[OPE-L:2277] Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: value-form theories

From: Fred B. Moseley (fmoseley@mtholyoke.edu)
Date: Sun Jan 23 2000 - 09:31:40 EST

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I would like to respond to Michael W.'s (2271), which was a response to
Allin, and which appears to take us to the "core of the problem."

Allin's question:

> > Rejecting the _coherence_ of "any embodied labour theory of
> > value" is a very strong claim (as opposed to, say, rejecting the
> > empirical adequacy of such theories, or claiming that they
> > cannot be made consistent with the axiom of profit-rate
> > equalization). How would you justify the charge of incoherence?

Michael's response:

> 'rejecting the coherence of any' is perhaps overstating it, particularly if
> one can see no middle epistemological way (!) between analytic and empirical
> sources of knowledge. What I have in mind is a conceptual incoherence rather
> than either a formal logical contradiction or emprical inadequacy. The core
> problem is the heterogeneity of concrete labour and the merely cognitive
> nature of the abstract abstraction (sic) to abstract embodied labour. VFT
> certainly rejects embodied labour theories. Whether it is successful is of
> course a matter of controversy.

Thus, the "core of the problem" is that the reduction of heterogenous
labor to homogenous, abstract labor (independently of prices) is a

Michael, what is wrong with a "merely cognitive" abstraction?
Why is this a problem?
Are cognitive abstractions inadmissable in economic theories?

If so, then WHY are cognitive abstractions inadmissable?
Because they are NOT OBSERVABLE directly as such
(e.g. in units of abstract labor)?
Is this the same as your earlier objection that "abstract embodied
Or, as it is expressed in VFS (pp. 97-98 and 103),
that "abstract embodied labor" is "NOT OPERATIONAL"?
Are you saying that only observable entities can be included in
economic theories? As I have said before, such extreme positivism
seems very strange coming from a Hegelian perspective. (But I don't know,
maybe not. Did Hegel rule out unobservable entities? What did Hegel mean
by "essence and appearance"?)

I would argue that Marx held the opposite view (i.e. that scientific
theory may involve the postulation of unobservable entities) and that
Marx's concept of abstract labor is indeed such an unobservable entity.
The unobservable entity of abstract labor isn used to explain the
observable phenomena of surplus-value, etc. This is what Marx meant by
"essence and appearance."

Theory is not just defining accounting identities among observable
phenomena. Theory sometimes involves the postulation of unobservable
entities in order to explain observable phenomena. This is why Marx said
that understanding capitalism is so difficult and that "scientific truth
is always paradox, if judged by everyday experience, which catches only
the delusive appearance of things." (Wages, Price and Profit).

So Michael, why is such a postulate of unobservable entities prohibited in
economic theory? If this is indeed what you are saying. And if not,
then please explain more what you meant by "cognitive abstractions" and
why this is a problem.

Thanks very much in advance for your response. I think maybe this is the
"core of the problem."


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