[OPE-L:1106] Re: Definitions and Tautologies

Gilbert Skillman (gskillman@mail.wesleyan.edu)
Sun, 18 Feb 1996 13:35:49 -0800

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Well, I see Andrew has internalized the maxim that offense (in the
non-pejorative sense of the term) is the best form of defense. He writes:

> 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.

I agree with Allin here: I have conceded this point in "my
own way" only if the latter term is construed as "categorically
denying that the point has been demonstrated in a way that doesn't
make utterly arbitrary use of language."

For the record: I believe the TSS system is consistent with
Marx's stipulation that "the value of a commodity would therefore
remain constant, if the labour-time required for its production also
remained constant" *only* if Marx can be shown to have conflated
production conditions with market demand conditions. But there
is no basis for believing that he did [I've repeatedly asked Andrew
for the passage on p. 265 of Vol. III that he believes supports
this--I don't see any there that do--and have still not gotten a
reply], and significant contextual evidence to the contrary (some of which I

What's more, if Marx did indeed conflate production conditions and
market demand conditions somewhere, as would be required to square
the TSS interpretation with Marx's stipulations, my own opinion is
that such would constitute an aspect of Marx's analysis that we should
*not* strive to perpetuate, since it fuses analytical categories that are best
kept separate.

This is not to suggest that the TSS system does not have interesting
and potentially useful properties. I believe it does, as spelled out
in earlier posts.

> But Gil hasn't fulfilled his part of the bargain. He has retroactively
> added additional conditions that the demonstration must fulfill.

This is balderdash. One enters *any* discussion with implicit
assumptions as to the ground on which that discussion will be
pursued. To require participants to spell out all such presumptions
before engaging would be to make the process so hopelessly cumbersome
as to be useless.

That said, one may discover *in the course of argument* that the
participants hold different presumptions about the appropriate
grounds of the argument--for example, one may be arguing on the
grounds of Euclidean geometry, and the other not. In that case it is
not inappropriate to attempt to make one's position explicit.
The "retroactively added conditions" that Andrew speaks of were,
at least in my own mind, there all the time. I'm as consternated as he is
that they have to be made explicit, although for somewhat different reasons.

> I will suggest in a moment that these additional conditions are so vague
> as to be meaningless or, alternatively, irrelevant.

I'll stick with the two passages cited earlier--on p. 129 and p. 294
of Volume I--as necessarily relevant and sufficiently unambiguous
indicators of Marx's meaning concerning as to "the labour time
required for production." I note that Andrew does not address these
passages in his reply.


> 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.

Andrew's use of the term "logical possibility" here begs the question
at issue, since I'm challenging the idea that prices, an aspect of
market conditions, can be considered an aspect of production
conditions. They could be, I guess, if one allows that words can be
defined arbitrarily. But again, Andrew gives *no* evidence that Marx
used these words in this way, despite repeated invitations.

Andrew continues:

> 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.

Not so, since he is asserting something stronger, to the effect that
"the labor time required for production" depends directly (i.e.,
holding the production technique constant) on p(t).

> The point is that once there are two (or more) logically possible meanings
> of a specific passage,....

Again, to assert such a possibility in the present case is to beg the
central question at issue.

> 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!

Not really. What I did reject was the claim that the interpretation
which corroborates the greatest portion of an account's conclusions
is necessarily the best interpretation. See comments in my previous

> In other words, Gil's a methodological individualist, while I'm a
> dialectician. Big surprise.

This characterization is doubly inappropriate. First, I am not a
methodological individualist; for example, I embrace Marx's famous
characterization of the relationship of individual to society in his
ECONOMY. But second, "dialectical" and "methodological
individualist" are not contraries; one could be a dialectical
individualist or a non-dialectical organicist. And I don't see that
either condition has anything to do with how one interprets the
notion of "labor time required for production."

> But Gil is now requiring me to
> demonstrate the compatibility of the TSS interpretation on methodological
> individualist grounds. [No; see above--GS] 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.

Oh, my. Well, I guess I'd be one of those fellows if there were any
evidence that Marx dialectically conjoined market conditions and
production conditions. My own feeling, for what it's worth, is that
dialectics are not equivalent to a license for logical inconsistency.

[Aside to Andrew: which letter? If it's Marx's letter of 22 June
1867, I don't read it quite the same way you do.]

> 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.

One could grant the foregoing, as stated, and still deny that Marx
conflated production conditions and market conditions.

> 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.

Fair enough, but look where this leaves us if I grant the preceding
passage entirely: Marx *begins* with a conception of a commodity's
value which is expressed in a manner entirely independent of market
conditions. On hypothesis, Marx later shows how this original
conception dialectically develops into an expression which depends in
part on market conditions. Possibly, but then at the very least the
TSS expression for a commodity's value starts the story in the
middle, and does so in a way that adds incommensurate money-price and
labor-time terms in the same equation(s). (See the portion of my
first post Andrew neglects.) I might ask Andrew: granting the
possibility of dialectical development across the 3 volumes of
capital, what is the appropriate expression for Marx's *initial"
conception of value?

> 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.

No! Please do! I've been asking for these references for two posts
now. But I've asked for something more as well: that Marx comes to
understand *the labor time required for production* as directly
dependent on commodity prices, since I've offered an alternative
interpretation for his indiscriminate reference to values in money
and labor terms--i.e., that he understood his "disaggregative" and
"aggregative" hypotheses as to the connection between prices and
values to be mutually consistent.

[Aside: Marx unambiguously advances these as two separate
hypotheses, in his famous 1968 letter to Kugelmann]

> 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,

But I *didn't* suggest that this "has nothing to do with its adequacy
as an interpretation." Just the contrary--I *explicitly* granted
that this is one possible test of its adequacy--did that part of my
post not get transmitted?--and then explained why I didn't think that
was an appropriate standard in this case.

> 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
> interpretations.
> 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.

Since I thought I already did, with or without dialectics, I agree
that further discussion might be a waste of time. I say *further*
because I've found the exchange through now to be both interesting
and enlightening.