Re: [OPE-L] questions on the interpretation of labour values

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Fri Mar 02 2007 - 22:27:39 EST

Hi Jerry,

You subjectivize my point.  Water exists in a liquid form at normal room
temperature because of the character of the physical bonds that hold the
atoms of hydrogen and oxygen together.  That is, we learn something about
the substance's nature and behavior if we know its molecular constitution
that we could not learn if we paid attention only to its form as a liquid.

There is nothing in the analogy as so stated that does not apply to the
distinction between the real definition of the commodity form and price.
Drawing a sharp line between the things we study in nature and in society is
too easy and insulates social science to its loss.  Analogies to lessons
from natural science run throughout Capital.  Whether they're illicit or not
depends on what is being shown.  Marx found "inner" connections in the
social structures he studied and traced their phenomenal manifestations.
In this his task was not different from the kind of thing a natural
scientist might do.  Analogies often clarify because relationships in
nature, like that between H2O and the liquid form of it, can be readily
grasped.  If someone says the atoms of hydrogen and oxygen in a water
molecule aren't wet, we get it.

Social things are the product of our intentional actions and water mostly is
not.  Close attention to the mind and practice dependence of social things
follows.  But just like the phenomena of nature, social things often exist
and reproduce themselves independent of our ideas of them and may even exist
without our having any theory about them at all -- recall Marx observing
that the concept of value didn't exist in the ancient world.  The point to
be insisted on is that we don't change the things of either nature or
society except by our causal engagement with them.

You point out that I identify a social structure linked to the character of
commodities.  Actually my point was more precise.  The concept of a
commodity makes no sense except as the product of a particular social form
of labor.  That form of labor -- independent producers producing goods
useless to them for private exchange -- gives us a real definition of the
commodity form.  All of it, not part of it.  You suggest that prices are
part of the real definition of commodities.  What else does the definition
include?  To be clear: a nominal definition is the kind of thing we do with
a dictionary.  A real definition identifies the dispositional properties of
a thing such that we know how it persists as what it is and how it tends to
behave.  An explanatory mechanism showing how these essential properties
account for manifestations of behavior and other features is presupposed.
It is not a conjunction or gathering of all important characteristics.


----- Original Message -----
From: "Jerry Levy" <Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM>
Sent: Friday, March 02, 2007 10:30 AM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] questions on the interpretation of labour values

> > Saying prices are part of the real definition of commodities is like
> saying
> > being wet is part of the real definition of water.
> Hi Howard:
> The experience of being wet is not part of the real definition of water
> because water exists independently of whether there are beings who
> experience wetness.  The real definition of commodity is social, however,
> and requires the existence of a series of specific social relationships
> including markets and price.  Your simile above is odd since you,
> in your reply to Allin,  recognized the existence of a qualitative social
> structure
> necessarily linked to the character of commodities.
> In solidarity, Jerry

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