Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Sat Nov 18 2006 - 20:17:55 EST

Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labourHi Paul, 

Thanks for the comment.  Let me seize the chance to correct a spelling slip.  The American philosopher I referred to is Charles Peirce, and not as I have it below.   

Please send me your email address either onlist or off to 


  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Paul Adler 
  Sent: Saturday, November 18, 2006 1:52 AM
  Subject: Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

  I'd be very interested to see your paper, Howard. I like your reasoning here!

  At 6:23 PM -0500 11/17/06, Howard Engelskirchen wrote:
    Hi Paul and Dogen,

    Paul, I don't think anything about the 'building the house in the head' story compromises the dialectic of theory and practice that you suggest in the way you suggest.  First, Dogen is quite right that the whole purpose of the introduction Marx provides is to discuss the labor process at a level of abstraction common to all forms of labor.  Second, what characterizes the causal structures of nature we are is intentional activity.  That's Marx's point.  Intentionality is a projection into the future.  About the same time Marx was working out this analysis, the American philosopher Charles Pearce was beginning to think systematically about how we use signs.  The representations we make of the house in our head are signs of what it will be.  They guide and discipline the labor process and our thinking about it.  But there is nothing in Marx's analysis to suggest that the sign we form to guide practice functions as a mechanical template imposed on a person's labor the way a robot might be programmed or without regard to class relations and the other points you mention.

    A couple of points on the broader questions raised by this thread.  All things in process, including social relations, reflect a trajectory of movement and change.  They therefore point forward to an end or a goal.  If we want to refer to the process taken as a whole, then we are going to have to use signs that capture its telos.  But this is a simple matter of reference to a process, an essential feature of science, not of some inevitable Hegelian or other idealist unfolding of spirit.  Causal explanation in social life (and no doubt of many natural phenomena as well) requires a broader conception of cause than we've become familiar with in science since the Renaissance -- traditional science has tended to narrow the conception of cause to efficient cause only.  That was not Marx's 'come from' and to understand explanation it's worth having a look again at Aristotle.

    The same point holds for the question of form, which relates to the ontological question Dogen raised.  I've argued that Marx's analysis of social forms can be thought of much the way Aristotle thought that the things of the world were composites of matter and form.  For Marx the social relations of labor can be thought of as composites of labor and form.  Recognizing this not only puts an important emphasis on the forms of the labor process, but also makes it possible to see the way Marx's analyses foreshadowed today's sophisticated scientific realism.   Scientists search for the causal structures of the world and Marx identifies causal structures of labor and form.  I've discussed these issues in "Why Is This Labor Value:  The Commodity Form of Labor as a Social Kind."  'Social Kind' here is used the way we think of water as a natural kind.  The essay will be published in Pearce and Frauley, eds., Critical Realism and the Social Sciences: Heterodox Elaborations, by the University of Toronto Press.  If anyone is interested in the argument, I can send a copy.


      ----- Original Message -----
      From: Paul Cockshott
      Sent: Thursday, November 16, 2006 4:47 PM
      Subject: Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

      I think, Dogan, that the possibility of our building a house in our head before we build it in reality is an idealist hangover in Marx. His section on the architect and the bee has for 30 years struck me as one of the least satisfactory in the whole of Das Kapital.

      One can have a general intention to build a house, but nobody builds it in their head, least of all an architect. An architect builds it on paper before building labourers build it out of bricks. The whole of marx's analysis there abstracts from class relations, from the division of mental and manual labour, and from the interaction between mental processes and the material tools of mental labour - in the architects case, rulers pencils, paper etc.

      For a detailed elaboration of this critique see

      By the way I have been reading Dogan's book on Smith, have only got through first third so far, but it opens up an entire new window on Smith for me. I had never paid much attention to his Theory of Moral Sentiments before.


      From: OPE-L [mailto:OPE-L@SUS.CSUCHICO.EDU] On Behalf Of Dogan Goecmen
      Sent: 16 November 2006 15:05
      Subject: Re: [OPE-L] marx's conception of labour

      It refers to the projected aims of the concret work to be done. To build a house it must have been built in our heads and so on.


      In einer eMail vom 16.11.2006 15:00:36 Westeuropäische Normalzeit schreibt Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM:

        >  I present first the general aspects of Marx's concept of labour:
        > ontological, teleological and sociological.


        What is the teleological aspect of Marx's concept of labour?

        In solidarity, Jerry


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