[OPE-L:2758] Re: assumptions, assumptions, assumptions

Michael Williams (100417.2625@compuserve.com)
Tue, 30 Jul 1996 10:49:17 -0700 (PDT)

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In a sceptical post about ordered levels of abstraction, especially in Capital,
Andrew says (amongst much else):

Vol. I deals with the process of
production of capital, Vol. II with the circulation of capital; Vol. III
with the forms of appearance of the process as a whole. Vol. IV (TSV)
with the history of the theory of surplus-value. I don't think the idea
that these are "ordered" in terms of increasing concreteness holds up.
EG.., what's not concrete about the analysis of the production process?

Michael W:
Whether Capital is structured in levels of abstraction, in whole or part, or
could or should be reconstructed as such is a big issue.
But it does seem clear that the account of production in volume 1 is abstract in
being taken in isolation from circulation, and from the process as a whole.
(Then the account of circulation is similarly abstract; and the forms of
appearance of the process as a whole, is, thereby, (more) concrete.) (Jerry
makes more or less the same point in his reply to Andrew.)

Later Andrew goes on:
Not infrequently, appeal is made to the unpublished
intro to the _Grundrisse_, on the movement from abstract to concrete.
But there are two huge problems with that interpretation. (1) Marx is
there referring to the method of inquiry, not of presentation; (2) In
the Preface to the CCPE, Marx says explicitly that he is omitting the
Intro., and that the reader who wishes to follow him at all must
pass from the *special* to the *general*. I.e., the reverse process.

(1) Seems to me just wrong - pp. 100-108 in the Pelican GRUNDRISSE, deals with
both. The method of inquiry centers on abstracting from the immediate (or
inadequately mediated) empirical (which Marx is careful to note, is only
apparently 'concrete'); that of presentation centers on the process of
concretization from the most abstract to, eventually, (re)-grasp the empirical
as concrete. Of course this is a stylized and idealized account of method - no
doubt most science hops up and down the ladder of levels of abstraction. What
the most structured, systematic presentation in ordered levels of abstraction is
supposed to facilitate is the grounding of the fundamental abstract starting
point, and so provide an argument for its validity in terms of grasping the
object totality. That is, it simultaneously provides an argument for the
validity of that starting point, and of the whole conceptualization, and
facilitates the, no doubt endless, critical rectification and improvement of
that structure. We might say that presentation in ordered abstractions is a tool
to help overcome the dichotomy between discovery and validation of knowledge
exemplified in orthodox accounts of models as simultaneously derived by
abstraction from the insignificant and irrelevant, and supposed to identify what
is indeed significant and relevant.
(For these kinds of reasons, I don't think I agree with Jerry when, in his reply
to Andrew, he says: "the mode of presentation is secondary to the method of

(2) Is more of a problem. I don't have easy access to the text here, but if
special/general are taken to be partially constitutive of concrete/abstract
(which is a bit dodgy - the concrete is the specific grasped in its location
within the whole), then the path Marx is inviting us to follow is one of inquiry
rather than presentation. I am not keen on twisting particular interpretations
out of Marx-quotes; but then I am not keen on resting (even methodological)
arguments on Marx quotes either!
(Again, I don't think I agree with Jerry when he says " What is the particular?
Is it not the commodity?" Because it all depends: the commodity as form is, of
course general and abstract; a particular good or service grasped as an
exemplification of that form is thereby particular and concrete. I mention this
because the location of 'abstract' and 'concrete' within the family of words
like particular/general seems an important source of confusion as to their
import. )

On re-reading, my comments here sound a bit pedagogical. I guess you, Andrew,
know these kinds of argument already - I suppose my question is: what do you
find wrong with them?

Dr Michael Williams
"Books are Weapons"