The Epistemological Propositions of Capital

After this long digression, let us take stock of our analysis. We are looking for Marx's peculiar object.

In a first moment, we examined the texts in which Marx tells us what his real discovery is, and we isolated the concepts of value and surplus-value as the bearers of this discovery. But we were forced to note that these concepts were precisely the site of the misunderstanding not only of the economists, but also of a number of Marxists about the peculiar object of the Marxist theory of political economy.

Then, in a second moment, we examined Marx through his own judgement of his predecessors, the founders of classical Political Economy, in the hope of grasping Marx himself in the judgement he pronounced on his own scientific prehistory. Here too we stumbled on disconcerting or inadequate definitions. We found that Marx did not really succeed in thinking the concept of the difference between himself and Classical Economics, and that by thinking this difference in terms of a continuity of content, he either projected us into a merely formal distinction, the dialectic, or into the foundation of this Hegelian dialectic, a certain ideological conception of history. We have assessed the theoretical and practical consequences of these ambiguities; we have seen that the ambiguity in the texts did not affect only the definition of the specific object of Capital, but also and at the same time the definition of Marx's theoretical practice, the relationship between his theory and earlier theories -- in short, the theory of science and the theory of the history of science. In this we were no longer dealing only with the theory of political economy and history, or historical materialism, but also with the theory of science and of the history of science, or dialectical materialism. And we can see, if only in relief, that there is an essential relationship between what Marx produced in the theory of history and what he produced in philosophy. We can see it in at least the following sign: the mere existence of an emptiness in the system of concepts of historical materialism is enough to establish in it immediately the fullness of a philosophical ideology, the empiricist ideology. We can only recognize this emptiness by emptying it of the obviousnesses of the ideological philosophy of

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which it is full. We can only rigorously define Marx's few and as yet inadequate scientific concepts on the absolute condition that we recognize the ideological nature of the philosophical concepts which have usurped their places: in short, on the absolute condition that at the same time we begin to define the concepts of Marxist philosophy adapted to knowing and recognizing as ideological the philosophical concepts which mask the weaknesses of the scientific concepts from us. In this we are absolutely committed to a theoretical destiny: we cannot read Marx's scientific discourse without at the same time writing at his dictation the text of another discourse, inseparable from the first one but distinct from it: the discourse of Marx's philosophy.

Let us now begin the third moment of this examination. Capital, Engels's prefaces, certain letters and the Notes on Wagner in fact contain what we need to start us off in a productive direction. What until now we have had to recognize negatively in Marx we shall from here on discover positively.

First we shall look at a few comments on terminology. We know that Marx criticized Smith and Ricardo for constantly confusing surplus-value with its forms of existence: profit, rent and interest. The great Economists' analyses are therefore lacking a word. When Marx reads them he re-establishes this missing word in their texts: surplus-value. This act of re-establishing an absent word may seem insignificant, but it has considerable theoretical consequences: in fact, this word is not a word, but a concept, and a theoretical concept, which is here the representative of a new conceptual system, the correlative of the appearance of a new object. Every word is of course a concept, but every concept is not a theoretical concept, and every theoretical concept is not the representative of a new object. If the word surplus-value has such importance it is because it directly affects the structure of the object whose future is at stake in the simple act of naming. It does not matter that all these consequences were nowhere near Marx's mind or pen when he criticized Smith and Ricardo for having skipped a word. Marx should not be expected to say everything at once any more than anybody else: what is important is that elsewhere he should say what he does not say when he says it here. Now Marx undoubtedly regarded as a theoretical requirement of the first order the need to constitute an adequate scientific terminology, i.e., a consistent system of defined terms in which not only would the words already used be concepts but in which the new words would also be concepts and moreover ones which define a new object. Criticizing Wagner's confusion of use-value and value, Marx wrote:

The only stable thing in this German imbecility is that the words value or worth (Wert, Würde ) are applied literally directly to the useful things themselves, which existed for a long time, even as 'products of labour' before they became commodities. But this has as much to do with the scientifc definition of commodity 'value' as the fact that the

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word salt was first applied to cooking salt by the ancient world, and that therefore since Pliny sugar, etc., have figured as kinds of salt, etc. (Werke, Bd. XIX, p. 372)

-- and slightly earlier:

This is reminiscent of the old chemists before chemistry was a science: because edible butter, which in ordinary life was just called butter (according to nordic custom), has a soft consistency, they called chlorides butter of zinc, butter of antimony, etc., or butyrous humours (ibid., p. 371).

This text is especially clear, for it distinguishes between the 'literal ' meaning of a word and its scientific and conceptual meaning, on the basis, of a theoretical revolution in the object of a science (chemistry). If Marx proposes a new object, he must necessarily provide a corresponding new conceptual terminology.[33]

Engels put this particularly well in a passage from his Preface to the English edition of Capital (1886 -- T.I, pp. 35-6; Vol. I, pp. 4-6):

There is, however, one difficulty we could not spare the reader: the use of certain terms in a sense different from what they have, not only in common life, but in ordinary Political Economy. But this was unavoidable. Every new aspect of a science involves a revolution in the technical terms (Fachausdrücken ) of that science. This is best shown by chemistry, where the whole of the terminology (Terminologie ) is radically changed about once in twenty years, and where you will hardly find a single organic compound that has not gone through a whole series of different names. Political Economy has generally been content to take, just as they were, the terms of commercial and industrial life, and to operate with them, entirely failing to see that by so doing, it confined itself within the narrow circle of ideas expressed by those terms. Thus, though perfectly aware that both profits and rent are but sub-divisions, fragments of that unpaid part of the product which the labourer has to supply to his employer (its first appropriator, though not its ultimate exclusive owner), yet even classical Political Economy never went beyond the received notions (übliche Begriffe) of profits and rents, never examined this unpaid part of the product (called by Marx surplus-product) in its integrity as a whole, and therefore never arrived at a clear comprehension, either of its origin and nature, or of the laws that regulate the subsequent distribution of its value. Similarly all industry, not agricultural or handicraft, is indiscriminately comprised in the term of manufacture, and thereby the distinction is obliterated

32 Cf. Capital, T.I, p. 17; Vol. I, p. 8n, where Marx speaks of the 'new terminology created' by him.

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between two great and essentially different periods of economic history: the period of manufacture proper, based on the division of manual labour, and the period of modern industry based on machinery. It is, however, self-evident that a theory which views modern capitalist production as a mere passing stage in the economic history of mankind, must make use of terms different from those habitual to writers who look upon that form of production as imperishable and final.[33]

We should retain the following basic theses from this text:

(1) every revolution (new aspect of a science) in its object necessarily leads to a revolution in its terminology;

(2) every terminology is linked to a definite circle of ideas, and we can translate this by saying: every terminology is a function of the theoretical system that provides its bases, every terminology brings with it a determinate and limited theoretical system;

(3) classical political economy was confined within a circle defined by the identity of its system of ideas and its terminology;

(4) in revolutionizing classical economic theory, Marx necessarily had to revolutionize its terminology;

(5) the sensitive point in this revolution concerns precisely surplus-value. Their failure to think it in a word which was the concept of its object kept the classical economists in the dark, imprisoning them in words which were merely the ideological or empirical concepts of economic practice;

(6) in the last resort, Engels reveals the difference between the terminology of classical political economy and Marx's terminology as a difference in their conceptions of the object: the classics regarding it as imperishable, Marx as passing. We know what to think of this idea.

Despite this last weakness, this text is quite remarkable, since it reveals an intimate relationship between the object of a determinate scientific discipline on the one hand, and the system of its terminology and that of its ideas, on the other. It therefore reveals an intimate relationship between the object, the terminology and the corresponding conceptual system -- a relationship which, once the object has been modified (once its 'new aspects' have been grasped), must necessarily induce a correlative modification in the system of ideas and conceptual terminology.

Or else, to put the same thing in a different language, Engels asserts the existence of a necessary functional connexion between the nature of the object, the nature of the theoretical problematic and the nature of the conceptual terminology.
33 This is a very remarkable, even exemplary text. It gives us a quite different idea of Engels's exceptional epistemological sensitivity from that which we have gathered from him in other circumstances. There will be other occasions on which we shall be able to signal Engels's theoretical genius, for he is far from being the second-rate commentator usually contrasted unfavourably with Marx.

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This connexion is even clearer in another astonishing text of Engels's, the Preface to Volume Two of Capital, a text which can be related directly to the analysis Marx gives of the blindness of the classical economists with regard to the wages problem (T.II, pp. 206ff; Vol. I, pp. 535ff).

In this text, Engels poses the question sharply:

Capitalistic man has been producing surplus-value for several hundred years and has gradually arrived at the point of pondering over its origin. The view first propounded grew directly out of commercial practice: surplus-value arises out of an addition to the value of the product. This idea was current among the mercantilists. But James Steuart already realized that in that case one would necessarily lose what the other would gain. Nevertheless, this view persisted for a long time afterwards, especially among the Socialists. But it was thrust out of classical science by Adam Smith (Vol. II, p. 8).

Engels then shows that Smith and Ricardo knew the origin of capitalist surplus-value. If they 'did not separate surplus-value as such, considered as a special category, from the special forms which it assumes in profit and ground rent ' (ibid., p. 10), they did 'produce ' the basic principle of the Marxist theory in Capital : surplus-value.

Whence the epistemologically pertinent question:

But what is there new in Marx's utterances on surplus-value ? How is it that Marx's theory of surplus-value struck home like a thunderbolt out of a clear sky, and that in all civilized countries, while the theories of all his socialist predecessors, Rodbertus included, vanished without having produced any effect? (ibid., p. 14).

Engels's recognition of the enormous effect of the emergence of a new theory -- the 'thunderbolt out of a clear sky' -- is of interest to us as a brutal index of Marx's novelty. This is no longer a matter of the ambiguous differences (fixist eternalism, history in movement) in which Marx tries to express his relationship with the economists. Engels does not hesitate: he directly poses the true problem of Marx's epistemological rupture with classical economics; he poses it at the most pertinent, and also the most paradoxical point: surplus-value. Surplus-value is precisely not new, since it has already been 'produced' by classical economics! Engels therefore poses the question of Marx's novelty with respect to a reality which is not new in Marx! The extraordinary intelligence of this question reveals Engels's genius: he braves the question in its last hiding-place, without retreating an inch; he confronts it just where it was presented in the crushing form of its answer ; where rather the answer's crushing claims to obviousness enabled it to prevent the slightest question being posed! He is so bold as to pose the question of the novelty of the non-novelty of a reality which appears in two different discourses, i.e., the question of the theoretical modality of this 'reality' inscribed

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in two theoretical discourses. A simple reading of his answer reveals that he has not posed it out of malice or at random, but within the field of a theory of science based on a theory of the history of the sciences. In fact, it is a comparison with the history of chemistry which enables him to formulate his question and define its answers.

What is there new in Marx's utterances on surplus value ? . . .
The history of chemistry offers an illustration which explains this.
We know that late in the past century the phlogistic theory still prevailed. It assumed that combustion consisted essentially in this: that a certain hypothetical substance, an absolute combustible named phlogiston, separated from the burning body. This theory sufficed to explain most of the chemical phenomena then known, although it had to be considerably strained in some cases. But in 1774 Priestley produced a certain kind of air 'which he found to be so pure, or so free from phlogiston, that common air seemed adulterated in comparison with it.' He called it 'dephlogisticated air'. Shortly after him Scheele obtained the same kind of air in Sweden and demonstrated its existence in the atmosphere. He also found that this kind of air disappeared whenever some body was burned in it or in ordinary air and therefore he called it 'fire-air'.
Priestley and Scheele had produced oxygen without knowing what they had laid their hands on. They 'remained prisoners of the ' phlogistic 'categories as they came down to them '. The element which was destined to upset all phlogistic views (die ganze phlogistische Anschauung umstossen ) and to revolutionize chemistry remained barren in their hands. But Priestley had immediately communicated his discovery to Lavoisier in Paris, and Lavoisier, by means of this new fact (Tatsache ), analysed the entire phlogistic chemistry and came to the conclusion that this new kind of air was a new chemical element, and that combustion was not a case of the mysterious phlogiston departing from the burning body, but of this new element combining with that body. Thus he was the first to place all chem- istry, which in its phlogistic form had stood on its head, squarely on its feet (stellte so die ganze Chemie, die in ihrer phlogistischen Form auf dem Kopf gestanden , erst auf die Füsse ). And although he did not produce oxygen simultaneously and independently of the other two, as he claimed later on, he nevertheless is the real discoverer (der eigentliche Entdecker ) of oxygen vis-à-vis the others who had only produced it (dargestellt ) without knowing what (was ) they had produced.
Marx stands in the same relation to his predecessors in the theory of surplus-value as Lavoisier stood to Priestley and Scheele. The existence (die Existenz ) of that part of the value of products which we now call (nennen ) surplus-value had been ascertained long before Marx. It had also been stated with more or less precision what it consisted of, namely, of the product of the labour for which its appropriator had not given any equiv-

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alent. But one did not get any further (Weiter aber kam man nicht ). Some -- the classical bourgeois economists -- investigated at most the proportion in which the product of labour was divided between the labourer and the owner of the means of production. Others -- the Socialists -- found that the division was unjust and looked for utopian means for abolishing this injustice. They all remained prisoners (befangen ) of the economic categories as they had come down to them (wie sie sie vorgefunden hatten ).
Now Marx appeared upon the scene. And he took a view directly opposite to that of all his predecessors (in direktem Gegensatz zu allen seinen Vorgänger ). What they had regarded as a solution (Lösung ), he considered but a problem (Problem ). He saw that he had to deal neither with dephlogisticated air nor with fire-air, but with oxygen -- that here it was not simply a matter of stating an economic fact (Tatsache ) or of pointing out the conflict between this fact and eternal justice and true morality, but of explaining a fact (Tatsache) which was destined to revolutionize (umwälzen ) all economics, and which offered to him who knew how to use it the key to an understanding of all (gesamten ) capitalist production. With this fact as his starting-point he examined (untersuchte ) all the economic categories which he found at hand, just as Lavoisier proceeding from oxygen had examined the categories of phlogistic chemistry which he found at hand. In order to understand what surplus-value was, Marx had to find out what value was. He had to criticize above all the Ricardian theory of value. Hence he analysed labour's value-producing property and was the first to ascertain what labour it was that produced value, and why and how it did so. He found that value was nothing but congealed labour of this kind, and this is a point which Rodbertus never grasped to his dying day. Marx then investigated the relation of commodities to money and demonstrated how and why, thanks to the property of value immanent in commodities, commodities and commodity-exchange must engender the opposition of commodity and money. His theory of money, founded on this basis, is the first exhaustive (erschöpfende ) one and has been tacitly accepted everywhere. He analysed the transformation of money into capital and demonstrated that this transformation is based on the purchase and sale of labour-power. By substituting (an die Stelk . . . setzen ) labour-power, the value-producing property, for labour, he solved with one stroke (löste er mit einem Schlag ) one of the difficulties which brought about the downfall of the Ricardian school, viz., the impossibility of harmonizing the mutual exchange of capital and labour with the Ricardian law that value is determined by labour. By establishing the distinction of capital into constant and variable he was enabled to represent (darzustellen ) the real course of the process of the formation of surplus-value in its minutest details and thus to explain (erklären ) it, a feat which none of his predecessors had accomplished. Consequently he established a

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distinction inside of capital itself with which neither Rodbertus nor the bourgeois economists knew in the least what to do, but which furnishes the key for the solution of the most complicated economic problems, as is strikingly proved again by Book II and will be proved still more by Book III. He analysed surplus-value further and found its two forms, absolute and relative surplus-value. And he showed that they had played a different, and each time a decisive role, in the historical development of capitalist production. On the basis of this surplus-value he developed the first rational theory of wages we have, and for the first time drew up an outline of the history of capitalist accumulation and an exposition of its historical tendency.
And Rodbertus? After he has read all that, he . . . finds that he himself has said much more briefly and clearly what surplus-value evolves from, and finally declares that all this does indeed apply to 'the present form of capital', that is to say to capital as it exists historically, but not to the 'concept of capital', namely the utopian idea which Herr Rodbertus has of capital. Just like old Priestley, who swore by phlogiston to the end of his days and refused to have anything to do with oxygen. The only thing is that Priestley had actually produced oxygen first, while Rodbertus had merely rediscovered a commonplace in his surplus-value, or rather his 'rent', and that Marx, unlike Lavoisier, disdained to claim that he was the first to discover the fact (Tatsache ) of the existence of surplus-value (Vol. II, pp. 14-16).

Let us summarize the theses of this remarkable text.

(1) Priestley and Scheele, in the period dominated by phlogistic theory, 'produced' (stellt dar ) a strange gas, which the former called dephlogisticated air -- and the latter: fire-air. In fact, it was the gas that would later be called oxygen. But, notes Engels, they 'had produced it without having the least idea of what they had produced ', i.e., without its concept. That is why 'the element which was determined to upset all phlogistic views and to revolutionize chemistry remained barren in their hands '. Why this barrenness and blindness? Because they 'remained prisoners of the "phlogistic " categories as they came down to them '. Because, instead of seeing in oxygen a problem, they merely saw 'a solution '.

(2) Lavoisier did just the opposite: 'Lavoisier, by means of this new fact, analysed the entire phlogistic chemistry '; 'thus he was the first to place all chemistry, which in its phlogistic form had stood on its head, squarely on its feet '. Where the others saw a solution he saw a problem. That is why, if it can be said that the first two 'produced ' oxygen, it was Lavoisier alone who discovered it, by giving it its concept.

Exactly the same is true of Marx, in his relation with Smith and Ricardo, as of Lavoisier, in his relation with Priestley and Scheele: he truly discovered the surplus-value his predecessors had merely produced.

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This mere comparison and the terms in which it is expressed, open up vistas deep into Marx's work and into Engels's epistemological insight. In order to understand Marx we must treat him as one scientist among others and apply to his scientific work the same epistemological and historical concepts we would apply to others: in this case to Lavoisier. Marx thus appears as the founder of a science, comparable with Galileo or Lavoisier. What is more, in order to understand the relation between Marx's work and that of his predecessors, in order to understand the nature of the break or mutation which distinguishes him from them, we must examine the work of other founders who also had to break with their predecessors. An understanding of Marx, of the mechanism of his discovery and of the nature of the epistemological break which inaugurated his scientific foundation, leads us therefore to the concepts of a general theory of the history of the sciences, a theory capable of thinking the essence of these theoretical events. It is one thing whether this general theory as yet only exists as a project or whether it has already partially materialized; it is another that it is absolutely indispensable to a study of Marx. The path Engels designates for us in what he has done is a path we must take at all costs: it is none other than the path of the philosophy founded by Marx in the act of founding the science of history.

Engels's text goes further. He gives us in so many words the first theoretical outline of the concept of the break: the mutation by which a new science is established in a new problematic, separated from the old ideological problematic. But the most astonishing point is this: Engels thinks this theory of the mutation of the problematic, i.e., of the break, in the terms of the 'inversion ' which 'places squarely on its feet ' a discipline which 'had stood on its head '. Here we have a familiar idea! the very terms in which Marx, in the Afterword to the Second Edition of Capital, defined the treatment he applied to the Hegelian dialectic in order to change it from the idealist state to the materialist state. Here we find the very terms in which Marx defined the relationship between himself and Hegel in a phrase that still weighs very heavily on Marxism. But what a difference! Instead of Marx's enigmatic phrase, Engels gives us a luminous one -- and in Engels's phrase, at last, for the first and perhaps the only time in all the classical texts, we find a clear explanation of Marx's phrase. 'To put chemistry which had stood on its head squarely on its feet ', means, without any possible ambiguity, in Engels's text: to change the theoretical base, to change the theoretical problematic of chemistry, replacing the old problematic with a new one. This is the meaning of the famous 'inversion': in this image, which is no more than an image and has neither the meaning nor the rigour of a concept, Marx was simply trying to indicate for his part the existence of the mutation of the problematic which inaugurates every scientific foundation.

(3) In fact, Engels describes to us one of the formal conditions for an event in theoretical history: precisely a theoretical revolution. We have seen

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that it is essential to construct the concepts of theoretical fact and theoretical event, of the theoretical revolution which intervenes in the history of knowledge, in order to be able to constitute the history of knowledge -- just as it is essential to construct and articulate the concepts of historical fact and historical event, of revolution, etc., in order to be able to think political or economic history. With Marx we are at the site of a historical break of the first importance, not only in the history of the science of history, but also in the history of philosophy, to be precise, in the history of the Theoretical ; this break (which enables us to resolve a periodization problem in the history of science) coincides with a theoretical event, the revolution in the science of history and in philosophy constituted by the problematic introduced by Marx. It does not matter that this event went wholly or partly unperceived, that time is needed before this theoretical revolution can make all its effects felt, that it has suffered an incredible repression in the visible history of ideas; the event took place, the break took place, and the history which was born with it is grubbing its subterranean way beneath official history: 'well grubbed, old mole!' One day the official history of ideas will fall behind it, and when it realizes this it will be too late for it unless it is prepared to recognize this event and draw the consequences.

Indeed Engels shows us the other side of this revolution: the insistence with which those who have lived through it deny it : 'the old Priestley . . . swore by phlogiston to the end of his days and refused to have anything to do with oxygen'. Like Smith and Ricardo, he held to the system of existing ideas, refusing to question the theoretical problematic from which the new discovery had just broken.[34] I am justified in putting forward this term 'theoretical problematic ' because in doing so I am giving a name (which is a concept) to what Engels says to us: Engels in fact sums up the critical interrogation of the old theory and the constitution of the new one, in the act of posing as a problem what had hitherto been given as a solution. This is no more than Marx's own conception, in the famous chapter on wages (T.II, pp. 206ff.; Vol. I, pp. 535ff.). Examining what it was that allowed classical political economy to define wages by the value of the necessary subsistence goods, Marx wrote: 'It thus unwittingly changed terrain by substituting for the value of labour, up to this point the apparent object of its investigations, the value of labour-power . . . The result the analysis led to therefore was not a resolution of the problem as it emerged at the beginning, but a complete change in the terms of that problem. ' Here, too, we can see the content of the 'inversion': this 'change of terrain' identical with the 'change of terms', and therefore the change in the theoretical basis from which the questions are formulated and the problems posed. Here, too, we
34 The history of science is no different from social history here: there are those in both 'who have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing', especially when they have seen the show from the front row.

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can see that there is no difference between 'inverting', 'placing what had stood on its head squarely on its feet', 'changing terrain' and 'changing the terms of the problem': each of these transformations is the same, affecting the peculiar structure of the basic theory in respect to which every problem is posed in the terms and in the field of the new theory. To change theoretical base is therefore to change theoretical problematic, if it is true that the theory of a science at a given moment in its history is no more than the theoretical matrix of the type of questions the science poses its object -- if it is true that with a new basic theory a new organic way of putting questions to the object comes into the world, a new way of posing questions and in consequence of producing new answers. Speaking of the question that Smith and Ricardo put to wages, Engels writes: 'The question (die Frage) is indeed insoluble (unlöslich), if put in this form. It has been correctly (richtig) formulated by Marx and thereby been answered ' (Vol. II, p. 17). This correct formulation of the problem is not a chance effect: on the contrary, it is the effect of a new theory, which is the system for posing problems in a correct form -- the effect of a new problematic. Hence every theory is in its essence a problematic, i.e., the theoretico-systematic matrix for posing every problem concerning the object of the theory.

(4) But Engels's text contains something further. It contains the idea that the reality, the new fact (Tatsache ), in this case the existence of surplus-value, cannot be reduced to 'simply a matter of stating an economic fact ': that, on the contrary, it is a fact destined to revolutionize all economics, and provide an understanding of 'all capitalist production '. Marx's discovery is not therefore a subjective problem (merely a way of interrogating a given reality, or a changed 'view-point', both purely subjective): in correlation with the transformation of the theoretical matrix for posing every problem concerning the object, it concerns the reality of the object : its objective definition. To cast doubt on the definition of the object is to pose the question of a differential definition of the novelty of the object aimed at by the new theoretical problematic. In the history of the revolutions of a science, every upheaval in the theoretical practice is correlated with a transformation in the definition of the object, and therefore with a difference which can be assigned to the object of the theory itself.

In drawing this conclusion, have I gone beyond Engels? Yes and no. No, for Engels does not only take into account the existence of a system of phlogistic ideas, which, before Lavoisier, determined the way every problem was posed, and therefore the meaning of every corresponding solution; as he takes into account the existence of a system of ideas in Ricardo when he notes the ultimate necessity which forced Marx to 'criticize above an the Ricardian theory of value ' (Vol. II, p. 15). Perhaps yes, if it is true that however acute he may have been in his analysis of this theoretical event and scientific revolution, Engels was not so bold when it came to thinking this revolution's effects on the object of the theory. We have already noted the

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ambiguities of his conception on this point of which he was very much aware: they can all be reduced to the empiricist confusion between the object of knowledge and the real object. Engels clearly fears that by risking himself beyond the (imaginary) security of the empiricist thesis he may lose the guarantees he obtains by proclaiming a real identity between the object of knowledge and the real object. He has difficulty in imagining what he is saying, although he does say it and the history of science reveals it to him at every step: the fact that the process of production of knowledge necessarily proceeds by the constant transformation of its (conceptual) object; that it is precisely the effect of this transformation, which is the same thing as the history of knowledge, that it produces a new knowledge (a new object of knowledge) which still concerns the real object, knowledge of which is deepened precisely by this reorganization of the object of knowledge. As Marx says profoundly, the real object, of which knowledge is to be acquired or deepened, remains what it is, after as before the process of knowledge which involves it (cf. the 1857 Introduction ); if, therefore, it is the absolute reference point for the process of knowledge which is concerned with it -- the deepening of the knowledge of this real object is achieved by a labour of theoretical transformation which necessarily affects the object of knowledge, since it is only applied to the latter. Lenin understood this essential condition of scientific practice perfectly -- it is one of the major themes of Materialism and Empirico-Criticism : the theme of the incessant deepening of the knowledge of a real object by incessantly reorganizing the object of knowledge. This transformation of the object of knowledge may take various forms: it may be continuous and impalpable -- or, on the contrary, discontinuous and spectacular. When a well-established science is developing smoothly, the transformation of the object (of knowledge) takes on a continuous, progressive form: the transformation of the object makes 'new aspects' visible in the object, aspects which were not at all visible before; the object is then like a geographical map of a region which is still little known but in process of exploration: the blanks in the interior are being filled in with new details and corrections, but without modifying the already recognized and accepted general outlines of the region. For example, this is how we have been able since Marx to pursue the systematic investigation of the object Marx defined: we shall certainly add new details, 'see' what we could not see before -- but inside an object whose structure will be confirmed rather than revolutionized by our results. The reverse is the case in the critical periods in the development of a science when real mutations take place in the theoretical problematic: the object of the theory then suffers a corresponding mutation, which now does not only affect 'aspects' of the object, details of its structure, but this structure itself. What is then made visible is a new structure of the object, often so different from the old that it is legitimate to speak of a new object : the history of mathematics from the beginning of the nineteenth century until today, or the history of modern physics, are

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rich in mutations of this kind. A fortiori, the same is true when a new science is born -- when it detaches itself from the field of the ideology from which it breaks at its birth: this theoretical 'uncoupling' always and inevitably induces a revolutionary change in the theoretical problematic, and just as radical a modification of the object of theory. In this case, it is strictly correct to speak of a revolution, of a qualitative leap, of a modification affecting the very structure of the object.[35] The new object may well still retain some link with the old ideological object, elements may be found in it which belong to the old object, too: but the meaning of these elements changes with the new structure, which precisely confers on them their meaning. These apparent similarities in isolated elements may mislead a superficial glance unaware of the function of the structure in the constitution of the meaning of the elements of an object, just as certain technical similarities in isolated elements may deceive those interpreters who rank structures as different as contemporary capitalism and socialism within the same category ('industrial societies'). In fact, this theoretical revolution which is visible in the break which separates a new science from the ideology which gave it birth, rever- berates profoundly in the object of the theory, which is at the same moment itself the site of a revolution -- and becomes peculiarly a new object. This mutation in the object, like the mutation in the corresponding problematic, may become the object of a rigorous epistemological study. And as a single movement constitutes both the new problematic and the new object, the study of this double mutation is in fact only a single study, belonging to the discipline which reflects on the history of the forms of knowledge and on the mechanism of their production: philosophy.

With this we reach the threshold of our question: what is the peculiar object of the economic theory founded by Marx in Capital, what is the object of Capital ? What is the specific difference between Marx's object and that of his predecessors?
35 A good example: Freud's 'object' is a radically new object with respect to the 'object' of the psychological or philosophical ideologies of his predecessors. Freud's object is the unconscious, which has nothing to do with the objects of all the varieties of modern psychology, although the latter can be multiplied at will! It is even possible to see the number one task of every new discipline as that of thinking the specific difference of the new object which it discovers, distinguishing it rigorously from the old object and constructing the peculiar concepts required to think it. It is in this basic theoretical work that a science wins its effective right to autonomy in open combat.

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