Re: on money

From: Howard Engelskirchen (howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM)
Date: Wed Jun 02 2004 - 22:58:15 EDT

Hi Paul,

I've enjoyed this exchange a lot, and I've learned from it too.  So let's
try to avoid talking past one another and hold the caps.  I thought you
understood why I had concluded, a posteriori, not assumed, that value
existed in the ancient world.  So my statements were shorthand.  I'm happy
to explain the argument.

Its basic structure might run something like this:  (1) I notice a variety
of familiar phenomena in the ancient world and wonder what explains their
presence -- an argument in an important book on ethics suggests that a
remedy for a failure of exchange would be just if it restored reciprocal
equality; I notice contractual forms in both Greece and Rome; even more
significantly, I notice that in the early modern period Roman law was
assimilated to the evolving bourgeois societies of Continental Europe; I
notice also that in a Contracts classroom I can raise a legal problem posed
by Cicero as if it were a contemporary legal problem, and I wonder why this
is so; in addition the spread of coin and the existence of markets
throughout the Mediterranean basin catches my attention.  (2) I reason
abductively:  given these surprising phenomena, what is the best theoretical
explanation I can give to account for them?  I don't do this in a vacuum,
but instead make use of the full arsenal of background theories that
constitute Marxism, including propositions concerning the determination of
forms of law and superstructure by relations of production.  Based on my
theoretical understanding of the social relation of value, I conclude that
value must have existed in the ancient world since its existence would best
explain the surprising phenomena with which I began my inquiry.  (3)  I
still have to test the hypothesis:  do I in fact find evidence of the value
relation in the ancient world?  I do indeed find such evidence, and
therefore conclude that value did exist in the ancient world.  My conclusion
is fallible, reached a posteriori, and is subject to revision in light of
new evidence, new background hypotheses, or revisions of theory.

Now I suspect our confusion is not over any of the above, but instead over
the category we use to characterize value, which is why, supposing we were
to look for evidence of value in the ancient world, I asked whether we would
be looking for the same thing.  I think we can't bracket that question while
we pause to resolve something else.  Unless I'm mistaken, that just is the
barrier to moving forward.

I've explained in a published paper on value and contract and even more
explicitly in an unpublished manuscript summarized during our panel at
Rethinking Marxism that I consider it possible to give a real definition of
value.  The definition offered is in the first chapter of Capital and the
method used is summarized in Notes on Wagner.

In order that terminology doesn't get in the way, we can pause a minute to
think about the way we say 'water is H2O -- I mean water is the wet stuff
that runs out of the faucet. What in the world does it mean to say it is
H2O?  By H2O I identify its inner structure.  We can use the word 'value' in
something of the same way to refer both to the third thing behind objects in
exchange and also to refer to the social relation that is its inner
structure.  As an aside that needs fuller development, contemporary
scientific realism distinguishes a programmatic definition -- e.g. one that
locates an element in the period table by atomic number and weight, for
example, making possible a description of properties and behaviors -- and an
explanatory definition: using the same example, one that would account for
that location in terms of an explanation of the element's atomic structure.
It's likely we can talk of value in the same way -- we can offer a
programmatic definition in terms of labor and an explanatory definition in
terms of the inner constitution of a social relation.  For sure we know that
Marx sought to account for social phenomena by tracing them to social
relations.  So although he makes ready use of definitions that are like what
I've called programmatic ones, he also grounds these in explanatory ones.

I've summarized the steps I understand Marx to take in arriving at an
explanatory definition of value as follows:  (1) he starts with a concrete
fact of social life immediately given -- the product of labor as a
commodity; (2) he analyzes this and finds it contains at once use value and
exchange value; (3) pushing analysis further he notices a thing behind use
value and exchange value -- exchange value is only the phenomenal form of
value; (4) in a continuation of the analysis he finds value to have its
source in a specific relation of production: the producer must produce use
values independently that are useless to  the producer and instead are
produced for others.  See Notes on Wagner.  Now I look to the ancient world.
Did some producers produce goods independently and for others?
Unquestionably they did.  QED: the social relation of value existed in the
ancient world.

No assuming, no theology (except for the Scholastic tag, of course).


----- Original Message -----
From: "Paul Zarembka" <zarembka@BUFFALO.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, June 02, 2004 4:05 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE-L] on money

> Howard Engelskirchen <howarde@TWCNY.RR.COM> said, on 06/02/04:
> >... value and water are both scientific objects, they are
> >alike in insofar as they can exist before we form a concept of them and
> >the concepts of them can be approximate, mistaken and can be revised to
> >reflect more accurately their nature and powers.
> Howard,
> You really have not understood my question.  For you to write what you
have above is PRESUME the answer in order to give the answer.  It presumes
that 'value' exists in ancient Greece.  Water existed in ancient Greece, but
did value?  That is the question.  If you answer the question as you do
above, you presume the answer BEFORE you answer.  You are claiming 'value'
existed in ancient Greece.  But UNLIKE water, you cannot touch, or smell, or
taste or feel 'value' (it shouldn't matter, but I believe Marx said
something similar somewhere).  I'm quite serious about this.  If I had ever
led you to think that I had already accepted that value (even if
unrecognized) existed in ancient Greece, I'm sorry.  I'm at a loss how I
could have been misunderstood.  I may be in error, but I thought I was
perfectly clear in trying to understand NOT the concept (or lack thereof) of
'value' in ancient Greece, but its actual existence.
> ...
> >I don't understand your question about Poverty of Philosophy.  Yes I
> >value is an economic category; yes I think it is an abstraction of a
> >particular social relation of production; yes I think that social
> >existed in the ancient world.  The ancients couldn't form a concept of
> >we can, and can look back and recognize it there.
> So, you believe value is sitting there in ancient Greece but Aristotle
only lacked the concept of it?  Beyond simply asserting this as fact, what
causes you to think it is a fact?  Aren't almost into theology?  You cannot
see God, but she is there.
> >I'll have to come back to your point about M-C-M and C-M-C.  You seem to
> >be saying in response to the question I asked in the last post that value
> >and capital are indeed the same thing.  Here, let me ask about Poverty of
> >Philosophy:  "economic categories are only the theoretical expressions,
> >the abstractions of social relations of production."  What are the social
> >relations to which the concepts of value and capital respectively refer?
> >Are they the same?
> I think we can hold on the above, for we won't make progress without an
understanding of the issues raised above.
> >On the two things being exchanged being reducible to a third -- if you
> >recall, at Rethinking Marxism I added that there was a step in Marx's
> >investigation after this.  We find this in both Notes on Wagner and in
> >Capital -- we have to go from value to the social relation behind it.
> >Remember the chapter on commodity fetishism -- we are not looking at the
> >relations of objects; that is just the way things appear.  We are
> >considering reciprocal relations of persons with respect to labor (and
> >without the buying and selling of labor power).
> Ditto.
> Paul

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