Alexander Douglas

I don’t often have the opportunity to publicly engage in general speculation about our economic future. I hope you don’t mind my using this event as such an opportunity. Everything I say below is offered as a mere speculation, whose establishment would depend on a great deal of interdisciplinary research. I believe, however, that posing questions and reflecting at this broad and speculative level is valuable once in a while, and I don’t know who should be responsible for doing it if not people in philosophy departments.

In my book on debt, I focussed on debt as an…

Justin Smith wrote a fairly critical blog post on René Girard to which I feel moved to reply. A lot of it attacks Girard’s appeal in Silicon Valley, which I don’t know much about. But the post also criticises Girard’s theory itself. The conclusion states that “René Girard, in sum, is not a particularly great theorist”.

We don’t all have to like the same things, but I think Girard deserves a better reading than Smith is willing to give him.

First, Smith gives a gratuitously unattractive representation of Girard’s method:

a theorist for him is someone who comes up with…

In the last post I questioned G.A. Cohen’s critique of the Labour Theory of Value, which comes in two parts: (1) the LTV involves a mistaken idea that labour creates value; (2) Marx’s theory of exploitation can be retained without the LTV.

These have been taken as established by some Analytic Marxists. And I was told by a very reliable source that Cohen saw this article as his best work. So I’m stepping carefully here and very willing to be corrected.

I didn’t say much about (1). Cohen’s argument is, roughly, that what determines value in Marx’s system is not…

As I was writing on Marx on value, a few analytic political philosophers recommended this essay to me: G.A. Cohen’s “The Labor Theory of Value and the Concept of Exploitation”.

I puzzled over it for a while, but I think it must be wrong, at least on one central point. The article has many strengths, but here I want to share a criticism.

The introduction is nice and short; it reads:

This essay shows that the relationship between the labor theory of value and the concept of exploitation is one of mutual irrelevance. The labor theory of value is not…

In 1932 L. Susan Stebbing gave a wonderful presentation to the Aristotelian Society, on ‘The Method of Analysis in Metaphysics’.

In it, she begins with a number of accurate historical statements, for example that J.M.E. McTaggart was ‘the greatest deductive philosopher of this century (and […] the greatest since Spinoza)’. I have removed as unnecessary the words ‘in my opinion’.

Stebbing’s purpose is to pursue a different method from ‘deductive philosophy’, namely that of analytic philosophy. A chief inspiration for this project is G.E. Moore. But Moore had presented his difference from philosophers like McTaggart as a difference of opinion…

Medieval philosophers spoke of words being ‘imposed’ for things, either directly or by way of the ideas of things. When we acquire language, we learn which words are imposed for which things. It is as if we begin by encountering the things and then wonder what they are called. Or perhaps we learn the names and then wonder what they name (Alfred North Whitehead wrote that whereas Adam saw the animals in the Garden and named them, modern children name the animals and then see them).

R.G. Collingwood lampooned this picture of language-acquisition:

…in a child’s acquisition of his mother…

In his Ethics, Spinoza often discusses how our emotions lead us to ‘strive to imagine’ various things. We strive to imagine things that affect us with joy (3p12) and things that exclude the existence of what causes us sadness (3p13). We strive to imagine someone we hate being affected with sadness and someone we love being affected with joy (3p26).

What does it mean to ‘strive to imagine’ something? To a contemporary reader, it can often seem that Spinoza is talking about ‘cognitive dissonance’: we try to imagine the world in a way that makes us feel good.

In some…

The University of the West of England has announced a plan to close its BA Philosophy programme, halting student recruitment for the 2020/21 academic year.

As far as I can tell, there isn’t any stated financial reason for closing the programme, and the strategic reasons for it are very much down to interpretation. I think this is encouraging for those who want to save the programme, since it suggests that the decision can be swayed by a demonstration of popular support.

James Ladyman has written an open letter in defence of preserving this programme, while a student-led petition to save…

V is for Value

This is the third in a series of posts where I think out loud about Marx’s theory of value, provoked by some online conversations. The first two are:

Marx on Value

Marx, Value, Surplus Value

I’m trying to understand how the way that Marx thinks about value informs his understanding of exploitation. The claim that only labour creates value seems relevant, except that the notion of creating value is difficult to understand.

As Stanley Jevons pointed out, value as classically understood is a dimensionless quantity. Commodities exchange according to their value. Thus if 6000 ounces of butter exchange for 1…

Alexander Douglas

Lecturer in Philosophy, University of St. Andrews — personal website:

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