Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject

In: Historical Materialism
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  • 1 University of Exeter

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This paper searches early Greek texts (Homer, Herakleitos, Parmenides, Plato) for the genesis of the idea of the individual mind or soul as a unitary site of consciousness, and explores the relation of this genesis to the first monetisation in history. Money simultaneously promotes the isolated autonomy of the individual and provides a model (the unification of diversity by semi-abstract substance) that shapes both the unity of individual consciousness and the presocratic conception of the cosmos as constituted by a single semi-abstract substance. The argument confirms and develops the importance accorded by Alfred Sohn-Rethel to the ‘real abstraction’ of commodity-exchange in the origins of Greek philosophy.

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  • 1.

    Geertz 1984, p. 59.

  • 2.

    Seaford 2004. The only comparable attempt is Thomson 1961. For references see the bibliography. In the footnotes only the works of Marx are cited by title.

  • 4.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978.

  • 5.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978, p. 28.

  • 6.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978, p. 36.

  • 8.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978, p. 69.

  • 9.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978, p. 77.

  • 10.

    Adorno 1973, pp. 177–81.

  • 14.

    See, for example, Bammer and Muss 1996, p. 89; Seaford 2004, pp. 129–31.

  • 16.

    Snell 1953, pp. 1–22.

  • 19.

    For example, Odyssey 21.11–41, in Homer 1963d.

  • 24.

    B2 in Diels and Kranz 1951. There is scholarly disagreement about the precise words used by Anaximenes, but the general sense is almost certainly his.

  • 27.

    Seaford 2004, p. 231.

  • 28.

    Seaford 2004, pp. 165–9. In a passage quoted at length by Marx (Marx 1976, p. 253) to illustrate that ‘the movement of capital is limitless’, Aristotle distinguishes economics from chrematistics. The former is limited to procuring true wealth, i.e. use-values, ‘for the amount of property that is needed for procuring a good life is not unlimited’. But the making of money (chrematistics) is unlimited (Politics 1.8–9, in Aristotle 1984b). This corresponds to Marx’s distinction between C-M-C and M-C-M1.

  • 32.

    Laks and Most (eds.) 1997, pp. 16–17.

  • 33.

    Seaford 2004, pp. 297–8.

  • 38.

    Obeyesekere 2002.

  • 39.

    Seaford 2004, pp. 305–15.

  • 41.

    Marx 1973, pp. 233–4.

  • 43.

    Seaford 2004, pp. 231–65.

  • 45.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978, pp. 65–70.

  • 49.

    Seaford 2004, pp. 246–9.

  • 53.

    Burkert 1969.

  • 54.

    Seaford 2004, p. 227, n. 49.

  • 57.

    Charles Taylor (Taylor 1989, p. 124) argues that for Plato this excluded the development of the modern sense of the inwardness (internalisation) of the self, in which the order involved in the paramountcy of reason is made, not found, and of which the representative figure is Descartes.

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