top of page
A proposition of cultural wisdom — The interdisciplinary significance of Marx’s value formsー
Takeshi Sakai, a.k.a. Hitoshi Ebara, the director of the association for diffusing cultural wisdom,
a general corporation aggregate
§1 What is cultural wisdom?
1. scientific knowledge de-centered
To begin with, we’d like to suppose that culture means, in the broadest sense, certain ways of life, and so let us call the form of knowledge based on them cultural wisdom. We have had certain forms of knowledge in the course of history; while in the middle ages religion had been accepted as the highest form of knowledge or wisdom, it was replaced by scientific knowledge in the modern era.
Although science and technology were seen as sacred and dignified for a long period, scientific knowledge has ceased to be what it was once thought to be. The younger generation of today that seek to find in their life what they live for, in particular, have been fascinated by something like the will of the universe or the wave, that is, occult knowledge, because they believe scientific knowledge is far from giving them anything that they really want, while on the other hand they have faith once again in religious wisdom.
2. The limit of scientific knowledge
Within scientific knowledge itself lies the cause of it having been thus de-centered; it can hardly explain anything about social relations, which are felt indeed to be relevant to the existence of human beings. We have no valid theory, first of all, of commodities and money, without which we could not keep our own existence at all, although Marx has in fact explained them. Further, we have no common idea, it may be argued, of what language is, or of what thinking is.
Thus, we can never depend solely on scientific knowledge in order to understand how we are or exist as social beings. Nevertheless, we can hardly rely on occultism or religion to solve this problem, however much they may be believed to be a savior of us in place of scientific knowledge. Rather, we must establish a form of knowledge that can substitute for the current struggle through fantasies or religious faith for feeling that each of us belong to our own species and for seeking what we really live for.
3. The renovation of the scientific method
Even if we declare cultural wisdom, it doesn’t follow that we can simply deny scientific knowledge; we will try, beyond the limitations of scientific knowledge, to explain how we are social beings and to reveal the form in which the essence of our species is to realize itself. In this attempt, however, cultural wisdom strictly observe the scientific method; but this method itself must be reconsidered and reconstructed for the generation of our cultural wisdom.
It is through the renovation of the scientific method that cultural wisdom de-centers scientific knowledge. It can be characterized, therefore, as a human science in which scientific knowledge is involved as a dialectical moment. In other words, we need to renovate the scientific method in order to explain how we are as social beings, that is, our own social relations, and it is this renovation which de-centers scientific knowledge.
§2 For introducing cultural wisdom
1. Our reconsideration of the scientific method
If you look into a book of the history of scientific thoughts, you will find that Descartes and Galileo are treated as the two founders of the method of modern scientific knowledge. In the 1930s, Edmund Husserl made an attempt to criticize the method of scientific knowledge, in which mathematical physics had been believed to show the truth of the world. Husserl noted that, when Galileo had made up theories through experiments based on experience and created an idealized world to which mathematical determinations were given, he had viewed it as the only existing world, cunningly mistaking it for the everyday life-world and thereby concealing it.
Giambattista Vico, who belonged to the generation next to Descartes, declared the same point of view as Husserl’s; he suggested that it is because we have been producing our own existence ourselves that we can prove the truth of it; and, on the other hand, that it is impossible to prove the ultimate truth of Nature, which is never of our own making, and into which we can only keep investigating.
Marx affirmed this theory of Vico’s, and presumed that those theories dealing with really existing things which had been established through the scientific method was nothing but the laws of thinking that grasped those objects in a scientific manner, and that each of the theories were themselves just a product of thought, distinguished from existing things.
Although Marx, while analyzing value forms, renovated the established scientific method, his method was inseparable from the contents that he analyzed, and not presented as a clear-cut methodology, despite the fact that he had intended to write a general introduction to his own dialectical method.
2. The limit of phenomenology
The traditional type of scientific knowledge saw the product of thought as the truth of the existing world. According to this view, existing things remained mere objects. But our social relations are, in fact, those relations between subjects to which the subject-object scheme cannot be applied.
Phenomenology, the founder of which was Edmund Husserl, refers to the realm that cannot be comprehended by the traditional method of scientific knowledge as the life-world, thereby attempting to explain the inter-subjectivity of human beings, but what it has only achieved is to bring into its philosophical systems psychological acquisitions at best, since it doesn’t pay any attention to the analysis of commodities and money, which are in fact the actual forms of the inter-subjectivity.
For that matter, philosophy has established itself in its own right on the same assumption that scientific knowledge holds: the logical accordance of being and thinking. It is precisely because it depends on this assumption that it can develop its speculation upon the question of what thinking is. Even contemporary philosophers keep themselves, contrary to what they say, within the frame of the traditional scientific method, and therefore have not succeeded in the radical critique of scientific knowledge.
3. The significance of reading the value-forms
Commodities and money are the most crucial to our social life, which precisely means the same thing as the life-world that phenomenology proposed as a concept. They are, not mere things, but our social relations, and so the subject-object scheme is useless for the analysis of those things. This simply urges us to renovate the traditional scientific method.
Marx must certainly have revealed the secret of commodities and money in the section on value forms in his Capital. Even so, in those periods in which scientific knowledge were prevalent, his manner of analyzing and solving things itself was seen as a mystery. We have then to formulate a renovated way of science through reading Marx’s value forms, and this will be a way of introducing our cultural knowledge.
§3 Our approach to cultural wisdom
1. Forms of appearance that transcend sensuousness
Our social relations, which we try to grasp first of all, are those that transcend sensuousness; we cannot know anything about them just by taking up commodities or currencies with a hand. Since concrete things, which we can grasp by the senses, hace formed a social relation with each other, is there any means, after all, of grasping this invisible relation itself?
Since we cannot grasp the relation itself with our senses, we can only reconstruct it in our mind as a product of thought. Even so, we can grasp with them both the poles that constitute it. What is required of us here is a methodology by which, focusing on those concrete things that appear at each of the poles, we can construct, as a product of thought, a concept of relationship in its own right.
2. The discovery of the substance that exists only as relation
Traditional philosophies that deal with relations tend to deny substantiality. Their point of view is never so far, in fact, from truth, because the substantiality of each thing at each pole is denied in a relation. Yet what is now at steak is the kind of substance that exists only as relationship, and therefore we have to assume social substance.
Since Ferdinand de Saussure declared that language is a system of difference, the theory has been prevailing that the value of commodities is nothing but a system of difference and therefore no value of labor ever exists. Those philosophers who believe relationship denies substance don’t notice that, if they deny the substantiality of value, they actually deny the identity that exists in relations. Since a commodity, language, or the nation represents our social relations, each of them is the substance that exists only as relationship, based on identity. The substance of value as Marx called it means, not something substantial as an individual thing, but substantiality that constitutes a substrate of social identity.
3. The form-definition
The supposition of the substance that exists only as relationship will enable us to comprehend the manner in which both poles in a social relation take forms of appearance which transcend sensuousness; each of them will be seen, in addition to an original sensuous form, to have another form respectively, which transcends sensuousness.
As an attempt to comprehend this twofold form, Marx uses the concept of the form-definition, since what is social (die Sache) holds a different role, in addition to its original natural form, when determined by a social relation in which it is situated.
4. Logic of thinking and logic of beings
The traditional method of science has been based on logic of thinking; in this method, we can constitute a concept in which diverse elements are unified, after abstracting objects through analyses, reducing them into different determinations, and in turn synthesizing them in thought. The science-oriented point of view of Galileo’s has been misleading in that this kind of concept is seen immediately as the truth of things. Our social relations are, however, ones in which both identity and difference are established. This suggests that there exist in these relations workings of the same abstraction and synthesis as we have in our mind. It should be noted here that in the relations between things abstraction is carried out through material interaction between them, whereas we hold abstractions through analyzing things. That is to say, we can discover a sort of logic of beings, as distinct from logic of thinking, in the interaction between things.
5. The inversion between the species and the individual
We may simply grasp objects themselves that are cut off from some particular relations in which they are situated. But what is cut off from its relation is, not even a natural thing, it may be argued, but an artificial object, which is, thus, an extended matter of thinking, as are tools. It is precisely because this sort of object is severed from its own relation that scientific knowledge can grasp the truth of it, as Vico indicated. For scientific knowledge, only individual things virtually exist, and what is general, or a species, is left to be merely an abstract determination, supposed to have no existence as a concrete thing, viewed only in terms of the concept that is gained from the process through which we analyze its divers aspects and synthesize them.
You will notice, on the contrary, that the interaction between things itself has yielded to abstractions, if you adopt the approach to cultural wisdom that is ready to grasp how relations work. Thus, it will be demonstrated that what is abstractly general, a species, appears, in a certain relation, as a form-definition of each thing at both poles, thereby fixing the form of its realization upon individual concrete things. The power of our cultural wisdom, or the principle of dialectics, will be demonstrated in the attempt to conceptualize the structure of that inversion, a roundabout way, in our social relationships — an inversion in which only by borrowing the natural attribute of a commodity at the other pole can one commodity define its own form, or express its own social nature.
number of viewers
bottom of page