[OPE-L:1441] "Obviously": levels of abstraction?

Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Thu, 7 Oct 1999 10:12:13 -0400 (EDT)

Mike W wrote in [OPE-L:1432]:

> I already intimated that if assumption and relaxation is done
> 'thoughtfully', it may converge on the systematic dialectical process
> of concretising the most abstract starting point until (pro temps) the
> empirical has been regrasped as the concrete. The germinal source for
> the latter is clearly the famous 8 pages in Grundrisse (pp 100-8 in
> the Penguin edition).

And I think that is as good a place as any to begin to discuss Marx's
method as it relates to "levels of abstraction".

In the _Grundrisse_, to my knowledge, Marx does not use the _expression_
"levels of abstraction". Yet, he clearly is concerned about such questions
as the "starting point" (very important from a Hegelian perspective) and
the "succession", "sequence", and "order" of economic categories.

The "order" has to "OBVIOUSLY" (emphasis added, JL) be the following:

        "The order obviously has to be (1) the general abstract
         determinations which obtain in more or less all forms of
         society, but in the above explained sense. (2) The categories
         which make up the inner structure of bourgeois society and on
         which the fundamental classes rest. Capital, wage labour,
         landed property. Their inter-relation. Town and country. The
         three great social classes. Exchange between them.
         Circulation. Credit system (private). (3) Concentration of
         bourgeois society in the form of the state. Viewed in relation
         to itself. The 'unproductive' classes. Taxes. State debt. Public
         credit. The population. The colonies. Emigration. (4) The
         international relation of production. International division of
         labour. International exchange. Export and import. Rate of
         exchange. (5) The world market and crises. (p. 108)

It seems to me rather "obvious" that before we can grasp the empirical as
concrete, we must have a "order" of economic categories. This logical and
systematic "ordering"/"succession"/"sequence" of economic categories is
what the expression "levels of abstraction" concerns. Indeed, if we were
*not* to have a systematic ordering of categories then we would have even
a more "chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole" than if our
starting point was to be the population.

Yet Marx tells us above not only that there "has to be" an order, but that
"the order obviously has to be ...."

Yet, is this ordering as "obvious" to us as it was to Marx? In this order,
what is Marx telling us about his conception of the whole and the
inter-relationship of different parts to the whole? Should we "obviously"
accept this ordering or is another ordering better able to grasp bourgeois

Thanky you, Alejandro R, for raising this issue.

In solidarity, Jerry

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