[OPE-L:8269] Re: the 'starting point'

From: Michael Eldred (artefact@t-online.de)
Date: Fri Jan 03 2003 - 07:18:30 EST

Cologne 03-Jan-2003

Re: [OPE-L:8266]

gerald_a_levy schrieb Thu, 2 Jan 2003 08:13:08 -0500:

> Re Michael E's [8265]:
> > 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.
> I suppose one could say that Hegel was sired by Aristotle and that Marx was
> sired by Hegel.  That concerns the subject of the history of philosophical
> thought (in the 'West').

Thinkers such as Aristotle, Hegel and Marx are co-shapers of historical worlds
who co-shape and co-cast the way the world opens up and _as_ what beings show up
in the world.

> Regarding the subject matter of capitalism,  for
> a starting point   that reveals what it essentially is we must look _beyond_
> the historical context  in which it arose, whether it be the material
> reality of  pre-capitalist economic formations or the history of thought
> in pre-capitalist societies on socio-economic relations (i.e. how those
> societies and their representatives came to think of their societies and
> themselves).  This does not mean that an interrogation of the influence
> of ancient philosophers  on contemporary thought is useless -- indeed,
> I find your commentary to be intriguing and challenging.  And, if the
> subject of  analysis was primarily Marx rather than capitalism, then I
> would agree that Aristotle could form _one of many_  starting points
> for understanding aspects of that subject.

Capitalism is a way of understanding the world, a way in which beings, human and
otherwise, show up historically. That is why thinking, i.e. philosophical
thinking on the deepest and simplest level, is indispensable in coming to terms
with capitalism.

> > "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.
> That's what I've been trying to say.
> > 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.
> I agree that these concepts have a tradition that extends beyond (before)
> Marx.  Indeed, we saw on another thread recently ("'immanent measure'
> in Hegel and Marx")  such an instance.  Btw,  is there a specific meaning
> to _"immanent measure"_  in philosophical thought that goes back to before
> Hegel and influenced his conceptions of magnitude and measure?

Brief, inadequate answer: Hegel explicitly critically discusses Kant
(especially), Spinoza, Leibniz, Descartes, Newton, Kepler, Aristotle inter alia
in the section on quantity in Die Logik. The consideration of magnitude and
measure goes all the way back to Aristotle who has provided perhaps the deepest
analysis of continuity and discrete number. Aristotle himself carries on an
altercation with Plato and the Pythagoreans (which Hegel also mentions).

> > Another aspect of _archae_ is that capitalist society and modern
> > technology  never would have emerged without the ground that was
> > laid in Greek philosophy.
> How do we know that capitalism would "never" have emerged if not for
> the influence of Greek philosophy?

You ask a good, tough question. It's hard to respond with any sort of plausible
answer in just a few lines. The shortest answer is that the Greeks experienced
and understood being as _ousia_, the fundamental concept of Greek philosophy,
later (misleadingly) translated as "substance".

_Ousia_ is a word with a meaning in the everyday Greek world: "property",
"estate", "belongings", "assets". It signifies all that lies ready to hand for
use, all that stands at one's disposal in presence and is available. This
everyday meaning of _ousia_ is retained in the philosophical use of the term,
which signifies a) a being in its mode of being and b) the mode of being itself.
The Greek understanding of being is "standing presence" in the sense of beings
presenting themselves to human understanding in well-defined limits and 'looks'

This understanding of being is paired i) on the one hand with the Greek
conception of living well (_eu zaen_) which consists in having the goods of life
present to hand, in one's possession. The striving to acquire goods and money in
particular, _philochraematia_, is one essential aspect of how human being is
understood in Greek experience. Human being is understood as finite, i.e. as
lacking. From lack arises desire and the striving to acquire, i.e. to bring into
presence-at-hand, what is lacking for good living. This understanding of human
being and human well-being as a striving to acquire is a shaping force in
Western history, first explicitly thought through and thus brought to light in
Greek philosophy. (E.g. the formulation "life, liberty and the pursuit of
happiness" in the American Declaration of Independence is not just an echo of
Locke's "life, liberty and property", but more distantly of Aristotelean
_eudaimonia_, "happiness" and Platonic _philochraematia_. The conception of
human being in these formulations depends upon an understanding of being itself
which remains hidden in self-evidence.)

ii) On the other hand, Greek _technae_ is understood as a know-how, a _dynamis
meta logou_ for 'bringing into presence', i.e. as knowledge which makes
available. Knowledge itself (_epistaemae_) is insight into the presence of what
cannot be otherwise (e.g. the movements of celestial bodies) from first
principles. In the modern age, science itself becomes a knowledge of how to
bring into presence (sometimes by merely predicting presence). Modern science
would be impossible without Greek metaphysics/ontology.

These two aspects i) and ii) are intertwined in bourgeois-capitalist society in
that the striving to acquire goods and money in particular (understood as what
constitutes good human living) is intertwined with the know-how of how to bring
into presence in taking hold of the practice of production in specifically
capitalist production. Money itself, a good, becomes the medium through which
production is undertaken.

> > 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 view rather than being buried under the dead weight of
> > terminology and epigonal regurgitation.
> When phenomena are still in flux and have never been crystallized into a
> definite form, one can not get the phenomena properly in focus.  We can thus
> say much more about the phenomena once it has become essentially what it is
> rather than when it is in the state of becoming.

I didn't say that the phenomena were still in flux, but that "the questions were
still in flux". The simple phenomena are the same, if we are prepared to look
simply at them today. What was questionable for Greek thinking has become
obvious, trivial and self-evident for us. Modern science, both natural and
social, complacently regards itself as having surpassed the Greeks and their
'naive beliefs' when in truth it no longer questions as deeply as Greek
philosophy did in its beginnings and no longer even understands the Greek

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