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Marx, Justice, and The Dialectic Method PHILIP J. KAIN AN INTERESTINGCONTROVERSY has recently been provoked by Allen Wood. He argues that capitalism, for Marx, "cannot be faulted as far as justice is concerned." For Marx, the concept of justice belonging to any society is rooted in, grows out of, and expresses that particular society's mode of production. Justice is not a standard by which human reason in the abstract measures actions or institutions--there is no eternal, unchanging norm of justice. Each social epoch gives rise to its own standard; each generally lives up to it; and each must be measured by this standard alone. Thus, in Wood's view, capitalism is perfectly just for Marx.' Nor does Wood think that the capitalist's appropriation of surplus value is taken to be unjust by Marx. In capitalist society, the worker is generally paid the full value of his or her labor power. The value of labor power is determined, like the value of any other commodity, by the amount of labor time required for its production, here, what it takes to keep the laborer alive and working. The exchange between capitalist and worker is assumed to be an exchange of equivalents and, as Wood says, is, in Marx's opinion, "no injustice at all" to the worker. It is true that the laborer is not paid the value of the product which is produced--a value which would be. higher than the value of the worker's labor power. The difference between these two sums is appropriated by the capitalist and is the source of surplus value. But in capitalist society, according to Wood, the worker is not due this extra sum. The capitalist purchases labor power from the worker, not finished products . The exchange between worker and capitalist is thus an exchange of t A. W. Wood, "The Marxian Critique of Justice" (hereafter "Critique")in Marx, Justice, and Histo~: A "Philosophyand Public Affairs" Reader (hereafter MJH), ed. M. Cohen, T. Nagel, and T. Scanlon(Princeton: PrincetonUniversityPress,198o), 3, 13, t5-16- A. W.Wood,"Marx on Right and Justice: A Replyto Husami"(hereafter "Reply")in MJH, Io7--109. [523] 524 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY ~4:4 OCTOBER 1986 equivalents, and according to Wood it is a just transaction, both for capitalism and for Marx." It follows from all of this, for Wood, that one cannot condemn a society as unjust by using the standards of a later or different society. Thus, in Wood's opinion, slavery, for Marx, must be accepted as perfectly just in the context of ancient society despite the fact that it would be unjust in a capitalist or socialist society. So also, capitalism must be accepted asjust despite the fact that socialist society would have a very different standard of justice. Socialist society would not be able to condemn capitalism as unjust because its standards would not be rationally applicable to capitalism,s There are no transcuhural or transhistorical norms of justice. Wood's views have been rejected by other writers, among them, Husami. The latter cites many passages where Marx, if he does not actually say that capitalism is unjust, certainly employs the sort of language typically used in moral condemnation. Husami also claims that Wood overlooks a crucial matter. Husami agrees that the moral standards of any epoch are, as Wood holds, determined by the given mode of production, hut they are also, and Wood does not see this, determined by class structure, i.e., by the conditions, consciousness, and interests of particular classes. Thus, while capitalism will be just for the capitalist class by capitalist standards, it will be unjust for the proletariat by proletarian standards? It is also the case, for Husami, that from the proletarian perspective the capitalist's appropriation of surplus value is unjust. Moreover, Husami finds no evidence to suggest that it is illegitimate, in Marx's view, to judge an earlier or different society by an independent moral standard. In fact, he thinks that we can find Marx doing so) The disagreement between Wood and Husami, on the surface at least, appears direct, straightforward, and clear cut. It seems that we must simply decide...


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