1st Edition

Capital as a Social Kind
Definitions and Transformations in the Critique of Political Economy

ISBN 9781138013117
Published January 2, 2014 by Routledge
240 Pages

USD $62.95

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Book Description

Capital as a Social Kind provides an introduction to social kinds in social theory. Thinking about kinds, the way we sort the things of the world into categories -- water, for example, is a natural kind – has made an important contribution to our understanding of science in the last half century, but these advances have been largely applicable to the natural, rather than the social sciences. Drawing on the rich examples offered by Marx’s analysis of capital and exploring a methodology that will be of interest to both Marxist and non-Marxist social theorists alike, Capital as a Social Kind extends this approach to the study of social life.

The book argues that, provoked by his study of Aristotle, Marx’s attentions foreshadowed contemporary themes in the realist philosophy of science. Importantly, social kind analysis is relevant not only to understanding his critique of political economy but illuminates also a materialist study of law, justice, morality and the transition to socialism. Social kind analysis also opens a path for the development of today’s moral realism by suggesting the need for a systematic study of the causal structures of social life. In this respect the importance of normative themes in Marxism is defended against claims that the Marxist tradition lacks the resources to call capitalism unjust or to defend morality and human rights.

The origin of capital, Marx suggests, can be found in the rupture of an original unity between the laborer and the means of labor, and the book explores the way a structure of separations best characterizes capital as a social kind. This uncovers a little developed emphasis in Marx’s work – his focus on the phenomena of separation that define our lives and also on forms of association required to transcend them. Given that capitalism has made the instruments of labor instruments of social labor, forms of association that would recover worker control over them must be democratic. The transition to socialism, the book concludes, just is winning the battle of democracy. This book will be of interest to students and researchers of economics, philosophy and indeed any social science subject.

Table of Contents

Part 1: Definitions

1. Introduction: Social Kinds in Social Theory

  • Realism For Homo Sapiens
  • Natural Kinds
  • Social Kinds
  • Arguing For Social Kinds
  • Naming Kinds
  • Naming The Sensuously Unobservable
  • The Object Of Marx’s Capital
  • The Real Definition Of Capital
  • Conclusion: Extracting Realism’s Kernel

2. Why is This Labor Value? – Commodity Producing Labor as a Social Kind

  • The Critique Of Ricardo
  • Marx And Aristotle
  • The Social Form Of Commodity Producing Labor
  • From Aristotle To Contemporary Scientific Realism
  • Enthusiasm For Social Kinds
  • The Kind Constitutive Properties Of The Commodity Form
  • Marx And The Continuity Of Scientific Reference
  • Conclusion

(Appendix: Backhaus and the Analysis of Capital’s First Chapter)

  • A Remarkable Claim
  • Reconsidering The ‘Defectiveness’ Of Marx’s Presentation
  • Labor As The Substance Of Value

 3. Separation and Subordination: The Real Definition of Capital as a Social Kind

  • The Separations Of Capitalist Production
  • Abstraction And Simple Determination

    • The abstraction of ‘capital in general’

    • ‘The Method of Political Economy’
    • The simple determination of social things

  • The Fundamental Aporia Of Capital
    • Every separation is the separation of a unity
    • Capital’s differentia specifica

  • Towards A Real Definition Of Capital
    • Premise: labor’s possibility as abstract possibility
    • Starting point: labor’s capacity as a commodity for capital
    • Process: labor’s activity as the use value of capital
    • Result: labor’s objectivity as capital

  • The Real Definition Of Capital
  • Conclusion

4. The Concept of Capital in The Grundrisse

  • Reference Fixing And Marx’s Analysis
    • Form determination is causal determination
    • The simplest determination
    • Real definition and reference
    • Categories and convenience
    • Concept and referent
    • Constitutive and attributive properties
    • The concept of a labor-form composite
    • The point however is to transform

  • The Real Definition Of Capital
    • Capital’s double separation
    • The three moments of capital
    • The first moment: the simple concept of capital
    • The second moment: the unity of production and valorization
    • The third moment: the unity of production and circulation
    • The machine as an incarnation of capital’s double separation
    • The double separation as a barrier to capital

  • Conclusion

Part 2: Transformations

5. Value and Contract Formation

  • "Consideration" – A Point Of Departure
  • The Simple Determination Of Value
  • Generating Law
  • Generating Consciousness
  • From Value To Bargain
  • From Bargain To Legal Obligation
  • Consideration In Anglo-American Law
  • Consideration And Social Reproduction
  • Final Remarks

(Appendix: Value as a Social Kind)

6. What Ought to Be Done: Marxism and Normativity

  • A Parable Of Normativity
  • Normative Marxism
  • From Separation To Association

7. Winning the Battle of Democracy

  • "Overthrow Capitalism And Replace It With Something Nice!"
  • Once Again On Separation And Association
  • From The Perspective Of Things To The Perspective Of Persons
  • From Formal Ownership To Real Control
  • Overview: Winning The Battle Of Democracy
  • Democratic Tasks
    • Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as premise
    • Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as starting point
    • Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production in the labor process
    • Overcoming the separation of workers from the conditions of production as result
    • Overcoming the separation of units of production

  • Conclusion



    • Social Kinds
    • Capital As A Social Kind
    • Winning The Battle Of Democracy


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Howard Engelskirchen is a lawyer and a philosopher who has previously taught at the University of Santa Clara, Western State University College of Law, the University of Hawaii, Iowa State University and Union College, USA.


‘This is a very important book. It not only makes a distinctive and original contribution to Marxism, it is also important for philosophers of science and moral theory. Marx’s dialectical materialism fits into neither of the prevailing conceptions of inquiry: reductionist, ahistorical, atheoretical positivism or postmodernist constructivism. Engelskirchen articulates on Marx’s behalf a sophisticated non-reductionist materialism grounded in the contemporary philosophy of science, philosophy of language and the metaphysics of natural kinds. The question of Marx aside, Engelskirchen’s realist conception of social science is a fundamental contribution to the literature of the philosophy of science and will be of interest to anyone who, in pursuing the study of complex phenomena, seeks to avoid a forced choice between positivism and postmodernism.

The book will be equally important for philosophers interested in moral theory. Marx is a deep critic of bourgeois moral and legal values but his normative concerns are also in some sense continuous with the values he criticizes. This is the classic question of commensurability/incommensurability in the sense of Kuhn. Engelskirchen’s treatment is a marvel of dialectical sophistication. He brilliantly extends his non-reductionist approach to the epistemology and semantics of natural kinds to illuminate the respects of continuity and difference between bourgeois and Marxist normative conceptions. Here too the results will be important to those who until now may have paid little attention to Marx. Anyone interested in how normative conceptions change over time will find in Engelskirchen’s approach a convincing alternative to relativist conceptions.’

- Dr. Richard Boyd, Susan Linn Sage Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University, USA