Re: [OPE-L] Marx and philosophy

From: Ian Hunt (ian.hunt@FLINDERS.EDU.AU)
Date: Mon Nov 05 2007 - 17:31:46 EST

Dear Juriaan,
I agree with most of your reflections but think 
that your claims on the regulation of price by 
value confuse two issues: one is the issue of 
whether the totality of prices equals the 
totality of values, so that a price above values 
must be offset elsewhere with prices below 
values; the other is whether the act of exchange 
considered only as a transfer of rights adds to 
value. The claims are independent and both are 
contentious. On the face of the conservation of 
value seems obvious: value in Marx's theory is by 
definition created in the sphere of production 
and pure exchange falls outside that sphere. On 
the other hand, the spheres of production and 
exchange merge: commercial transactions clearly 
add to values, as Marx recognized: even the 
display of items on store shelves adds to value 
in that it provides customers with information 
about goods, as a bee's dance points out the 
location of sources of honey. It is a matter of 
dispute whether you should similarly regard a 
transfer of private ownership rights as a service 
that puts some finishing touch to a good, as 
transport or display does,

>I am not intending to mislead, I therefore said explicitly "also by analogy"
>and therefore, not only by analogy. The Enlightenment thinkers typically
>sought to discover the laws of nature and society or indeed of the cosmos.
>Initially, God still underpinned their systems, lateron the systems became
>more secular, and God played little explanatory role anymore (if any).
>Paul C. said he had followed Mirowski's interpretation that Marx's laws of
>motion of capitalist market economy were in some way inspired by Isaac
>Newton's theories. I doubt that interpretation, especially because I am not
>aware that Marx seriously studied Newton, or even referred to his theories,
>other than perhaps incidentally. Marx argues that value is created,
>conserved and transferred by living labour, and consequently that the act of
>economic exchange by itself cannot add or subtract one atom of value in this
>Goods can trade above or below that value, but if product-values "regulate"
>exchange, then it could be argued that the exchange of newly produced goods
>traded above their value must be offset by other newly produced goods traded
>below their value. It is not that the act of exchange "conserves"
>product-values however, but that the act of exchange itself cannot affect
>the quantity of the new value produced. It can only re-allocate the
>ownership of that quantity, such that more of the new value produced is
>realised here, and less there.
>When Marx talks about "laws of motion" and "inevitability", there is IMO no
>particular theoretical conflict or tension in his thought, unless you argue
>that efficacious human choices made on the basis of free will are
>incompatible with, or contradict, determinism. However, as Ernest Mandel
>once suggested with his concept of "parametric determinism"
>, they are quite
>compatible, in fact, in human affairs, free will and determinism presuppose
>each other. In a world of chaos and randomness, free will effects nothing,
>or at least can have no knowable effect.
>Hegel himself noted that "in all necessity there is an element of the
>accidental", implying that the same result could be obtained by different
>routes, or that, while different factors could contingently advance or
>retard a necessary process, they could not block it altogether from
>happening (otherwise it would not be a necessary process).
>The "tensions" arise only in crudified, anti-historical Marxisms which
>operate with a deformed or schematic idea about determinism. In Stalinist
>theory, as Stephanie Coontz noted once, "laws of motion" played an
>ideological role, namely these laws of motion - which only the Central
>Committee could truly fathom and understand - meant that the forward march
>of history was inevitable, and all resistance to it was useless, and
>therefore, if workers and peasants failed to co-operate with the Stalinist
>bureaucracy's modernization drive, that could be only because they lacked
>sufficient understanding of what necessarily had to occur according to the
>laws of history, like it or not. In which case they needed re-education, or
>perhaps a stint in a psychiatric hospital or forced labour in the Gulag.
>A similar elitist argument is made by the Kojevian neoconservatives - e.g.
>the war in Iraq and Afghanistan is simply a necessary aspect of the forward
>march of human progress, it is just that ordinary people are too ignorant to
>understand this, because they do not know truly what is at stake in the big
>geopolitical picture (recently Mr Bush hinted at the threat of world war
>III, i.e. if you don't accept a small war you will get a big war). Recent
>surveys suggest that most people are now prepared to pay extra taxes to help
>develop "environmentally-friendly technologies", and thus the idea of the
>inevitability of global warming etc. can also be turned into a source of
>income and profit.
>Inevitability theories explain why people should passively accept inevitable
>processes, but this is usually an ideology. A true scientist always
>distinguishes appropriately between what you can change and what you cannot
>change, and there is usually something that you can change. If you believe
>you can change nothing, that is rarely true, that is more a problem of your
>own perception of your personal capacity and willpower, or of your own
>The "science of evolution" is not simply a natural science (see e.g. Bruce
>Trigger, Sociocultural evolution: calculation and contingency, 1998). Living
>organisms, particularly mammals, can develop social systems which often
>cannot be explained simply by physical or biological factors alone, because
>they involve a certain amount of sentience or social conciousness, i.e.
>behavioural choices not simply dictated by nature or instinct, but by
>socialisation and acculturation involving learnt dispositions.
>Marx himself constantly emphasized a distinction between the social world
>and the material world, arguing that the reifying tendencies of market
>economics tend to confuse the one with the other. Thus, the political
>economists often mistook purely social phenomena as natural phenomena. Of
>course, if things are just "naturally" what they are, you cannot change
>them, and so this idea has ideological uses for those who benefit from the
>way things are.
>After Marx and Engels had finished with their critiques of the
>post-Hegelians, they had little use anymore for philosophy, especially
>speculative philosophy, because they believed real knowledge came out of
>mastering the facts of experience, studying that experience, using the tools
>of scientific inquiry. Hence the notion of "the end of classical German
>philosophy". Marx and Engels ridiculed academics who claimed to obtain
>knowledge without systematically studying the facts of experience.
>The "whole" in Marx's economic writings, is the capitalist mode of
>production, defined as an organic unity of the production and circulation of
>commodities. In precapitalist society, trading capital also existed, but it
>typically did not produce and reproduce the conditions of its own existence
>on any large scale, because labour and means of production could not be
>universally traded. The traders mainly acted as intermediaries between
>non-capitalist communities of producers. In order for that to change, there
>had to be a confluence of many conditions - technological, social, cultural,
>ideological, political, scientific etc. - which made the inclusion of the
>whole of production in capitalist relations feasible. Once that began to
>happen, a new social system emerged which, unlike previous modes of
>production, was dynamic rather than stagnant, and had its own expansionary
>momentum and trajectory, which Marx sought to elucidate as a law-governed
>process. That is, the given system of property relations and trade gave rise
>to a pattern of economic behaviour which had aggregate social effects,
>explicable in terms of scientific laws, i.e. they involve causal necessities
>which ruled out some states of affairs, and promoted other ones.
>Unfortunately, in Marxism, students are often miseducated, insofar as the
>teachers do not appropriately distinguish between:
>- the existence of capital as such
>- the existence of the capitalist way of producing commodities
>- the existence of capitalist (bourgeois, bürgerliche) society
>which are different things. And this leads IMO to many errors of social and
>historical analysis. Likewise, bad ideas about freedom and determinism lead
>IMO to errors of social analysis. In this respect, the influence of
>Althusserianism was IMO particularly pernicious, insofar as it reduces
>history to "a process without subjects" and projects a scientific authority
>before any scientific research is done (for example, Marxism is "scientific"
>even if it does no science and provides no proof of its scientificity). The
>active, history-making individuals and groups disappear from view, and you
>are left with sects who dispute about the correct interpretation of a
>deterministic reality they are unable to influence, and who indeed are
>mystified about their own lack of influence. .

Associate Professor Ian Hunt,
Dept  of Philosophy, School of Humanities,
Director, Centre for Applied Philosophy,
Flinders University of SA,
Humanities Building,
Bedford Park, SA, 5042,
Ph: (08) 8201 2054 Fax: (08) 8201 2784

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