File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 41


Date: Tue, 28 Jan 1997 00:48:05 -0800
Subject: M-I: Sohn-Rethel


"Sohn-Rehtel's fundamental thesis is that it is the historical appearance
of a *real abstraction*--the commodity or value abstraction--that makes
possible the development of those conceptual abstractions associated with
classical philosophy, mathematics, and modern natural
science....Sohn-Rethel's detailed theoretical analysis of the formal
elements of the exchange abstraction, as suggested by Marx's theory of
value, seves to demonstrate that not only analogy but 'true identity'
exists between the formal elements of this abstraction and the formal
cognitive constituents of those forms of thought tha tissue in the
development of modern science. In particular, the concepts of 'abstract
quantity', 'abstract time and space', and 'strict causality' are all
notions that have 'real' counterparts in elements of the act of exchange.
Kant's categories a priori, then, are not transcedental properties of the
human intellect, but historically produced concepts originating in specific
types of social interaction and founded upon a real abstraction...It was
left to Sohn-Rethel to provide 'ontological depth' to the analysis of how
commodity exchange engenders the categories of thought associated with
*technical rationality* and how these could develop even in
commodity-producing societies where the fully reified capitalist law of
value did not yet hold sway." From Murray E.G.Smith's brilliant chapter
"The Value Abstraction and the Dialectic of Social Development" in
Invisible Leviathan: The Marxist Critique of Market Despotism beyond
Postmodernism. University of Toronto, 1994.

 Has Sohn-Rethel demonstrated a real identity, as opposed to a mere
analogy, between the value abstraction and the abstractions of the early
natural sciences? Also, is there historical proof that the development of
technical rationality presupposes the development of simple commodity
exchange or that technical rationality developed where simple commodity
exchange was most developed or that capitalism emerged from the social
formations in which commodity exchange and/or technical rationality had
been historically most developed?

There are also criticisms of Sohn-Rethel in Moishe Postone's book and in
Phil Slater, ed. Outlines of a Critique of Technology. Ink Links, 1980.


Rakesh




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