Most people think that abstraction begins INSIDE of people’s heads after they’ve sorted through sense data. But following the Russian Marxist Vygotsky, Alfred Sohn-Rethel argues that abstraction is social BEFORE it becomes psychological. There are very interesting relationships between the use and exchange of coined money and the increase in abstract thinking in philosophy in the ancient world. So too, the production of abstract labor and the fetishization of commodities affected scientific epistemology in early modern Europe.
Books like The Atom and the Individual show the relationship between mechanistic science and the rise of individualism. Sohn-Rethal argues that socialists must come to terms with the alienation potential of abstraction if we are to heal the relationship between intellectual and manual labor.