Re: [OPE] Hegel's method of abstraction

Date: Fri Sep 03 2010 - 07:57:48 EDT

> 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
> properties.
Hi Howard:
On the last point first: character masks, like some other topics in Marx
including abstract labor, have two sides. On the one side, they are are abstractions
(and hence abstract from real and concrete aspects of social reality)
but I think Marx's claim is that they also express some aspect of social reality.
Thus, while it is obviously incorrect to assert that capitalists (or workers)
do not have subjectivity, this *assumption* can be justified on two
grounds: 1. the pursuit of surplus value and the force of competition increasingly
compel capitalists *in general* to act as 'capital personified'; 2. what is assumed to be the
case at a more abstract stage of the exposition can be explained and teased out
at a more concrete stage. What's crucially important for a theory is that when
one assumes away at one stage of the analysis an essential aspect of reality
(e.g. the state) one must explain that (sub-) subject at a later stage. This is
important *especially* for Marx's materialist method since if one does not do this one's theory
increasingly departs from the real nature of the subject. An example of
the dangers of developing an incomplete theory based on assumptions which are
not thoroughly investigated and are inappropriate for grasping the real
subject matter is Walrasian theory.
As for the difference in methodology between Hegel and Marx, the former's
world view and theory can not be grasped without understanding the crucial
role that his religious and spiritual perspectives had on his writings.
The subject to be investigated and unpacked was "spirit", for Hegel. Marx,
rather famously, heaped scorn on this (idealistic) aspect of Hegelian
theory. What, though, was the "rational kernel" in Hegel that Marx seized
upon? The emphasis by Marxians on "dialectics", I think, both fails to
grasp what Hegel understood by dialectics and (thereby) fails to grasp
the significance of Hegel's *systematic* dialectical method as a means of
teasing out all of the essential aspects of a complex subject matter and
their logical relationship to each other.
Although some pooh-pooh the idea of "levels of abstraction", I think it's
*impossible* (I deliberately use a strong word here) to grasp, among
other topics, the meaning of any individual section of _Capital_ to
others and the relation of those to the whole project and the exposition,
inter-relationship, and ordering of concepts necessarily associated with
the real subject matter (capitalism) without some sort of a layered,
logically-connected, presentation. In a sense, one can read much of Marx's
critique of others (including Smith and Ricardo) as being insufficiently
systematically dialectical. More than that, I'd say that it's impossible to
really grasp _Capital_ without considering the role of that book within the context
of his larger project.
But - before I continue - let me ask: have you read Hegel? (That's a genuine
question: I don't know if you have or haven't). Scholars should no
more rely on secondary secondary sources for understanding Hegel that they
should for understanding Marx.
In solidarity, Jerry
PS: I'll get back to you on your other post when I get a chance. It is true
that I read it rather quickly.

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Received on Fri Sep 3 07:59:43 2010

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