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Real Abstraction: The Conference--Day 2 Roberto Finelli, Richard Seaford, Jason Moore

Updated: Nov 9, 2021

Saturday, August 7

11am EST: Roberto Finelli

1:30pm EST: Richard Seaford

4pm EST: Jason Moore

Webinar Link to all the sessions:


Link to Blog post for:

Day4: Monday, August 9: Roundtable/questions for presenters



Roberto Finelli:

The Abstraction of Capital Versus the Abstraction of Money: The Hypothesis of a Debate Between K. Marx and A. Sohn-Rethel

The theory of real abstraction conceived by Alfred Sohn Rethel must be radically criticized. It expresses a vulgarly reductionist conception of the relation of the superstructure to the structure, according to which, for example, the Platonic theory of ideas would be a mere reflection of the function of money as a measure of exchange value in ancient Greece. The theory of money as "a priori in cash" must be criticized on the basis of Marx's indications that an economic determination, such as exchange value, finds its truest realization only in modern capitalist society (i.e. the "exchange value" as a consequent expression of "surplus value" and accumulation of capital). But it must also be criticized for a profound misunderstanding of the history of Athens and Greece, as well as of the history of ancient philosophy. All the great attention that Plato devoted to the world of techniques is in fact based, certainly not on exchange value, but on the value of use and the resulting division of labor. Plato's theory of ideas / techniques must be explained with the development of craftsmanship in an agricultural society and with the criticism of the monism of the "Being" of Eleatic philosophy. In this sense, Moshe Postone's critique of Sohn Rethel as the author of a radical historical anachronism must be confirmed, even if developing and deepening it.


Richard Seaford:

Real Abstraction and Early Greek Philosophy

I begin by describing various weaknesses and problems in Sohn-Rethel's account of real abstraction. But most of what I will say will be, in sharp contrast to the paper by Robert Finelli, a vindication and extension of Sohn-Rethel's focus on coined money as the crucial factor in the genesis of Greek philosophy. I will do so by adducing material - historical, numismatic and philosophical - that Sohn-Rethel did not mention. This will include a new suggestion about the historical emergence of the concept of the mere image (copy) that is fundamental to Platonic metaphysics

This paper will build on published work on the relationship between Greek philosophy and ideas and issues of monetization and measurement that can be explored through the lens of real abstraction. Richard Seaford is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Greek at the University of Exeter. His publications include Money and the Early Greek Mind (Cambridge 2004) and The Origins of Philosophy in Ancient Greece and Ancient India (Cambridge 2020), and “Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject”, in Historical Materialism 20.1 (2012) 1–25.

Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject (PDF for Download)

Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject p343-369
Download PDF • 184KB

Jason W Moore

The Modern Dangerous Words: Man, Nature, and the Worldwide Class Struggle

In this talk, Jason W. Moore argues that Man and Nature – operationalized through successive Christianizing, Civilizing, and Developmentalist Projects – are ruling abstractions constitutive of the capitalist world-ecology. In this light, Man and Nature are not only fundamental epistemological categories, but also instruments of bourgeois hegemony on a world-scale. (Hence, successive world hegemonies shape and are shaped by successive Civilizing Projects, with distinctive renderings of Man and Nature.) In this light, civilizational fetishism – embodying an ethos of planetary management – appears as the logical and historical precondition for commodity fetishism, not least through the Naturalization of imperialism, racism, and sexism, beginning in the long sixteenth century. Giving special attention to the post-1968 New Environmental Imaginary, Moore shows how the ruling abstraction Nature has been pivotal to the success of neoliberal rule and the climate crisis.

Many of his essays can be found on his website.


About the Panelists:

Roberto Finelli (born in Rome in 1945) was professor of History of Philosophy at the University of Roma Tre. From the beginning of his research in the field of Marxism he dedicated his studies to an interpretation of Marx's work based not on the category of "contradiction" but on that of "abstraction". His basic thesis is in fact that Capital will represent the highest achievement of social science in the contemporary world as long as abstract wealth and its augmentation hegemonize and tendentially totalize the reality of the life of today. To say this means to highlight in Marx's texts a depth / surface dialectic that cannot be understood with a theory of the opposition / contradiction between opposite polarities; that is, between opposing classes. His critical reading of Marxian anthropology contained in the Economic-Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844 and of the historical materialism theorized in The German Ideology was published in English in the book of 2016, A Failed Parricide: Hegel and the Young Marx (Brill). But see also “The Limits and Uncertainties of Historical Materialism: an Appraisal based on the Text of Grundrisse”, in Re-reading Marx: New Perspectives after the Critical Edition (ed. Bellofiore and Fineschi).


Richard Seaford is Emeritus Professor of Ancient Greek at the University of Exeter. His publications include Money and the Early Greek Mind (Cambridge 2004) and The Origins of Philosophy in Ancient Greece and Ancient India (Cambridge 2020), and “Monetisation and the Genesis of the Western Subject”, in Historical Materialism 20.1 (2012) 1–25.


Jason W. Moore is an environmental historian and historical geographer at Binghamton University, where he is professor of sociology. He is author or editor, most recently, of Capitalism in the Web of Life (Verso, 2015), Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, History, and the Crisis of Capitalism (PM Press, 2016), and, with Raj Patel, A History of the World in Seven Cheap Things (University of California Press, 2017). He can be reached at:


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Sepideh Majidi (Foreign Objekt)

Conrad Hamilton (Kapital Komrades)

Paul Reynolds (Historical Materialism)


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