2011 conference abstracts

Jon Pike
‘From Each According to Their Ability …’: Marx, Demandingness and Neo-Aristotelianism

In this paper I advance the claim that the contributory part of Marx’s famous slogan in the Critique of the Gotha Programme can best be thought through in terms of Neo-Aristotelian virtue theory. I outline three significant problems with the obvious reading of the contributory part of the slogan: that it makes contributions vary with abilities that are first arbitrarily distributed and second, at bottom, non voluntary. Furthermore, and thirdly the principle appears to require contributions that are overly demanding. I discuss three possible fixes for these problems: Marx’s own anthropological fix; Jerry Cohen’s reflexive fix; and a fix derived from virtue theory, and hinted at by Macintyre. I reject the first two variously as question begging, as committing category mistakes, as critically ambiguous, and as ad hoc, and try to make a virtue theory fix plausible by drawing on parent/child dialogue and the virtue of Constantia or perseverance. This fix has implications for the status of the ‘contributory principle’ – suggesting that it is not, in fact, a principle of justice or anthything like that, but rather a friendly exhortation to persevere.

Geoff Kay
Aristotle and the Labour-Process

Although Marx made no direct reference to Aristotle in his account of the labour-process in Capital (chapter 7 Part 1), there are good grounds for believing that this account is based on the ‘four causes’. Is this significant? The context for considering this question is the limited attention given to what Marx called ‘the general nature of labour, labour as labour’.

Tony Burns
Marx and Natural Law

This paper is a contribution to two debates. The first has to do with the relationship which exists between Marx’s ideas and those of Aristotle, which is the theme of this conference. The possible influence of Aristotle’s philosophy on the thought of Marx might be addressed in a number of different areas, including Marx’s economic thought and his views regarding questions of psychology. I shall focus on the issue of morality or ethics (two terms which I shall use interchangeably). The second debate has to do with Marx’s attitude towards questions of ethics, either in general or, so far as they touch on the idea of justice. Here two key questions are, first, did Marx have an ethics? and second, if so, of what kind? The paper explores the possibility that he did, and that the ethic in question is some kind of natural law theory. The paper will seek to connect these two debates together by exploring the possibility that the type of natural law theory with which Marx might be associated is similar to that of Aristotle in at least some significant respects, though not all.

Graduate panel 1:

Jan Kandiyali
Karl Marx and the abolition of social roles

In The German Ideology, Marx makes one of his most notorious pronouncements on the organization and nature of work in a future communist society. In contrast to a capitalism, where workers are chained to an exclusive sphere of activity, and develop only a fragment of their creative powers, communism will do away with a fixed division of labour, which will create the conditions where people can develop their creative powers in a many-sided way. Under communism, human beings will be free to engage in a richly varied set of activities—hunting in the morning, fishing in the afternoon, rearing cattle in the evening, and criticizing after dinner—without ever specializing in any one of these activities as a particular occupation. This view of communist production has provoked extensive criticism from Marx’s commentators, including those otherwise sympathetic to Marx’s thought. The main criticism has been that this account of human self-realization is implausible and unrealizable. My aim in this paper is to develop a rather different criticism of Marx’s position. First, I suggest that Marx overlooks the extent to which engaging in complex specialized activities can call upon a wide-range of powers and faculties, thus achieving the type of ‘full’ self-realization that Marx valued. And second, I question Marx’s out and out hostility towards social differentiation, including differentiation through specialized labour. In this final part of the talk I raise a broadly Hegelian criticism of Marx’s position, which sees the differentiation created by the division of labour in a more optimistic light.

Yannig Luthra

A puzzle about production and self-realization

According to Marx human nature in its developed form is realized in productive activity. In contrast to Marx, Aristotle conceives of human nature as realized in a life of theological-cum-philosophical contemplation. For Aristotle, the realization of human nature cannot consist in productive activity because that sort of activity aims at ends beyond itself. Aristotle assumes that the full realization of human nature must consist in something we choose just for its own sake, and not for the sake of further ends. Aristotle’s assumption raises a puzzle about Marx’s view of the self-realization human beings. It is tempting to think, as Aristotle does, that the significance of an activity aimed at further ends is secondary to those further ends themselves. Self-realization ought then to consist in the achievement of those ends, and not in the productive activity undertaken as a means to those ends. I explore two different avenues of response, both of which are suggested by Marx’s remarks on the nature of free labour. The first is to argue that the productive activity Marx has in mind really is not aimed at further ends, but is done for the sake of the act itself. But this response makes it difficult to understand the serious worth of free labour. Making something just to have made it seems idle. I try to develop another response on Marx’s behalf. I argue that there is no logical necessity in the view that the ends of an activity are prior in significance to the activity itself. Our activities do not inherit their significance from their aims in the same way that an umbrella inherits its value from keeping dry. The further ends of free labor can help explain its serious worth without its value being overshadowed by those further ends.

Steve Thomas

Alasdair MacIntyre’s Marxist humanism

In his 1958/9 essay ‘Notes from the Moral Wilderness’ Alasdair MacIntyre makes two important suggestions for the development of socialist theory. Firstly, he argues that moral criticism of existing conditions must be anchored in an account of human needs and desires if it is not to be disarmed by being reduced to the status of a mere expression of personal preference. Secondly, with (admittedly limited) reference to Marx’s Paris Manuscripts, he suggests that desire need not lead to conflict since it is possible for human beings to discover that certain ways of sharing human life are indeed what they most desire. However MacIntyre himself later came to reject this vision, arguing in both A Short History of Ethics and After Virtue, that no account of human nature can play this role. This paper examines the possibilities for defending the younger MacIntyre. In particular it looks at the philosophical anthropology of the Paris Manuscripts and accepts that, taken by itself, it suggests an account of species being with a one-sided emphasis on the value of creative productive work that fails to take account of the diversity of goods that human beings might desire. In response I will suggest that many of the criticisms of Marxist perfectionism, such as that given by Will Kymlicka, can be usefully addressed if we turn from the Paris Manuscripts to consider Jon Elster’s case for self-realisation. However although a socialist account of human flourishing can answer some of the charges against it, I will not conclude by arguing that such a project can reconcile the different goals of human beings as painlessly as MacIntyre seemed to claim in his early work. Instead I will suggest that socialism requires both a commitment to human flourishing and a recognition of the sources of continuing conflict beyond capitalist society.

Graduate panel 2:

Daniel Burnfin

Aristotle, the value-form and real abstraction

How is one to understand Marx’s claim that Aristotle’s greatness is his discovery of the value form, despite Aristotle’s inability to fully grasp it, because Greece was a society based on slave labor? In this paper I propose that there is in fact something more going on here than psychology, ‘prejudice’ or ‘false consciousness’. I take up Sohn-Rethel’s notion of ‘real abstraction’ to elucidate Marx’s reading of Aristotle’s comments on value and give an account of why it is that the latter literally could not discover the truth of the value-form in his time, or why this could be true as well as Marx’s later claims. My thesis is that the disparate elements which Aristotle saw as able to be made equivalent, by way of a cognitive abstraction, were indeed not actually equivalent at that time. In Capital Marx states, all commodities held in a certain proportion are equivalent in value. But this equivalence is not a ‘natural’ equivalence rooted in the bodily properties of the objects, as objects have not always been ‘commodities’. They are not equivalent ‘in themselves’ – it is the metaphysical character of capital that does this. By being mediated through the commodity chain of an economy and being held up side by side with labor-power in the capitalization process, these objects are made equivalent in the commodity flux. Thus equivalence that occurs conceptually in reflective theoretical consciousness is the judgment of a result of a practical equating process or ‘real abstraction’. The latter goes on ‘off the radar’ of any given consciousness, making the result appear as ‘always already there’. In relation to real and cognitive abstraction, my conclusions will have significance for any universal notion of humanity as bearer of ‘human rights’, but also for the labor theory of value, having largely remained content with a merely cognitive abstraction theoretically.

Guido Schulz

The fetish character of the commodity and fetishism

Although it is not easy to spot, especially in the English translations, a close reading of the original German texts reveals that Marx draws a conceptual distinction between the fetish character of the commodity and fetishism. H.G. Ehrbar was the first scholar to draw attention to this distinction, yet his analysis remains rather incomplete, and is limited to Capital Vol. I. This paper provides further evidence for the existence of such a distinction as well as clarifies the meaning of each concept. Referring to Marx’s works written after 1857, the paper will include an nalysis of the more concrete forms of bourgeois production – namely, money and capital. It will be shown that the term fetish character essentially describes the regulatory social power that objectified value relations gain under capitalism – a social power achieved by virtue of a process of autonomisation of reified social relations. Accordingly, the false belief that social properties ascribed to fetish bearing things are natural and inherent to these represents a fetish-induced illusion. Marx describes this illusion, peculiar to Political Economy, as fetishism. As the fetish character of the commodity is passed on to money and capital, it develops and appears under a modified guise. Each form’s fetish then inevitably creates a corresponding fetishism in bourgeois economic thought. Given that the concept of the fetish character describes a real, externalised social power it may be interpreted as a continuation and refined version of the philosophical themes addressed in Marx’s earlier theory of alienation.

Andrew Davenport

Marxist International Relations and the problem of the political

The paper will present, in overview, the core theses of my DPhil project, which addresses two connected issues. (1) The debate in Marxist IR has now focused on the ‘many-states’ problem – why within an increasingly integrated world market are there multiple political entities, why does economic integration not produce political integration? (2) The main theory in IR, realism, conceives the international as a tragic or, better, mythic domain, fundamentally unchanging in its dynamics, which arise out of the anarchic co-existence of a multiplicity of political units. These interlinked problems present a much more substantial challenge to Marxian ambitions of social emancipation than IR Marxists have either ever seen or been willing to admit because they powerfully suggest that the form of the political per se is problematic, being inherently delimited and particularistic, always leading to a fragmented global space prone to warfare. My project is an attempt to develop an explanation of the intrinsic connection of capital and the political, one that neither reduces the political to being merely functional to capital nor splits it off as something simply different, and that also rejects the fudge of ‘relative autonomy’. This has meant developing a much more philosophically orientated reading of Marx than usually encountered in IR Marxism, focusing on the meaning and significance of the value theory. It has also involved a close engagement with the epistemological thought of Adorno, who, I argue, goes substantially beyond important limitations in Marx’s work concerning materialism and the critique of the concept. Adorno’s work is used as a lens through which the thinking on the constitution of the political of Carl Schmitt, Walter Benjamin and Giorgio Agamben is read, and in this way the critique of the political is connected to the critique of capital.