Re: value, labour and conservation laws

From: Andrew Brown (Andrew@LUBS.LEEDS.AC.UK)
Date: Tue May 20 2003 - 13:21:21 EDT

Hi Paul,

I think we are reaching an impasse! For what it is worth my
comments below, but further progress is not likely to be fostered in
this forum, I think you might agree...

> Consider the case of  potential energy, a scalar field that can be
> associated with each point in the phase space of a collection of
> particles, and kinetic energy another scalar field associated with
> each point in phase space.

But what does each value in these two fields denote? A quantity of
what? To answer that question is to tell us what kinetic and
potential energy are. The notion of 'pure quantity' is meaningless
and so denotes nothing that is material, and hence nothing that
can have effects.

> This seems to be very similar to value. We know of
> energy through its effects, these can be explained by the abstract
> mathematical concept of a conserved scalar, with the property that for
> all state exchanges the constraint C = K + P

It is not correct to say that because we know something only by its
effects then it *is* only its effects. However, I do think you are
latching on to some aspects of the truth here. 'Energy' is not a
thing like other things, rather it entails the unity(in-diversity) of
things. But this is not an easy notion and requires elaboration.
Such an elaboration would be just the explication of the qualitative
side of 'energy' that I am arguing is essential.

> where C is a constant and K and P are the scalars for
> kinetic an potential energy.
> In practice what we observe is exchanges between states
> each of which is a 6n vector for the positions and velocities
> of the particles in the system. The conservation is not
> immediately obvious, since the scalars K and P are non
> linear functions of the state vectors. But we do not
> ask 'what is the substance of energy', we deduce its
> existence from the metric properties of the phase space.

Fine, we deduce its existence. So what is it?

> I contend that an exactly similar situation holds with
> generalised exchange value - we can deduce the necessity
> of its existence from the metric properties of exchanges
> between commodities, with exactly the same non-euclidean metric
> function that is used in the potential + kinetic energy case
> above.

If it exists it has a quality, it is material.

> Talk about 'substance' or quality is to introduce a pre-scientific
> common-sense metaphysics into a scientific question.

This is a very dubious metaphysical statement of your own. I guess
it will not have gone unnoticed that various aspects of Spinoza's
thought are pertinent for our discussion, not least his notion of
substance, and the question of what relationship this has to Marx's
notion of the 'substance' of value. I do not think they are the same
notions. The substance of value is a ghostly 'thing', pure congealed
abstract labour. A very strange notion indeed. Spinoza's notion has
more to do with 'energy', following the discussion above. However, I
think Spinoza's notion of substance is a prerequisite for grasping
Marx's notion of the substance of value.

Physicists, and
> > indeed everyone else, can and do use the term without having to
> > worry about its philosophical aspects.
> Why does anyone have to worry about its 'philosophical aspects'
> other than philosphers who would be out of a job if they did not.

Well, we have come to this debate through a desire to grasp value,
which, in the form of capital, is the most important facet of our
society. This demonstrates that different philosophies contribute to
different conceptions of value and hence of capitalism.

> What is the 'quality' of energy other than being a conserved
> scalar, which is of course something purely quantitative.

This is a very difficult question to answer. The 'quality' you suggest
does not count as such, since it is self-contradictory to say that
the 'quality' is 'purely quantitative' which presumably translates as
saying that 'the quality is not a quality'!

> I use the term generalised exchange value for the conserved
> scalar that operates in a system of commodity exchange. I use
> the term value or labour value for the scalar field derived
> from the constraints of the conditions of production.
> The testable scientific hypothesis in the labour theory
> of value is that the former field is caused by or closely
> constrained by the latter.

Given my previous comments, I cannot see this as a testable
hypothesis rather it seems to be a self-contradictory statement
hence no basis for any test.

Many thanks,


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