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A Chapter in the Philosophy of Value

A Chapter in the Philosophy of Value
Georg Simmel
American Journal of Sociology, vol. 5, 1900
The fact of economic exchange confers upon the value of
things something super-individual. It detaches them from
dissolution in the mere subjectivity of the agents, and causes
them to determine each other reciprocally, since each exerts its
economic function in the other. The practically effective value
is conferred upon the object, not merely by its own desirability,
but by the desirability of another object. Not merely the
relationship to the receptive subjects characterizes this value,
but also the fact that it arrives at this relationship only at
the price of a sacrifice; while from the opposite point of view
this sacrifice appears as a good to be enjoyed, and the object in
question, on the contrary, as a sacrifice. Hence the objects
acquire a reciprocity of counterweight, which makes value appear
in a quite special manner as an objective quality indwelling in
themselves. While the object itself is the thing in controversy
-- which means that the sacrifice which it represents is being
determined -- its significance for both contracting parties
appears much more as something outside of these latter and
self-existent than if the individual thought of it only in its
relation to himself. We shall see later how also isolated
industry, by placing the workman over against the demands of
nature, imposes upon him the like necessity of sacrifice for
gaining of the object, so that in this case also the like
relationship, with the one exception that only a single party has
been changed, may endow the object with the same independent
qualities, yet with their significance dependent upon its own
objective conditions. Desire and the feeling of the agent stand,
to be sure, as the motor energy behind all this, but from this in
and of itself this value form could not proceed. It rather comes
only from the reciprocal counterbalancing of the objects.
To be sure, in order that equivalence and exchange of values
may emerge, some material to which value can attach must be at
the basis. For industry as such the fact that these materials are
equivalent to each other and exchangeable is the turning-point.
It guides the stream of appraisal through the form of exchange,
at the same time creating a middle realm between desires, in
which all human movement has its source, and the satisfaction of
enjoyment in which it culminates. The specific character of
economic activity as a special form of commerce exists, if we may
venture the paradox, not so much in the fact that it exchanges
values as that it exchanges values. To be sure, the significance
which things gain in and with exchange rests never isolated by
the side of their subjective-immediate significance, that is, the
one originally decisive of the relationship. It is rather the
case that the two belong together, as form and content connote
each other. But the Objective procedure makes an abstraction, so
to speak, from the fact that values constitute its material, and
derives its peculiar character from the equality of the same --
somewhat as geometry finds its tasks only in connection with the
magnitude -- relations of things, without bringing into its
consideration the substances in connection with which alone these
relationships actually have existence. That thus not only
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