From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Mon Jun 07 2004 - 03:15:01 EDT
Hi Paul, Apologies for not being clear on the status of the constellation of theoretical concepts that make up the background of marxist theory other than value. I too hurriedly assumed it would be understood that I was making the same argument with respect to all of them -- as I understand it, 'mode of production,' 'labor power,' 'value,' etc. all are theoretical concepts that refer to real objects. This is a matter of the reference of scientific terms. You seem to argue that it would be incorrect for theoretical objects to refer to reality and suggest it would be a problem if [quoting Paul] "every word could be both a theoretical concept, or refer to reality . . . ." But I think that is just what the reference of scientific terms does -- we use theoretical categories to pick out features of the world, real objects or properties, that we turn our attention to. Because that is how we use such categories, your suggestion that we use special words to designate "real objects" won't work because those special words we use will also be theoretical concepts used to refer, theoretical objects, and so, to avoid the confusion we've just tried to escape, we will have to use some other special words, some extra-special words, to refer to the real object we're still trying to reach, and so on in an infinite regress. The point of theory, and of fashioning theoretical categories, is reference. Suppose we want to show that when heated in a flame salts of sodium will turn the flame yellow. 'Salts of sodium' is a chemical term embedded in a fairly extensive background of theory that allows us to pick out a substance that will in fact behave the way our theory led us to expect. As terms of scientific reference, economic categories are no different. They allow us to pick out properties of things of nature and society and to establish the right sort of understanding of how such objects in the world tend to behave. This was the really important force of an observation made by Ian some posts back -- he pointed out that when we got it right about reference it was because our usage had been caused by the actual behaviors of real objects. That is, the features of the world to which we refer can actually be thought of as regulating our use of the terms we fashion. When we've got it right, they will behave the way we expect. We use the word 'cold' to refer to ice because of what it does to our hand when we pick it up, and we call water H20 because if we conduct the right sort of experiments we can actually find two atoms of hydrogen, etc. Howard ----- Original Message ----- From: "Paul Zarembka" <zarembka@BUFFALO.EDU> To: <OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU> Sent: Sunday, June 06, 2004 9:42 AM Subject: Re: [OPE-L] (OPE-L) the specific social relations [of production] associated with value > Howard, > > You wrote: > > > > I think we have identified two fundamental differences: first, you > > > think value is a theoretical object but not a real one and I do think it > > > is a real object. Obviously this makes all the difference. A theoretical > > > object does not cause things. We have to explain changes in nature and > > > society on the basis of real objects. > > I replied: > > > Is the corpus of Marx's work a theory or reality? Are mode of > > production, labor power, constant capital, variable capital, surplus > > value, production of absolute surplus value, production of relative > > surplus value, etc., real objects or theoretical objects? Marx explicitly > > refers to his "definition of constant capital" (Vol. I, p. 202, Lawrence & > > Wishart ed.), which sounds theoretical to me. Also, Marx had simply > > referred to 'labor' in earlier work before he introduced 'labor power', > > which seems like his producing a concept. > > > Now (reproducted below), you avoid the question of what is the difference, if any, between, on the one hand, value and, on the other hand, mode of production, labor power, constant capital, variable capital, surplus value, production of absolute surplus value, production of relative surplus value, etc., regarding their being real objects or theoretical objects. > > The closest you come is to discuss only 'value', avoid mode of production, labor power, etc., and simply say: "We can speak of 'value' as a theoretical object or we can speak of the social relation to which the concept of value refers. Usually we want to talk about the world, so unless we make a special point of indicating that we are talking about the concept, we probably mean to refer to the social thing that causes things to happen in the world, that is, to that to which the concept refers." > > You seem, without your saying so, to have shifted your position and partially accepted my position ("'value' as a theoretical object"), but only partially. Thus, 'value' refers to either/both a theoretical object and a real object. Before, you had said value "is a real object". > > No wonder Costas is tired of trying to interpret Marx's words, viz, if every word could be both a theoretical concept, or refer to reality, or both at the same time, or not both. Yes, all of us slip in our use of language ("the way we use language often invites confusion of the real and theoretical object" -- Howard). And Marx as a human being is undertaking an immense theoretical revolution which invites such problems. But we are 136 years after 1867. I say we should insist that 'value' and all these other concepts are theoretical and discipline ourselves to use a different word when the object is a real object. (For example, I wonder if you were to substitute 'social relations' or 'social relations of production' every time you were referring to 'value' as a real object we won't make some progress in understanding each other.) > > Paul Z. > > ************************************************************************* > Vol.21-Neoliberalism in Crisis, Accumulation, and Rosa Luxemburg's Legacy > RESEARCH IN POLITICAL ECONOMY, Zarembka/Soederberg, eds, Elsevier Science > ********************** http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/PZarembka > > > Howard Engelskirchen <howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM> said, on 06/06/04: > > >The quote you have referred to from Poverty of Philosophy I think is very > >helpful on this: "economic categories are only the theoretical expressions, > >the abstractions of the social relations of production." > > >Marx there connects theoretical objects and real objects -- the economic > >categories are theoretical, the social relations of production are real. > >In theoretical activity we use thought categories to refer to real > >things. Only by getting our references more or less right can we hope for > >any success in our explanatory and practical activity. > > >The way we use language often invites confusion of the real and > >theoretical object. In science, for example, when somebody says something > >about a scientific "law," they can mean either the verbal formulation > >given to a natural process, or they can refer to a mechanism of nature > >itself. The "law" of gravity could mean either someone's conceptual > >formulation of how gravity works or it could refer to the physical force > >acting on any object that has mass. 'Value' is the same. We can speak of > >'value' as a theoretical object or we can speak of the social relation to > >which the concept of value refers. Usually we want to talk about the > >world, so unless we make a special point of indicating that we are talking > >about the concept, we probably mean to refer to the social thing that > >causes things to happen in the world, that is, to that to which the > >concept refers. > > >Marx and Ricardo both used the word 'value'. The question is whether when > >they did they referred to the same real object. My guess is that they > >did, although Marx's theoretical category more accurately corresponds to > >the social relation that exists, just as "ZnCl2" more accurately refers to > >zinc chloride than did the alchemist concept of 'butter of zinc.' But > >both theoretical labels refer to the same real object in nature. On the > >other hand the concept of 'value' manipulated logically by Professor > >Wagner's "association of concepts" method, the object of Marx's scorn in > >Notes on Wagner, seems not to have referred to the same real object and in > >fact, like phlogiston, probably referred to nothing at all. Marx > >criticized Wagner, remember, for taking the word 'value', then splitting > >it up conceptually into use value and exchange value and then pretending > >to manipulate the concepts dialectically.
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