Some Observation on Logic and Capital

Jean-François Lyotard says in his influential "Postmodern Condition":

The old principle that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from the training of minds, or even of individuals, is becoming obsolete and will become ever more so. The relationships of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending, and will increasingly tend, to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities they produce and consume - that is, the form of value. Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value."

And this is not said in passing, but comes on page 2 of the defining work of "post-modernism", so might reasonably be deemed to be pretty central to what post-modern thinking is about. So if Logic is something to do with the law of motion of knowledge, "the logic of capital" (small C), according to these pundits is Logic itself.

The great speed of privatisation, the socialisation of domestic labour, globalisation - the commodification of all social relations in the way so strikingly described in the first chapter of Cyril's book - demonstrates the enormous force of this "logic".

Unfortunately I am exceedingly ignorant of ancient Greek philosophy. But I would be surprised to find that the concept of equivalence could arise in any society which was not familiar with the exchange of commodities. Equally, even the child in today's society most resistant to abstract thought, I know will quickly understand this notion when it presents itself in the form of commodity exchange.

Nevertheless, it is indubitable that logic tells us something about the objective world, not only the world of human relations, but even of the relation between objects, not of ourself to something, but of other people to each other. And it is hardly surprising that we acquire that knowledge via the medium of relations between humans.

Of course, we are capable of getting confused about this fact. Another founder of the current dominant philosophical current, Roland Barthes observed, after Saussure:

As a system of values, a language is made of a certain number of elements, each one of which is at the same time the equivalent of a given quantity of things and a term of a larger function, in which are found, in a differential order, other correlative values: from the point of view of the language, the sign is like a coin, which has the value of a certain amount of goods which it allows one to buy, but also has value in relation to other coins, in a greater or lesser degree. ... a language is a system of contractual values (in part arbitrary, or, more exactly, unmotivated) that it resists the modifications coming from a single individual, and is consequently a social institution. [Elements of Semiology]

Barthes further asserts that semiology, effectively the study of social practice, is a sub-topic within linguistics, not the other way around.

So Marx's observation that "The standpoint of Hegel is that of modern political economy", has perhaps a correlate in today's peddlers of mind-bending philosophy.

Nevertheless, formal logic, the logic of identity, is not reduced to economics by the observation that it has its origin in the exchange of commodities, and Hegel's logic is not refuted by Marx's observation of its source in political economy. Do we say with James Burnham that the progress of science has shown "that Hegelian dialectics has nothing whatever to do with science"? For all Marx's criticism of Hegel, the Grundrisse and Capital for example, exhibit a considerable debt to Hegel in the way Marx handles concepts. For all the faults Hegel may have, he did discover something of considerable objective value about the forms of human knowledge.

Equally, for all the arrant stupidities which abound in the writings of today's philosophers, they do have something to say. Lyotard, Foucault and Jameson for example I would say, have some profound insights to offer. But like Hegel, the Royal Philosophers of today, our professional Literary Critics, tend to get things somewhat upon their heads: "nothing exists outside the text" (Derrida) "discourses [are not] groups of signs (signifying elements referring to contents or representations) but ... practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak" (Foucault).

One of the significant facts about the application of mathematics to economics in the current political-economic situation, is that it totally fails. The mainstream methodology for application of mathematical methods to macro-economic problems is that it is essentially structuralist, and our beloved "post-structuralists" are in a strong sense reacting to this failure.

However, I tend to believe that it is not in their Logic that they miss the point. Anyone educated in 20th century Marxism who reads this stuff reacts with contempt at their epistemology, their idealism. And while I think little of interest has been contributed by Marxist attacks on this idealism, I think the instinct is correct. The point is not that they are idealists and they ought to be materialists, but what does this idealism mean? What does this belief that "nothing exists outside the text" mean coming from people who identify the meaning of words with the value of a commodity?

On the basis of our understanding of the character of value as a category indicating alienated human labour how do we criticise the insights of those most erudite products of the highest development of bourgeois society? How does it help us find the way of destroying the social basis of this kind of thinking?