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Killing Marxist Axiology

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Here is a post I wrote a while back on iFunny and which I thought I might share here on OO. Shoutout to Grames for my partly mixed usage of his formulations on intrinsic value in paragraph six.


Marx, in writing Capital, held one Samuel Bailey's Critical Dissertation as an object of refutation. Bailey held that exchange-value was accidental: a thing's value is merely the amount of another thing for which it is exchanged. Contra Bailey, Marx conceived and argued for exchange-value as being distinct from value proper, and that the former represents merely a “manner of expression” of a commodity’s' intrinsic value. Marx wished to show that a commodity's value belongs not to that which it exchanges for, but to itself and that the act of exchange does not determine value but rather brings about the expression of values that commodities have prior to and independent of this act. Essentially, Marx's aim in the beginnings of Capital is not so much to present a “labor theory of value” as it is to present a real divorce between value and exchange-value in order to rectify the axiological divorcing of a commodity's value from itself. It is important to mention that while Marx does indeed consider value “an intrinsic property of the commodity itself” he does not consider value to be an absolutist, trans-historical, immutable reality. Rather value is and is determined by the socially necessary labor-time to engender the creation of any one marketable commodity. The reasons for this proposition will be explored only partly below. Now, let me turn to the purpose of this essay, of presenting and then refuting the conceptual underpinnings of Marx's presentation of the phenomenon of value along with his philosophic analysis of the commodity (the real focus of Marian axiology).

...neither 'value', nor 'exchange-value' are my subjects, but the commodity...What I start out from is the simplest social form in which the labour-product is presented in contemporary society, and this is the 'commodity'”. – Karl Marx

Let us subject to analysis Marx's analysis of the commodity as subject.

Because exchange-value appears as the ratio in which one commodity exchanges for another, and because this ratio is and can be in constant flux, exchange-value then seems to appear as something accidental and wholly relative and therefore intrinsic value must have no part in exchange or is a phenomenon the commodity does not possess. Marx wanted to determine whether the quantitative exchange ratio was accidental or determinate. He asks whether or not value is accidental – contingent upon and arising from the act of exchange, or rather is it the opposite – that value is intrinsic and inherent in the commodity itself. Marx attempts to prove this latter by means of his infamous and frequently misunderstood “third thing” argument. In essence he states that the illusion created by the exchange of one commodity for another wherein the second seems to be value itself and that the first is therefore valuable by virtue of its exchange with the first helps to hide that analyzing the “total form of value” helps demonstrate both that there is an identical content to each commodity, and that this content is distinct from any of the commodities themselves. He says, “...a common element of identical magnitude exists in two different things [being exchanged] … Both are therefore equal to a third thing, which in itself is neither the one nor the other”. Marx is not asking what allows commodities to be exchanged as many Austrian economists have presumed. He is merely analyzing the commodity. He is not asking how or why commodities exchange but as what do commodities exchange. Marx derives the existence of intrinsic value from a postulated exchange of equivalents, not equivalent exchange from a postulated existence of intrinsic value. Marx establishes that commodities exchange as bearers of intrinsic value, a 'third thing' present in each. It is time to refute this crucial tenet.

First, value is a relational phenomenon. The concept of value presupposes answers to the questions, “Of value to whom?” and “For what?”. To show the faults of intrincism – of holding value to inhere in anything as such and omitting the necessity of valuer (“to whom?”) and purpose (“for what?”) – it is necessary only to show that this supposed intrinsic attribute is actually a relational one, i.e. to demonstrate the impossibility of existents being preferentially valenced as such.. It is true that physically there are observable intrinsic attributes like mass so it can not be argued that intrinsic attributes do not exist. The debate is merely whether or not value is such an attribute or instead relational. In the field of biology it can be demonstrated that for plants and animals that the same thing is both a benefit for one organism and a threat to another, i.e. that it is a value to one but not the other. This helps show that value or utility is ultimately agent-relative insofar as value must be seated in the context of a valuing agent and an end in order to be coherent. Value itself is ultimately biological (the concept of value is predicated on and born of the concept of “life”, see: The Objectivist Ethics) and that abstractions which are of value gain their status only as value in virtue of being instruments to achieve biological values (including life itself). There can be no demonstration of intrinsic value because such a demonstration would necessarily entail exhibiting a relation so there can be no possibility of ever disentangling value from a relation. Let's turn back to Marx.

In exchange, this “third thing” is not actually a thing at all, but a disposition, a relation between exchangers and the objects of exchange. Exchange is not predicated on and nor does it evince any kind of say about the objects of exchange themselves, but only about the relation they hold to the exchangers; each exchanger values what he is exchanging for more than what he is exchanging lest the impetus for exchange be nonexistent. The ONLY “qualitatively equal” part is the concomitance of interests' of exchangers, not a concomitance or even existence of intrinsic values. The “third thing” is to be found in and is the relationship all exchangers hold toward what they are exchanging for – conceived gain (whether or not any party actually gains is irrelevant since the dispositions of the party members is all that matters). Just as Marx omits the conceptual necessity of a valuer for the existence of any and all values, so he omits the necessity of the relationship the valuer must play in order for values to be exchanged. There is no third thing, just as there are no intrinsic values. The existence of intrinsic value is not and can not be demonstrated or derived from a postulated exchange of equivalents because value does not inhere in any commodities and the determination of equivalency and the fruition of exchange depends on the very phenomenon Marx has omitted entirely -the valuer.

Marx proceeds from his “third thing” argument to the question, “What is this third thing?” and by abstracting away all the superficial attributes of commodities ends up with answer, “that of being products of labor”. But as we have just seen, there is no such thing as this third thing. Indeed, while many have launched promising attacks on the Marxist labor theory of value, very few (if any) have gone deep enough and refuted the very idea that value could inhere in anything. And that whether or not one chooses to locate the determination of intrinsic value in socially-necessary labor-time or anything else is irrelevant because the nonexistence of intrinsic value is all that is relevant.

Marx, who speaks of the alienation of the value from producer (a term actually more appropriately delimited to entrepreneurs and capitalists) alienates the very conceptual roots which make the phenomenon of value possible. Marx, who speaks of the inversion of subject and object, of value taking on an objective and autonomous role in the commodity, undercuts the very recognition of objectivity – an epistemological product of the interaction between subject and object (but Marx has done away with the subject in his axiological analysis) – and denies the attribute and even existence of the one truly autonomous entity in this relation – the individual valuer. Thus, Marx utterly fails in his analysis of the actual nature of the phenomenon of value and his political theories derivative of it are equally corrupt and non-indicative of the real world.


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