Monday, July 19, 2010

On Marx's Method 2

One more comment on Hegel before we move on to Marx:

There is a section titled "With What to Begin?" right after Introduction in Science of Logic - a.k.a Larger Logic - and there you can find Hegel's long discussion of the issue of 'starting point' in logic. I think one of the main lessons there is that 'the point of departure in reality' is for Phenomenology, and 'the logical starting point' is for Logic. (Patrick Murray (2000) understands the difference between Phenomenology and Logic in relation to the starting point in this way.)

Now turning to Marx:

As we already know so well, in Grundrisse Marx mentions two conceptual journeys, a descending one from the chaotic concrete to the abstract and a ascending one from the abstract to the concrete with many determinations; and he dubs the latter as an "obviously scientifically correct method," i.e. the abstract as an obviously scientifically correct starting point.

And as we remember, Nicolaus argues in his Preface that Marx changed his mind in Capital. In Grundrisse, the argument goes, Marx begins with an abstract category of 'production', but in Capital he abandons this method and starts with commodity. That is, for Nicolaus the category of commodity is something concrete. Of course, opposing view followed of Marquit (1977) and Carver (1980).

The controversy here is how to understand the nature of commodity as a theoretical category. On this respect, I think Chris Arthur's explanation is very interesting. He gives three criteria for the starting point: it should be i) simple, ii) historically specific, and iii) immediate. And he says that commodity satisfies the latter two but not the first; it is not simple enough since it can be further analyzed into use-value and value. What about 'value'? According to Arthur it satisfies the first two but not the third; it is not something that can be immediately grasped. Then what is the true starting point in Marx? Commodity or value?

Here we have Jairus Banaji (1979)'s wonderful solution to this puzzle: a concept of 'double starting-point' which Arthur accepts. According to Banaji, “the beginning is a movement between two points of departure.” The idea is that the commodity forms the analytic point of departure to arrive at the concept of value; and value as the ground of all further conceptual determinations (money, capital) forms the synthetic point of departure of Capital. I think this solution is also in line with Hegel's method having two distinctive starting-points.

Understood in this way, I think both of the two conceptual journeys described in Grundrisse constitute Marx's method.

Finally, returning to our initial concern with the above discussions in mind, I think Marx's distinction between 'method of inquiry' and 'method of presentation' can be mapped into as follows:

*method of inquiry (Marx of Capital) = descending journey from the concrete to the abstract (Marx of Grundrisse) = analytical method (Hegel) = analytical shift from commodity to value (Banaji & Arthur)
-> commodity as a starting point

*method of presentation (Marx of Capital) = ascending journey from the abstract to the concrete (Marx of Grundrisse) = synthetic method (Hegel) = synthetic shift from value to commodity, money, and capital (Banaji & Arthur)
-> value as a starting point

Sorry for lingering on this topic which concerns only the initial chapters. Let's move on and talk more about later chapters! (But please feel free to raise comments, different ideas, or objections to what I have noted so far.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

On Marx's Method 1

'The starting point' and 'method of inquiry & presentation' theme raised by Hasan and Bilge seem to be ones of the most important methodological issues in the initial chapters of Capital Vol.1 which have troubled Marxian scholarship so long. We could easily agree that questions of 'where to start' and 'how to proceed' are the two most grounding issues when we analyze something scientifically. So was the case with Marx whose object of analysis is capitalism.

I think there are two primary references in dealing with this subject; Hegel's Logic and the chapter on the method of political economy in Grundrisse. I think Marx either consciously borrowed or was heavily influenced by Hegel's method in Logic, and used the example of analyzing a given country starting with its population in showing how to apply Hegel's method in doing social science. (In this respect, I totally agree with Lenin in insisting that without reading Hegel's Logic one barely understands Marx's Capital, and that the latter is the best application of the former.)

Notice that the conceptual proceed of 'Being - Essence -Notion' in Hegel's Logic corresponds that of 'chaotic concrete - thin abstract - concrete with many determinations' in Grundrisse. We could also compare logical developments in Capital such as 'commodity - money - capital' or 'exchange value (immediately perceived) - value (as underlying essence) - exchange value (conceived in thought as form of appearance of value)' ('homology thesis', an argument that there is an one-to-one correspondence between Hegel's system and Marx's system. Of course the concrete correspondence is different from scholars to scholars. For example some argue that the category of 'capital' in Marx corresponds to that of Essence, not of Notion, in Hegel, excluding Notion from homology.)

First on Hegel's Logic: Hegel starts his Shorter Logic with mentioning how difficult it is to begin in doing philosophy. Here's what he says.

"But with the rise of this thinking study of things [i.e. philosophy], it soon becomes evident that thought will be satisfied with nothing short of showing the necessity of its facts, of demonstrating the existence of its objects, as well as their nature and qualities. Our original acquaintance with them is thus discovered to be inadequate. We can assume nothing and assert nothing dogmatically; nor can we accept the assertions and assumptions of others. And yet we must make a beginning: and a beginning, as primary and underived, makes an assumption, or rather is an assumption. It seems as if it were impossible to make a beginning at all." (Hegel's Shorter Logic §1)

Yet, we have to start anyway and the first mode of knowledge we form in our mind is concrete and empirical image established through empirical observation. However, Hegel criticizes empirical science, empirical knowledge for its shallowness and being contained in sense-perception, and argues that knowledge should be pursued beyond. But, he does not reject it all together but incorporates it within the totality of history of philosophy as an element constituting the latter. (This is a superior aspect of Hegel's 'wholistic' systematic philosophy.)

On the other hand, however, Hegel's system of Logic starts not with something empirical, i.e. something concrete-complex but with the category of Being, which is something abstract-simple, and which can be obtained (from the initial empirical perception) through some sort of thought process, i.e. reflection, and proceeds towards more concrete-complex categories, Essence and Notion. Then what is Hegel's true starting point; the concrete-complex empirically given or the abstract-simple?

Before answering this question, notice that there are two movements working in Hegel's system: First from the empirical concrete-complex to abstract-simple, and the second from the abstract-simple to the concrete-complex. Hegel calls the first movement the Analytical Method and the second the Synthetic Method (for definition of each refer to Hegel's Shorter Logic §227and §228).

From this we could easily figure out that there should be two different starting points in Hegelian logic for two different Methods; 'the point of departure in reality' for the Analytical Method and 'logical starting point' for the Synthetic Method.

(will be back with 'On Marx's Method 2'....)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Following Hasan's comments on Marx's money theory

Hasan, thanks for your insightful comments. I largely agree with you. Yes, as you said, "given the development of capitalism, commodity money can be (actually it is!) only burden to capitalist development", when, I want to add, money has emerged as commodity money in its origin. And yes, "fiat system is the most developed and sophisticated system which is in line with the thrust of capitalism for expansion", fiat system which is vulnerable to fluctuation, instability, and even collapse due to the huge departure it, as money, made from its origin i.e. commodity base. I think these observations constitute one of the fatal contradictions inherent in capitalism and specifically in its monetary system. The question I wanted to raise was not whether or not money is commodity only; we know this is not true from our everyday life. Rather my underlying question was whether this, i.e. non-commodity money system which we see everywhere can be sustained indefinitely. I think the apparent inconsistency between Marx's derivation of money as commodity in chapter one and the contemporary capitalism with non-commodity money does not undermine Marx's theory of money, but rather points to the instable and collapse-prone nature of capitalist dynamic.

(will be back with 'commodity as a starting point' soon....)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

On the Charechteristics of Commodites and Its Implications

On this note, I would like to play devil’s advocate. The point I made below has been haunting me for a while. I have not reached a conclusion yet. It would be great to hear your ideas.

It is obvious that the treatment of commodities is very crucial for whole Marxian theory. So, Marx spends a lot of time in explaining it. While he investigates the secrets of commodities he also begins laying down the concepts of his grand theory. At the beginning, when he investigates the nature of commodities, he makes an interesting move. He put great emphasize on exchange value and abstract from use value although he brings use-value to the picture later. I feel that this would be more problematic than is seems to be.

He argues that “if then we leave out of consideration the use value of commodities they have only one common property left, that of being products of labour”.
He iterates this position later in the same page:
He goes on saying: “We have seen that when commodities are exchanged, their exchange value manifests itself as something totally independent of their use value”p.46

Indeed, this move seems to be necessary to argue that:
“There is nothing left but what is common to them all are reduced to one and the same sort of labour, human labour in the abstract” which is the foundation of labour theory of value.

But, at the end of the section 1 of Chapter 1 Marx reaches the conclusion that “to become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it will serve as a use value, by means of an exchange.) Lastly nothing can have value, without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labor contained in it; the labour does not count as labour , and creates no value.”

In this sense, he closes the circle and argues that “being the object of utility” is the necessary condition for defining commodity. This means that, as he clearly accepts, commodities have two common characteristics: i) they are products of labor and ii) they are subject of utility. Therefore, his earlier move (abstraction) which puts all the emphasis on the fact that a commodity is a product of labour, seems to be a choice rather than a necessity. I feel that this opens a possibility of discussion that the value of a commodity cannot be defined independent of the fact that it is a subject of utility. If one introduces this (utility) at an earlier stage, the theory of value may have different form.