, not just as a scholarly endeavour in the history of ideas,
but as an enterprise upon which our historical future (history is first and
foremost arrival of the future, not the past) depends continue to the present
day. This includes the question of capitalist society.

The significance of this? The Greeks inaugurated philosophical thinking in a
time when the questions were still in flux and the phenomena were still more
simply in vew rather than being buried under the dead weight of terminology and
epigonal regurgitation.

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