The Value Abstraction and the Dialectic of Social Development

Science and Society 56 (3):261 - 290 (1992)
The idea that human history evinces a pattern of development rooted in the propensity of human beings toward technical forms of rationality is fundamental to Marx's materialist conception of history. Yet the "dialectic of forces and relations of production" as traditionally conceived in historical-materialist discourse has found only weak expressions in social formations dominated by precapitalist modes of production. The hypothesis is advanced that the role of simple commodity production and exchange in such formations may be decisive to the emergence of cognitive faculties capable of giving a systematic impulse to the development of science and technology, and therefore to a precapitalist forces-relations dialectic. This suggests a new way of appreciating Marx's "ranking" of the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and capitalist modes of production as "progressive epochs" in the development of human society, while illuminating the socio-historical provenance (and sources of variability) of the categories of human thought.
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