[OPE-L:1101] Re: Definitions and Tautologies

akliman@acl.nyit.edu (akliman@acl.nyit.edu)
Sat, 17 Feb 1996 13:16:18 -0800

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Andrew here, replying to Gil's ope-l 1097:

In his own way, Gil has just conceded that I did indeed demonstrate the
consistency of the TSS interpretation with Marx's statements that a
commodity's value is determined by the labor-time required for its
production, and by the labor contained in it. This was what he
challenged me to do so that he would then accept that the ability of the
TSS interpretation to repeatedly replicate Marx's theoretical results
makes it a superior interpreation to others, which cannot do so.

But Gil hasn't fulfilled his part of the bargain. He has retroactively
added additional conditions that the demonstration must fulfill. I
will suggest in a moment that these additional conditions are so vague
as to be meaningless or, alternatively, irrelevant. But let me first
lay out the additional conditions added on retroactively:

(1) the demonstration must not "*require* us to fundamentally alter the
basic meaning of words"

(2) it must adhere to the "rational usage of language"

(3) it must not do "fundamental violence [to the] contextually indicated
meaning of the writer"

(4) it must "prove on contextual grounds that the TSS interpretation is
compatible with what Marx says, according to his probable [NB!] meaning"

(5) it must do so without "violat[ing] the standard meaning of words"
[which is not necessarily the same as (1)].

As an alternative, Gil offers to let me

(6) find a dictionary that isn't written by a proponent of the TSS
interpretation that uses the notion of "labor time required for production
" the way I do when referring to Marx's value theory.

In this last one, since Gil isn't talking about regular dictionaries, but
dictionaries of economics, or Marxist economics, we see that the basis of
this challenge is an appeal to authority. Aesop answered this long ago:
a man and a lion were walking, and talking about who was strongest. They
came across a statue of a man choking a lion to death. The man used this
as "proof" that men were stronger. The lion simply noted that if a lion
could sculpt, the lion would be devouring the man. If I had any real
standing in the academic world, or any other proponent of the TSS
interpretation did, then, I'm sorry to say, our arguments wouldn't seem
so implausible. We could drum them into the heads of students, test them
on it, distribute perks on the basis of adherence to our reading, become
accepted as ex cathedra spokespersons, etc. etc. As I noted to Allin
recently, I maintain that the only reason you all think your interpreta-
tion is so obvious, natural, etc. is that it is the ruling interpretation
and has been so for the longest time:

"empty tradition is more powerful in political economy than in any other
science"--Karl Marx (TSV III, p. 331).

Now, as I said, the new conditions Gil has retroactively piled-on are
exceedingly vague. Whose standard meaning? Whose basic meaning? Who
is to judge what the "rational" use of language is? Who is to decide
what the "contextually indicated meaning of the writer" is? Who is to
decide what Marx's "probable meaning" was?

And why is this "probable meaning" smuggled in? The original challenge
was to demonstrate that it was not *logically impossible* for the
TSS interpretation to be consistent with Marx's statements: Gil had
clearly stated that the interpretation is "necessarily" inconsistent
with these statements, and challenged me to do otherwise, which I did.
"Necessarily" means the contrary is a logical impossibility according
to your "contextually indicated meaning" Gil, no?

If you let me pick you is to decide whether these new conditions are met,
Gil, then I assure you that I'll definitely meet them. If you get to
decide, then no thanks. If you can suggest some thing alternative, I'm
willing to listen. (Sorry: should be THIRD alternative).

Now Gil is right about one thing:

my demonstration "requires us to believe _ab initio_ that Marx *allowed*
p(t) to enter into the expression of 'the labor time required for
production.'" {my emphasis}

Yes, if "allowed" means that we do not exclude _ab initio_ the logical
possibility that p(t) can enter into the expression. Again, my
demonstration did demonstrate that "labor time required for production"
is not *necessarily* identical in meaning to L{(I-A)**-1}. And that
is all that I had to demonstrate.

Now of course if one does exclude the logical possibility of a difference
_ab initio_, then I cannot make one appear. Even Jesus could only turn
water into wine. Gil would have forced him to turn water into something
that contains neither hydrogen nor oxygen.

The point is that once there are two (or more) logically possible meanings
of a specific passage, we need to determine which reading is superior
according to which corresponds with the text as a whole--including the
theoretical conclusions of the text. Underneath all the new conditions
Gil has piled on is a denial of this principle. His repeated references
to "context," "contextual," etc. really imply that the single passage
must be read IN ISOLATION, that the meaning of the passage does not emerge
from the whole!

In other words, Gil's a methodological individualist, while I'm a
dialectician. Big surprise. But Gil is now requiring me to
demonstrate the compatibility of the TSS interpretation on methodological
individualist grounds. This I cannot do, and I believe it is impossible
to do so because the author of the text himself was a dynamite
dialectician. In a letter to Engels, in which Engels wanted him to
head off objections he anticipated from some readers of _Capital_, Marx
replied that one advantage of the dialectical method is that it
continually sets traps for such fellows and shows their asininity.

Now, I'm not saying that Marx *consciously* said value is determined by
the labor-time required for production in order to set a trap. The
dialectical method itself sets traps, as he noted. It does so by
letting categories develop, so that what was only potential before and
GENERALLY UNRECOGNIZED AS POTENTIAL now becomes actual, explicit. And
the dependence of value on past distributions of value becomes explicit
and actual with the transformation of values into production prices,
not before.

So this is another reason why I refuse Gil's new conditions.

Moreover, notice how heavily the new conditions rely on "standard,"
"basic," i.e., CONVENTIONAL use of language. From a Hegelian standpoint,
to make things conform to standard language is to do violence to them,
because, as Hegel shows, when one uses FIXED CATEGORIES, one can never
say what one means. One says A, but it itself implies something one
did not mean, B. And one conversely never means what one says. The
truth is the whole. Gil would force us to believe that the earliest
determination of a category in _Capital_ is its "definition," that the
meaning of that "definition" must be found within the context in
which it appears, taken in ISOLATION, that whatever potential that
category has which is not IMMEDIATELY apparent from its first determin-
ation is to be quashed as contrary to the "definition's" "basic
meaning," and that, therefore, all categorial development is impermissible
because it is contradictory. Of course, development is contradictory,
but that's reality.

Now, I could go on and show how and where and why Marx says values depend
on past prices, but I'm beginning to suspect it is a waste of time. If
one refuses dialectics, if one refuses to set clear criteria according
to which one would accept the superiority of the TSS interpretation *as
an interpretation*, if one ignores the massive evidence that only the
TSS interpretation is able to replicate Marx's theoretical conclusions
as if this has nothing to do with its adequacy as an interpretation,
then I'm wasting my time discussing things with you. I'm NOT saying this
to Gil specifically.

What I am saying to Gil specifically is: okay, you set me up. I did what
you challenged me to do, but that's not good enough. There will be
condition after condition put upon me PRECISELY so that subjective
criteria ("this reading appeals to me," "I find this useful," etc.) rather
than an interpretation's ability to replicate Marx's theoretical conclu-
sions will be used to evaluate the relative adequacy of different

I'll be more careful next time.

Now I have a challenge for you: prove that Marx's statments are
necessarily contradictory to the TSS interpretation according to
dialectical criteria. Do so and I'll renounce the TSS interpretation--
no hidden conditions, no tricks.

Andrew Kliman