However, Scott Meikle argues that there is indeed some sort of sense to be made of this. Meikle's case revolves around a short and relatively clear account of the alleged 'contradiction' between use-value and exchange-value, or more pointedly, between the "relative form" and the "equivalent form" of value, which Marx discusses in Chapter One, Volume One, of Das Kapital.
Now I do not want to enter into whether or not Meikle's interpretation of Marx is accurate; my concern is merely to see if his analysis can show us how and why these are indeed good examples of "dialectical contradictions". Here is what he says:
"All the contradictions of capitalist commodity-production have at their heart the contradiction between use-value and exchange-value. Marx reveals this contradiction to lie at the heart of the commodity-form as such, even in its simplest and most primitive form....
"The simple form of value itself contains the polar opposition between, and the union of, use-value and exchange-value.... [Marx writes that] 'the relative form of value and the equivalent form are two inseparable moments, which belong to and mutually condition each other...but at the same time they are mutually exclusive and opposed extremes.' Concerning the first he observes that the value of linen cannot be expressed in linen; 20 yards of linen = 20 yards of linen is not an expression of value. 'The value of linen can therefore only be expressed relatively, that is in another commodity. The relative form of the value of the linen therefore presupposes that some other commodity confronts it in the equivalent form.' Concerning the second: 'on the other hand, this other commodity which figures as the equivalent, cannot simultaneously be in the relative form of value... The same commodity cannot, therefore, simultaneously appear in both forms in the same expression of value. These forms rather exclude each other as polar opposites.'
"This polar opposition within the simple form is an 'internal opposition' which as yet remains hidden within the individual commodity in its simple form: 'The internal opposition between use-value and exchange-value, hidden within the commodity, is therefore represented on the surface by an external opposition,' that is the relation between two commodities such that one (the equivalent form) counts only as a use-value, while the other (the relative form) counts only as an exchange-value. 'Hence, the simple form of value of the commodity is the simple form of the opposition between use-value and value which is contained in the commodity.'" [Meikle (1979), pp.16-17.]
[LOI = Law Of Identity.]
But, what evidence and/or argument is there to show that that these are indeed "polar opposites", let alone 'dialectically-united' opposites? And why call this a "contradiction"? We have already seen that this way of talking is based solely on Hegel's own egregious misconstrual
of the LOI. So, what has Meikle to offer that stands some chance of repairing this tattered 'theory'?
Apparently, only this:
"Marx's absolutely fundamental (Hegelian) idea [is] that the two poles united in an opposition necessitate one another ('belong to and mutually condition each other').... [Ibid., p.19.]
But, what precisely is the source of this necessitation? Well, after a brief discussion of Quine's ill-considered views on logical 'necessity' (which analysis confuses the latter notion with extremely well-confirmed empirical truths), Meikle rejects the idea that the source of this 'necessity' can be found in logic.
"So, 'logical necessity' does not promise to account for the necessity that unites opposites within a contradiction. The unity of use-value and exchange-value within the commodity is certainly not something which, despite all necessitation between the two poles, may be abrogated (on Quine's conventionalist account). Not, that is, without 'abrogating' the commodity itself; for the commodity is precisely the unity of use-value and exchange-value. Use-value can exist alone. But exchange-value cannot; it presupposes use-value because only what has use-value can have exchange-value. What has exchange-value, a commodity, is, thus, necessarily use-value and exchange-value brought into a unity. The commodity-form of the product of labour has as its essence the unity of the two. That is what it is. Their conjunction or unity constitutes its essence." [Ibid., p.22.]
But, why is this not just a de dicto
(i.e., a merely verbal) necessity?
Fortunately, Meikle has that particular base covered:
And yet, whatever else is true of these value-forms, how can they 'contradict' one another if one of them cannot exist at the same time as the other? If these items "mutually exclude" one another, how can they both exist at the same time? On the other hand, if they both exist at the same time, so that they can indeed 'contradict' one another, how can one possibly "mutually exclude" the other?
"Use-value and exchange-value are, therefore, not 'merely' abstractions arrived at in thought about reality; they are constituents of reality in partaking in the essence of the commodity. And the opposition or contradiction between the two poles is a constituent of reality also, (although in the simple commodity or value-form it appears only primitively in the fact that the same commodity cannot act simultaneously as relative and as equivalent form of value)." [Ibid., p.22.]
[We have already seen that it is this insurmountable barrier that stymies earlier attempts to make this sort of depiction of 'dialectical contradictions' work.]
Putting this serious problem to one side, why is 'necessity' not merely a spin-off of a determination to use a few words in a certain way? Why is this not just a de dicto
[Indeed, it is rather cheeky of Meikle to use Quine to criticise logical necessity, when Quine himself would have taken an even dimmer view of such de re
(real world) necessities. (On Quine's ideas, see the references listed at the end of this Note).]
Of course, this has become a hot topic ever since Saul Kripke upset the de dicto
apple cart a generation or so ago. [Kripke (1977, 1980).] And it is thus no surprise to see Meikle appeal to Kripke's work to argue that these are not merely de dicto
, but are in fact de re
Unfortunately, however, Kripke's arguments are not quite as sound as Meikle appears to believe. [On this see, Ebersole (1982) and (Hallett (1991), Hanna and Harrison (2004), pp.278-88. More on this in a later Essay.]
[Added: a de dicto
necessity is one that arises solely in language. It is often contrasted with a de re
necessity, that is one which supposedly exists in reality and not just in language.]
Nevertheless, in support, Meikle quotes a (by now) hackneyed series of examples:
"The commodity is the unity of use-value and exchange-value, in precisely the same way that water is H2O, that light is a stream of photons, and that Gold is the element with atomic number 79. All these statements are necessarily true. They state truths that are true of necessity, not in virtue of any logical or 'conceptual' connexions, but in virtue of the essences or real natures of the entities in question. Water is necessarily H2O. Anything that is not H2O cannot be water..., and the 'cannot' is ontological not epistemic.... We did not always know this, of course; it was a discovery people made about the essence of water (and one which may need to be recast if future theoretical development requires it)." [Ibid., pp.22-23.]
The Gold example is not too clever, since its atomic number depends on our counting system, and neither is the light example all that convincing (since there are scientists who question the existence of photons). The water example is no less fraught, since water is not even contingently H2O; hydrogen bonding means its structure is far more complex. [On this and other examples, see VandeWall (2006). See also Hacker (2007), pp.29-56.]
It could be argued that Meikle had this base covered too, for he added:
"[I]t was a discovery people made about the essence of water (and one which may need to be recast if future theoretical development requires it)." [Ibid.]
But, that just makes this an epistemic truth, and not the least bit "essential", or "ontological".
However, we will for the moment assume that these 'difficulties' can in some way be neutralised (although, in an Essay on the nature of science, to be published at this site in 2008, we will see that this is not the case; there it will be shown that modern-day Essentialism is a fundamentally flawed 'research' dead end).
Naturally, this view also faces the serious objections I have raised against this way of seeing the world, explored at length in Essay Twelve Part One
Meikle also ignores the fact that the sort of essentialism he lionises depends on Possible World Semantics [PWS] in order to work. Sure he tries to damp this down somewhat (on pp.23-25), but all he succeeds in doing is undermining the case he has built-up for accepting his brand of essentialism in the first place -- for PWS merely turns de re
necessities into super-duper empirical extensional
truths, and de re
simply de sappears
This 'difficulty' will also be put to one side for the present.
[However, readers should also consult this
paper, which outlines several serious objections to modern-day essentialism, but with a warning that the author then proceeds to defend an Aristotelian version of the same theory. These issues will also be tackled later.]
In addition, I will not be asking (here) other awkward questions about the precise origin of these allegedly natural necessities, and how they can possibly cause change, but the following passage (taken from Part One
of this Essay) will give the reader some idea of how I will be tackling that topic at a later stage:
A quotation from Baker and Hacker (1988) underlines the futility of this "aristocratic" approach to knowledge (although they do not use that particular word, and are not making this particular political point) -- which, incidentally, also reveals why dialecticians (like Rees, and the others quoted here) have become fixated on a search for a metaphysical (and ultimate/rational) "why" of things:
"Empirical, contingent truths have always struck philosophers as being, in some sense, ultimately unintelligible. It is not that none can be known with certainty…; nor is it that some cannot be explained…. Rather is it that all explanation of empirical truths rests ultimately on brute contingency -- that is how the world is! Where science comes to rest in explaining empirical facts varies from epoch to epoch, but it is in the nature of empirical explanation that it will hit the bedrock of contingency somewhere, e.g., in atomic theory in the nineteenth century or in quantum mechanics today. One feature that explains philosophers' fascination with truths of Reason is that they seem, in a deep sense, to be fully intelligible. To understand a necessary proposition is to see why things must be so, it is to gain an insight into the nature of things and to apprehend not only how things are, but also why they cannot be otherwise. It is striking how pervasive visual metaphors are in philosophical discussions of these issues. We see the universal in the particular (by Aristotelian intuitive induction); by the Light of Reason we see the essential relations of Simple Natures; mathematical truths are apprehended by Intellectual Intuition, or by a priori insight. Yet instead of examining the use of these arresting pictures or metaphors to determine their aptness as pictures, we build upon them mythological structures.
"We think of necessary propositions as being true or false, as objective and independent of our minds or will. We conceive of them as being about various entities, about numbers even about extraordinary numbers that the mind seems barely able to grasp…, or about universals, such as colours, shapes, tones; or about logical entities, such as the truth-functions or (in Frege's case) the truth-values. We naturally think of necessary propositions as describing the features of these entities, their essential characteristics. So we take mathematical propositions to describe mathematical objects…. Hence investigation into the domain of necessary propositions is conceived as a process of discovery. Empirical scientists make discoveries about the empirical domain, uncovering contingent truths; metaphysicians, logicians and mathematicians appear to make discoveries of necessary truths about a supra-empirical domain (a 'third realm'). Mathematics seems to be the 'natural history of mathematical objects' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.137], 'the physics of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1976), p.138; however these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.139, RL] or the 'mineralogy of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.229]. The mathematician, e.g., Pascal, admires the beauty of a theorem as though it were a kind of crystal. Numbers seem to him to have wonderful properties; it is as if he were confronting a beautiful natural phenomenon [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47; again, these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.41, RL]. Logic seems to investigate the laws governing logical objects…. Metaphysics looks as if it is a description of the essential structure of the world. Hence we think that a reality corresponds to our (true) necessary propositions. Our logic is correct because it corresponds to the laws of logic….
"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.v, RL], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted here.]
As should now be clear from all that has gone before, DM-theorists have bought into this view of 'necessary truths' (even if few of them use that particular phrase, although Lenin and Dietzgen seem to have been rather fond of it).
For example, dialecticians in general regard change as the result of the relation between internally-linked opposite (logical?) properties of objects and processes. But, why this should cause change is simply left entirely unexamined (indeed, it is left as a brute fact, as the above passage suggests it must); in reality this account of change is a consequence merely of a certain way of describing things (and a fetishised way, at that), as we will see.
Nevertheless, as we have already seen, there is no reason why contradictory states of affairs should cause change any more than there is a reason to suppose that non-contradictory states should. Both of these options rely on descriptions of the alleged relations between objects and processes (not on evidence since (as we saw earlier) it is not possible materially to verify their existence); they supposedly capture or picture processes in nature that are held to make other objects or processes alter/'develop'....
Moreover, the infinite regress (or "bad infinity") dialecticians hoped to avoid by appealing to 'internal contradictions' now simply reappears elsewhere in their theory. When it is fleshed-out, this theory just relates objects and processes to yet more objects and processes, as well as to 'negations', 'opposites', and 'interpenetrations', and the like (i.e., just more "brute facts").
But, despite this, how does Meikle tackle the problem of change?
"The poles of an opposition are not just united. They also repel one another. They are brought together in a unity, but within that unity they are in tension. The real historical existence of the product of labour in the commodity-form provides an analogue of the centripetal force that contains the centrifugal forces of the mutual repulsion of use-value and exchange-value within it." [Ibid., p.26.]
There are so many metaphors in this passage, it is not easy to make sense of it. Nevertheless, it is reasonably clear that Meikle has reified the products of social relations (use- and exchange-values, etc.), and in this reified state they become the actual agents, with human beings (or, perhaps, commodities themselves) the patients. How else are we to understand the word "repel" here? Do they actually repel each other (like magnets, or electrical charges), or do we do this?
And do these "opposites" show any sign of turning into one another, as the DM-worthies assured us they must?
Furthermore, how can the forms that underpin use- and exchange-value (i.e., equivalent and relative form) provide an analogue of the forces Meikle mentions? If forces are to act on other forces, or other bodies, they need to fulfil a handful of crucial conditions first, the most important of which is to have the decency to exist
. But, we were told these two forms can't co-exist. How then can they repel (or provide the wherewithal for other objects and processes to repel) anything?
This, of course, is the unforgiving rock upon which we have seen all such idealist speculations founder.
It could be argued that these 'repulsions' occur in our thought about the simple commodity form. But even there, they cannot exist together, for if they could, they would not 'mutually exclude' one another!
Or, are we to imagine there is a tussle taking place in our heads, such that, when we think of the one, it elbows out of the way (out of existence?) the other? Perhaps then, depending on circumstances, equivalent form can be declared the winner over relative form by two falls to a submission (UK rules)?
Figure Two: Equivalent Form Slam Dunks Relative Form In A Skull Near You
Furthermore, even if they could exist together in thought, this will not help, since it would make a mess of Meikle's appeal to de re
necessities. This retreat into the ideal would leave him with a few seriously undernourished de dicto
'skeletons' to bounce around inside his head.
But, perhaps there is a way out of this bottomless pit of meticulously-constructed confusion? Meikle continues:
"But in its simple form, the commodity is an unstable equilibrium. It is pregnant with possibilities, which history may present either with the conditions for the realisation of these possibilities, or with the indefinite variety of conditions that will frustrate their realisation. Given the right conditions, the embryo will develop its potentiality; and the simple form of value will undergo the metamorphoses that will take the commodity from its embryo through infancy to early adolescence with the attainment of the universal form of value, money." [Ibid., p.26.]
It now seems that metaphor is all Meikle has to hand in his bid to make this mystical process the least bit comprehensible. And it is quite clear where all this reification has led him: the commodity itself invented money, not human beings!
Or, perhaps, the commodity mesmerised human beings into inventing money.
Once more, on this view, we are the patients, while these metaphorical beings are the real agents of social change!
[Independently of this, we have already seen that this view of change cannot work. On that see, Essay Seven Part One
Is there then any way of re-configuring this overall theory of change that is capable of extracting it from the materialist shredder before the switch is thrown? Well, Meikle turns to Aristotle for assistance, but before he does that completely, he in effect concedes the truth of the above observation, for it seems that these value forms do indeed force humans to do their bidding:
"This line of development is not accidental or fortuitous; it is not a process of aggregating contingent and extraneous additions. It is, rather, process of development of the potentialities within, and the increasing differentiation of, an original whole. If history does not block the growth of exchange activity, then that growth will find out the inadequacy of the simple form of value. Then, looked at from the point of view of efficient causation, those engaged in that activity, being rational and inventive in the face of the problems thrown up by their developing class interests, will act so as to solve their practical difficulties by measures that overcome that insufficiency to the requirements of their developing commerce. The solution to their practical problems is the money-form." [Ibid., pp.26-27.]
Now, this either means that those involved in the invention of money were the sad puppets of those ('selfish'?) value forms, or they had a clear understanding of the nature of use- and exchange-value, and equal to that of Marx (but two and a half thousand years earlier), so that they could make the correct/rational choices.
Otherwise, how could those value forms exercise any sort of causal input here?
But, doesn't this make dangerous concessions to teleology, to final causation? No problem; Meikle tackles this unexpected difficulty head-on:
"Looked at from the point of view of final causation, money is the final cause of this phase of social development. This is not to say that final causation is a form of efficient causation in which the future acts on the past, such that the developed form beckons from the future to the past less developed form; rather, the embryonic entity has a structure that develops, if it develops, along a certain line. Thus, final causation and efficient causation, here, are not mutually exclusive but mutually supportive: the one explaining the emergence of the other, and the other the success and development of the one. What we have here is a development that, barring accidents, will take its course -- an evolution that is necessary; its final form immanent as a potentiality within its original one." [Ibid., p.27.]
But, this solves nothing, for it seems to mean that some sort of plan or program must have been written into these value forms that determines how they should develop, rather like a fertilised egg or seed has a genetic code that we are told does likewise -- which suspicion is amply confirmed by Meikle's frequent use of embryonic language.
[That, of course, implicates this view of things with a clutch of ancient mystical ideas connected with belief in the Cosmic or Orphic Egg (a topic briefly mentioned in Part One
of this Essay, and again in Essay Eleven Parts One
, but more fully in Essay Fourteen Part One
But, perhaps this is once again too quick, for Meikle now introduces the aforementioned Aristotelian ideas in order to neutralise this problem:
"The necessity that Marx sees in the line of development of the value-form is that which Aristotle contrasts with events that are 'accidental' and it is bound up with organic systems and Aristotle's conception of ousia. Where there is constant reproduction there is a whole system, an ousia." [Ibid., p.27]
Meikle then quotes Stephen Clark:
"[E]verything that happens phusei, 'by nature', happens always or for the most part, but nothing that happens apo tuches, by 'chance', or apo tautomatou, 'just of itself', happens thus frequently. Therefore, no natural events are thus purely accidental, and therefore all natural events are non-accidental. But all non-accidental events are heneka tou, 'serve some purpose', are given sense by their ends.... The fact that rain is always being produced makes it impossible to doubt that there is an organic system here, and such systems are 'finalistically' identified. To answer the question 'what is it?' we must reply in terms of its natural line of development...genesis, the process of coming-to-be-, is what it is because ousia is what it is, and not vice versa." [Clark (1975), pp.60-61, quoted in Meikle (1979), pp.27-28.]
Once more, this fails to solve the problem, for the necessities pictured here work only if one is prepared to anthropomorphise nature. This is because, as soon as it is asked why events cannot do otherwise (than they in fact do), it becomes obvious that certain events must exercise some sort of control over others, directing then along the right "line" (which is why Meikle found he had to use that phrase). This is quite clearly the point too of all that talk about "ends" and "purposes" in Aristotle -- which were part of an openly religious doctrine that Meikle just ignores, and which only works if nature is controlled by some 'Mind' or other.
Hence, it is worth noting that dialecticians can only make their 'theory' seem to work if they adopt and/or copy the a priori thought-forms of ruling-class thinkers (Aristotle (alongside Plato) is in fact one of the two most important figures, here). Meikle firmly nails his colours to this particular mystical mast; for Aristotle, if nature has a purpose, then the status quo must be in harmony with it, and thus cannot legitimately be challenged. In that case, the rule of the elite is not 'accidental', but serves some 'end'. [The reader will no doubt now appreciate more fully why I asserted this back in Essay Two
[This topic was discussed at length in Essay Three Part Two
, and the reader is referred there for more details. It will also be covered in Essay Three Part Five, as well as in an Additional Essay on 'mind and cognition', to be published in 2008. The theoretical background to all this will be outlined in Essay Twelve Parts Two and Three (summary here
Of course, Meikle would have done well to have noted that Marx warned his readers not to take this use of Hegelian jargon seriously:
"...[A]nd even, here and there in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him
." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added.]
More on that here
Now, there are far better ways of making Das Kapital comprehensible; we do not need to appeal to mystical Hegelian and/or Aristotelian concepts to make it work. [I will, however, leave that task to another time.]
In which case, it is still far from clear what Meikle thinks these "dialectical contradictions" are, or how they can make anything change --, unless, that is, we are prepared to anthropomorphise nature and society, and read human traits into inanimate objects and processes.
[On Quine, see Arrington and Glock (1996), Glock (2003), Hacker (1996), pp.189-227. See also this PDF
(which is an essay on Quine, by Hacker).]