[OPE-L:406] Re:

Duncan K Foley (dkf2@columbia.edu)
Fri, 3 Nov 1995 14:16:28 -0800

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On Thu, 2 Nov 1995, chaion lee wrote:

> Hi Comrades,
> After my presentation on the method the other day, I realized I myself
> failed in the presentation in making myself properly understood. So, I
> decided to write this letter to explain my points more clearly. Sorry
> if I am bothering you.
> Originally, in my [Lee (1)], I intended to dissent on the conventional
> understanding of Marx method as "the layering of determinations"(Foley: p 4)
> or "self-determination in Marx's abstraction"(Foley: pp 6-7) or "first
> approximation at first and then its modifications"(Foley: p 9) on the ground
> that they are all virtually the same as the neo-classical modellings.
> I want to know whether this message was accurately conveyed or not in the
> previous presentation. If it is not, could you please give me any idea to
> make better presentation? I am personally asking you of your opinion.

I was concerned to emphasize the continuity between Marx's method and
thought and theory in general in the book, in part because my audience in
my course was neoclassically trained economists.

There are, of course, important differences, though I think it is
difficult to explain them well except in the context of the specific
analysis of specific problems. The same concepts (price, value, money,
labor, etc) appear in neoclassical, Classical, and Marxist theory, for
example, and I think they are recognizably talking about the same things.
The difference lies in the order of abstraction and the relations between
the concepts, and is often closely connected with the conception of the
whole. For example, neoclassical economists tend to say that the real
wage is determined by the marginal product of labor; what they (and the
Classicals and Marx) agree on is that profit maximizing capitalists will
choose a technique of production for which the real wage is equal to (or
contained in the set of possible) marginal product(s) of labor. What
distinguishes the neoclassicals is their implicit presumption of full
employment of labor and capital which, in some simple models like the
Solow model, determines the technique of production, and thus the
marginal product of labor independently. Here the abstractions are
recognizably the same, but the conception of the whole, and thus the
ordering of the determinations is quite different.

> In [Lee (2)], I dissent on the so-called starting-point of abstraction for
> the reason that it might be an empty abstraction. Without no guarantee that
> it cannot be an empty one, we cannot start from the abstract. This point
> also does not seem well conveyed in the previous presentation.

This is an important point. No method guarantees scientifically
interesting results.

> In [Lee (3)], I argue that we have to start from the concrete to arrive at
> the substantive abstraction. Marx changed his mind from the starting-point
> of value into that of the commodity, a particular, concrete as seen in
> Preface to A Contribution to the Critique...". I rejected the idea that the
> investigation method starts from the concrete and the presentation method
> starts from the abstract for the reason that it is mystified.

Marx, like most of us, had a lot of trouble explaining clearly his whole
vision, and he tried a number of different strategies. I think the one he
settled on in the first volume of Capital was aimed at emphasizing the
continuity between his thought and Smith and Ricardo's. It might have
been more Marxist for him to start with historical materialism.

> The analytical path is seen originally in theology, metaphysics and
> the works of art. Jesus explained the truth that was supposed to apply to
> everything from a concretum example. Gough expressed his esthetic notion by
> a concrete sunflower. A chemist analyses a meat into various elements, eg.
> nitrogen, hydrogen, etc. But the analysis does not conform to our analytical
> method. Without a certain general idea in the abstract, the chemist cannot
> proceed his analysis any further. His analysis in the laboratory is simply
> to confirm empirically the verification of the originally suggested general
> abstract idea. The synthetic method is common in every other science since
> the 17th century according to Marx (Grundrisse, p 100).
> In [Lee (4)], I dissent on the idea of the "levels of abstraction" in the
> so-called presentation method for the reason that it is virtually identical
> with the neo-classical 'successive modellings'. I interprete it as a
> sequence of the logical anteriority. We shall start from the most abstract
> toward the more concrete in the synthetic method, which follows the logical
> anteriority.. But the analytical method does not have any bearing on this
> sequence of the logical anteriority, which is the point of the [Lee (5)].
> Yours,
> Chai-on Lee