Re: on money

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon May 24 2004 - 22:48:46 EDT

[OPE-L] on moneyHi Rakesh and all,

Jerry, you've obviously never tried dried mangos, which store their taste in backpacks very well!  (I bet they'd be over the top at sea!!)

Rakesh,  I will focus on your original post because, away from the computer, I've been thinking about it all day and have only just caught the other posts.  Anyway, the theoretical issues are here.

I think your argument is not quite right.  The basic problems, which account for your perception  of ontology and category mistakes, come from thinking of only one kind of predication and one kind of form.  I don't think this was Marx.

Let me start with predication.  Usually we attribute some feature or quality a thing has to it -- the horse is white, the man is bald, the mango is sweet, etc.  We predicate an attribute of a subject.  So we say Socrates is wise and Socrates is brave.  He was not chubby, I take it, but he could have been chubby and he would still be Socrates.  We also say Socrates is human.  But now it is not really accurate to say that the predicate is an attribute Socrates HAS.  Instead, the predicate is something Socrates essentially IS.  That is, he could turn timid and still be Socrates, he could suffer brain damage and still be Socrates, he could grow chubby and still be Socrates, but he couldn't be not human and still be Socrates.  In other words, being human is a feature that constitutes Socrates as what he is.  It accounts for his causal powers as a thing of nature -- the fact that he can walk, use language, reason, etc.

The reason this distinction is so hard to see in the commodity, is that the only kind of predicate microeconomics knows is the kind that a good HAS.  Goods figure in a subjective utility calculus because they are new, or waxed, or hip or durable, etc. etc.  But for Marx, value is not something a commodity has; value constitutes a commodity.  If a product of labor doesn't have value, then it is not a commodity.  Value constitutes what a commodity is.

So you argue mangos ought to have certain concrete attributes, as they sensibly have coming off the tree, but we abstract from these and make the abstraction some kind of real incarnation of fruit in general -- a mistaken ontological commitment and a category mistake.

But that is not what is going on in the analysis of value at all.  Instead, and this is the importance of the first pages of Capital, Marx observes wealth is an immense accumulation of commodities.  Now he wants to know what a commodity is and what accounts for how it behaves, what accounts for its causal potency.  This isn't a matter of canvasing attributes that a product of labor has and abstracting from them, but instead of finding out what it is that constitutes the product of labor as a commodity.  This is a structural form of social labor like water is constituted by a particular structure of 2 hydrogen atoms and and an oxygen atom.  As such, it is very different from the "phenomenal form of manifestation" of value.  Notice the passage you quote from the Theories of Surplus Value -- "the necessity for commodities to REPRESENT themselves . . . ."  Forms that constitute a thing as what it is are a very different sort of thing from forms that represent something so it can be manifested in a certain way.  So not only are there two kinds of predication; there are also two kinds of form.

Also, notice, that were mango to be money, it would not represent fruit in general or fruit in the abstract or be an abstract-universal of fruit, but it would refer to a particular historically situated social relation.  That is, the thing that constitutes the value that mango as money represents is a social relation of fruit producing labor, not some aspect of the natural kind, "fruit."  

I'll stop there so this doesn't get too long and come back to the distinction between substantial form and phenomenal form, also essential to understanding the argument you make.


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Rakesh Bhandari 
  Sent: Sunday, May 23, 2004 10:49 PM
  Subject: [OPE-L] on money

    Because the product is not produced as an immediate object of consumption for the producers, but only as a bearer of value, as a claim, so to speak, to a certain quantity of all materialised social labour, all products as values are compelled to assume a form of existence distinct from their existence as use values. And it is this development of the labour embodied in them as social labour, it is the development of their value, which determines the formation of money, the necessity for commodities to represent themselves in respect of one another as money--which means merely as independent forms of existence of exchange value--and they can only do this by setting apart one commodity from the mass of commodities, and all of them measuring their values in the use value of this excluded commodity, thereby directly transforming the labour embodied in this exclusive commodity into general, social labour.

    TSV III, p.144-145

  Since commodities are produced in order to be claims on social labor, one commodity  comes to count in the exchange relationship not in its concrete form as a use value but as an incarnation of social labor, as itself value. Marx then specifies the peculiarities of the equivalent form.

  So say on a tropical island where only fruit is exchanged and people become allergic to the fruit that they can themselves grow, then all fruit is produced for exchange. Say mangoes come to be the general equivalent. Then mangoes are valued not for their concrete characteristics but because they incarnate Fruit itself. So we are back to Marx's critique of Hegelian hypostatization as Colletti and Robert Paul Wolff see so clearly.

  Of course the three fold three-fold peculiarity of the mango then is that it is the immediate incarnation of value; the concrete labor expended in the production thereof becomes the form of appearance of abstract human, fruit producing labor; and private mango farming has turned here into its opposite, to labor in immediately social form.

   In supposing that abstract labor can be such a thing, we seem to have been led to a mistaken ontological commitment. It is indeed as if the generalization fruit existed not merely in the mental act of abstracting from bananas, papayas, coconuts, etc. but was rather incarnated in, say, mangoes.

  The central problem here seems  to be a category mistake. As if the confounded visitor who asks to be finally shown the university after having already been taken to the philosophy, physics, biology, etc. buildings could actually find what he is looking for in a visit to, say, the mining department alone; abstract labor which seems merely to be a general heading comes in fact to be incarnated in a single concrete kind of commodity (mango).

  As a real hypostatization of fruit, mangoes paradoxically lose for all practical purposes the sensuous, concrete attributes of their fruitiness, for their use value has become exchange value, pure and simple, since mangoes serve as the embodiment of fruit as such in the circulation of commodities. Mangoes just as they come off the tree seem to be forthwith the visible incarnation, the social chrysalis state, of all fruit. The abstract-universal of fruit, which ought to be a predicate-i.e. a property of concrete or the sensate-, has become in mangoes the subject, a self-subsisting entity. The concrete sensate of the mango moreover now counts merely as the phenomenal form of the abstract universal-i.e., as the predicate of its own substantialized predicate.  The sense qualities of mangoes have been reduced to the attributes or, to use Marx's Hegelian terminology, forms of appearance of fruit in the abstract.

  Routinely accepted as a means of payment, mangoes are money; however, what appears to happen is, not that the mango has become money in consequence of all other fruit commodities expressing their values in it, but, on the contrary, all other fruits express their values in mango, because it just is money.

  In effect, Marx has attempted to demonstrate how mangoes  as money are qualitatively different from fruits  as fruits ; yet mangoes are born as fruits, as a fruit (commodity) itself, and only under the pressure of the exchange of great quantities of fruit does the mango ascend from earth to the economic heaven to become not merely a measure of value and a standard of price, but in virtue of its functions of universal equivalent and exchange medium, Fruit (Value) Incarnate. 


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