FOM: Marx' polylogism

Michael Detlefsen Detlefsen.1 at
Thu Mar 4 10:49:36 EST 1999

In light of the recent notes from Martin, Robert and Ed, there is perhaps
little reason fro me to add my name to the list of doubters re. Steve's
description of Marx as holding a 'polylogist' view. I teach courses on Marx
and have read a great deal of his writing and I cannot recall having ever
come across anything that suggests such a view. If I've missed something
I'd like to know.  I've also read a fair amount of von Mises and others in
the Austrian school of economics, but I don't recall having read this
particular charge against Marx ... though one can't read much in the
Austrain school without coming across claims against Marx' ideas. So, I
would appreciate the reference to von Mises (and/or others in the Austrian
school) as well.

On a more substantive note, I think that Ed Mares raises an interesting and
substantive (though very large and complex) point that challenges Steve's
(and others') assumption of the 'topic-neutral' conception of logic. I'd be
interested to hear what others have to say about it. With that, I'll go
back to making one final attempt to explain my views on Poincare to Steve
and others who may not have understood them ...

Mic Detlefsen

P.S. I think that Martin misstated the labor of theory of value (whose
classical presentation and defense was in Locke, not Marx) somewhat. He
presented it as the view that "the value of an object should be
proportional to the human labor input to it (labor theory of value)". While
Marx would have agreed with this as a description of the value of most
objects, it is not the DEFINITION of the ltv. What Marx (and, to an extent,
Locke) held is that ownership of an object should be determined by the
labor invested in the production of its value. The person whose labor
produced whatever value was added to an object through labor should own
that object (modulo certain constraints concerning equality of opportunity
of access of willing laborers to mix their labor with that object). Locke
took an almost metaphysical view of this--namely (put roughly), my labor is
an extension of my body; I surely own my own body; therefore, I own my
labor; therefore, when my labor becomes inextricably interwoven with a
natural object, I own that object. Paradoxically, and in a vein directly
antithetical to Marx' view of capital, he didn't take this view of his
servants and their bodies (see the well known text on 'The turfs my servant
has cut'). It seems he had something of the same view of servants that
Aristotle did ... namely, that they were automata of some sort, and that
any labor they performed was the direct result of a masters' training them.
Hence, the reasoning seemed to go, it was the training master, not the
servant who was entitled to the value produced through the servant's labor.
But I digress ...

Michael Detlefsen
Department of Philosophy
University of Notre Dame
Notre Dame, Indiana  46556
e-mail:  Detlefsen.1 at
FAX:  219-631-8609
Office phones: 219-631-7534
Home phone: 219-273-2744

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