Re: [OPE] Reply from Rosa Lichtenstein

From: howard engelskirchen <>
Date: Fri Oct 02 2009 - 20:43:59 EDT

Hi Ian and Paula,

Thanks Paula for your clarifications, which I think are straightforward.

And thanks Ian for the precision and the example from Capital I. One
quibble. The power of abstraction may be like experimental closure, but it
does not by any means achieve experimental closure. Explanatory closure,
maybe. Hmmm. I wonder if that concept makes any sense. Sounds problematic
in that explanation doesn't really ever close.

Two related points from Bettelheim. If anyone can help me with this quote
from Le Transition vers l'economie socialiste, I'd be grateful; the quote
is from Marx (I'll translate in my clumsy french), but I'm unable to track
Lafargue translation, Editions Marcel Girard, 1928, at p. 164; the quote in
the Le Transition vers is at p. 165:

"With this method, we start with the relation that is first historically and
practically, and the simplest, and we analyze it. Because it's a relation,
it follows there are two aspects that are in relation, one with the other .
. . contradictions will result from this which must be resolved . . . these
contradictions also are developed in practice and will have really found
their solution in practice . . . We will notice that on the basis of this
solution we have been led to the formation of a new relation and we will now
have to develop this in terms of its two opposed sides."

Maybe somebody will recognize something similar in the English Contribution
to the Critique.

Second point goes to Ian's ellipse:

Following Althusser, Bettelheim gives this example at p. 240 -- again,
apologies for the rough french:

The status of these regulating magnitudes in the theory of price is
analogous to the status of centers of gravity in the physics of solids. The
center of gravity doesn't exist as a reality that can be empirically
established. It is a geometric place determined by a structure and is only
manifested in its effects. (Le centre du gravité n'existe pas en tant que
"réalité" empiriquement constatable. C'est un lieu géométrique déterminé
par une structure et qui ne se manifeste que par ses effets.)"

I'm interested in the ontology of that center of gravity. I agree that it
is not empirically present except in its effects, but geometry is like
language -- it offers a conceptual representation. The center of gravity is
not conceptual; it is a really existing locus of forces. Geometry gives a
way to grasp it, but the locus is physical. The same, I think for value --
we access conceptually, but it is a really existing locus of force.


howard engelskirchen

----- Original Message -----
From: "Ian Wright" <>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <>
Sent: Friday, October 02, 2009 7:07 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] Reply from Rosa Lichtenstein

> Hi Paula,
> Your examples are relational properties, but I (perhaps incorrectly)
> think the best way to understand "dialectical contradiction" is in the
> sense of a "real contradiction" as described by Marx:
> "The exchange of commodities cannot, as one has seen, take place
> without fulfilling contradictory conditions, which exclude one other.
> Its development which makes commodities appear as something with two
> aspects, use value and ex-change value, does not make these
> contradictions disappear, but creates the form in which
> they can move themselves. This is in any case the only method for
> resolving real contradictions. It is, for example, a contradiction
> that a body fall constantly toward another, and also constantly fly
> away from it. The ellipse is one of the forms of movement by which
> this contradiction realizes itself and resolves itself at the same
> time." Marx, Capital Vol 1.
> We have one force that makes bodies fall toward each other
> (stability). And we have another force that makes them fly away
> (instability). So the attractor states of each independent force are
> mutually exclusive. But both forces act to determine the trajectory of
> the body, and the "dialectical contradiction" is resolved by the
> appearance of new emergent and dynamic behavior, e.g. an orbit.
> I think this is also the way to understand the "law of value" in the
> economy. It is a "force" that, if it operated in isolation, would push
> trajectories toward an equilibrium point of prices proportional to
> labor-values. But it's not the only "force" that acts in this complex
> system. So the actual trajectory does not fully converge to this
> equilibrium, but is a complex outcome of the interactions.
> We need the method of abstraction to consider the forces in isolation
> in order to eventually fully explain the empirical trajectory or
> sequence of events. So it is necessary to make assumptions that
> directly contradict empirical reality in order to understand empirical
> reality (c.f. Newton's first law of motion that states that, if
> undisturbed, a body will move with constant velocity forever: a
> statement that is clearly in conflict with everyday experience). In
> Roy Bhaskar's terminology this is creating an "experimental closure"
> that isolates the action of a single mechanism.
> I, too, don't have the time to review the debate, but I did a quick
> scan and get the impression that the two pugilists are fighting
> shadows.
> -Ian.
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