Re: is value labour?

From: Howard Engelskirchen (hengels@ZOOM-DSL.COM)
Date: Sun May 11 2003 - 02:57:07 EDT

Rakesh writes:

>   Yet not quite sure at all what to make of
> the attempts to introduce  virtuality into traditional ontology; not
> sure whether the concept of virtuality helps in any way to clarify
> Marx's sense of the actual reality of his laws of tendency.
> __________

As I understand it, Rakesh, the rest of your post answers the question
posed -- without speaking to the way in which the philosophers you mention
use the precise term "virtuality," if you start with a "things with powers"
ontology, then you need the actual/latent distinction because powers may
exist unexercised.  My friend has the power to see, but just now her eyes
are closed.

* * *

For the rest, I'm not convinced that the uncertainty principle gets credit
for the methodological progress you identify.  In explaining how modern
methodologies of science have gotten beyond the primary/secondary quality
distinction, you say that a primary quality

> was
> supposed to be a feature which an object possesses independent
> of an observer. Classic examples were supposed to be mass,
> position or size. Primary qualities, that is, were thought to be
> resident within their object; inalienable from it and make up  their
> essence. An observer simply measured or read a primary quality,
> but the quality is in no sense dependent upon the observer.
> Secondary qualities arise from the interaction between the object
> and an observer. Taste and color are typical of this type.

Again, without getting into how old philosophy understood these things, two
separate methodological issues seem fused here, and we can sort them out
without appeal to the uncertainty principle.  The first problem is the
empiricist idea that as passive observers scientists simply hold a mirror up
to nature and record the images that appear.  But given widespread
recognition today that all scientific work is theory dependent, there is not
much appeal anymore to the mimetic model of what scientists do.  As Marx
understood, producing knowledge depends on conscious idea driven activity.

It is a separate question whether objects of science are independent of us.
We can function in the world as ordinary causal phenomena, but the fact that
all scientific activity is theory dependent doesn't mean scientists
self-actively impose conceptual order on nature.  Recall the Theses on
Feuerbach.  Causation is not a social construction we impose on things.

The real issue is recognizing the fit required between the theoretical
presuppositions of our activity and the causal structures we study.  That
such a fit exists is a condition of knowledge.  The point of establishing a
thing as a natural or social kind -- e.g. as hydrogen, or a rabbit, or
value -- is that the term itself is situated within a range of background
theories such that it provides a reliable basis for projecting hypotheses
that advance our efforts to act in the world.  While the categories we use
will reflect our own presuppositions and purposes, we have to get it
approximately right about structures independent of us.  To speak in terms
of the old metaphor, we try to carve nature at its joints.  If we have the
joints approximately right, there will often be many ways to carve and how
we decide to do will depend on the theories we presuppose and our purposes.
But if the causal structures of the world are independent of us then we
can't carve any way we want.  We can't carve where there aren't joints.


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