Re: [OPE-L] Grundrisse.Help

From: Rakesh Bhandari (bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU)
Date: Wed Aug 23 2006 - 13:59:49 EDT

I agree with your very helpful clarifications from the perspective of
scientific realism, Howard.

>Hi Rakesh,
>In my original post I wondered about the use of the word 'ideal'.
>I'm still not clear on this, although I agree with your description
>of the way experimental design controls what goes on in the
>laboratory.  Scientists purify in the way you describe to ensure
>that the causal structures that are the target of the investigation
>will be able to operate without other distracting natural forces
>confusing the inquiry.
>I also agree that abstraction works in an analogous way.  I think
>the thing we want to avoid here is platonizing Marx.  Abstraction
>allows us to ignore distracting features of the social phenomena we
>study in order, step by step, to focus on more and more decisive
>causal determinants. It's like starting with the manifestation of a
>disease -- say a disorder appearing on the surface of the skin --
>and finding that ultimately it can be traced to a missing or wrongly
>placed sequence in the genetic code.  My understanding here would be
>that what happens in the laboratory does not become ideal because we
>investigate phenomena one by one under conditions of experimental
>control.  We continue to study real phenomena.  But by experimental
>methods we are able to isolate the decisive ones.
>So when we use mental abstractions to refer to real natural and
>social phenomena, the question always is whether our concepts pick
>out something in the world.  If they lose the tether reference
>requires and instead float off by themselves, then abstraction gets
>misused.  So if your meaning is that Marx has stiched together
>abstract concepts into a theoretical whole that enables us to refer
>to real social phenomena in a way that identifies their actual
>interconnections, then I agree.
>In other words I have no problem with conceptually purifying the
>real if it means I ignore what is distracting in order to focus on
>existing phenomena that are more decisive in how they affect the
>target of my interest.  This is how I understand laboratory control
>operates and how I understand the Method of Political Economy.  But
>I think I would want to distinguish this from purifying in the sense
>of substituting an imagined model because it enabled me to see
>relations or processes that I could then try to work out in the
>world as it really was.
>Here's an example from Marx of the use of the word 'ideal' that
>corresponds to my understanding -- we give an expression in
>thought that refers to only the most decisive features of the real
>movement of things, and hence we call the mental categories by which
>we refer to that real movement 'ideal'.   Do you understand it

I need to think abou this.

>Grundrisse, v. 28, p. 236, Nicolaus, 310:  "We are present at the
>process of its becoming. [not the becoming of the real movement but
>of our reconstruction of it -- note by me]  This dialectical process
>of becoming is only the ideal expression of the real movement
>through which capital comes into being.  The later relations are to
>be considered as a development coming out of this germ.  But it is
>necessary to fix the specific form in which capital exists at a
>certain point.  Otherwise confusion results."
>By the way -- on the point of comparisons of translations -- on a
>very specific point v.28 clearly overshadows Nicolaus, and that is
>in the translation of the absolutely crucial word, Bestimmung.   The
>phrase translated above as "specific form" in German is
>"Formbestimmung" or form determination.  Nicolaus offers the same
>translation, 'specific form',. but elsewhere he translates the word
>as "aspect" or "character" or "feature" which completely misses the
>generative or so to speak consequential push that attaches to Marx's
>Are the simple determinations of the Method of Political Economy
>'ideal' and, if so, in what sense?  Or I'd be interested in other
>textual references you might have to Marx's use of the word.
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <mailto:bhandari@BERKELEY.EDU>Rakesh Bhandari
>Sent: Saturday, August 05, 2006 8:45 PM
>Subject: Re: [OPE-L] Grundrisse.Help
>>Hi Rakesh,
>>Unfortunately I expect to be out of email touch for a week, so I doubt I
>>will be able to follow in my inbox.  Perhaps I will be able to pick up at
>>the website.
>>I wonder if you really need to think in terms of "idealized" and of a mental
>>experiment regarding pure capitalism.
>>True enough, water is rarely just H2O.
>Yes this is an important Bachelardian point. As Mary Tiles puts it:
>"Bachlard insisted that the object of laboratory study are not
>natural givens. The laboratory is a carefully controlled environment
>in which the object of study is carefully prepared and shielded from
>interference or contamination, in an effort to analyze by isolating
>the particular aspect to be studied....Thus in response to
>Descartes' discussion of a piece of wax, Bachelard says: "The
>physicist doesn't take wax straight from the hive, but wax which is
>as pure as possible, chemically well defined, isolated as the result
>of a long series of methodical manipulations. The wax chosen is thus
>in a way a precise moment of the method of objectivation. It retains
>none of the odor of the flowers from which it was gathered, but it
>ears proof of the care with which it was purified. In other words,
>it is realized in its experimental manfacture. Without this
>experimental manufacture, such a wax--in the pure form which is not
>its natural form--would not have come into existence."
>Of course Marx realized that "In the analysis of economic forms,
>moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The
>force of abstraction must replace both."
>In other words, he could only create a purified capitalism through
>idealization. Which is exactly what he did as he then gave us a
>complete theory thereof. He did not leave us with a torso of a work.
>That Marx created a purified capitalism through the force of
>abstraction does not make his theory any less realistic than
>laboratory work on the purified chemicals that are themselves not
>natural givens.
>Jurriaan does not seem to realize that Marx's object is not
>unrealistic simply because its object is an
>idealization. So he continues to heap insult on me:
>>f people do not
>know how to study a real object, real history, or real facts then that is
>because they haven't reflected sufficiently and critically about how these
>things have been studied before. But obviously endless disputes about
>"method" without actually using the method for the purpose for which it was
>intended are useless.
>But scientists don't study natural givens. They create the objects
>of their study. This Marx did too.
>And self consciously. Meaning that he understood the activist nature
>of scientific work long
>before Bachelard. Which is another sign of his world historical brilliance.
>Yours, Rakesh

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