Christopher J. Arthur
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I now begin the presentation proper of the systematic dialectic of capital. It presents the ideal constitution of capital. This divides into: I Capital in its Notion, II The Capital Relation, III The System of Capital.

Division I corresponds to Hegel’s logic, and its forms are pure forms, characterised by internal relations, such that as a whole it may be considered a simple immediacy compared with the subsequent division. Division II, developing ‘the capital relation’, takes forward the logic of the value form as it mediates itself in its relation to the material economic metabolism, especially in relation to wage labour. Thus these two divisions deal with capital as such, but to articulate the grounds of this notion I investigate, in Division III, ‘the system of capital’ as it informs the entire world of circulation, production, and distribution. (Although ‘use-value’ is largely absent from the first division, in the second and third divisions, use-value considerations are especially important to the systematic presentation of capital.)

As a preliminary to its detailed presentation, here is the plan of Division I, namely Capital in its Notion:

  1. exchange in its immediacy: value implicit in commodities;

  2. in its mediation: the reflection and showing-forth of value in money;

  3. in its return into itself (circulation) and its development of itself (accumulation): capital.

‘Capital in its Notion’, then, divides into three: Commodity; Money; Capital. Their presentation corresponds to the main ‘Doctrines’ of Hegel’s logic. In other words, what it is to be a commodity follows the logic of ‘Being’; the necessity of money follows the logic of ‘Essence’; the development of capital follows the logic of the ‘Concept’.

Notice that I use up the categories of the logic simply to reach the category of ‘the General Formula for Capital’. Why is this? Now the logic is only part of Hegel’s system of philosophy, and it is precisely that part in which, because thought deals only with itself, there are no obstacles to its free movement; it is in its native element. But this is certainly not true of the other domains Hegel attempts to ‘logicise’; here there is always to be reckoned with otherness, contingency, finitude, and alienation. The Absolute wins its freedom in the real world (not in self-contemplation), and it does so only through overcoming obstacles. It must engage in ‘the strenuous labour of the negative’, in which it becomes lost to itself, and becomes what it is only through emerging from this otherness having recognised itself in it.

If one maps the capital system on the whole of Hegel’s philosophy, the first move is to ask: where does value move freely in its own element? If there is such a sphere this is where the pure forms of logic are likely to find their correlates. The answer is surely the sphere of circulation; in such phenomena as the exchanges of commodities and money, value deals only with itself in its various expressions.

A crucial turning point in the presentation is when the general formula for capital includes the emergence of a monetary increment, but where circulation alone cannot explain its source. Then we leave ‘the sunlit sphere of circulation’ and enter ‘the hidden abode of production’. In other words, capital must transform materials, and for that it needs labour, which remains opposed to capital even under conditions of ‘real subsumption’.

In my opinion, then, the analogy with Hegel’s turn from the Absolute Idea, to the reality informed by it, is when the pure forms of value sink into the world of production, circulation, and distribution. In Hegel’s philosophy the pure forms of conceptuality become Absolute Idea insofar as they are understood as at the same time to shape the world; thus Hegel’s philosophy turns from Logic to the reality of Nature and History. Indeed, strictly speaking, the ‘Idea’ is not part of the Logic for it is present only when the ‘Concept’ is united with the real material of the world so as to ‘fill out’, as it were, the pure forms of thought. From the point of view of reality in its comprehensive articulation the categorial system of the Logic, despite its inner complexity, is as a whole a simple immediacy. The Idea then mediates itself through determining itself to concrete difference in Nature and back to its unity in difference with itself in Spirit.

How does this movement between these spheres inform my account? It requires the logic of the value form in its purity to be taken as an abstract immediacy negatively related to the material inscribed in the value form. The parallel to Hegel’s turn to Nature is the turn to the material process of production. Just as Hegel claims Nature has its truth outside itself (in the Logic) so here production has its truth outside itself insofar as it is formally determined by the imperative of capital accumulation.

The cases are analogous in that it is a question of seeing how the Idea (of capital in my case) informs the world. But these new forms are ‘mixed’ in that they pertain both to logic and a specific reality, which in my case is the economic metabolism. So in the later parts of my presentation there are to be found only formal analogies with Hegel’s Realphilosophie. Thus for Hegel the Concept is paradigmatically incarnate in willing individuals; here it is in the many capitals.

In the logic of the value form proper, the three determinations of value, namely commodity, money, capital, map Hegel’s ‘Doctrines’. The logic of Being is one-dimensional; its categories are merely descriptive; just so the parallel categories define what it is to be a commodity. The logic of Essence is two-dimensional in that its categories consider how things are hidden behind appearances, yet it explains how this happens; the parallel categories trace how value originally implicit in commodity relations becomes actual in money. The logic of the Concept is three-dimensional in providing categories of reflexivity culminating in the self-positing Idea; the parallel categories show how money in motion returns to itself with more money. The ‘truth’ of value is achieved only in capital accumulation.

§1 Commodity

This first section thematises what it is to be a commodity. ‘Being’ is the first domain of Hegel’s logic; and its sub-categories here follow those of it, namely ‘quality’, ‘quantity’, and ‘measure’. The commodity, as a Being-in-exchange, has (§11) the quality of being exchangeable, (§12) in a definite quantity practically required to make exchange determinate, (§13) which therewith constitutes one commodity as the measure of another, that is, gives it exchange-value. These determinations are dialectically related and are to be developed in a logical progression.

§11 Quality of Being Exchangeable

If being exchangeable is not merely the result of external determinants such as demand and supply, it will be taken here as an immanent determination of universal exchange such that something becomes present in the space of exchange. The systematic dialectic begins, then, by considering the qualitative determinations of the commodity, with this triad:

§11.1 Being Present in Exchange; §11.2 Exchangeableness; §11.3 an Exchangeable.

In more detail:

§11.1 Being present in exchange

§11.11 Nothing; §11.12 Being; §11.13 Nothingness (the presence of Nothing);

§11.2 Qualitatively determinate being; exchangeableness:

Something and other; Spurious infinity; Genuine infinity;

§11.3 Being-for-itself of an Exchangeable as one amongst others:

One; Many; (relative) Totality constituted by attraction/repulsion.

§11.1 Being Present in Exchange

Being present in exchange is, first of all, to be there. But what is there? The presenting of goods for exchange, and their removal, are presupposed to exchange, and a wealth of use-values gets transferred through exchange from one hand to another. While use-value is here presented to exchange, it is suspended for the period of exchange; this absenting of use-value while commodities cross the space of exchange constitutes them simply as ‘not-use-value’, sheer absence. But this absence ‘makes space’, so to speak, for the emergence of ‘absence’ into positive presence.

This ‘ontological inversion’ is constituted by a moment of ‘negation of negation’, but whereas the first negation (of the presence of use-value) is brought about by exchange, the second negation is effected in the space of exchange, a space predicated on absenting the ‘real being’ of the commodity as use-value. So, instead of returning to the starting point, and recollecting that the commodity is, after all, use-value, within this space there is posited a pure Being-in-exchange: we cannot say what this Being-in-exchange is, only that it is.

It makes itself present to us through displacing the real being of commodities, and positing ‘absence as presence’. This means leaving use-value aside (for now), when showing that Being-in-exchange may be made present. This is the burden of the following dialectical development. Thus the original separation between use and exchange lies at the origin of the systematic-dialectical development of exchange determinations themselves.

Remark1 Throughout the discussion I assume the dialectical principles that ‘to determine is to negate’ (e.g. a red rose is determined as not blue). And ‘to negate is to determine’, that is to say, all negation is determinate (e.g. if the rose is not red it must be because it is some other colour).

Now I consider the inner moments of ‘Being present in exchange’ namely:

§11.11 Nothing; §11.12 Being; §11.13 Nothingness (the presence of Nothing).

§11.11 Nothing

Because absence (of use-value) is here a determinate absence, having been determined as such by exchange, it has Presence; thus what is present is not a mere void but, since this absenting is effected by a real operation on the commodity, this is a determinate Nothing, hence a Being of a sort results, albeit pure empty Being.

Remark Recall that in the previous chapter I distinguish Nothing as a moment of ‘value’ from the non-being of ‘value’ in general, a sphere where considerations other than ‘value’ are in play.

§11.12 Being

Consider this move from Nothing to Being. If Being is not to be nothing, something distinct from it, how is it determined thus? Clearly there is lacking in Being anything absent from Nothing that could make a difference. As totally indeterminate it amounts to nothing.

However, there is a purely logical difference here if Being is characterised simply by the presupposition that it is ‘not-nothing’. It posits itself through its own negativity as not what is not, a double negation constituting a peculiar positive. The required difference between being and nothing is thus introduced here purely formally, sheer difference in formal status not sustained by any content of which it could be the form. (It is presented more concretely below in the dialectic of ‘something and other’.) But to affirm itself thus is to make present Nothing, that is, to posit ‘Nothingness’.

Note that I reach Nothingness after two distinct movements of negation of negation.

  1. In the preliminary dialectic I begin from Real Being (the realm of use-value) and then absent it (the first negation) but arrive through the negation of the negation at the Presence of Absence (of use-value). I then consider this result as a new immediacy, so I redefine it affirmatively (without reference to the negation of the negation of Real Being), as ‘Nothing’.

  2. As an immediacy, this Nothing has itself Being (first negation) but, if Being here is merely not-Nothing without any determinate difference from Nothing then this subsists only if its (second) negation – namely not-not-Nothing – is not the original abstraction, Nothing, but the concrete presence of Nothing, which I term Nothingness.

§11.13 Nothingness

‘Nothing’ is used here to denote sheer absence, defined abstractly as the simply negative moment of the dialectic of exchange, understood as carrying out in practice an infinitely negative judgement on the commodity presented to exchange. By contrast, ‘Nothingness’ is my term for this ‘presence of Nothing’. For what is thrown up in the space of exchange, positively, what becomes present there, is Nothingness. The ‘presence of Nothingness’ is indeed our first concrete category since Nothing and Being are mere unstable abstractions from it unless held together in it. To establish the reality of Nothingness requires a long development, in which new, more concrete, categories are developed, through the consideration, at each stage, of the insufficiency of the shape under consideration to prove that it has made itself present.

In order to establish the categorial place of ‘presence’, let us consider an interesting form in Hegel’s exposition of the dialectic of Being, namely that of ‘Dasein’, of which the literal translation is ‘being-there’. Translators differ on its rendering. Traditional is ‘determinate Being’. As a translation ‘determinate Being’ is clearly wrong. However, given that Hegel puts it as a middle term between Being and Being-for-itself it is structurally correct.

But I feel Hegel should have distinguished Dasein as ‘being-there’ from this, by having it characterise Being itself, as it embraces the dialectic of ‘Being and Nothing’; for what is becoming present is surely the Being there before us, the Dasein. Whatever view is taken of Hegel, I myself treat the middle of Being and Being-for-itself as ‘Determinate Being’, and I consider what is there is ‘presence’.2 Dasein in this sense is precisely an indeterminate Being, although, as there, as present, it has that bare determinacy, sublating sheer absence. It is distinct from properly ‘determinate Being’ because that has determinacy only in its other, I show below, so it is a moment of difference compared with the simplicity of Being-There.

If ‘Nothingness’ is to make itself present, it must be capable of determining itself to be-ing there, as a negative form of Hegel’s onto-logic, an empty presence. What is there? Nothing is there. But Nothing is there all the same, that is, as Nothingness.

‘Nothing’ is an immediacy, which as present is equally Being as an immediacy. Their unity, an absence yet present, is Nothingness. It is an indeterminate Being, as when people say that they feel a (ghostly) Presence, without being able to say what is there. This becoming present of Nothingness is to be grounded in the further dialectical development.

The derivation of these categories is shown in the columns of the following Table.

Dialectic of Being-in-Exchange

as Absence

as Presence

as Presence of Absence




Nothing-ness is what is present; if it is the presence of an absence, it is yet the becoming of this presence, hence a ‘presencing’, in the sense of presenting. Nothingness is what is to be made present, or better: what makes itself present. Without such a positing the purely formal difference of Nothing and Being would collapse.

If Being is to be determinately present, and there is no range of determinables within which to establish a contrast, it can only be characterised as pure determinateness, a ‘there-ness’, an empty presence devoid of all body. As empty presence there is nothing to it; it is a spectre. Moreover, as an empty presence it cannot be fixed, but is simply the movement of ever becoming present; for it is unable to gain the metaphysical fixity of permanent presence. Nothingness makes itself present only as a permanent becoming, a shape of negative Being that builds a universe to inhabit. The economic forms appear positive but are in effect determinations of Nothingness making itself present in their shape.

Remark This incipient ruling power is initially determined as a negative being in a very similar way to the characterisation of God as purely negative in negative theology.

The fundamental category is ‘being present in exchange’; so what is present may be termed ‘Being-in-exchange’. How is this to be further determined? If all the bodily characteristics of the commodity are absented through exchange, then it seems this leaves the ‘Being-in-exchange’ void of any determinacy whatsoever; yet, as posited, it is there.

This determinacy is achieved when it is determined in relation to its identical other. Without this dialectic of presence to another it has no ‘standing’, no ground to stand on. So its determinacy is granted simply when it is present to another. Nothingness cannot have presence purely abstractly, it must be posited, made present, which is achieved only when it is present to another such identical presence. The duplication of not-not-nothing collapses into itself unless it is refigured in the dialectic of ‘Being-for-other’ as other than its other. The not-not-nothing is unfolded into a relatedness of the said nothings.

In our case the pure form of relatedness is exchangeableness. (This grounds presence, and retroactively calms the wavering of ‘Being’ and ‘Nothing’.) In Hegel’s logic the movement of thought develops the category of ‘determinateness’. However, if it is the movement of exchange which makes Being-in-exchange present, then that Being does after all have a relevant determination, namely the bare quality of ‘exchangeableness’, which anything appearing in exchange has.

§11.2 Exchangeableness

If Being-in-exchange is not to be a function of external determinants but to be intrinsic to the commodity then it must be determined as in itself exchangeable. Nothing determinate is present in the commodity at this level of the dialectical presentation, yet there is something there, characterised by exchangeableness. (Later I distinguish from this ‘exchangeability’, which gives it a measurable sense: see §12.)

Being determinate requires the moments ‘quality’, ‘quantity’, and ‘measure’. We began with the most immediate: to be what it is requires that something has a qualitative character; without such a quality it would not exist. The operation on the commodity is fixed as a result in this determinate quality of exchangeableness. This is its determinate being, albeit ungrounded as yet in the presentation. Since the movement here is not that of logical thought but the practice of exchange, what is homologous with the logical category of determinacy is here exchangeableness, because that is the fundamental determination which is presupposed of the being that is present in exchange as it stands opposed to its use-value character.

My dialectic does not enter into the commodity to find a ground for exchangeableness; rather I go out from it to the development of the value form to money and to capital, in order to show that in its logic value is self-grounded. The real being of the commodity is emptied of its own soul and becomes the shell of the fulfilled power of Nothingness making itself present.

Having said that, the issue arises: why this needless detour through Nothingness? Is it not observable at the outset that commodities combine usefulness and exchangeableness? The point is that I show that the form of exchangeableness has no given origin in the commodity itself; hence I avoid the fruitless discussion as to whether it is because a commodity is useful, scarce, or consists of ‘embodied labour’. What has been gained through this presentation is that, in its origin, a purely social form is attributed to the commodity in and through exchange.

At this stage there is no reply to the objection that the commodity is not in itself exchangeable, because it appears in exchange solely because the exchangers decide to make an exchange. Thus to attribute exchangeableness to the commodity may be a hypostatisation. Indeed it is! That the dialectic of the value form vindicates its objectivity I shall show. I will show how this ‘spectre’ makes itself a real power in the world. Initially this world is that of exchange, and the further development of the dialectic will show how value might be grounded in exchange itself (rather than the peculiar concerns of the exchangers). Only at that point is the spectre conceivable as making itself present, rather than merely haunting a fetish form of consciousness.

I identify determinate being specifically with ‘exchangeableness’. But how can any determination attach to Nothingness? There surely has to be something to be determinate. However, this is possible if determinateness is understood as pure form; this does not attach to the commodity but inscribes the commodity within the form.

Remark It shares with Hegel’s ‘determinate being’ the purity of form in that no content is yet adduced. Because the value form in its purity is devoid of content its analysis presents the greatest difficulty for our exposition. Nonetheless the logic of form must be thoroughly articulated before the material inscribed in the form is considered.

Commodities are distinguished from being goods in general by the quality of being exchangeable. (The denotation of the category is of course historically variable. Water was once a free good; now it is an expensive commodity.) Everything exchanged shares this quality. If that which is there becomes determinate in the space of exchange, to be so determinate requires it to be Being-for-another. So we now make a transition to the category ‘something and other’ because the something defines its quality only in opposition to some other quality which determines the first in and through the limit marking them off. Everything is what it is because it is not another thing. The ‘something’ is now determined through another, such that it is other than its other. In being-for-other, being present gains qualitative determinacy

But recall the Being-in-exchange is mere Nothingness. How can Nothingness generate a negative relation to something other when there is nothing about it to negate? How can such empty presence achieve any determinacy at all? The only such negation is hence otherness as such. The exchangeableness of something is vindicated simply in its opposition to some other equally so characterised. It does exist as determinate because of the simple fact that it is determined as what it is by its relation to another in exchange. Thus for this determination to have any meaning requires a dialectic of ‘something and other’, for something gains exchangeableness only if there is some other something with which it may be exchangeable. Since, in our case the constitutive movement is not that of thought but of exchange, the relation of something and other is present in the form of the exchangeableness of one commodity with another. (Although neither commodity has as yet been determined in such a way as would refer this imputation to something in it, which would account for it, nonetheless, as pure form its claim to reality is presupposed in practice.)

What something determinate faces is but another opposed something, characterised as sheer otherness, something that exists as being-for-another not merely being-in-itself. The latter is an empty abstraction. This otherness determines something by giving it a limit, a restriction. Yet, if so, the something thus determined by another has its ‘being’ within the limit that posits it as other than the other. Something determines itself in opposition to its other; something passes into its other through this relation of opposition; hence refers to itself in its other.

How does this dialectic apply to the commodity? How does something prove that it has exchangeableness? This requires the commodity to have others against which it may exchange. It is only insofar as a commodity is translated into a second commodity that its exchangeableness is demonstrated. But that this exchangeableness has yet been retained, and not dissipated in its realisation, is shown if the second commodity in turn is exchangeable against a third commodity, and so on. But defining a commodity in relation to another seems to generate an infinite regress. If one defines itself in relation to another, and this other in turn to yet a third, there is no stopping the endless regression. Every putative commodity validates itself in still another, endlessly, generating a spurious infinity. But a genuine infinity is posited when the other commodities are grasped only as complementary forms of the first in a closed system in which all commodities refer back to each other.

In sum, in the domain of the exchange form:

  1. A commodity may be characterised as exchangeable only with reference to another distinct from it because exchange is a two-place relation.

  2. A commodity proves its exchangeableness only when passing into this other.

  3. A commodity is what it is, as exchangeable, only by reference back from the other in which it ‘sees’ itself. When the exchangeableness of a commodity manifests itself, it is translated into another commodity; therewith the truth of the commodity is determined as excluded from itself and posited as the second commodity; then, if the second commodity defines itself as the other of its other, it is brought back to the original commodity.

The commodity returns to itself having been presented in its other, but it is one and the same in both cases. Thus the commodity gains ‘being-for-self’. Every commodity is now characterised as in itself an ‘exchangeable’, and all commodities are systematically posited as exchangeables. (But, as yet, it is merely a presupposition that this genuine infinity is grounded in an intrinsic quality.)

§11.3 An Exchangeable

The commodity gains its ‘being-for-itself’ in this form, as an exchangeable. How is this category justified? When exchange ‘absents’ the use-value rooted in the material body of the commodity it does so by asserting that all commodities are identical as exchangeables, but, since this last is not a property inherent as such to commodities, rather one which is imposed on them, to hypostatise it, as if it were, is to posit some imputed universal – whether property or substance – already present within the realm of use-value; but there is no such commonality. Only the very fact of being exchanged unites the commodities generically. Since the range of exchangeables is unlimited, to characterise anything thus is not to pick out something belonging to the nature of the object but a reference to the operation on it. In fine, exchange does not flow from an inherent power of exchange in the commodities as such. Rather, the operation of gathering them into the class of exchangeables reflects itself into them.

Remark But why is it not merely a metonymic figure? Why should we go beyond the relation of exchange to the presumption that the very Being of a commodity is to be exchangeable? At this level of the dialectic this objection cannot be refuted; as always in our presentation the leap to a new category has to be retroactively justified in the sequel in which the form proves itself to be objectively active. The problem here seems especially acute because we said at the start that a commodity is not exchangeable as such but only in relation to another; nonetheless we are now saying there is something about it that is already present before it enters into such relations and proves itself in and through its participation in them. We claim the commodity doesn’t just have exchangeableness in such relations; it is an exchangeable, but this has yet to be grounded.

Moreover, the ‘being-for-self’ thus developed is problematic. It is ‘one’ which excludes other ones, the many, yet it is not distinguishable from them; in their mutual definition they are all one and the same, having no inner specificity. Their separateness is sustained therefore only by continual ‘repulsion’ of one another, a process of reciprocal ‘excluding’.

The ‘one’ determines its being through the negative relation to other such ones, the ‘many’, yet its identity with its others necessarily connects it indissolubly to its others; this relation is a force of ‘attraction’. In the same way, because there is no difference between the commodities as exchangeable with one another, and all commodities are posited on this basis simply as identical bodies, this relation implies such ‘attraction’. Thus the distinction here is wholly abstract, just numerical difference. (If two things are identical in all respects they may be said to be the same thing. However, if they are nonetheless countable as two, they are said to be ‘numerically different’.)

Thus, as indiscernibles, on either side of the relation the same ‘exchangeable’ appears twice, but in virtue of the repulsion characteristic of a polar relation they are different ‘exchangeables’. For ‘repulsion’ exists if they have numerically different bearers, in different commodities, even if they are posited as identical as such. This is at the same time a relation of ‘attraction’ between items lacking in distinction. An exchangeable commodity is valid only through another (attraction). But for them to be distinct exchangeables the requirement of numerical difference must be sustained (repulsion). However, while the exchange relation identifies the sides as substitutable, its polarity preserves the moment of repulsion at the same time. So here the dialectic of repulsion and attraction realises one commodity in another very abstractly, not another of different quality (except in use-value of course) but simply another identical to the first.

The category ‘quality of a commodity’ initially refers to the observation that everything appearing in exchange is characterisable as possessing exchangeableness. However, this is the pure category; there is also the more determinate category in which quality exists only in the contrast between one quality and another, and defines itself in opposition to another. The more determinate notion of quality is that for something to be present requires its being for another; this means that the determination of ‘quality’ requires its being limited by some other quality distinct from it. Now in our case, there is no such further determinacy to exchangeableness. The other which defines exchangeableness is simply itself, that is to say, the presence of exchangeableness requires its actual doubling such that it has its necessary referent in another, not in something qualitatively different in some respect but simply in otherness as such. A commodity is a commodity only because there are others that share the quality of exchangeableness.

The consideration there are many such exchangeables demands an investigation of quantity, as such, complementing the qualitative side. However, in our treatment, we must notice that ours is a very special case. Since there is no further determination of exchangeableness in a qualitative sense, i.e. there are no kinds of exchangeableness to be related, the only further determination is quantitative.

So it is not that commodities happen to come in quantities, it is of their very definition that they are only present as standing in quantitative relations. Here we simply note that the difference between commodities offered for exchange is not qualitative but quantitative (once all use-value considerations are set aside). The limit between them as different exchangeables is a pure notional limit as such: six apples are other than eight apples. But as commodities apples do not differ from oranges. That is merely a material difference of products or of use-value. (I underline that ‘quality’ is here strictly a category of the value form, it does not pertain to the variety of use.)

The many can be treated as ones because they are the same, indifferent to their number. Their unity is achieved as ‘totality’. The category of totality is not Hegel’s term for this synthetical moment, but it seems to be the logical unity of one and many (as in Kant). However, it should also be noted that, here, this is not a fully-fledged totality centred on itself but simply a network of presupposing elements, what Hegel in other contexts terms a ‘relative totality’. This depends on the coexistence of ‘repulsion’ and ‘attraction’ to hold the totality together.

The category of ‘totality’ will be posited more concretely with the doubling of the commodity into commodities and money; then the commodities both repel money from themselves so as to establish a universal equivalent and yet at the same time achieve an adequate expression of their unity only insofar as money is their common centre of attraction. Together, determined as ‘one One’, so to speak, by money, they constitute a totality.

The commodity is now established as ‘one’ among ‘many’. But the many, determined as a whole, raise the question: how many make it up? But it does not matter! Since they are all identical as exchangeables, their quality of exchangeableness does not change into another quality no matter how many commodities are in play in this network. This means quantity is a determination ‘external’ to quality.

§12 Quantity

The last category of Quality is that of (relative) totality, the unity of one and many in that it is the many considered as one. Reduced to immediacy this gives Quantity. If its unity takes precedence this is continuous quantity; if plurality takes precedence this is discrete quantity. In the logic of quantity we begin with ‘pure quantity’, which may be glossed as ‘infinite unity’. Then we continue with ‘quantum’, and finally a ‘ratio’ of quanta.

Remark Throughout, we shall find that the category ‘quantity’ is a central determination of value, since the latter is primarily developed in quantitative relations rather than qualitative discriminations. The prevalence of quantitative determinations arises because there are no qualitative determinations of value. (This peculiar feature of the dialectic of the value form is not shared with Hegel’s logic.)

§12.1 Infinite Unity of All Exchangeables

Immediately, the totality exists in itself as pure quantity. The quality of exchangeableness does not change into another quality no matter how many commodities are in play in this network. So there is an infinite unity of all exchangeables, for the quantity of exchangeables has no inherent limit. Every exchangeable relates to putatively infinite others. Only when it is determined to finitude does it require a limit so as to make possible determinate exchange relations.

§12.2 Number of Commodities to Be Exchanged in a Transaction

The infinite unity of all exchangeables is a pure quantity, but for exchange to occur quantity must appear in delimited form, as ‘Quantum’. The quality of exchangeableness requires quantitative determination. The good has to take on a determinate shape, and has to specify itself in discrete units, each of which announces itself as an instantiation in delimited form of the good concerned. Only thus is a commodity specifiable as an item for exchange.

§12.21 Unit

There is a certain ambiguity here because such a determination may take shape differently according to whether it is discrete, or continuous. In the case of discreteness, the basic unit of quantum is ‘one’. In order to be exchangeable a commodity must be capable of appearing as an item offered for exchange. In the case of continuousness, the unit is an arbitrary division, such as pounds of butter. However, normally this appears as an item such as a pre-weighed, pre-wrapped, pound of butter. So here ‘amount’ is taken to be a matter of ‘how many?’ rather than ‘how much?’

Moreover, every One in the totality has to be determined as an exchangeable item, because it is as an exchangeable that the commodity achieves its ‘being-for-itself’. Indeterminate bundles of stuff could exchange, but it is presupposed here that this universe of exchange is orderly.

So, the many, considered as determinate, consists of discrete ‘ones’. Every ‘one’ has to be determined as an exchangeable item if exchange is to be possible. It is not enough for the commodities to be specified as having properties that make them exchangeable in a general indeterminate sense; a determination is required that allows for discrete exchangeables to be presented for exchange. A baker has to specify such a unit as ‘a one-pound loaf’ for example. Only thus does exchange become determinate.

Remark This abstract identity of the commodity exchanging is conventionally reflected in the material concerned; thus every bag of apples offered for sale at the same price is assumed the same as all the others, but yet the buyer must beware. Identity in price does not imply a lack of difference in use-value, which may vary within the parameters specified, here ‘a bag’.

§12.22 Amount

We have now established the commodity as ‘one’ among ‘many’. But ‘many’ can be exchanged as if they are ‘one’. As pure quantities, hence in that logical sense subject to mutual attraction, two instances of a certain commodity may be merged into one bundle; hence, as an amount of that commodity. The many collapse to one because of such attraction; hence the exchangeable ‘item’ can be extended to an amount of such items, treated as effectively one item, treated as itself One in the offer of exchange. A commodity must be delimited as an exchangeable, for instance ‘a loaf’, to be an example of a commodity, yet this limit is equally sublated since any amount, for instance of ‘loaves’, may be taken as together exchangeable since, if one is, all the many identical ones taken together are too.

The commodities, then, take determinate shape as a limited quantity, here concretised as unit and amount. Assuming ‘amount’ pertains to a discrete magnitude their unity yields the category of a number of units.

§12.23 Number

‘Amount’ therefore gains further determinacy as Number. An exchangeable gains determinacy in a delimited number of items, offered as a block, so as to shift many units as one, such as three pairs of socks. So commodities must be countable items. A baker does not sell ‘bread’ but a number of loaves of such and such a weight. Because it is rare for commodities to be exchangeable one for one, allowance has to be made for the commodities related to be numerous for a number of units of one commodity to exchange against another number of units of another commodity.

The striking thing about this quantification is that, although each of two goods exchanged has its own conventional index of magnitude (weight or whatever) in terms of which haggling goes on, these commodities seem unable to refer to any common index of exchangeableness because, ex hypothesi, as very diverse goods, their index of amount differs absolutely (moreover, it cannot be a physical dimension in any case; no one would exchange two pounds of gold for two pounds of iron).

The contradiction is that the bodily properties that give all commodities their material quantity are too peculiar to them to form the basis of a common measure; yet in a bargain a pure quantitative relation is fixed in spite of such absolute difference. Incommensurable as material bodies, the commodities are bargained over in the abstract, where the haggling is in terms of pure quantitative variation. Hence the quantity exchanged is a pure number, and yields a ratio of such numbers: ‘I will give you six of these for four of those’ is the quantitative form of the offer for exchange.

§12.3 Ratio of Exchange

Brought into unity with itself in this practical way, as self-related, ‘number’ passes over into ratio. Thus in our case, the number of units of one commodity, with respect to the number of units of another commodity, is the quantitative bearing on one exchangeable of another. Related to itself in such a ratio, the being-for-itself of quantity is achieved, in that the ratio is the manner in which a quantum relates to itself having passed through the other related quantum.

Such a ratio of quanta, as the being-for-itself of quantity, implicitly reinstates quality when it is independent of the different magnitude of its terms. The units of the commodities on each side are incommensurable since they remain as yet conventionally determined by convenient divisions of their material dimensions such as yards of linen, etc. There is no meaning here to the claim that both magnitudes must be magnitudes of a shared dimension, still less of a shared substance.

Nonetheless the key point about this is that the ratio subsists in abstraction from the specific units involved. So, in this way, if a ratio of exchange exists, it will be given in terms of bodily amounts, for example yards of linen, bushels of corn, but the incommensurability of these units does not affect the presupposition there exists a quantitative relation of exchange between commodities with respect to their proportionate exchangeability (even if this is nonsense in use-value terms, e.g. one fridge exchanges against half-a-car).

The next step is to make a transition from the category of ratio to that of ‘measure’. In our case this is exchange-value.

§13 Exchange-Value

The form of exchange-value follows the logic of Specifying Measure, divided into: §13.1 Rule of Pro-rata Exchange; §13.2 Series of Measure Relations; §13.3 Infinite Unity of Measure Relations.

§13.1 Rule of Pro-rata Exchange

The transition from quantitative ratio is first to the category of ‘rule’. There is simply an abstract notion of ratio developed above. But when a ratio remains the same no matter that the sides are proportionately multiplied, we have a quantity that retains its identity, or quality, regardless of this ‘external’ variation in the quanta so related. In rule the implicitly qualitative character of measure is made explicit in that a given term keeps its relation to its other stable, in that it follows the principle of proportionality. When there is the reiterated identity of its quotient, the terms of the ratio are regulated by rule because increase (or decrease) in a given number is always matched proportionately by an increase or a decrease in the other number.

In this case, if there is a stable rate of exchange that one commodity has against another, then a rule is operating. The key point about pro-rata exchange is that the ratio abstracts from the number of specific items involved. If, in this rate of exchange, two of A exchange against three of B, and four of A against six of B, then it is clear that a rule is followed.

How is this rule both quantitative and qualitative? If the same ratio can be multiplied up endlessly, in a sense it is a more determinate version of a notion of pure quantity. But the quantitative is still ‘external’ to the quality in that the actual numbers may vary on every occasion as long as the ratio conforms to the rate of exchange. At the same time the ratio can also be given in terms of a discrete item in the series, as has to be the case when a rate of exchange is concretised in a specific bargain. The category of ‘quality’ is again found here because the unity of the two sides of the rate of exchange gives the identity of self and other characteristic of the final category of quality, namely being-for-itself. I am not speaking here of the abstract identity of a ratio with itself, but of the rule by which one commodity passes into another in accordance with it.

Considered as a result, such passing over of the one to the other gives it a measure of its exchangeability: what it ‘amounts to’, so to speak, is specified in something other than itself. (Recall that I distinguish the quantitative notion of ‘exchangeability’ from the qualitative one of ‘exchangeableness’.) As to these sides, notice that neither side is self-subsistent; each becomes determinate not in itself but only by external reference to another which determines what it amounts to, namely measures it.

The existence of pro-rata exchange is grounded if every commodity has ‘exchangeability’. This form is determined as a pure form, indifferent to its bearers, but determining the exchange relation of each commodity with others. As quantitative this is a ‘measure’. The measure of exchangeability of a commodity is defined here as its ‘exchange-value’. This exchange-value of a certain commodity is different from that established according to other rules, or in relation to other commodities. Each rule has its own quality in this sense. It follows a different ratio than others but varying within itself in endlessly multiplied quanta as we have said. Exchange-value is necessarily given in a specific commodity. However, the rate of exchange taken by a commodity differs for every commodity related to the given commodity. So a commodity has many such exchange-values, so many measures, yielding a series of specifying measures given in qualitatively different ways.

Remark Later (§23.31/3 and §23.32/1) we shall show that money is the proper value measure, and hence that it is the real measure of commodities’ ‘value’, concretising value in exchange. But I use it only at the level of Essence, because I presuppose to it the value category of ‘immanent magnitude’. Here, then, I am concerned only with ‘specifying measure’, namely the elementary form of exchange-value.

The commodities set in the ratio of exchange are therewith brought into a certain ideal ‘space’ with a certain ideal ‘metric’. Note that, thus far, there is simply a ratio of numbers, but without it being possible to say of what there is a common magnitude.

To sum: goods entering the circuits of exchange become determined as commodities; their quality as exchangeables requires a complementary quantitative dimension if bargains are to be struck; exchangeable commodities can only actualise themselves through a bargain in quantitative form. Conversely, the quantitative ratio practically uniting them in the bargain actualises their common character as exchangeables. The ratios of such quantities given in exchange is thus implicitly a measure of exchangeability, i.e. their value in exchange.

§13.2 Series of Exchange-Values

If we have a number of units of a commodity to be ‘shifted’ (to use the vernacular), and this quantity exchangeable with a number of units of another commodity, where these different units are in bodily terms incommensurable, but where, nevertheless, a relation of such quantities is established, there is a rate of exchange. If this remains the same when the numbers are raised proportionately, we have a rule of pro-rata exchange.

Now, since numerous commodities may relate in this way to one, the latter has a series of specific measures, of exchange-values, given in each other commodity in turn, which are co-existent. But there are as many such exchange-values as there are commodities capable of exchanging against a given commodity; this indefinite series of measures cannot here be measuring different qualities of the commodity because it has only one, namely exchangeableness; this itself is quantitatively determined as exchangeability. Thus if a genuine ‘measurable’ is to be posited it must exist in a form that is indifferent to the measuring rod by which it is measured, to all the specific exchange-values, which are all equivalents of one another as its measure. Yet, as such, they are in unity.

Remark Why is Specifying Measure inadequate? A has measure specified in B, which itself, as in this very relation to A, has its measure specified in A. More broadly all commodities can be set as exchange-values of each other. But, if this relative totality of measure relations seems to determine them all as reflections of each other, equally they each, and all, fail to find a stable unit of measure, still less a common unit capable of ordering them. No self-subsistent form of measure is yet gained. One trick, resorted to by orthodox economics, is to give this decentred totality order by saying we (nota bene) may select one commodity to use as a measure of all the others; this is termed a numeraire. The crucial point here is that this is an external intervention by theory. The commodities themselves have not yet formed through their own movement their proper measure. (The money commodity is not a convenient numeraire, we shall see, but a practical reality.)

§13.3 Infinite Unity of Measure Relations

If a genuine ‘measurable’ is present it must exist in a form that is indifferent to all the specific exchange-values, which are all equivalents of one another as its measure. All these specific measures being valid, they are substitutable. So we reach the notion that there is some unity to them, that, although they are all different exchange-values of a commodity, they represent the same ‘measurable’ underpinning them, because exchangeableness is a unitary determination. So either there is some external contingency (e.g. preference schedules) producing them, or, all the exchange-values measure the same thing.

The different measures present various ways in which one commodity gains measure, specified in another, and another, and another, simultaneously; all the specific exchange-values possessed by a commodity form in truth a set.

Remark In my presentation ‘the series of specific measures’ plays a role superficially similar to that of Hegel’s ‘nodal line of measures’, in generating the transition to ‘essence’, so it is worth explaining our different strategies here. Hegel develops the category of the ‘nodal line’ from his consideration of the way in which quantitative changes in a thing eventually give rise to a qualitative change. Every new quality will have its own proper measure, it is assumed; hence successive such changes generate a nodal line of measures (whereas I just have brute qualitative difference of measures which in no sense therefore transit from one to another in an orderly way but simply lie beside each other). Hegel argues that these changing qualities have the same permanent substratum, indifferent to them, and to their measures. In this ‘indifference’ to measure Hegel sees ‘the becoming of essence’. In our case I replace Hegel’s diachronic line of measures with a synchronic series of measures in order to get to my own final term of the unity of measure relations.

When a commodity is considered quantitatively, namely in terms of its ‘exchangeability’, it has many measures, as its exchange-value is specifiable in terms of many qualitatively different other commodities. Moreover, the sheer externality of the measure means there is no preferred measure-giver; so all available commodities stand as measures; but this of itself means ‘exchange-value’ is not yet a totalising category, there is only sheer variance.

The presupposition that there underlies the series of exchange-values a totalising form is grounded if there is some common element in this series of measures, appearing phenomenally in various ‘external’ exchange-values: exchange-value as such, indifferent to all the specific ‘measuring rods’, so to speak.

Here at its introduction the category of ‘measure’ does not refer to the act of measuring something that already has a given magnitude which simply requires determining. (For such an act of measuring see below the section on ‘substance’: §23.3.) So exchange-value as a relation is constitutive of the bringing of the commodity to the point at which it ‘gains measure’. But this measure relation is not as yet reflected into itself such that the commodity is to be grasped as ‘having a measure’ prior to its expression in exchange-value.

Remark We shall show that, as reflected into itself at the ontological level of Essence, the measurability of the commodity is finally secured only when it is related to a measure that is value in autonomous form, namely money. But such considerations belong to the categories of ‘Essence’, where I argue money is the real measure.

Here – at ‘Being’ – exchange-values, considered as a set of specifying measures, require grounding in the presence of something indifferent to any and all of them, namely value as essence. But such a form is yet to be posited. The various exchange-values are parametric equivalents, even though they are given in terms of incommensurable units, such as yards of linen, litres of wine, etc., because there is a quantitative identity of them in their unity even though there is yet no determinate algorithm generating them. They may be presupposed to represent a common metric although this is not yet posited.

However, in truth, as ideal in form, value has no determinate metric, but exists as pure quantity, which is measured virtually in terms of itself, not some external ruler. (But its monetary medium, say gold, we shall see, does provide a model of measure in a single metric, here ounces of gold.)

Although the unity of measures leads us to go beyond it to ‘value as such’, this presupposition is not secured, because the term ‘exchange-value’ may be simply a mental generalisation over what are disparate relations of commodities in practice. By abstraction from the set of specific measures I reach the notion of value as such. But the argument seems as yet my abstraction; I say that if there were a genuine unity to exchange-value then this points to immanent exchangeability as the essence of the commodity. But such a presupposed essence has to be shown as posited in the movement of commodities themselves.

Remark Jumping immediately to the labour theory of value does not provide any measure because labours are heterogeneous and not immediately commensurable; certainly concrete labour has many dimensions: time, intensity, etc., while ‘abstract labour’ returns us to the same problem of finding the adequate measure. Moreover, nothing has yet been said about the determination of that magnitude by a theory of value. I am still here developing the categorial prolegomena to such a theory.

If the quantitative determination established in an exchange is not to be purely conjunctural, determined extrinsically in the contingencies motivating the agents bearing the goods to market (preference schedules, for example), it requires a dimension intrinsic to a commodity yet distinguishable from its appearance in commodities as immediately different. This dimension is such that, for each commodity, it obviously varies in proportion to its own index of amount; but it is itself, insofar as it has nothing to do with the variety of use-values, a unique quantitative determination, that is, value-in-itself.

If the unity of measure relations amounts to a simple indifferentness, this remains still at the level of Being because the measures here are merely external magnitudes. At best the unity is established only as a negative totality defined in opposition to the variety of measures. If this totalisation is effected simply by our thought, through an external reflection, we do not yet reach a new level of reality, namely essence. For this negative totality must result from the movement of the form itself, that the negative itself sets itself against the immediacies characteristic of being, and therewith posits itself as of the essence. Just as at the start exchangeableness makes itself present as pure form, so next we show that value makes itself the essence of commodities. Yet, although in this way value grounds exchange-values, it yet requires a grounding movement itself, through which it makes itself present. This is the burden of the next chapter.


The chapter confines itself to the ‘Being’ of the commodity, tracing its ‘surface’ forms, up to that of ‘exchange-value’, defined here as the measure of commodity exchangeability. To be a commodity requires the forms of quality, quantity, and measure, the latter being specified in the relation of one commodity to another. The starting point of the presentation of capital ‘in its notion’ is that the commodity as ‘Being-in-exchange’ is defined in opposition to all the bodily characteristics that support its potential uses; these are comprehensively ‘absented’. But this negativity carried through in practice leaves an empty form. Nonetheless it gains a certain determinacy in its quality of ‘exchangeableness’, albeit there is nothing behind it. This quality is posited concretely in the relation of one commodity to another, in which it gains presence as the ‘other of its other’. While there is nothing to distinguish them, the polarity of the relation secures their numerical difference. So the commodity, as ‘an exchangeable’, is now posited as one among many. The many taken in unity gives rise to the form of quantity, concretised as the number of items to be exchanged. If there is present a stable pro-rata ratio of exchange this is posited by the exchangeability of the commodity, which is given through this ratio a specific measure, or exchange-value. However, a commodity has as many putative exchange-values as there are other commodities. Thus there is present a series of co-existent such measures. This leads us to consider whether we may presuppose that, underlying them, is an immanent magnitude common to all of them. Such a distinction is one characteristic of the categories of ‘Essence’. So, for the positing of such a presupposition the presentation must turn to that (in the next chapter).


Note that the format rule followed here is that a Remark is one paragraph, and only one paragraph, long, before the main text resumes.


‘Presence’ is the first translation of Dasein in Cassell’s Dictionary.

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