Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹

From: Andy Blunden <ablunden who-is-at>
Date: Fri Sep 05 2008 - 05:34:52 PDT

If you look at the famous Marx quote from the Grundrisse
where he explains about rising from concrete to abstract and
back again, etc., you will see that he talks about the
historical development of political economic thought. The
theorist has to follow *that movement*. It's not that Marx's
thought has no rules, just that it finds its rules in the
object it is trying to understand.


Michael Glassman wrote:
> Steve,
> Wow that was a good post. But how can you say there are no rules. Obviously you haven't heard of the three immutable rules of the universe,
> Rule #1 Never eat at a place called Mom's
> Rue #2 Never play cards with a person named "Doc"
> Rule #3 Never fall in love with somebody who has more problems than you do
> But even beyond this I'm not sure I agree with you that Marx's logic has no rules - they are just not the same type of analytical rules that emerges through deductive thinking that we are often used to. As I said before I think that the logic is relational and that the rules emerge from the relationships that develop between objects (yes with Marx working towards productivity) - and as I said earlier I think Pierce had much the same thing in mind in the development of his logic. I wonder - is there really such a thing as a dialectical logic, as Michael mentioned earlier or (and Andy might take my head off for this) is a dialectic simply a mechanism of change within a logical framework. Hegel saw the framework as being basically deductive, that you think of an ideal society and then when you realize you are not there this fosters a dialectical change. This is what Hegel meant perhaps when he suggested that the French revolution allowed individuals to, for perhaps the fi
rst time, turn upside down and start walking on their heads. The French idealogues imagined a better society and tried to get there (Hegel I suppose would say through dialectical development).
> I think Marx's response was, if you think you have an idea of what a great society is then check your wallet. You can't move down from an ideal to concrete actions, it just couldn't work that way, and was far too dangerous (again, the Pragmatists would make much the same argument in the United States a few years later). It was actually individual actions that were abstractions in their immediate sense and then you traced them out to their larger social relationships, and it was there you had a true picture of society that was not ideal but actually concrete. Thus Marx was turning the progress of society back on its feet so human could walk again (be in control through their own actions I think rather than controlled by some ideology).
> But I think that there are rules to this, just not the rules that we are used to. One of the key rules is that every time you take a step back from a relationship and see the larger web of relationship you view of the situation becomes less abstract and more concrete - because you have a better understanding of what is happening that is not guided by ideology. So I see Oscar see a Coke to Harry - Hmmmm, a simple sale. I take a step back and I see that Oscar is under pressure to sell so many bottles of Coke a day or he will lose his Coke stand. All of a sudden the transaction has a different and less abstract, more concrete meaning. I take another step back and see that Oscar used to sell tea that his wife made, but he was forced to change what he was selling because Coke created an ad campaign claiming if you want to be hip you have to drink Coke. This gives even a more concrete less abstract concept of what is going on. The more I add in all the other things that a
re going on concerning Coke and tea in this village the greater my understanding. And yes, I think this is definitely a rule. But also each time my understanding changes it does, like Andy suggested, create a different lens for veiwing the world. The lens though was not arbitrary but based on how many steps back I was willing and able to take.
> Michael
> ________________________________
> From: on behalf of Steve Gabosch
> Sent: Thu 9/4/2008 9:33 PM
> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
> Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹
> I probably shouldn't jump in here because I will soon be away from the
> internet for a few days, but I thought I would say something about
> Micheal G.'s question about rising from the abstract to the concrete.
> I am not an expert on this topic and have much to learn about myself
> but I would like to share what I have come to understand about its
> essential nature. Marxists are not of one mind on this and various
> aspects, so that needs to be taken into account, too.
> As I see it, what makes Marxist logic fundamentally different from
> traditional formal logics, and from empiricist thinking that is based
> on formal logic, is that it is not rule-based - it is object and
> process based. The "rules" are to found in the actual ways a thing is
> being and becoming, not a system of rules for deducing and inducing
> theories from facts, or predicting facts from theories. Empiricist
> thinking using formal logic can be and often is very valuable and
> necessary, but it is a different process than Marxist logic offers. I
> think of empiricist thinking it as an excellent way to get to the
> abstract, but it takes a different approach to rise to the concrete.
> What rising from the abstract to the concrete essentially means in
> Marxist logic is that we begin with various observations,
> abstractions, facts, certain properties about a thing - an abstract
> concept of the thing - but we still have to discover that thing
> concretely, in all its dynamics, in its full historical context, to
> rise toward the concrete, toward a comprehensive concrete
> understanding of that thing.
> According to Marxist logic, a very important aspect of concrete
> discovery, that is, discovering the concrete, is to see how a thing is
> comprised of conflicting forces that cause it. To use a Hegelian
> term, to find out how a thing is self-negating. Dynamic tension,
> uneven and combined development, periods of equilibrium punctuated by
> sudden change and many other models help find ways to describe the way
> a thing is both self-destructing and developing into something new, in
> its own, unique way.
> In Marxist logic, the "logic" of every single thing is taken to be
> unique to that thing. (By "thing" I include the totality of relevant
> factors in a process or thing, the overall system it resides in, all
> linked to the "thing.".) Other things may be very similar, and of
> course, many are, and much can be learned by comparing similar and
> different things (one of the fortes of empiricism and formal logic),
> but the precise history, dynamics, trajectory etc. of each individual
> thing must be discovered concretely to fully grasp that individual
> thing. (Not that every single thing is worth the time! LOL). Since
> no two things have identical histories or locations, they are all
> unique in one way or another. Concrete thinking takes that into
> account.
> Things reside within things, and then still more things, which
> accounts for why science needs to work on so many levels - concrete
> reality "functions" within multiple, nested domains, from the micro-
> atomic to the astronomic. But big or small, each of these levels of
> the being and becoming of a thing needs to be discovered by the same
> kind of process: seeking the specific, concrete realities of it,
> seeking an overall understanding the thing in its "concrete fullness",
> as Ilyenkov liked to put it.
> Ultimately, the test of how much we understand a thing lies in how
> successfully we can interact with it, master it, use it, modify it,
> combine it with other things, etc. Dewey and Marx were very much in
> agreement on this point.
> The rules of formal logic are by no means set aside in Marxist logic -
> they are essential tools. We would not be able to even communicate,
> let alone calculate, compare, differentiate, arrange information etc.
> without the rules of formal logic. But to rise to the concrete, we
> must go farther than rule-based thinking can take us. We must
> discover the inner dynamics of the "rules" that determine *that
> thing*, the *rules* of *its* situation. These "rules" are very
> different from the ones we use to determine the validity of
> propositions. We must discover the strange and surprising dynamics
> themselves that govern, and which are constantly changed, by any piece
> of reality we wish to look at. Marxist logic is about discovering the
> thing itself, of discovering its dynamics in the concrete.
> Vygotsky, Engels and Marx argued that nature is dialectical. What
> they are explaining is that motion, contradiction, transformation etc.
> can be found everywhere, and that a concrete analysis of anything,
> natural or human in origin, will reveal the same dialectical
> processes. So-called dialectical processes are very general. As
> Vygotsky pointed out, from the point of view of dialectical
> materialism, the transformation of water to steam is the same as the
> transition from feudalism to capitalism. Dialectics simply provides a
> language and simple descriptions of various *kinds* of changes. But
> it does not and cannot determine exactly *how* a specific thing is
> changing. This is where rising from the abstract to the concrete comes
> in: the thing itself must be studied concretely, on all its levels, in
> its precise history and details, to discover it's true concreteness,
> the specific ways it is changing.
> Something I want to add to what became a longer post than I intended
> (which seems to happen a lot to me, sorry) is that by no means is this
> process of rising from abstract pieces of observations to concrete
> analyses of actual dynamics unique to Marxist logic, nor is the
> application of general dialectical thinking to guide our descriptions
> of change by any means something only Marxist do. I believe many
> thinkers, researchers, etc. use these approaches all the time,
> although not necessarily systematically, where they sometimes or
> frequently tangle up dialectical and concrete thinking with formal and
> abstract modes of thought. That is what makes Marxist thinkers that
> are skilled in the dialectical process - such as Vygotsky, who was a
> master at - somewhat different. They consciously and boldly employ
> this method of concrete dialectics at all levels. But never without
> errors and sidetracks, of course - dialectics does not fix that!
> What I am doing here, Michael, is seeking to view empirical-scientific
> work as a subset of dialectical thinking (and its lack), as opposed to
> what you are doing (I think), viewing dialectical thinking as a subset
> of empiricist (pragmatist) thinking (and its lack). This is a long
> standing debate, and it is a good one to study and participate in. I
> am glad you bring these things up - your point of view and insights
> are always stimulating.
> - Steve
> On Sep 4, 2008, at 10:46 AM, Michael Glassman wrote:
>> Not a traditional logic but an inductive relational logic similar to
>> Peirce is what I'm thinking. Or else what does he mean by working
>> towards the concrete (I am thinking from the empirical).
>> There were a number of people in the 20s such as Sidney Hook who
>> thought I think that this was part of his methodology I think.
>> Michael
>> ________________________________
>> From: on behalf of Wolff-Michael Roth
>> Sent: Thu 9/4/2008 12:57 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹
>> No Michael,
>> I don't think that Marx was thinking like that. He had a
>> developmental logic in mind, a dialectical logic, not traditional
>> logic and its discourses. Michael
>> On 4-Sep-08, at 8:07 AM, Michael Glassman wrote:
>> Andy,
>> This is a real interesting quote. I have always been a little bit
>> confused by the phrase "rising to the concrete." Do you think what
>> it means, at least for Marx, is the development of an inductive logic
>> of relations, where you start with the pieces but don't really have a
>> scientific understandings (and therefore concrete understanding)
>> until you see the relationships of these parts as a functioning
>> whole? It is the recognition of the functioning logic of relations
>> of the whole that makes it concerte and scientific rather than
>> anecdotal and ethereal.
>> I was actually having a discussion about an issue with some students
>> this morning, and this idea really struck a chord. We were talking
>> about homeless youth and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA).
>> RHYA is the national policy initiative for this issue/problem. The
>> trouble is that RHYA is narrow and very limited and does not meet the
>> needs of the most most marginalized segments of this population (in
>> many ways seems more geard towards runaways from middle class
>> families). We were talking about how this policy and the definitions
>> we have for homeless youth trickles down in to the way these youth
>> are treated and the types of interventions available to them. One of
>> the students asked if it is better to approach the issue from street
>> corner to shelter, in other words concentrate on micro-system
>> solutions. Thinking about these quotes and the discussion I
>> suggested that helping on the micro-level, while satisfying and
>> perhaps offering a sense of immediacy, may not change the way that
>> the general youth population is treated. It is the web of social
>> relationships (of production) which generate the problem on a
>> scientific level and that is how the problem should be approached.
>> If you want a real solution, a concrete solution you have to
>> understand and find some way to change these social relationships. A
>> very different definition of concrete for me, but one that makes
>> sense.
>> If you want a person to eat for a day give him a fish, if you want a
>> person to eat forever give him a fish, but if you want the population
>> to have food to meet their needs, figure out what the hell is going
>> on with fishing in this community.
>> Michael
>> ________________________________
>> From: on behalf of Andy Blunden
>> Sent: Wed 9/3/2008 8:25 PM
>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
>> Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹
>> Michael (and Martin as well on further thought) in the
>> famous passage from the Grundrisse, Marx begins by observing:
>> "It seems to be correct to begin with the real and the
>> concrete, with the real precondition, thus to begin, in
>> economics, with e.g. the population, which is the foundation
>> and the subject of the entire social act of production.
>> However, on closer examination this proves false."
>> The "germ" (Begriff) actually appears about halfway through
>> the Logic; half the work of creating a new science is done
>> when you get to it. "Activity," as he said in _The German
>> Ideology_, is the "real precondition."
>> Marx again:
>> "Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be
>> a chaotic conception [Vorstellung] of the whole, and I would
>> then, by means of further determination, move analytically
>> towards ever more simple concepts [Begriff], from the
>> imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I
>> had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the
>> journey would have to be retraced until I had finally
>> arrived at the population again, but this time not as the
>> chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of
>> many determinations and relations. ...
>> "As soon as these individual moments had been more or less
>> firmly established and abstracted, there began the economic
>> systems, which ascended from the simple relations, such as
>> labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, to the
>> level of the state, exchange between nations and the world
>> market. The latter is obviously the scientifically correct
>> method. The concrete is concrete because it is the
>> concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the
>> diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore,
>> as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point
>> of departure, even though it is the point of departure in
>> reality and hence also the point of departure for
>> observation [Anschauung] and conception. Along the first
>> path the full conception was evaporated to yield an abstract
>> determination; along the second, the abstract determinations
>> lead towards a reproduction of the concrete by way of thought."
>> Andy
>> Michael Glassman wrote:
>>> I wonder if the word commodity, even though Marx obviously uses it,
>>> is too narrow a term for the larger theory, especially when
>>> considering the current discussion. I have always thought Engels
>>> On the Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man (Part
>>> of the Dialectics of Nature) had a rather large influence on
>>> Activity Theory. This piece of work might suggest that it is
>>> social relations in the production of some desired and necessary
>>> material good necessary for development/survival, rather than
>>> simple commodity relations. How this sort of fits in to the
>>> Activity Action issue is that selling a bottle of Coke in order to
>>> get money to buy food can be viewed as an Activity. Or finding a
>>> Coke bottle to return to five cents in order to buy food can be
>>> seen as an Activity. But actually buying a Coke is really only an
>>> action, or even an ideologically based operation (we buy a Coke
>>> based on the commercial telling us that Coke is the real thing).
>>> Michael
>>> -----Original Message-----
>>> From: [mailto:xmca-
>>>] On Behalf Of Andy Blunden
>>> Sent: Wednesday, September 03, 2008 9:57 AM
>>> To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>> Subject: Re: [xmca] déjatel¹ nost¹
>>> I agree with Michael's response. For Goethe, who founded the
>>> science of morphology as well as the idea of a "unit of
>>> analysis", "cell" was the Urphanomenon, and Hegel frequently
>>> referred to der Begriff as "the cell" or "germ." Marx only
>>> repeated what his teachers had said.
>>> I think the main problem with what you are saying Martin is
>>> that you are accepting the reification of the commodity
>>> relation as a kind of "thing." Marx began with the
>>> phenomenon, that is, a "mass of commodities" but he
>>> discloses the fact that the commodity is "really" (in
>>> essence) a relation between human beings.
>>> So the coke bottle cannot be a commodity when taken out of a
>>> market economy, but it can cease to be a commodity even
>>> within a market economy if there is a glut on the market and
>>> it can't be sold, or the producer decides that they like it
>>> so much they're going to keep for themselves.
>>> So the cell of bourgeois society and its "unit of analysis"
>>> is *not* a commodity, but the commodity relation.
>>> Andy
>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>> Yes, that's true. But isn't it the simplest form of the whole only
>>>> because
>>>> it is part of the whole? A bottle of coke isn't a commodity if it
>>>> is removed
>>>> from the economy of which it is a part. (The Gods Must Be Crazy
>>>> was a
>>>> terrible movie but at least it made that point well.) Marx was, I
>>>> think,
>>>> using the analysis of the commodity in order to expore the
>>>> *constitution* of
>>>> the commodity.
>>>> Vygotsky takes this up in The History of the Genesis of the Higher
>>>> Mental
>>>> Functions, where the unit of analysis is "fossilized" forms:
>>>> tossing a dice,
>>>> tying a knot, counting on fingers. Vygotsky writes that:
>>>> "All ties connecting these formations with the system that once
>>>> generated
>>>> them have died off, the ground on which they appeared has
>>>> vanished, the
>>>> background of their activity has changed, they have been torn from
>>>> their
>>>> system and transported in a flood of historical development to a
>>>> completely
>>>> different sphere."
>>>> He then goes on to argue that despite these problems, such fossils
>>>> are an
>>>> appropriate unit to study. I'm not sure whether his argument is
>>>> convincing.
>>>> The point I want to emphasize here is that he sees it necessary to
>>>> attempt
>>>> the argument, and this would not be the case if one could study
>>>> the unit
>>>> independent of its ties to the system.
>>>> Martin
>>>> On 9/3/08 10:16 AM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>>>> What we demand of the unit of analysis (or cell) is not that
>>>>> it is a part of the whole, but rather that it is the
>>>>> simplest form *of* the whole.
>>>>> Andy
>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>> Andy,
>>>>>> But to pursue the cell metaphor a bit, while the cell is
>>>>>> certainly a unit
>>>>>> that contains the life processes that animate the body, its
>>>>>> functioning
>>>>>> depends on its place within the body, which Marx also calls "an
>>>>>> organic
>>>>>> whole." I'm not suggesting that there are or should be two units
>>>>>> - I agree
>>>>>> that's the wrong way to go. It seems to me more that the unit
>>>>>> itself has to
>>>>>> be considered as an aspect of a larger whole, with which it has
>>>>>> a relation
>>>>>> of mutual constitution. No cells, no body. No body, no cells.
>>>>>> It always takes me forever to read and process your excerpts
>>>>>> from Hegel! But
>>>>>> I'll give it a try. :)
>>>>>> Martin
>>>>>> On 9/3/08 9:44 AM, "Andy Blunden" <> wrote:
>>>>>>> Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>>>>> examine units in relation. This seems to me to suggest that
>>>>>>>> although a unit
>>>>>>>> has the characteristics of the whole, this is the case only
>>>>>>>> when the unit
>>>>>>>> is
>>>>>>>> examined *in* the whole. We need to study a commodity *in*
>>>>>>>> capitalist
>>>>>>>> society. ...
>>>>>>> Martin, this doesn't quite figure because to do as you
>>>>>>> suggest, we have to begin with *two* units of analysis, the
>>>>>>> commodity relation and "capitalist society", which of course
>>>>>>> presumes what is to be proved. It's a cell; it *generates*
>>>>>>> the whole.
>>>>>>> Certainly, Marx has already told us that "The prerequisites
>>>>>>> with which we begin are ... the actual individuals, their
>>>>>>> activity and the material conditions of their lives," and
>>>>>>> this is the necessary foundation.
>>>>>>> You really can't say it better than Hegel (here describing
>>>>>>> how the concept of "right" acts as a "unit of analysis" for
>>>>>>> "objective spirit":
>>>>>>> "The science of right is a part of philosophy. Hence it must
>>>>>>> develop the idea, which is the reason of an object, out of
>>>>>>> the conception. It is the same thing to say that it must
>>>>>>> regard the peculiar internal development of the thing
>>>>>>> itself. Since it is a part [of philosophy], it has a
>>>>>>> definite beginning, which is the result and truth of what
>>>>>>> goes before, and this, that goes before, constitutes its
>>>>>>> so-called proof. Hence the origin of the conception of right
>>>>>>> falls outside of the science of right. ...
>>>>>>> "In philosophic knowledge the necessity of a conception is
>>>>>>> the main thing, and the process, by which it, as a result,
>>>>>>> has come into being is the proof and deduction. After the
>>>>>>> content is seen to be necessary independently, the second
>>>>>>> point is to look about for that which corresponds to it in
>>>>>>> existing ideas and modes of speech." (Introduction to the
>>>>>>> Philosophy of Right §2)
>>>>>>> So what Marx is doing in rising from the abstract to the
>>>>>>> concrete is unfolding out of the value relation a whole
>>>>>>> series of concepts which flow from it. It is a kind of
>>>>>>> thought experiment which is constantly checked against
>>>>>>> historical reality. In fact of course there never has been
>>>>>>> and never will be a society in which the commodity relation
>>>>>>> is "absolute."
>>>>>>> Andy
>>>>>>> _______________________________________________
>>>>>>> xmca mailing list
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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>> --
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Received on Fri Sep 5 05:36 PDT 2008

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