[OPE] Hegel's method of abstraction

From: howard engelskirchen <he31@verizon.net>
Date: Fri Sep 03 2010 - 00:39:07 EDT

Jerry referred to Marx using Hegel's method of abstraction. I am open to a
more sophisticated understanding of Hegel's method of abstraction, but as it
is often presented, and as it is often presented by Marxists, I think it
makes impossible a presentation of Marx's method as scientific.

Stace's classic summary of Hegel presents a very traditional way of
understanding his use of abstraction:

STACE: "Suppose we take any object in the world and proceed to abstract
from all its attributes. This table, for example, is square, hard, brown,
shiny. Abstract from the shininess, and we are left with the proposition,
"This table is square, hard, brown." Abstract from the browness and we are
left with "This table is square, hard." Abstract lastly from hardness, and
then from the squareness, and we are left with "This table is." "Is" is the
last possible abstraction. Being is the first category."

Whether this is Hegel or not I leave open. It is a common understanding of
Hegel. It is not the method of science and not the method of Marx. A
natural scientist uses experimental design to strip away distracting
elements to focus on the specific, causally operative target of
investigation. Marx uses abstraction in the same way: he strips away from
particularities -- all abstraction does that -- but the crucial thing is not
what he abstracts from but what he abstracts to. He does not abstract to
greater and greater generality and he scoffs at those (e.g. Wagner) who do.
He abstracts to more and more decisive particularity. He identifies more
and more particular causal structures without being distracted by things
that, for the purpose at hand, a natural scientist would call noise. For
example, people drag themselves off to work everyday for a mix of reasons,
religious, legal, psychological, etc. Nonetheless, we can use abstraction
to specify the precise structural form of the relation their labor activity
takes to nature and to each other and that their behaviors reproduce without
considering those admixtures. But if we identify such a structure -- the
separation of the laboring producer from the means of production, say -- we
are not abstracting to generalities or assumptions or masks, but are
identifying a real and concrete social structure and its operative


----- Original Message -----
From: "GERALD LEVY" <gerald_a_levy@msn.com>
To: "Outline on Political Economy mailing list" <ope@lists.csuchico.edu>
Sent: Saturday, July 24, 2010 12:36 PM
Subject: Re: [OPE] Character masks

> Hi Jurriaan:
> I am still sailing and don't have the time or access to sources at this
> time to expand upon the following, but I suggest that the point of
> departure for comprehending this concept in Marx is to understand that its
> roots (for Marx, I believe) are in Hegel's method of abstraction. While
> capitalists (or workers!) can be *assumed* at one level of abstraction to
> wear character masks, their subjectivity must be allowed for at a more
> concrete level of abstraction. If one were to employ this assumption (a
> variant on the fallacy of division) one wouldn't produce very
> sophisticated class analyses and/or historical and geographical studies.
> Yet, as in most assumptions in Marx, there is an element of truth to this
> assumption: the laws of value and competition tend to compel individual
> capitalists willy-nilly to don their masks. As in any generality, there
> are - of course - exceptions.
> In solidarity, Jerry
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Received on Fri Sep 3 00:40:27 2010

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