[OPE] Social Ontology - second, e-book edition

From: Jurriaan Bendien <jurriaanbendien@online.nl>
Date: Mon Jan 17 2011 - 08:34:07 EST

Michael Eldred makes an interesting reply to Tony Smith:


Eldred argues: "The problem with Marx's account of value is that it is
ambivalent. Like Marxists today, he wanted to have it both ways: both a
dialectical unfolding of value-forms and a determination of value magnitude
by time under some qualification ("socially necessary"). This ambiguity
results in endless quarrels among Marxists themselves, instead of their
consistently developing a value-form analytic (i.e. socio-ontological),
systematic dialectical theory based on phenomenological conceptual

I think this is unfair to Marx, who - apart from not finishing his analysis
for publication himself, and often being badly misunderstood - after all
argued many times that capital can be understood only in movement, in the
framework of time, where quantitative changes lead to qualitative changes. A
"doctrine of capital" is inimical to such an approach. It is true that value
theory encounters problems in defining the relationship between production
and circulation, insofar as Marx considered that value as an attribute
applies only of labour-power, means of production and their products, where
monetary phenomena are only the representational forms of those three (Marx
argues radically that money is only one form that the value relationship
takes, not its substance or content, it is not value itself). Special
problems arise in regard to the valuation of labour-services directly
exchanged for money. I think though these problems can be solved, though I
take a different route than Eldred, namely through the empiria, and not
primarily through a philosophical ontology.

I think Eldred is on the right track, except that he advances a social
ontology in some respects similar to Simmel's interesting "philosophy of
money", in abstraction from the empiria, in which case abstractions are
evolved from other abstractions, rather than representing abstractions from
an analysis of the empiria. It invites the objection that the derivation of
the categories is speculative, and therefore arbitrary. This in turn leads
to the problem of verification which affects all phenomenological inquiry -
why should one interpretation be accepted in preference to another, why is
one interpretation better than another, why is one interpretation wrong and
another correct? The point is that to evade the problem of tautology and
arbirariness, phenomenology ultimately requires a verification criterion
which is external to phenomenology, i.e. the test of practice which involves
the knower in a relationship with something external (exogenous) to his
knowledge and meanings.

That is to say, I would not dismiss inquiry into social ontology out of
hand, but I query the procedures by which the ontological categories are
obtained and validated. Scientific progress can be regarded as a three-way
contest between rival theories and their confrontations with a stock of
valid experiential evidence held in common, predicated on the capacity for
free inquiry. If one of the elements in this process is disregarded, it
invites the objection of dogmatism or doctrinairism. It is true that any
researcher is forced to assume some things (beliefs) in advance of proofs,
but presumably it is an aim of dialectical inquiry that the initial
assumptions will validate themselves in the course of the inquiry, by
enabling more and more phenomena to be integrated in a coherent explanation,
without becoming arbitrary in its assessment of the meaning of phenomena.
But for this we require not only a coherence criterion of truth; we also
require a correspondence criterion of truth, and indeed a rational
understanding of means and ends ("truth to a purpose"). After all,
dialectical inquiry aims precisely to resolve the contradictions of logical
coherence and correspondence to the facts, in order to reveal the real
determinacy of phenomena.


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