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If I was going to read one G.A. Cohen book....

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yoda's walking stick
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Jun 28 2011 22:09
If I was going to read one G.A. Cohen book....

What would you recommend?

Cue the cute "None of them!" responses.

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Zanthorus
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Jun 28 2011 22:23

None of them. But I suppose if you must answer, you should probably read 'Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence' given it's importance for debates surrounding the meaning of Marx's materialism and approach to history.

yoda's walking stick
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Jun 28 2011 22:27

Well if you're going to say none of them, can you at least say why?

Harrison
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Jun 28 2011 22:34

don't do it! The guy hates on dialectics, one of - if not - the key element(s) of Marx's method.
There's plenty of other interesting marxian works to read...

yoda's walking stick
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Jun 28 2011 22:37

I remember David Harvey had some interesting things to say about him. Listening to those lectures of Harvey's, I made a list of shit I wanted to read and G.A. Cohen was on it.

yoda's walking stick
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Jun 28 2011 22:41

P.S. After reading through all of Capital, I still couldn't give a definition of dialectics if I tried.

Does it mean taking things in their context, as a result of complex interactions, and not viewing these things as an end-all-be all absolute? I have no idea.

Harrison
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Jun 28 2011 23:15

David Harvey was loosely criticising it... (i'm reading through Companion to Capital currently)

HM: A Defence is one of those introductory books to marxism often taught on undergraduate courses

In my opinion, Cohen et al purge all dialectical methodology from Marx, but in doing so they reduce his critique to a form of scientism. This is rubbish, because social/economic phenomena cannot be subjected to the same kind of controlled experiments as the natural sciences. Hence there will always be an element of uncertainty when examing social reality, and materialist dialectics are what allow us to grapple with these uncertainties whilst still constructing a scientific understanding.

Harrison
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Jun 28 2011 23:23

i posted up an article named 'An introduction to Marx's materialist dialectic' to libcom a while ago. I'd recommend it, as it is basically someone going over the David Harvey lecture bits on dialectics.

Ps did you watch or listen to the lectures? Harvey does some gret diagrams on the whiteboard...

yoda's walking stick
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Jun 28 2011 23:32

listened....and to be honest, I was so worried that I'd give up halfway through Capital I rushed through some sections I didn't yet understand as well as I should have.

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devoration1
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Jun 28 2011 23:37
yoda's walking stick wrote:
P.S. After reading through all of Capital, I still couldn't give a definition of dialectics if I tried.

Does it mean taking things in their context, as a result of complex interactions, and not viewing these things as an end-all-be all absolute? I have no idea.

The most elementary, basic, easy to understand description of dialectical materialism / dialectics of Marxism comes from this 1938 text by Stalin of all people:

Dialectical And Historical Materialism:

http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/stalin/works/1938/09.htm

Ex.

Quote:
Dialectics comes from the Greek dialego, to discourse, to debate. In ancient times dialectics was the art of arriving at the truth by disclosing the contradictions in the argument of an opponent and overcoming these contradictions. There were philosophers in ancient times who believed that the disclosure of contradictions in thought and the clash of opposite opinions was the best method of arriving at the truth. This dialectical method of thought, later extended to the phenomena of nature, developed into the dialectical method of apprehending nature, which regards the phenomena of nature as being in constant movement and undergoing constant change, and the development of nature as the result of the development of the contradictions in nature, as the result of the interaction of opposed forces in nature.

In its essence, dialectics is the direct opposite of metaphysics.

Goes on to explain the relation to Marxism etc.

Boris Badenov
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Jun 28 2011 23:42

the only thing Cohen has to be proud of is that he's not as bad as John Elster.
/FULL ACADEMIC "JOKE"

dave c
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Jun 29 2011 00:06

I read it some time ago, but I'd recommend Derek Sayer's The Violence of Abstraction, an interesting book critical of G.A. Cohen. On "dialectical materialism," Colletti did some of the best critical work: http://libcom.org/library/intro-Marx-early-writings-Colletti and his book Marxism and Hegel. I'd also recommend The Myth of Dialectics by John Rosenthal.

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Zanthorus
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Jun 29 2011 00:08
yoda's walking stick wrote:
P.S. After reading through all of Capital, I still couldn't give a definition of dialectics if I tried.

The dialectical method of presentation which Marx utilises in that work at least is simply the move from the abstract to the concrete, or to put in another way from content/essence to form/appearance (Volume I talks about value and surplus-value, Volume III talks about price and profit). There is also the idea that the self-movement of capital produces the working-class movement as it's own negation (The negation of capitalism's negation of petty artisan production) which is linked to Hegel's ideas about science as the self-movement of concepts in his Science of Logic (Also the idea of the negation of the negation which Marx says pretty explicitly).

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Jun 29 2011 00:45

oh dear, your now in the hot water of dialectics Yoda, what have you done!, I agree with Myers, I don't think Harvey is particularly in praise of Cohen. Of course your right, the definition of dialectics is not given in the text. The Stalin definition above, as I'm loathed to admit, is actually pretty succinct. I would suggest maybe getting some 'dialectics for idiots' text first and working from there. The dialectic and its connected nomenclature are very hard to understand, especially once Marx improves upon it. I personally found Fredrick Jameson's Valence of the Dialectic quite a fruitful read.

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Jun 29 2011 06:27

Yoda, I'd actually recommend reading Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History. It's the most coherent version of traditional historical materialism. As such it is useful to see how far one can get based on the orthodox interpretation of the 1859 Preface.

I heartily second dave c's recommendation of Sayer's Violence of Abstraction. The book is a rigorous polemic against the traditional understanding of "base", "superstructure", "forces of production" and "relations of production" based on Marx's economico-critical writings. It actually takes Cohen as it's most formidable opponent (a full chapter in Sayer's book is devoted just to Cohen's functionalist model of explanation).

Sayer's book is useful if you're wondering – after finishing Capital – what the hell does "historical materialism" (or the 1859 Preface) to do with the critique of political economy and if they can be reconciled at all.

Both books can be downloaded from www.library.nu, BTW.

Don't worry about "dialectics". In the video lectures, Harvey keeps going on about it, but never actually explains what he means, apart from the most general formulae (everything is "interrelated", "mutually presupposing" etc.). Many Marxists use the word rather freely as a universal explanatory device. If you're interested in a more rigorous treatment of Marx's dialectical method of presentation, the best you can do – in my view, at least – is read contemporary German marxology. (Some articles in the two collections on Marx's method edited by Fred Moseley in the 90s are quite good as well.)

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Jun 29 2011 06:33
Zanthorus wrote:
The dialectical method of presentation which Marx utilises in that work at least is simply the move from the abstract to the concrete, or to put in another way from content/essence to form/appearance (Volume I talks about value and surplus-value, Volume III talks about price and profit).

I don't think it's this simple. The thought-movement is not just from essence to appearance, but from appearance through essence (ground) to manifestation. The analysis of exchange value in Ch1 is a good example: Marx's starts out from exchange value as simply the quantitative ratio of use values (appearance), moves on to investigating value (essence) and after that, he returns to exchange value (in the part on the value-form) as a manifestation of the essence, i.e. a phenomenal form, but on a different "epistemic" level.

Same goes for circulation: at first, simple circulation as it "appears", then, the analysis of the essence (how commodities are produced), which brings new determinations into play, and then, in Vol. 2, circulation of commodities as a moment in the circulation of capital. (The unpublished 6th chapter is useful for understanding this "circular" movement.)

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Jun 29 2011 06:39
devoration1 wrote:
The most elementary, basic, easy to understand description of dialectical materialism / dialectics of Marxism comes from this 1938 text by Stalin of all people:

Is this a joke? Or do you really think that what Stalin is on about has anything to do with Marx's method?

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Zanthorus
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Jun 29 2011 12:19

jura, thanks for the clarification. I suppose I was oversimplifying just a tad. btw I am interested in reading the Sayer book (I have read a couple of chapters online on MIA) but searching the site you posted didn't get me any results.

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jura
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Jun 29 2011 15:48

Yeah, you have to register there, otherwise you won't see any results whatsoever. I just checked and the book is still there. If you have problems accessing it, let me know and I'll send it to you somehow.

BTW, Sayer also wrote a quite interesting book on Marx's Method. Along with Murray's Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge it's probably the best literature on the subject written in English.

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Zanthorus
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Jun 29 2011 16:10

Thanks! That works for me now. This site also appears to have a lot of other stuff to keep me occupied grin

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Khawaga
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Jun 29 2011 17:39
Quote:
P.S. After reading through all of Capital, I still couldn't give a definition of dialectics if I tried.

Does it mean taking things in their context, as a result of complex interactions, and not viewing these things as an end-all-be all absolute? I have no idea.

If you want to read Marx on the dialectic I suggest Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy. He never wrote a book about his method, but that text is, as far as I know, the closest you will get.

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Arbeiten
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Jun 29 2011 17:50

I know this is a little sacrilegious and cretinous of me, but from what I can gather Yoda is on the beginning of his Marx journey. I have been on the journey for nearly 10 years and I would still say I am a novice. I suggest a small book called How To Read Marx by Peter Osborne. If you have already read Capital then you should get what Osborne is about. Also Osborne is pretty hot on dialectics.....

Also, I concur with Khawaga,

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Jun 29 2011 20:26
Khawaga wrote:
If you want to read Marx on the dialectic I suggest Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy. He never wrote a book about his method, but that text is, as far as I know, the closest you will get.

Just to fill in some details, in case someone looks for the text – I think the more canonical title is "Introduction (Notebook M)"; it's usually published as the first part of Vol. 1 of Grundrisse. It's an "Introduction" to the preparatory manuscripts written in 1857-58. Marx intended to publish it as a part of the 1859 A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy; he never did that, instead he wrote the much more controversial 1859 "Preface".

In some 20th century editions of the 1859 text, the earlier "Introduction" was published as an appendix. A useful complementary text for English-speaking readers is Terrell Carver's Texts on Method, which contains the full text + Carver's commentary. (As well as the so-called Notes on Wagner + commentary.) If anyone wants it, let me know, I'll send you the PDF.

yoda's walking stick
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Jun 29 2011 22:10
Arbeiten wrote:
How To Read Marx by Peter Osborne...

looks good. when i'm in some money will order. thanks!

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Arbeiten
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Jun 29 2011 23:07

or you could...ahem....download it wink

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jonglier
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May 2 2012 09:52

Hello,

sorry to bump this old thread but I have a question/request: does anyone have a pdf of Cohen's Karl Marx's Theory of History: A Defence ? If so could you let me know and I will give you my email address?

Many thanks

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jura
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May 2 2012 12:59

Hello,

http://www65.zippyshare.com/v/82647184/file.html

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jonglier
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May 2 2012 16:41

many thanks jura, much appreciated.

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jura
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May 2 2012 18:29

Just you wait until you start reading it smile

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xslavearcx
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May 2 2012 22:23

just had a look at it. is this analytical marxism not an attempt to explain marxism from an analytical philosophy perspective? If so, the fact that this is 450 pages kinda sucks given that in analytic philosophy its usually about ten pages!!

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Railyon
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May 3 2012 14:36

I always thought Analytical Marxism was "Marxism without dialectics". Which does not make all that much sense to me...