Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject

in Historical Materialism
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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 1984p. 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 1978p. 28.

  • 6.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978p. 36.

  • 8.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978p. 69.

  • 9.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978p. 77.

  • 10.

    Adorno 1973pp. 177–81.

  • 14.

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

  • 16.

    Snell 1953pp. 1–22.

  • 19.

    For exampleOdyssey 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 2004p. 231.

  • 28.

    Seaford 2004pp. 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.) 1997pp. 16–17.

  • 33.

    Seaford 2004pp. 297–8.

  • 38.

    Obeyesekere 2002.

  • 39.

    Seaford 2004pp. 305–15.

  • 41.

    Marx 1973pp. 233–4.

  • 43.

    Seaford 2004pp. 231–65.

  • 45.

    Sohn-Rethel 1978pp. 65–70.

  • 49.

    Seaford 2004pp. 246–9.

  • 53.

    Burkert 1969.

  • 54.

    Seaford 2004p. 227 n. 49.

  • 57.

    Charles Taylor (Taylor 1989p. 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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