Fetishism and Quantification – On the Problem of Measuring Relations

Frank Engster


The aim of a radical critique in the tradition of Kant, Hegel, and Marx is to find the connection between objectivity and subjectivity through their mutual social and specifically capitalist mediation. By constituting a specific capitalist objectivity alongside a specific capitalist subjectivity, this mediation not only provides the unity of social and epistemological critique, but also establishes their necessary correspondence.

However, what we can witness is that while in capitalism productivity receives an enormous increase through the quantification and valorisation of social relations, there is no correspondence between emancipatory consciousness and social progress.

What is at stake in Marx’ notion of fetishism is an epistemological critique in the tradition of Kant and Hegel that is oriented towards the natural sciences. Marx shows that social mediation, by quantifying its relations, constitutes an objectivity analogous to that of the natural sciences, which also determines the relations of nature by quantifying them. In both cases the measuring process is decisive. In the natural sciences, the standard of measure is a specific quantum, while in capitalist society, the money-commodity stands for a pure unit that is apparently valorised by the social relation of the commodities. As Marx shows, however, it is a necessary, but false appearance. This is because both commodities and money get their quantitative determination by the valorisation of labour and capital on the one hand, and by the capital-form of money on the other.

This paper seeks to point out the crucial point of fetishism, namely that money realises the same social relations that it both withdraws and provides in the form of value objectivity (“Wertgegenständlichkeit”). This curious form of objectivity will be reviewed against the notion of objectivity in the natural sciences to highlight both their common features and crucial differences.

Fetishism - marx - money - value forms