[OPE-L:110] Re: natural laws

Paul Cockshott (wpc@clyder.gn.apc.org)
Fri, 22 Sep 1995 06:37:39 -0700

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There has been a very interesting set of postings
on the question of the law or laws of motion of
modern society. When Jerry initially asked
"should OUR purpose be to understand capitalISM rather than capital?"
I too was inclined to say yes, since I felt that
to say that capital was our object of investigation
might imply a hegelian presumption that from the
concept of capital all the concrete features of
capitalism could be deduced - something which I
feel to be mistaken.

Then the issue arose of whether there is one or
many laws of motion of modern society, which is
clearly related to the above. My first thought is
that one requires several laws to have motion and
dynamics - in mechanics one assumes several conservation
laws plus the force laws. This would then reinforce
the objection to a hegelian deduction of the
development of capitalism from a concept of capital.

Then it struck me that work in cellular automata
theory has demonstrated that one can derive highly
complex laws of motion from a single evolution function
of a cell and its neighbours. In fact as I think
Margoulis has shown one can, given a universe of
this type set up a configuration that is Turing
equivalent, and hence capable of modeling any
system of laws of motion.

This indicates that it is not philosophically absurd
to hypothesise that one law may be in one sense
a sufficient foundation for the motion of a very
complex system. But although this law
may be a foundation for the motion of the whole
system, there are other preconditions before
you get something of Turing equivalent complexity.
One needs a particular initial configuration, or
set of boundary conditions. These initial configurations
are guaranteed a certain stability by the underlying
cellular evolution law, but in their turn impose other
constraints on the future evolution of the system
and these constraints become higher level laws.

Thus the simple law may allow a multiplicity of
different configurations to evolve and some of
these different configurations would have their own,
higher level laws of motion - which would not
necessarily all be equivalent.

If we allow the hypothesis that there could be a
basic law of motion, that permits the existence
of a complex system like modern society, the question
is then asked by John: "Are we implicitly saying that Marx never

I think that we have to say yes. He never explicitly stated
it as a single clearly defined law. The question then
arises as to whether we can say that the law of value is
this foundational law. We then have the problem that although
he wrote a great deal on value he never stated it explicitly
as a law, i.e. in the sense of Hooks law or the laws of
thermodynamics. I think however, one can reconstruct the
concept of law that he had beneath the texts on value.

At the level of explanation in volume 1 the law would state
'In the exchange of commodities, abstract socially
necessary labour time is conserved.'

Although he does not state this explicitly, I think that
it is clearly a logical presupposition of much of his argument.
I would agree with Gil that he does not establish the correctness
of this law, but that does not mean that it may not both be
a valid law empirically, and one whose assumption allows one
to model or simulate the important features of capitalism.
There is now a growing body of evidence that the
law actually applies, but it would be true to say that we
do not know why it applies.

But one could, using the same law of value, hypothesise other
systems than capitalism. If we made the auxilliary hypothesis
that there was a tendancy for the value of labour power to
be equal to the value created by labour, then you would not
get capitalism but some other social system, perhaps a system
of workers co-operatives.

The assumption that the value of labour power is systematically
below the value creating power of labour is, it seems to me,
a boundary condition that is specifically reproduced by capitalism.
In this sense, although the law of value is the underlying
law of motion of modern society, it is abstractly the law of motion
of more than one possible sort of modern society.

This incidentally raises the question of what we mean by
modern society. Does it mean the world society, particular states,
does it include socialist economies?

-- should OUR purpose be to understand capitalISM rather than capital? (I
would say yes).

-- what is the "law"? The law of value? Don't we have to examine the
interrelationships between different aspects of capitalism before we can
say that that there is *one* law that governs this mode of production? In
other words, isn't the idea that there is *one* law a conclusion that
we can only come to as a result of analysis (rather than a presumption)?


One problem apropos the recent exchange on Marx's "law" of value (or
any attempt on the part of our group to proceed in our analytical
project using this "law" as a foundation) is that no such law has been
established by Marx, at least not if one takes a social "law" to be other
than  a) an assumption b) a strict tautology or c) an empirical
regularity (such as that connecting sunspots and stock prices, say).
Neither the argument from exchange conditions nor the argument from
production conditions (in the commodity fetishism section,
amplified in Marx's letter to Kugelmann of 11 July 1868) in Chapter
1, Volume I of Capital succeeds in establishing the basis for a
lawlike regularity connecting values and prices.

Paul Z ------

Unlike Gil, I never saw Marx's law of value as a theory of prices being determined by labor values (even a 95% approximation theory). Volume 1 talks about value all over the place and explicitly abstracts from departures of production prices from labor-time values. The law of value is concerned fundamentally with determining the basis of capitalist exploitation in the exploitation of labor power resulting from the difference between labor time put in by workers and the value of their labor power on the market.

John ---- Based on the posts of yesterday, it would seem that an interesting starting point for discussion might be "the economic law of motion of modern society." Obviously, the first task would be a simple statement, if possible, of that law.

Jerry -----

More curious is Marx's assertion that there is "the economic law" rather than laws. If we are to speak of law, shouldn't we use the multiple? That is, unless we believe capitalist dynamics are linear, wouldn't we have to suggest multiple (and perhaps contradictory) laws and tendencies?

John ----

Whew. I thought we could just state what the ultimate aim of Marx's work was, not get into a hassle. Are we implicitly saying that Marx never clearly stated "THE ECONOMIC LAW OF MOTION OF MODERN SOCIETY"? ---------------------------------------------------------

Paul Cockshott