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Anti-dialectics

Post by HomelessArtist on Fri Jan 24, 2014 3:38 am

So I found this website... http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/
What do you guys think about all of this?

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Narodny Komissar on Fri Jan 24, 2014 8:23 am

Bullshit.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rev Scare on Sat Jan 25, 2014 12:00 am

I do not know what to make of it yet. My intuition issues the succinct conclusion of the comrade above.

However, it is evident that the administrator, Rosa Lichtenstein, invested a significant amount of time into developing her thoughts on the matter. She claims to possess a graduate level education in philosophy, and if true, her knowledge should carry some substance, so it is difficult to properly assess the soundness of her argument against dialectal materialism. She also claims to identify as a Marxist, Leninist, and Trotskyist ("providing Hegel's influence has been fully excised") while essentially abandoning the history of Marxism hitherto (since the "non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet").

She asserts that she "fully accepts" historical materialism while shunning the alleged dogma that is dialectical materialism, presumably because her interpretation of Marx's dialectics "excises" Hegel and rejects Engels. I find this problematic on its face, of course, as there seems to be a general consensus amongst Marx scholars (as well as the history of scientific socialism, with a few noteworthy exceptions—e.g., Louis Althusser, the analytical Marxists) regarding Hegel's profound influence upon Marx. Indeed, Marx himself acknowledged, albeit rarely made explicit, the contribution of Hegel's philosophy to his own mode of analysis (of Marxism as a transformed Hegelianism), as the following snippet attests:

"Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?"
Afterword to the second German Edition of Capital vol. I.

Marx is here commenting on an excerpt from a writer who was describing Marx's method, but Marx asks the rhetorical question intended to establish the connection between his own dialectic, rooted in materialism, with that of Hegel. In the same work, he goes on to extol the "mighty thinker":

"The mystifying side of Hegelian dialectic I criticised nearly thirty years ago, at a time when it was still the fashion. But just as I was working at the first volume of “Das Kapital,” it was the good pleasure of the peevish, arrogant, mediocre Epigonoi who now talk large in cultured Germany, to treat Hegel in same way as the brave Moses Mendelssohn in Lessing’s time treated Spinoza, i.e., as a “dead dog.” I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the modes of expression peculiar to him. The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell."

This quote affirms the famous inversion of Hegel's dialectic, wherein it is "turned right side up again." Engels would echo Marx in expressing that the materialist conception of history originated when the Hegelian dialectic was "placed upon its head; or rather, turned off its head, on which it was standing, and placed upon its feet (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, 2 vols. (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), vol. II, p. 387.)" Indeed, in a lesser known passage, Engels explicitly asserted the relationship between Hegel and Marxism:

"Abstract and idealist though it was in form, yet the development of his thoughts always proceeded parallel with the development of world history and the latter is really only meant to be a test of the former. If, thereby, the real relation was inverted and stood on its head, nevertheless the real content entered everywhere into the philosophy; all the more so since Hegel—in contrast to his disciples—did not parade ignorance, but was one of the finest intellects of all time. . . . This epoch-making conception of history was the direct theoretical premise for the new materialist outlook. . . ."
1859 review of Marx's A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy. Emphasis added.

Simply put, the impact of Hegel upon Marxism is obvious and alluded to in many of Marx's works. (For a solid account of the origins and development of Marx's thought, I recommend Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx by Robert C. Tucker.)

Doubtlessly, Lichtenstein would rebuff such arguments against her position, which are likely common responses, by continuing to play philosophical parlor games. In fact, she probably belongs to the camp of poor souls who seek to separate the views of Engels from those of Marx, on the assumption that the former "perverted" Marxism. Engels' effort to systematize and expand the scope of their methodology is likely dismissed as transforming Marxism into a dogmatic metaphysics. I balk at such attempts to distance Marx from Engels, as in addition to doing a gross injustice to Engels, it is quite impossible to disentangle the views of one from the other. They were lifelong friends and collaborators, and their thoughts literally matured in unison through, no pun intended, shared dialogue. The intimate nature of their mutual intellectual development is recorded in the vast archive of their private correspondence. Aside from their common work, Engels produced important personal contributions, most of which were published in Marx's lifetime, and had Marx objected to his friend's treatment of scientific socialism in Anti-Dühring, he would surely have expressed it (instead, he lauded the book). Their work constitutes an amalgam from which Engels is inalienable.

At present, I have neither the time nor desire to seriously interrogate the views of her group, since it would require perusing the long-winded content on their drab website as well as a detailed study of abstruse philosophy. Perhaps in due time I will undertake a thorough examination of obscure philosophical concerns in order to assail her anti-dialectic bunker. I do not find this dispute to be of great import in the end, as I would rather try to change the world than interpret it.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by HomelessArtist on Mon Jan 27, 2014 11:54 pm

Rev Scare wrote:I do not find this dispute to be of great import in the end, as I would rather try to change the world than interpret it.

The site does accuse dialectics of being a bourgois ideology where the bourgois seats over the worker's party expecting dialectics to do everything while the party is disconnected from the working class. That part really captured my attention but I'm indifferent to all else.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Celtiberian on Wed Jan 29, 2014 12:10 am

I'm familiar with Rosa Lichenstein's crusade against dialectical materialism and consider it an interesting, albeit inconsequential, philosophical exercise.

The prime reason she cites for engaging in this enterprise is that political parties which claim fidelity to Marxism have failed to substantively organize the proletariat in recent years due, in her opinion, to the pernicious effects of dialectical reasoning. (I, of course, consider such a view baseless, and instead fault the incorporation of fringe identity politics into radical Left organizations, as well as the lack of a compelling theory of nationality, for Marxism's myriad failures in the 21st century.) Lichenstein further argues that the dialectical method is entirely absent from Marx's own analysis, properly understood. However, as Rev Scare demonstrated, this is a fallacious assessment. Indeed, Michael Lebowitz's Following Marx: Method, Critique, and Crisis marshals ample evidence proving the centrality of dialectics to Marx's thought, thereby rendering Lichenstein's contention to the contrary blatantly preposterous.

Having said that, I am sympathetic to the view that what's crucial to Marxism is the validity of its unique contributions to sociological and economic thought (e.g., historical materialism, the theory of capitalist exploitation, and the law of value), as opposed to the specific method Marx and Engels utilized to arrive at their conclusions.

My own view of dialectical materialism is rather nuanced. First of all, I believe that J. B. S. Haldane conclusively proved what Friedrich Engels suspected, and what Richard Levins, Steven Rose, and Richard Lewontin later confirmed: that biology could be understood dialectically—or, alternatively, that there is a dialectic in nature. Secondly, in terms of sociological analysis, I believe the most defensible dialectical approach is one whereby the method is applied as a heuristic, i.e., as a manner of investigating social oppositions which are "both necessary for, and yet destructive of, particular processes or entities" [Robert Heilbroner, Marxism: For and Against (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), p. 39]. Neither Rosa Lichenstein, nor Karl Popper, nor any other critic of dialectical Marxism that I'm aware of has been capable of successfully refuting dialectical biology, nor have they provided reasonable objections to the aforementioned dialectical method of social science.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 2:52 pm

Rev Scare, thank you for those comments, however, in the Postface to the second edition of Das Kapital, Marx added the only summary of 'the dialectic method' he published and endorsed in his entire life. Here it is:

"After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method, the writer goes on:

'The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it. Marx treats the social movement as a process of natural history, governed by laws not only independent of human will, consciousness and intelligence, but rather, on the contrary, determining that will, consciousness and intelligence. ... If in the history of civilisation the conscious element plays a part so subordinate, then it is self-evident that a critical inquiry whose subject-matter is civilisation, can, less than anything else, have for its basis any form of, or any result of, consciousness. That is to say, that not the idea, but the material phenomenon alone can serve as its starting-point. Such an inquiry will confine itself to the confrontation and the comparison of a fact, not with ideas, but with another fact. For this inquiry, the one thing of moment is, that both facts be investigated as accurately as possible, and that they actually form, each with respect to the other, different momenta of an evolution; but most important of all is the rigid analysis of the series of successions, of the sequences and concatenations in which the different stages of such an evolution present themselves. But it will be said, the general laws of economic life are one and the same, no matter whether they are applied to the present or the past. This Marx directly denies. According to him, such abstract laws do not exist. On the contrary, in his opinion every historical period has laws of its own.... As soon as society has outlived a given period of development, and is passing over from one given stage to another, it begins to be subject also to other laws. In a word, economic life offers us a phenomenon analogous to the history of evolution in other branches of biology. The old economists misunderstood the nature of economic laws when they likened them to the laws of physics and chemistry. A more thorough analysis of phenomena shows that social organisms differ among themselves as fundamentally as plants or animals. Nay, one and the same phenomenon falls under quite different laws in consequence of the different structure of those organisms as a whole, of the variations of their individual organs, of the different conditions in which those organs function, &c. Marx, e.g., denies that the law of population is the same at all times and in all places. He asserts, on the contrary, that every stage of development has its own law of population. ... With the varying degree of development of productive power, social conditions and the laws governing them vary too. Whilst Marx sets himself the task of following and explaining from this point of view the economic system established by the sway of capital, he is only formulating, in a strictly scientific manner, the aim that every accurate investigation into economic life must have. The scientific value of such an inquiry lies in the disclosing of the special laws that regulate the origin, existence, development, death of a given social organism and its replacement by another and higher one. And it is this value that, in point of fact, Marx's book has.'

"Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?"

I can't post a link to this for another week!

In the above passage, not one single Hegelian concept is to be found -- no "contradictions", no change of "quantity into quality", no "negation of the negation", no "unity and identity of opposites", no "interconnected Totality", no "universal change" --, and yet Marx still calls this the "dialectic method", and says of it that it is "my method".

So, Marx's "method" has had Hegel completely excised --, except for the odd phrase or two, "here and there", with which he merely "coquetted", as he tells us a few paragraphs later.

But, what of the other things you say? Well, you quote a few passages from that same Postface/Afterword:

Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?"

The question is, what did Marx mean by 'the dialectic method'? Well we needn't speculate; the long quotation above tells us: Marx's method is a Hegel-free zone.

In fact, Marx's 'dialectic method' more closely resembles that of Aristotle, Kant and the 'Scottish Historical School' (of Ferguson, Millar, Robertson, Smith, Hume and Steuart), the later of whom had a profound influence on both Kant and Hegel.

You continue:

Marx is here commenting on an excerpt from a writer who was describing Marx's method, but Marx asks the rhetorical question intended to establish the connection between his own dialectic, rooted in materialism, with that of Hegel. In the same work, he goes on to extol the "mighty thinker"

In fact, in Marx's own summary (or rather the summary written by a reviewer which he endorsed) not one atom of Hegel is to be found, but he still calls it 'my method' and 'the dialectic method'. So, the very best Marx could do with Hegel's jargon was to 'coquette' with it; hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

But what of this passage?

"I criticised the mystificatory side of the Hegelian dialectic nearly thirty years ago, at a time when is was still the fashion. But just when I was working on the first volume of Capital, the ill-humoured, arrogant and mediocre epigones who now talk large in educated German circles began to take pleasure in treating Hegel in the same way as the good Moses Mendelssohn treated Spinoza in Lessing's time, namely as a 'dead dog'. I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him."

Notice, Marx put his praise for Hegel in the past tense. Moreover, one can call another a 'mighty thinker' but disagree with everything, or nearly everything they had to say. For example, I think Plato is a 'mighty thinker' but I disagree with 99.9% of what he said.

You now quote this passage:

The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner. With him it is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell."

1) This 'mystification' isn't, of course, what prevents Hegel being 'the first'. What does prevent him is that he wasn't the first, as Marx well knew. This 'method'/theory is to be found in Plotinus, Proclus, John Scotus Eriugena, and Nicholas Cusanus, to name but a few, many of whom Hegel himself praised for their work in this mystificatory area.

2) To put Hegel 'back of his feet' is, therefore, to see how empty his head really is, and we can say this with some confidence since the summary of 'the dialectic method' Marx endorsed contains no trace of Hegel whatsoever.

3) Hence, the 'rational kernel' is the method Hegel appropriated from Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish School mentioned above, which Hegel then mystified. In other words, we can go back these earlier theorists and leave Hegel out altogether -- indeed, as Marx indicated.

You then continue:

This quote affirms the famous inversion of Hegel's dialectic, wherein it is "turned right side up again." Engels would echo Marx in expressing that the materialist conception of history originated when the Hegelian dialectic was "placed upon its head; or rather, turned off its head, on which it was standing, and placed upon its feet (Ludwig Feuerbach and the End of Classical German Philosophy, in Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, 2 vols. (Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1962), vol. II, p. 387.)" Indeed, in a lesser known passage, Engels explicitly asserted the relationship between Hegel and Marxism:

Sure, Engels was a born again mystic, but that has nothing to do with Marx, as that long quotation above shows.

You then descend into making personal comments about me and my work:

Doubtlessly, Lichtenstein would rebuff such arguments against her position, which are likely common responses, by continuing to play philosophical parlour games. In fact, she probably belongs to the camp of poor souls who seek to separate the views of Engels from those of Marx, on the assumption that the former "perverted" Marxism. Engels' effort to systematize and expand the scope of their methodology is likely dismissed as transforming Marxism into a dogmatic metaphysics. I balk at such attempts to distance Marx from Engels, as in addition to doing a gross injustice to Engels, it is quite impossible to disentangle the views of one from the other. They were lifelong friends and collaborators, and their thoughts literally matured in unison through, no pun intended, shared dialogue. The intimate nature of their mutual intellectual development is recorded in the vast archive of their private correspondence. Aside from their common work, Engels produced important personal contributions, most of which were published in Marx's lifetime, and had Marx objected to his friend's treatment of scientific socialism in Anti-Dühring, he would surely have expressed it (instead, he lauded the book). Their work constitutes an amalgam from which Engels is inalienable.

1) Marx, not me, Marx distanced himself from the mystical interpretation of his work (subsequently promoted by Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, and countless others) -- again, see the long quotation above.

Recall, this is the only summary of 'the dialectic method' Marx published and endorsed in his entire life.

2) Now, Marx's imputed endorsement of Anti-Dühring is somewhat dubious, too. In that book, for example, there are several egregious passages concerning the nature of mathematics, and its alleged dialectical implications. These sections reveal the depth of Engels's mathematical ignorance, and what a poor mathematician he was. By way of contrast, Marx was an excellent mathematician. If he endorsed Anti-Dühring (but we have no evidence that he did) then he either turned a blind eye to these passages, or he disagreed with them and kept quiet. If so, the same must be true of the sub-logical passages one finds in that execrable book, where Engels also revealed what a low-grade philosopher he was.

Again, we can say this with some confidence because of the long quotation above.

3) Sure, there is an extensive correspondence between these two, but no unpublished source (and the vast majority of the letters fans-of-the-dialectic quote pre-date the Postface posted above), no unpublished source can take precedence over published material when it comes to interpreting an author's opinions. This isn't to argue that Marx's unpublished work is of no interest or use, just that published work takes precedence every time.

At present, I have neither the time nor desire to seriously interrogate the views of her group, since it would require perusing the long-winded content on their drab website as well as a detailed study of abstruse philosophy. Perhaps in due time I will undertake a thorough examination of obscure philosophical concerns in order to assail her anti-dialectic bunker. I do not find this dispute to be of great import in the end, as I would rather try to change the world than interpret it.

1) There is no group, and if there ever were to be one, I'd resign from it forthwith.

2) There is no 'abstruse/obscure philosophy' in my work (unlike Hegel's!); in fact, my work is an extended excursion into the more radical realms of anti-philosophy.

3) Of course, no one has to read my Essays, but, as I am sure you appreciate, only a fool would pass comment on something they hadn't read.

4) If I am right, then the mystical ideas we have imported from Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up') have played their own not insignificant role in the long-term failure of 'Dialectical Marxism'. Of course, I could be wrong about this, but if I am right then any attempt you make to 'change the world' will be doomed to fail -- or, far more likely, make things much worse.

Hence, this debate is of crucial importance.


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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 3:19 pm

Celtiberian:

The prime reason she cites for engaging in this enterprise is that political parties which claim fidelity to Marxism have failed to substantively organize the proletariat in recent years due, in her opinion, to the pernicious effects of dialectical reasoning. (I, of course, consider such a view baseless, and instead fault the incorporation of fringe identity politics into radical Left organizations, as well as the lack of a compelling theory of nationality, for Marxism's myriad failures in the 21st century.) Lichenstein further argues that the dialectical method is entirely absent from Marx's own analysis, properly understood. However, as Rev Scare demonstrated, this is a fallacious assessment. Indeed, Michael Lebowitz's Following Marx: Method, Critique, and Crisis marshals ample evidence proving the centrality of dialectics to Marx's thought, thereby rendering Lichenstein's contention to the contrary blatantly preposterous.

1) Where have I argued this: "to substantively organize the proletariat in recent years due, in her opinion, to the pernicious effects of dialectical reasoning"?

The answer is 'nowhere', that's where.

2) What I have argued is a) Dialectical Materialism [DM] makes not one ounce of sense, and should be rejected for that reason alone, and b) Since DM is a confused theory, at best, no wonder it has presided over 140+ years of the almost total failure of Dialectical Marxism.

So, if you find the idea you incorrectly attribute to me 'baseless', then that is more a reflection on you than it is on me.

3) See my reply to 'rev scare' for my answer to your second point.

You next say the following:

First of all, I believe that J. B. S. Haldane conclusively proved what Friedrich Engels suspected, and what Richard Levins, Steven Rose, and Richard Lewontin later confirmed: that biology could be understood dialectically—or, alternatively, that there is a dialectic in nature. Secondly, in terms of sociological analysis, I believe the most defensible dialectical approach is one whereby the method is applied as a heuristic, i.e., as a manner of investigating social oppositions which are "both necessary for, and yet destructive of, particular processes or entities" [Robert Heilbroner, Marxism: For and Against (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1980), p. 39]. Neither Rosa Lichenstein, nor Karl Popper, nor any other critic of dialectical Marxism that I'm aware of has been capable of successfully refuting dialectical biology, nor have they provided reasonable objections to the aforementioned dialectical method of social science.

1) In fact, you can make the Bible 'consistent' with biology if you are prepared to twist both beyond the knotted pretzel stage, so it is no surprise to find dialectical biologists doing the same with this mystical theory [i.e., DM].

2) I have devoted several passages in my essays to showing how and why Levins and Lewontin are mistaken in this regard -- not the least because they, too, fail to make it clear what on earth DM actually amounts to. For example, the 'contradictions' they refer us to aren't contradictions and do not even look like contradictions. I'd post a link or two, but I am not allowed to do so just yet.

3) It would be a serious error to try to use any 'dialectical' concepts/jargon in any attempt to provide a 'heuristic' in the manner you suggest. Not only are they so vague, imprecise and confused (so much so that this theory wouldn't make it to the bottom of the reserve list of likely candidates in this regard), if DM were true, change would be impossible (as is relatively easy to prove).

Neither Rosa Lichenstein, nor Karl Popper, nor any other critic of dialectical Marxism that I'm aware of has been capable of successfully refuting dialectical biology, nor have they provided reasonable objections to the aforementioned dialectical method of social science.

1) Well, you wouldn't know since you haven't read my work. So why did you post this misleading remark?

2) In fact, as I indicated above, my work isn't aimed at refuting DM (applied to Biology or anything else, for that matter). In order to refute something, you'd have to show it was false. My work in fact shows that DM is far too confused for anyone to be able to say it is even false, let alone true -- it doesn't make it that far.

Finally, my name is 'Rosa Lichtenstein', a small detail, I own; but experience has taught me that DM-fans are very sloppy when it comes to detail. [Your misrepresentation of my ideas being Exhibit A for the prosecution in this respect.]

And, of course, my site is 'anti-dialectics', not 'anti-dialectis'.
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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 3:35 pm

Narodny K, a profound thinker, and more than a match for me:

Bullshit.

In that case, I am sure a deep thinker like your good self will find it laughably easy to show where I go wrong...


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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 3:39 pm

HomelessArtist:

The site does accuse dialectics of being a bourgeois ideology where the bourgeois seats over the worker's party expecting dialectics to do everything while the party is disconnected from the working class. That part really captured my attention but I'm indifferent to all else.

In fact, I call it an expression of ruling-class ideology, among many other things.

I nowhere say anything even remotely like this, though:

where the bourgeois seats over the worker's party expecting dialectics to do everything while the party is disconnected from the working class.

In fact, I am at a loss as to how you could obtain such a completely misguided idea about my work from anything I have written or posted on-line.

Can you tell me from where you got this idea?

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Celtiberian on Sun Feb 23, 2014 6:58 pm

Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:Where have I argued this: "to substantively organize the proletariat in recent years due, in her opinion, to the pernicious effects of dialectical reasoning"?

The answer is 'nowhere', that's where.

If I misrepresented the motivation for your enterprise, I apologize.

What I have argued is a) Dialectical Materialism [DM] makes not one ounce of sense, and should be rejected for that reason alone, and b) Since DM is a confused theory, at best, no wonder it has presided over 140+ years of the almost total failure of Dialectical Marxism.

In what respect has dialectical Marxism 'failed'?

I have devoted several passages in my essays to showing how and why Levins and Lewontin are mistaken in this regard -- not the least because they, too, fail to make it clear what on earth DM actually amounts to. For example, the 'contradictions' they refer us to aren't contradictions and do not even look like contradictions. I'd post a link or two, but I am not allowed to do so just yet.

I would appreciate a link to your comments on Lewontin, et. al once you're able to post it.

you wouldn't know since you haven't read my work. So why did you post this misleading remark?

I have read some of your work, Rosa. I've simply not had the time to delve into all of it. And when searching through your website I failed to encounter a critique of dialectical biology nor of Robert Heilbroner's interpretation of dialectical materialism qua heuristic (which I suggest you read in chapter two of Marxism: For and Against). If they happen to be there, I withdraw my previous comment.

And, of course, my site is 'anti-dialectics', not 'anti-dialectis'.

HomelessArtist's typo has been fixed, and I will be be sure to include the 't' in your surname from henceforth.

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"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:48 pm

Celtiberian, thank you for those comments.

In what respect has dialectical Marxism 'failed'?

All four International have gone down the pan, and the fifth international has already split, and what remains of it is faltering. The 1917 revolution as been reversed, and practically every single 'socialist state' (the former USSR, E Europe, China, etc. etc.) have abandoned 'socialism'. Few Marxist parties can boast membership rolls that rise much above the risible (and of those that can, their membership (if such it may be called) is passive and merely electoral). The entire movement is riddled with splits and divisions (with the overwhelming majority of parties and tendencies at each other's throats (metaphorically, but in some case, literally)). The vast bulk of the international working class is ignorant of DM (and of Dialectical Marxism), and we seem further away from a workers' state than Lenin was in 1918.

Apart from that, it's a ringing success!

I would appreciate a link to your comments on Lewontin

In fact, I'll post this material in this thread tomorrow (it's rather late here right now!). I'll also post the e-mail exchange I had with Richard Levins a few years back, and some of my other comments on Engels's misguided forays into biology.

I have read some of your work, Rosa. I've simply not had the time to delve into all of it. And when searching through your website I failed to encounter a critique of dialectical biology nor of Robert Heilbroner's interpretation of dialectical materialism qua heuristic (which I suggest you read in chapter two of Marxism: For and Against). If they happen to be there, I withdraw my previous comment.

Ok, fair enough.

I have to say, Heilbroner's book is one of the few I haven't read (and I have read and studied literally hundreds of books and articles over the last 30 years I have been studying DM).

However, as I noted at my site (in Essay One):

Another recent ploy is to argue that while it might be the case that I have examined the ideas of dialecticians A, B and C, I should have looked instead at the work of X, Y and Z. Then another comrade will complain that while I might have examined the ideas of A, B and X, I should have concentrated on C, D, and Z! Yet another will then advise me to confine my attention to A, D, and W..., and so on.

Trotskyists complain if I quote Stalin and Mao's writings; Maoists and Stalinists moan if I do likewise with Trotsky's; non-Leninist Marxists bemoan the fact that I have not confined my comments to Hegel and Marx, advising me to ignore the confused or "simplistic" thought of Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky.

Of course, because these comrades haven't read my work, none of them know that I have in fact looked at A, B, C, D,.., W, X, Y and Z's work (along with Marx and Hegel's, and many other authors these comrades haven't even heard of!). Indeed, since most of the material dialecticians produce is highly repetitive, this quite often means that to look at A's work is in fact to look at almost everyone else's, too!

So, I hold out little hope there will be anything in the latter's work that will strike me as either new, or which is free of the usual confusions. Any work that derives anything from Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up') is already condemned in my eyes. And this isn't because I despise Hegel's mysticism, it is because his key works (those that have influenced Dialectical Marxists) are themselves thoroughly confused (even where any sense can be made of them), which in turn means that the same fate must befall any author who thinks humanity has anything to learn from this mystic.

Nevertheless, if I can get hold of a copy, I will read it.

HomelessArtist's typo has been fixed, and I will be sure to include the 't' in your surname from henceforth.

Thanks!


Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:57 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sun Feb 23, 2014 8:54 pm

Ok, I have just ordered Heilbroner's book. It should be with me in a week or so.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Celtiberian on Sun Feb 23, 2014 10:03 pm

Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:All four International have gone down the pan, and the fifth international has already split, and what remains of it is faltering.

Even if the divergent sects which constituted previous internationals had utilized a non-dialectical method of analysis, I suspect cleavages over strategic matters and general principles would have still arisen and caused them to dissipate, don't you?

The 1917 revolution as been reversed, and practically every single 'socialist state' (the former USSR, E Europe, China, etc. etc.) have abandoned 'socialism'.

Certainly, but do you really fault dialectical materialism for that? The conditions were never favorable for socialist development in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, or Latin America. Moreover, the model of socialism implemented by the revolutionaries in those countries contained defects which ensured capitalist restoration was always a likely outcome.

Few Marxist parties can boast membership rolls that rise much above the risible (and of those that can, their membership (if such it may be called) is passive and merely electoral). The entire movement is riddled with splits and divisions (with the overwhelming majority of parties and tendencies at each other's throats (metaphorically, but in some case, literally)).

Communist parties in the late 19th and early 20th century were considerably larger than they are today and no less dialectical. Surely other factors are responsible for the precipitous decline in class consciousness experienced in the global North.

In fact, I'll post this material in this thread tomorrow (it's rather late here right now!). I'll also post the e-mail exchange I had with Richard Levins a few years back, and some of my other comments on Engels's misguided forays into biology.

Thank you.

Ok, I have just ordered Heilbroner's book. It should be with me in a week or so.

Excellent. I think you'll find Heilbroner's treatment of the subject quite even-handed and his arguments in favor of the continued use of dialectical materialism carefully considered (and possibly even persuasive).

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"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Mon Feb 24, 2014 4:39 pm

Celtiberian:

Even if the divergent sects which constituted previous internationals had utilized a non-dialectical method of analysis, I suspect cleavages over strategic matters and general principles would have still arisen and caused them to dissipate, don't you?

I largely agree; my point is that DM simply made a bad situation worse (on that see below).

Certainly, but do you really fault dialectical materialism for that? The conditions were never favorable for socialist development in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, or Latin America. Moreover, the model of socialism implemented by the revolutionaries in those countries also contained defects which ensured capitalist restoration was always a likely outcome.

Again, I largely agree with this, but it is possible to show (and I have done precisely this in Essay Nine Part Two: Case Studies) that DM made a bad situation worse. For example, the Stalinists used DM to justify the imposition of a terror-based state on the fSU while arguing that increased centralisation was compatible with increased democracy (the Maoists did the same in China). Here is Stalin:

"The flowering of cultures that are national in form and socialist in content under the dictatorship of the proletariat in one country for the purpose of merging them into one common socialist (both in form and content) culture, with one common language, when the proletariat is victorious all over the world and when socialism becomes the way of life -- it is just this that constitutes the dialectics of the Leninist presentation of the question of national culture.

"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27, 1930. Bold added.]

DM is almost unique in its capacity to justify anything you like and its opposite (often this is done by the very same dialectician -- as we have seen with Stalin, above) because it glories in 'contradictions' and the 'unity of opposites' -- Zen Buddhism is the only other 'theory' I can think of that allows, encourages -- nay, insists on this, too.

Hence, DM was used by the Stalinists, Maoists and Trotskyists to justify whatever was expedient at the time, and its opposite.

Here's how I explained  the pernicious effect DM has had on Marxists (this was a post I made a year or so ago on another forum -- in this case I was explaining to my interlocutor why I felt that my ideas would in general always be rejected by DM-fans):

Thank you for the advice, but I don't expect the left to agree with me, since comrades are enamoured of this way (i.e., a 'dialectical' way) of looking at the world for non-rational reasons. Here are at least two of them:

First, it provides them with a source of consolation for the fact that Dialectical Marxism has been such an abject and long-term failure (note, I say 'Dialectical Marxism', not Marxism; the non-dialectical version hasn't been road-tested yet).

As Lenin was aware --, which is, after all, why he wrote Materialism and Empiro-criticism --, in times of defeat, set-back and retreat, revolutionaries can often turn to mysticism, idealism and other assorted irrationalisms. And, they do this seeking both consolation and an explanation for their plight. They can't change the world, but they can change how they conceptualise it.

Since the far-left has known little other than defeat and set-back, there is a constant need to seek such consolation, and that is one reason why comrades stick to this world-view like terminally insecure limpets.

Indeed, the failure of the 1905 revolution turned Lenin toward the Mystical Hermeticism found in Hegel's dialectic, a subject which, although he had shown some interest in it before, now began to dominate both his studies and his thinking. He immersed himself in it.

Second, and not unrelated to the above: because Dialectical Marxism has been so spectacularly unsuccessful, and has been like this for so long, revolutionaries have had to convince themselves that (a) this isn't really so, and (b) that the opposite is in fact the case, or that (c) this is only a temporary state of affairs. They have had to do this otherwise many of them would simply give up. In view of the fact that they also hold that truth is tested in practice, they have been forced to conclude that one or more of (a), (b) or (c) are correct.

However, because dialectics teaches that appearances are "contradicted" by underlying "essences", it is able to occupy a unique and highly specific role in this regard, motivating or rationalising (a), (b) and/or (c). In this way, it supplies comrades with much needed consolation in the face of 'apparent' failure, convincing them that everything is in fact fine with the core theory -- or that things will change for the better, one day. This then 'allows' them to ignore the long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, rationalising it as a mere "appearance", and hence either false or illusory -- the opposite of the way things really are.

So, faced with 150 years of set-backs, defeats and disasters, revolutionaries, who will inform you in all seriousness that "truth is tested in practice", will respond in the very next breath with: "Well, that doesn't prove dialectics is wrong!"

And they will tell you this despite the fact that both history and practice have returned a rather uncomplimentary verdict -- nearly everything we touch turns to dust, or becomes corrupted by sectarianism, anti-democratic and bureaucratic inertia, or the physical, organisational and verbal abuse of female comrades. [How many male comrades still use the 'c' word? How many of them still see even this as the opposite of what it really is?]

Hence, just like the religious, who can look at all the evil in the world and still see it as an expression of the 'Love of God', who will make all things well in the end, dialecticians look at the last 150 years and still see the 'Logic of History' moving their way, and that all will be well in the end, too. This means that the theory that prevents them from facing reality is the very same theory that prevents them from examining the role that dialectics has played in all this, inviting yet another generation of set-backs and disasters by masking these unwelcome facts.

Although dialecticians will tell you in one breath that everything is interconnected, in the next they will refuse even to countenance the link between our failures and their core theory, materialist dialectics.

Apparently, therefore, the only two things in the entire universe that aren't interconnected are the long term failure of Dialectical Marxism and its core theory!

You just couldn't make this up!

[To be sure, this theory isn't the only reason for our lack of success. (There are objective reasons why the boss-class still rules this planet.) Even so, it must take its share of the blame -- it is almost wholly responsible for the fact that otherwise hardnosed revolutionaries refuse to look at reality as it is, and prefer to see it as the opposite of what it is --, and thus for their failure to look at it with some degree of courage, without the need for consolation.]

Plainly, revolutionaries are human beings with ideas in their heads, and every single one of them had/has a class origin. The overwhelming majority of those who have led our movement, or who have shaped its ideas, haven't come from the working class. Since the social being of these comrades can be traced back to their class origins and current class position, it is no great mystery that such comrades have (unwittingly) allowed "ruling ideas" to dominate their thought.

So, because of their bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and/or non-working class origin -- and as a result of their socialisation and the superior education they have generally received in class society -- the vast majority of (the above sort of) Marxists have had "ruling ideas", or ruling-class forms-of-thought, forced down their throats almost from day one.

So, the founders of this quasi-religion (materialist dialectics) weren't workers; they came from a class that educated their children in the Classics, the Bible, and Philosophy. This tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a 'hidden world', accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.

This way of viewing things was concocted by ideologues of the ruling-class. They invented it because if you belong to, benefit from or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. This will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to win over the majority (or, at least, a significant section of 'opinion formers', bureaucrats, judges, bishops, 'intellectuals', philosophers, teachers, administrators, editors, etc.) to the view that the present order either: (1) Works for their benefit, (2) Defends 'civilised values', (3) Is ordained of the 'gods', or (4) Is 'natural' and so can't be fought, reformed or negotiated with.

Hence, a world-view that rationalises one or more of the above is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling in the "same old way". While the content of ruling-class thought may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth (about this 'hidden world') is ascertainable by thought alone, and therefore can be imposed on reality dogmatically, and aprioristically.

So, the non-worker founders of our movement -- who, as I noted, had been educated from an early age to believe there was just such a 'hidden world' lying behind 'appearances', and which governs everything -- when they became revolutionaries, looked for a priori, 'logical' principles relating to this abstract world that told them that change was inevitable, and was thus part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that boss-class mystic, Hegel. The dialectical classicists were thus happy to impose their theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up") since that is how they had been taught 'genuine' philosophy should proceed.

Hence, when things go wrong in this material world, it doesn't shake their faith, since their faith lies in that invisible world, which will never disappoint.

But, just as it impossible to vanquish religious belief by mere argument, I don't expect to be able to 'win the left over' by arguing with dialecticians.

[In fact, they react to me just like the religious react to atheists, with hostility, incredulity, emotive counter-attacks, and no little dissembling. Or they 'send me to Coventry.']

Religious belief, and the consolation it brings in its train, will only disappear when the source of such suffering is removed. As Marx noted: "To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions."

Hence it will take very real, revolutionary workers to save these sad individuals from themselves, if and when the proletariat change society for them.

I stand no chance.

DM also 'allows' leading Marxists to 'justify' their pre-eminent position in the movement; after all, only they 'understand' the dialectic. This allows them to position themselves undemocratically at the head of the movement as 'Teachers' of the masses (this is especially true of the Maoists, but it is in one way or another, to a greater of lesser extent, the case with every party I can think of), which in turn 'allows' them to impose their will on the masses undemocratically. Again, in turn, this 'justifies' the imposition of 'socialism from above' (in the shape of a centralised, bureaucratic state machine), in direct contradiction (rather fittingly one feels) to Marx's emphasis that "the emancipation of the working class is an act of the workers themselves" -- i.e., socialism from below.

Naturally this has turned many (if not most) away from Marxism. They associate it with faceless and bureaucratic oppression. [Which is just one reason why not one proletarian hand was raised in defence of the former socialist states when they fell in the period 1989-91.]  

To continue: This contradictory theory was used to justify the ultra-left turn the CP took in the late 1920s, which suicidally set the communists against the socialists in Germany, thus allowing the Nazis to come to power. Then, this theory was used to rationalise its opposite: the 'Popular Front', and then again a few years later it was used to 'justify' another about turn in order to rationalise the pact with Hitler. A few years later, after the Nazis invaded the USSR, it as used again to 'justify' another about-turn: an alliance with the 'imperial powers', and then again in the late 1940s, it was put to use 'justifying' yet another flip, at the beginning of the 'cold war'.

This theory was also used by Trotsky to argue that the fSU was a degenerated workers' state. Now, while it might seem contradictory to a neutral observer that in a workers' state the working class is denied power and is systematically exploited and oppressed for its pains, a little dialectics will soon sort this out. Here is Trotsky:

"The bourgeois norms of distribution, by hastening the growth of material power, ought to serve socialist aims -- but only in the last analysis. The state assumes directly and from the very beginning a dual character: socialistic, insofar as it defends social property in the means of production; bourgeois, insofar as the distribution of life's goods is carried out with a capitalistic measure of value and all the consequences ensuing therefrom. Such a contradictory characterization may horrify the dogmatists and scholastics; we can only offer them our condolences....

"It is not surprising that the theoreticians of the opposition who reject dialectic thought capitulate lamentably before the contradictory nature of the USSR. However the contradiction between the social basis laid down by the revolution, and the character of the caste which arose out of the degeneration of the revolution is not only an irrefutable historical fact but also a motor force. In our struggle for the overthrow of the bureaucracy we base ourselves on this contradiction...." [In Defence of Marxism, pp.54, 69; bold added.]

So, dialectic was again used to rationalise the oppression of the working class.

Moe dead workers, more ordure heaped on Marxism.

If only there were some sort of a pattern here!

This demobilised the Trotskyist movement in the face of Stalinist imperialism before and after WW2. Indeed, this theory helped split the Trotskyist movement from top to bottom, in which state it remains to this day. It may never recover -- partly thanks to DM.

DM was/is also used by Marxists of almost every stripe to 'justify' substitutionism (i.e., the substitution of other forces for the working class in the fight for socialism). These other forces include: the Red Army, Maoist/Castroist guerrillas, peasants, 'sympathetic' nationalist leaders/social forces, students, left-leaning bourgeois politicians, popular fronts, students, and 'rainbow alliances', to name but a few.

The negative and deleterious effect on the international working class of all this dialectic twisting and turning can't be exaggerated howsoever hard one tries. Everyone now 'knows' that 'Marxism doesn't work', and while not all of this can be attributed to DM, much of it can, since that theory was used to sell these reactionary ideas to the cadres.

As I noted above, I have worked these ideas out in considerable detail (quoting dozens of cases where DM has been used in this unprincipled and opportunistic way) over the last century to justify whatever was expedient and its opposite -- in Essay Nine Part Two: Case Studies. [I can't post a link, yet, but if you type "anti-dialectics" + "Case Studies" into Google, it is quite easy to find; in fact it is the second item in the list.]

This is one more reason why I don't think Heilbroner's book is going to impress me all that much; but I will give it a fair hearing, nevertheless.

You:

Communist parties in the late 19th and early 20th century were considerably larger than they are today and no less dialectical. Surely other factors are responsible for the precipitous decline in class consciousness experienced in the global North.

I agree, and in the above Essay I partly put this down to the fact that such parties were led by petty-bourgeois individuals and intellectuals. [I will explain this if asked.]

Recall, I am not blaming DM for all our woes; but it must take its share of the blame.

Finally, I am not primarily against this theory because Dialectical Marxism has been so unsuccessful, but because DM makes not one ounce of sense. That is and always has been my main objection.

Anyway, I'll post the material I promised later tonight.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Mon Feb 24, 2014 8:32 pm

I am having to re-edit the material I promised so that it makes some sort of sense if I post it here. But, that task is taking me far longer than I had anticipated. In which case, I will post some of it tonight, and the rest tomorrow and the next day.

Back in 2011 I was drawn into a long argument over at the Marxist Humanist Initiative website. I wanted the comrades there to explain to me what a 'dialectical contradiction' is. Professor Andrew Kliman made a valiant attempt to explain it to me, but failed miserably -- I was able to show that all his attempts disintegrated into incoherence. He gave up, but several others took up the challenge (unsuccessfully, I might add), one of whom was Richard Levins.

[You can locate much of the subsequent discussion at my site if you do a Google search for "anti-dialectics" + "Jurriaan's Folly", and "anti-dialectics" + "Jurriaan throws his toys out of the pram" (including the quotation marks in each case); much of the rest of the discussion can be found if you follow the links I inserted in the latter two pages.]

Here is Richard Levin's e-mail:

The following considerations might be helpful:

1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.

2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal, structural relation.

3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).

4. In real systems, variables change (except at equilibrium, a set of measure 0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living systems, social systems, eco-systems etc there is permanent change ( A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.

In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory propositions at the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions may be separately false but jointly true; health is socially determined, and you are responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in passivity but jointly can result in self-care and collective action...

5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real things no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories really holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological, biological/social, etc interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we recognize their interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.

All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important tool in science.

And, here is my reply (heavily edited):

[FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic; DM = Dialectical Materialism.]

In fact, they are no help at all. This is why:

1. "contradiction", in its etymology "speaking against" was a process unfolding in time, negating a proposition in order to get beyond it.

2. Formal logic removes the temporal dynamic aspect to make it a formal, structural relation.

Well, this isn't true of temporal logic (link omitted), and it is only true in a limited sense of FL itself. After all, even a formal argument 'unfolds in time'. And, as we will see below, the 'temporal dynamic' is in fact something DL itself can't cope with!

3. The formal logical statement "implies" is a static, set-theoretic relation but is a detemporalized equivalent to "leads to" (in time).

There are in fact many branches of FL that do not rely on set theory. In fact, most do not.

4. In real systems, variables change (except at equilibrium, a set of measure 0!). That is, A leads to not-A. If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction. In living systems, social systems, eco-systems etc there is permanent change (A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.

But, what is this "not-A"? Is it propositional negation, predicate negation, or predicate term negation? We are left in the dark. And, of course, this use of the negative particle is, it seems, metaphorical. More on that below.

If there is an eventual equilibrium, this is equivalent to proof by contradiction.

But, this is entirely unclear. Proof by contradiction involves the deliberate assumption of a target proposition, alongside others, and the derivation of a contradiction from them. The conclusion is then the propositional negation of the assumed target proposition. How is this in any way analogous to obscure 'dialectical negation'? Richard neglected to say.

A always leads to (implies!) not-A. These may be periodic or chaotic . The terror of early computer programmers was to get into an endless (and expensive) loop, which was equivalent to contradiction in the program.

This is indeed what the dialectical brochure tell us, but as we are about to see, it all falls apart on close examination....

[Added on edit: I then summarised a long argument showing that if DM were true (that is if 'A' did indeed turn into 'not-A' (howsoever we understood these terms), on the lines indicated in the DM-classics, change would in fact be impossible. You can now find that argument in Essay Seven Part Three, at my site. Just type "anti-dialectics" + "Why Dialectical Materialism can't explain change" into Google (including the quotation marks); it's the second item in the list ]

In formal logic, you may not (but can) hold to contradictory propositions at the same time . In dialectical logic, two propositions may be separately false but jointly true; health is socially determined, and you are responsible for your health. Either one alone can result in passivity but jointly can result in self-care and collective action...

In that case, of course, they aren't propositions, since, if it isn't clear what is being proposed, or put forward for consideration, nothing has yet been proposed. In which case, this can't be a contradiction, either.

I am not sure, however, how the health example is supposed to help.

5. You can create formally disjunct mathematical sets, but with real things no division of a whole world into mutually exclusive categories really holds. Environmental/genetic, physical/psychological, biological/social, etc interpenetrate, and furthermore it is when we recognize their interpenetration that we get the exciting new insights.

This doesn't seem to be even remotely true. For example, we can form two entirely and completely disjoint sets quite easily. Here are a few examples: 1) Objects now on Pluto vs objects now at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean; 2) Human beings over seven feet tall vs mice under 50 ounces in weight; 3) Every car produced in Detroit before 1970 vs every jellyfish that lived in the Cretaceous, and so on.

Of course, this might not be what Richard meant, but then it isn't too clear what he does mean. Nor is it too clear what the obscure term "interpenetrate" means, either. Do these categories/sets have sex?

Exception might be taken to that supercilious remark, but until we are told with a greater degree of clarity what dialecticians mean by their odd use of language, that is the only response it merits.

[From the context, though, I rather suspect Richard means "overlap" since he is talking about allegedly mutually exclusive sets/categories. But, in that case, "interpenetrate" is just a pretentious way of saying some sets overlap! However, I am not sure how much Dialectical Superscience can be milked from this rather mundane observation, no matter how many Hermetically-inspired incantations are said over it.]

All of these and other aspects of contradiction make it an important tool in science.

Well, I know that Richard, and Richard Lewontin, try to argue that these are useful in science, but, as we are still unclear what 'dialectical contradictions' are, it is impossible to agree with him/them. And until he/they succeed in making this phrase clear, it isn't possible for one or both of these two Richards to agree with it, either!

More to follow...

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by HomelessArtist on Tue Feb 25, 2014 3:01 pm

Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:More to follow...
No! Stop! Nobody has the time for this! the only thing you have proven is that today's left parties are filled with petit-bourgois who love writing long books filled with nonsese.
You and your equals are reactionary enablers.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 4:01 pm

Homeless:

No! Stop! Nobody has the time for this! the only thing you have proven is that today's left parties are filled with petit-bourgeois who love writing long books filled with nonsense.
You and your equals are reactionary enablers.

1) I am in fact responding to a request from Celtiberian. If you can't be bothered, that's no big loss.

2)  I can just imagine an air-head from the 1870s writing this of Marx:

The only thing you have proven is that today's left parties are filled with petit-bourgeois who love writing long books filled with nonsense

3) If what I have posted is indeed 'nonsense' I am sure a deep thinker like your good self will be able to show how and why it is 'nonsense'.

4) I am not sure what this means, though:

You and your equals are reactionary enablers

Which 'equals' are these then?

And in what way am I, never mind my mythical 'equals', 'reactionary'? And who am I 'enabling'?

Nevertheless, I will, despite Homeless's desperate (and, if I may say so, well-argued) plea, post more later tonight.


Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein on Wed Feb 26, 2014 7:36 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:05 pm

Ok, here is the first part of my criticism of some of Engel's views concerning living things (this was taken from Essay Seven at my site, and much of it depends on the results of earlier sections):

----------------------

Single-Celled 'Reactionaries'?

Turning to specifics, Engels claimed that:

"…life consists precisely and primarily in this -- that a living thing is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly asserts and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to and end, and death steps in." [Engels (1976) Anti-Dühring, p.153.]

But, what is the 'contradiction' supposed to be here? Is it: (1) Living cells contain dead matter; or, (2) Life is a constant struggle to avoid death; or is it, (3) Life can only sustain itself by a constant struggle with dead matter? On the other hand, do his words relate to (4) The contrast and/or conflict that is supposed to exist between these two processes -- life and death --, which conflict constitutes the dynamism we see in living things? And, what on earth is the (5) "Something else" that each living thing is supposed to be, or become, according to Engels?

As far as (1) is concerned, the contrast between living and dead matter seems to depend on the obsolete idea that there is an intrinsic difference between living and non-living molecules -- that there is a 'life force' of some sort at work in nature. While it is unclear whether Engels believed this (in fact, in several places he seems to reject this notion --, e.g., Engels (1954) Dialectics of Nature, p.282), it is reasonably clear that subsequent dialecticians don't accept this odd idea. So, it seems reasonable to conclude that this can't be what underlies the 'contradiction' in this case.

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

With respect to (2): while it is undeniable that most living things constantly strive to stay alive, it is still unclear what the alleged UO is supposed to be here. If a living cell is a UO, and the scene of a bitter struggle between life and death -- in the sense that each cell contains within itself both life and death, slugging it out, as it were --, what physical form do these mysterious processes/beings take? It isn't as if we could easily identify either or both -- as we can with, say, magnetic or electrical phenomena. There, the presence of apparently opposite poles and/or charges is specifiable and measurable. Here (with respect to life), there do not seem to be any easily identifiable opposing forces. [Anabolic and catabolic processes will be considered presently.]

[Added on edit: As I have pointed out elsewhere at my site, DM-theorists equivocate over the meaning of "internal" when they use it in conjunction with "opposite" and with "contradiction". Sometimes they mean "logically internal", and sometimes they mean "spatially internal". However, when it comes to biological systems, DM-theorists clearly intend this word in its spatial sense, and that is because the various parts of living organisms do not seem logically to imply one another (so, at least here, "internal" can't be a logical relation (as Hegel seemed to believe)).]

And yet, if dialecticians are correct, and everything is indeed a UO, each living cell should (it seems) contain death within itself (as an 'internal opposite'), and not just have it confronting it externally. But, what material form does 'death' take? Are we to imagine that a black, shrouded figure, sickle in hand, inhabits every living cell?

If not, how is 'death' to be conceived of in this case? Indeed, what form does 'life' itself take? Is it perhaps an incarnation of the Archangel Gabriel? Or, maybe Louis Pasteur?

On the other hand, if this particular UO is a set of opposing processes (or, indeed, if it is to be regarded as a special type of interaction between certain sorts of forces), as options (3) and (4) above seem to suggest (picturing living systems constantly battling against disintegration, the latter perhaps manifested in catabolism), then we are surely on firmer ground.

But, why would anyone want to call such a set-up a UO? What exactly are the opposites that are struggling here? It isn't as if inside each vibrant cell there is another older (or even a decaying) cell waiting to emerge, nor yet one that is fighting the embattled host cell all the time, stabbing it 'inside the back', as it were. Nor is it credible to suppose that catabolism and anabolism are locked in constant struggle with each other. Indeed, it isn't easy to see how catabolism is directly 'contradictory' even to anabolism (howsoever the word "contradiction" is understood). These processes do not oppose one another by preventing the other working, or by immediately picking apart what the other has produced; they just work in different ways, often in separate parts of a cell. Nor are they 'internally-related', as they should be if they constitute a genuine 'dialectical contradiction'. [Or, if they are, DM-fans have been remarkably coy about the details.]

They certainly do not turn into one another (as we have been led to believe they should by the dialectical classics). Nor do the outputs of one always turn into the inputs of the other. For example, the Krebs metabolic cycle produces water and carbon dioxide from carbohydrates, fats and proteins. But, no cycle in animal cells does the reverse. Sure, these products are broken down, but not in a reverse Krebs cycle.

So, anabolic and catabolic processes do not typically confront one another in normal cells, opposing whatever the other does. To imagine such a set-up as 'contradictory' would be about as intelligent as, say, maintaining that a group of men digging a road up somewhere were 'contradicting' ("opposing" or "struggling against") another group repairing a house a few hundred yards down the way. Or, that, say, the manufacture of aeroplanes 'contradicts' the scrapping of aluminium chairs!

And, even if it were accurate to describe catabolism as undoing the results of anabolism, that still wouldn't amount to either of them 'contradicting' each another. Undoing is not 'contradicting' -- if it were, then doing would be a tautology!

Of course, if someone were to insist that despite the above, such processes are contradictory, they would owe the rest of us an explanation of the literal nature of the contradiction allegedly involved here. In that case, it would be pertinent to ask how either process could possibly be "gainsaying" the other.

[It is worth recalling at this point that a literal contradiction would involve just such a gainsaying.

Naturally, if dialecticians understand the word "contradiction" in a new and as-yet-unexplained sense, all well and good. But, what is this 'new' sense? (Added on edit: I have examined DM-theorists' attempts to explain their odd use of this Hegelian term in Essays Five, Eight Parts One, Two and Three, and Eleven Part One, at my site.)]

But, even if this, too, were rejected, DM would still be in a hole. While it could be argued that in this case we do have 'opposites' that are internal to cells, we do not as yet have opposites internal to anabolic or catabolic processes themselves. So, if either of these two cause the other to change, that would clearly be another example of an externally-motivated transformation (that is, it would be external to each process). Moreover, as noted above, anabolism would have to turn into catabolism, and vice versa -- that is, if the Dialectical Classics are to be believed.

However, according to Lenin all change is internally-motivated, and everything develops of itself:

"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921) Once more on the trade unions, p.90.]

Anabolic processes certainly involve objects (i.e., molecules), but if they undergo development, this can't be the result of an interaction (or 'struggle') with catabolic processes (which would be an external influence, once more). On the other hand, if these two alter each other (but how?), then Lenin's "demand" and "requirement" will have to be withdrawn/ignored.

Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, the words dialecticians employ look decidedly figurative -- except, in this case it isn't easy to see what the trope could possibly amount to. And yet, if these words are figurative, that would be all to the good; it would at least allow the interpretation of the 'contradictions' referred to by this 'Law' to be viewed, say, poetically. No one minds if poets contradict themselves, or one another.

Even if the word "struggle" were substituted for "contradict", the situation wouldn't change noticeably. Since literal struggles can only take place between agents, that would mean that this area of DM would work only if biochemical reactions in vivo were personified, or if they were under the control of an agent of some sort. In that case, this use of the word "struggle" must surely be figurative, too.

Anyway, as pointed out above, catabolic and anabolic process do not 'struggle' with one another.

Every Confirmation Is Also A Refutation

However, it could be pointed out that the above considerations are highly abstract, and are thus irrelevant (although it isn't easy to see how a cell could be considered abstract, or the cat discussed below). Hence, it could be objected that DM is in fact concerned with real material contradictions confirmed in practice.

[HM = Historical Materialism.]

But, how could such things be checked to make sure they are genuine "material contradictions"? Fortunately, John Rees explained how (but in relation to concepts drawn from HM):

"Once we are sure that our concept of 'capital' is a true reflection of the actual existing capital –- then we can also be sure that any further categories that emerge as a result of contradictions which we find in our concepts will necessarily be matched by contradictions in the real capitalist world." [Rees (1998), The Algebra of Revolution, p.110.]

However, he added the following proviso:

"This…is only a safe assumption on the basis of constant empirical verification…." [Ibid., p.110.]
 
The idea appears to be that any contradictions that remain (in a theory that has itself been thoroughly checked against reality at every stage) must "of necessity" be a genuine reflection of actual objects and processes in nature and society (or, in Rees's case, only in society, perhaps). This safeguard is necessary to rid 'materialist dialectics' of the Idealist 'excesses' of Hegel, as well as prevent any of its theories from being, or becoming, defective (because defective theories are 'self-contradictory'; more on this in Essay Eleven Part One (link omitted)). [Rees (1998), pp.52-53, 108-18.] As Novack points out:

"A consistent materialism can't proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), The Origin of Materialism, p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

Nevertheless, as far as DM-contradictions are concerned, it isn't at all clear how this process is supposed to work -- even when it is executed exactly as intended. Presumably, on this basis, 'incorrect' contradictions will be eliminated because: (a) They are self-contradictions, or (b) They have been falsified by experience, or (c) They couldn't be verified (by appropriate methods).

But, with respect to any of the contradictions that theorists might want to retain (and thus regard as correct 'reflections' of reality), how could they be sure that future contingencies will never arise (in the shape of further evidence) that require their elimination? Indeed, in view of Lenin's declaration that all knowledge is incomplete, it seems they can't.

Despite this, (a) can't be right, otherwise we should have to reject Engels's analysis of motion, which pictures it as self-contradictory. Along with that would go many other 'dialectical contradictions'.

In connection with option (b), what evidence could possibly refute a contradiction? How is it possible for a contradiction to be falsified by experience? Presumably, that would occur if propositions appertaining to experience contradicted something that was already contradictory to begin with! But, what sort of monstrosity is that?

Consider again Engels's depiction of the contradictory nature of living cells:

"We saw above that life consists precisely and primarily in this –- that a living thing is at each moment itself and yet something else. Life is therefore also a contradiction which is present in things and processes themselves, and which constantly asserts and resolves itself; and as soon as the contradiction ceases, life, too, comes to and end, and death steps in." [Engels (1976), p.153.]

"Abstract identity (a = a; and negatively, a can't be simultaneously equal and unequal to a) is likewise inapplicable in organic nature. The plant, the animal, every cell is at every moment of its life identical with itself and yet becoming distinct from itself, by absorption and excretion of substances…, in short, by a sum of incessant molecular changes which make up life….

"Life and death. Already no physiology is held to be scientific if it does not consider death as an essential element of life (note, Hegel, Enzyklopädie, I, pp.152-53), the negation of life itself, so that life is always thought of in relation to its necessary result, death, which is always contained in it in germ. The dialectical conception of life is nothing more than this…. Living means dying." [Engels (1954), pp.214, 295.]

[The problems connected with Hegel's and Engels's egregious understanding of the 'law of Identity' will be tackled in Essays Six, Eight Part Three and Twelve.]

This new batch of difficulties faced by Engels's 'theory' can be brought out by the following argument:

L1: Cell C(1) is both alive and not alive.

L2: Experimental evidence shows that C(1) is alive.

L3: Experimental evidence also shows that C(1) is not alive.

L4: L2 falsifies L1.

L5: L3 falsifies L1.

L6: However, the conjunction of L2 and L3 verifies L1.

L7: Therefore, L1 has been falsified and verified.
 
[It is worth noting that this 'argument' isn't valid, and has only been reproduced here to try to make sense of what Rees and Engels could possibly have meant.]

From this it is quite clear that the confirmation of a 'dialectical contradiction' is all of a piece with its refutation; to confirm a 'dialectical contradiction' is ipso facto to refute it! So, it is unclear how 'dialectical contradictions' can be verified by experiences or experiments that also refute them.

It could be countered that, in this case, DL shows its superiority over 'formal thinking' concerning the point of death -- i.e., when a cell or organism is still alive, but just about to die, since DL is the logic of change. And yet, this response looks rather hollow now that we know that if DL were true, change would be impossible.

[DL = Dialectical Logic.]

The Revenge Of the Petty-Bourgeois Cell; Alive, Or Dead -- Or Maybe A Bit Of Both?

To resume the argument -- more specifically: with respect to the alleged contradiction outlined in L1, above (i.e., "Cell C(1) is both alive and not alive"), how would it be possible to confirm the alleged fact that a cell was alive and dead at the same time? Certainly, just looking at a cell won't help. Nor is it much use referring to the vagueness of the boundary between life and death. That is because Engels himself regarded living cells as a unity of living and dead/dying (or tending to die) processes (or of opposing tendencies) while such cells were still alive, and this is the alleged contradiction that needs to be confirmed.

Now, it is worth reminding ourselves at this point that confirmation is required to prevent this theory being branded dogmatic, a priori and thus Idealist. This is in fact a demand that DM-theorists themselves insist upon:

""All three are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis alone added.]

"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Bold emphasis added.]

"The dialectic does not liberate the investigator from painstaking study of the facts, quite the contrary: it requires it." Philosophical Notebooks, p.92. Bold emphasis added]

"Dialectics and materialism are the basic elements in the Marxist cognition of the world. But this does not mean at all that they can be applied to any sphere of knowledge, like an ever ready master key. Dialectics can't be imposed on facts; it has to be deduced from facts, from their nature and development…." Problems of Everyday Life, p.233. Bold emphasis added]

"A consistent materialism can't proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added]

"This…is only a safe assumption on the basis of constant empirical verification…." [Rees (1998), p.110.]

"Our party philosophy, then, has a right to lay claim to truth. For it is the only philosophy which is based on a standpoint which demands that we should always seek to understand things just as they are…without disguises and without fantasy….

"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976) Materialism and the Dialectical Method, pp.14-15. Bold emphases added.]

"Engels emphasises that it would be entirely wrong to crudely read the dialectic into nature. The dialectic has to be discovered in nature and evolving out of nature....

"Of course, that does not mean we should impose some a priori dialectical construct upon nature. The dialectic, as Engels explains time and again, has to be painstakingly discovered in nature....

"Engels did not make the laws of nature dialectical. He tried, on the contrary, to draw out the most general dialectical laws from nature. Not force artificial, preconceived, inappropriate notions onto nature." [Jack Conrad, Weekly Worker, 30/08/07. Bold emphases added.]

Once more: how is it possible to confirm that cells are indeed as dialecticians say they are?

Perhaps a digression into a consideration of the nature and application of vague predicates (such as "...is alive", or "...is dead") would be useful here --, at least, so far as this alleged 'contradiction' is concerned?

However, a detour of this sort is unlikely to help. That can be seen from a consideration of another less fraught but equally vague distinction: the imprecise boundary between night and day. In relation to this transition, few DM-theorists would want to argue (it is to be hoped!) that daylight is itself a contradictory combination of night and day at any specific point on earth not near the boundary of the Sun's westward moving shadow. Hence, at mid-day in high summer on the Tropic of Cancer in blazing sunlight, say, only a complete fool would want to argue that because the boundary between night and day is vague, and because day eventually turns into night, bright daylight is a contradictory combination of night and day (or of darkness and light). And even if it were possible to find a few maverick, hard-core DM-fans who were prepared to argue along these lines, even fewer would agree with them -- except they might both agree and disagree, just to wind them up.

Less supercilious critics would ask these mad dog dialecticians for the empirical evidence that substantiates the odd idea that light itself (in the form of bright mid-day tropical sunshine) is a UO of light and darkness (or, perhaps of night and day) 'dialectically' slugging it out. Indeed, they might also want to know what work this idea could possibly do in DM, even if it were correct. Are we to suppose that light 'struggles' with its opposite, darkness, at mid-day? Presumably not, since darkness is just the absence of light! Must we argue that darkness makes light change into darkness, and vice versa (which is what the DM-classicists tell us all such 'opposites' must do)? If they are prepared to argue along these lines, this 'innovative' piece of Physics will no doubt force scientists to re-write their theory of light, for up to now they had recklessly assumed that light was created by the way sub-atomic particles behave, and that this was itself the result of a transformation of one form of matter/energy into another. They had certainly given no thought to the possibility that it was the result of the operation of a privation -- the lack of light -- on light itself, which brings about nightfall!

In the real world, the latter event, of course, has more to do with the rotation of the Earth, and nothing at all to do with a battle between photons and the absence of photons.

In that case, it seems that this 'dialectical union' of light and dark does no work at all, even if anyone were foolish enough to give it credence.

So, there are circumstances where even potentially vague predicates have clear applications -- or they can be paraphrased so that they mimic those that do. In that case, in order to test Engels's claims about living things, we would need a way of deciding whether a certain cell was a UO while it was still unambiguously alive. That is why it was argued (above) that a digression into the applicability of vague predicates would be of no use to dialecticians. No matter how vague the predicate, it would still be impossible to verify Engels's claim that a cell was alive and dead at the same time (or that it was dialectical mix of the two, or of two such 'tendencies' (anyway, how does one confirm a tendency?)) while it was still clearly and unambiguously alive.

Even at the boundary between the life and death, we do not possess equipment sensitive enough to verify Engels's a priori thesis, even if we knew how to go about doing it, which, of course, we don't.

Naturally, it would always be open to a DM-supporter to point out that a living cell is constantly exchanging dead matter with its environment, or that certain parts of the cell aren't actually alive while the rest of that cell is. Nevertheless, exactly how this confirms the claim that a cell is alive and dead all at once (or that it is a combination of such 'tendencies') is still unclear. At best, it would simply demonstrate that living things contain dead matter. It would no more show that when a cell is alive it is also dead than would an analogous claim demonstrate that people are clothed and naked at the same time (or that they possess hidden 'tendencies to dress and undress') because they all have nothing on underneath their clothes, and were contradictory UOs for all that.

On the other hand, if anyone were foolish enough to suppose this, they would have to suppose further that one of these opposites (being naked, say) was locked in some sort of struggle with the other (being clothed) -- or the aforementioned 'tendencies' were so locked --, which 'explains' why we put clothes on or take them off! In that case, if this volunteered version of the 'theory' is to be believed, it isn't we who struggle to take our clothes off, but our nakedness that makes us undress!

Again, it could be objected that the issue here is in fact the following: living things are changing all the time; hence, they are a dialectical unity of living and dead matter, or of analogous processes and tendencies. Cells constantly absorb dead matter from their environment and turn it into living matter. Dialecticians certainly do not maintain that an organism (or a cell) is wholly alive and completely dead all at once, as the above comments foolishly suggest. Cells are a dialectical union of two contradictory processes, which union slowly changes the host organism, sometimes even killing it.

Or, so it could be argued.

Nevertheless, such a response won't do. The present discussion is centred on the controversial idea that DM-'contradictions' can be verified or falsified in some way, not that they can be re-jigged theoretically (or 'sanitised') every time this theory encounters an objection. [That particular ploy will be addressed in a later Essay.]

It is worth recalling that this is required in order to silence claims that DM is just another form of a priori Idealism.

The introduction of yet more jargon here doesn't help, nor does it amount to any sort of confirmation. It does, however, increase suspicion that this is all that dialecticians are in a position to offer in order to 'substantiate' their theory: yet more jargonised expressions. And, if that is so, the self-imposed requirement that dialectics be confirmed (somehow) by checking it against material reality is an empty gesture.

It could be countered that the quotations given above clearly show that dialecticians are also interested in generalisation. DM-theorists try to deduce general laws from nature, which is all that Engels has done here. Since this is what scientists also do, where is the problem?

The nature of science and what scientist actually do will be examined in Essay Thirteen Part Two, but in advance of that it is worth directing the reader's attention to this section of Essay Eleven Part One [link omitted], where this topic is dealt with in more detail.

However, to return to more pressing matters: how is even this generalisation (about the nature of life) to be confirmed? In view of the fact that scientists aren't in the habit of making generalisations and then failing to test them, how might we test Engels's claims about life and death?

Manifestly, it isn't possible to verify this particular DM-thesis (i.e., that cells are a dialectical union of two 'contradictory' processes or tendencies). As it stands, this thesis is no less a priori than anything else to be found in DM. [On that, see Essay Two.] Certainly, no one doubts that living things absorb non-living matter from their environment, but how this verifies the claim that they are a dialectical unity of life and death remains obscure. Still less does it support the thesis that life is somehow 'contradictory', or a union of 'contradictory' processes or tendencies.

Clearly, we need to examine this question more closely. Perhaps the intended contradiction is meant to be something like the following?

C1a: Cell C(1) is a (dialectical) combination of living and dead matter/processes.

[To avoid repetition, I will omit the couplet "processes or tendencies" from now on; it can be read into my use of "processes".]

But, once again, in what way is a combination of living and dead matter/processes a contradiction? If it were, then surely any collection of alleged opposites would be contradictory, too. Thus, presumably, the human body would be contradictory simply because it comes equipped with a left and a right hand -– meaning, perhaps, that those who have lost a limb in an accident are not quite as contradictory as their less orthopaedically-challenged friends are. And, if a surgeon removes a kidney in an operation, should we say she has "resolved a contradiction"? Indeed, in like manner one could argue that we contradict ourselves every time we look in a mirror, turn around, walk backwards, or shake hands. Apart from sounding enigmatic, what is the point of such talk? Other than representing an appeal to yet another linguistic trick (i.e., combining a word with its alleged opposite, as in the schematic "C(1) is both A and non-A", or "C(1) is both A and B", where A and B are opposites), there is nothing to recommend this approach. Are the above 'opposites' struggling with one another? Will a left hand turn into a right? It should, if the DM-classics are to be believed.

Naturally, dialecticians might want to cling onto this odd way of describing things, but if empirical evidence is meant to decide on such issues (as Engels, Novack, Cornforth, the authors of TAR and RIRE (and others) maintain), a verbal artifice like this will hardly do. Otherwise why bother saying that DM requires verification to avoid being labelled "Idealist" if it can only be 'confirmed' by yet more word-juggling? If such an approach were generalised, scientists would only ever need to invent a few verbal tricks of their own, and count that as an adequate verification of any given theory or hypothesis. They could certainly save time and money, which they now unwisely waste on all those 'pointless' experiments!

[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution; RIRE = Reason in Revolt.]

Once more, it could be objected that this completely misses the point: left and right hands may be opposites, but they aren't dialectically united opposites in change, and neither are mirror images. The parts of a cell are united in this way, as contradictory processes.

Be this as it may, this would still fail to show that this 'unity' amounted to a contradiction -– nor would it demonstrate that this aspect of DM had been verified, or even that it is verifiable -- or capable of being confirmed in any way at all -- other than, of course, by the employment of yet more obscure jargon lifted from the dialecticians' phrasebook.


Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:13 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:06 pm

Here is the second half:

Follow That Molecule!

Anyway, the supposed contradiction between living and dead matter only arises inside a living cell; this alleged contradiction isn't thought to exist between just any old aggregate of living and dead matter. For a dialectical unity to hold, the two types of matter (or forces) must enter into some sort of close proximity with one another -- an organic union, perhaps? --, and some form of "mediation" must exist between them, or they must be connected by an "internal relation" of some sort. [Unfortunately, the precise details of the DM-story here depend on who is telling it.] In that case, it would seem that dead matter must enter the cell and link up/interact with living matter, in a process of some kind -- but, alas, in an as-yet-unspecified manner.

However, what stops us from saying that when 'dead' matter enters the cell it becomes living matter? Clearly, in that case, there would no longer be anything for a DM-'contradiction' to latch onto, since there would only be one type of matter/process in the cell: the living sort.

Naturally, DM-theorists will want to challenge this move -– and yet, they can only do so by advancing an opposite stipulation to the effect that dead matter remains dead when it enters the cell, to rebut the contrary stipulation above. This counter-stipulation would then allow DM-fans to continue claiming that the dead matter in question becomes part of a dialectical union/process with living matter when inside the cell.

Now, it is worth emphasising that this DM-counter-move could only ever be based on a stipulation. That is because the inspection of cellular processes -- no matter how detailed or fine-grained it might prove to be -- would fail tell us which of these two alternatives is correct. It isn't possible to see that dead matter remains dead/alive inside a cell, any more than it is possible to see when night becomes day (or confirm it in any other way that isn't itself based on yet another stipulation). To be sure, the examination of living cells reveals all sorts of activity going on -– but observation alone can't decide which aspects of this activity are living and which are not, or which are the 'struggling' processes DM-theorists require, and which are not. This is, of course, part of the problem scientists face trying to define life. Are prions, for instance, alive? They are certainly active inside cells.

It might be objected here that it is possible to confirm that when non-living matter enters a cell it remains in the same state for a while until it is metabolised by that cell. Hence the above contentions are wrong.

However, what we actually see and what we might want to say are two different things. To illustrate this point, let us track, say, a single Glucose molecule, G(1), as it passes across a membrane into a cell. Naturally, in order to do this we will have to assume god-like powers of observation; but, ignoring that formidable obstacle for the present, we might want to say that while on the outside, G(1) is non-living, and -- in view of the objection just noted -- we might also want to maintain that it is still non-living soon after it enters the cell. Once inside, G(1) will naturally mingle with other molecules that form part of the metabolic processes of the cell in question.

For the sake of clarity, let us call the latter set of molecules, "M", all the while allowing for that set to change its members over time. But, are any of molecules belonging to M actually alive themselves? If we are to derive a contradiction here we need to be in a position to say that some are alive in order to further maintain that both living and non-living molecules co-exist, side by side as part of a 'contradictory' process, "P". Otherwise, there would be no way to identify both 'halves' of the alleged 'contradiction'.

But, would we be able to see (or would we be able to verify in any other way) that any of the elements of M are alive, whatever we finally decide to say? In order for us to verify (as opposed to simply assuming or stipulating, again) that a 'contradiction' exists here, we would have to register an instrumental or sensory impression of some sort that confirmed that certain cellular molecules belonging to M are indeed alive at the same time that G(1), its latest recruit, isn't. Or, that there are analogous processes at work in P. But, to what could we appeal, here? Unless we are to suppose that there is something special about living molecules, or processes, which makes them look alive -- or which makes the 'qualities' they exhibit detectable -- or, indeed, we assume they are controlled by a "vital force" of some sort (which could also be observed/confirmed in some way), any subsequent declaration that these molecules (or processes) are alive could only ever be based on yet another stipulation.

Of course, to some, the above comments might look rather reductionist, and no dialectician would want to argue that molecules taken singly actually 'contradict' one another in this way -- in the sense that while one or more of them is alive, another molecule nearby isn't --, even if collections of them are still to be regarded as UOs in their own right. Although, it is also worth reminding ourselves that DM-theorists certainly talk about sub-atomic particles doing just this! Indeed, Hegel himself spoke of acids and bases [link omitted] as contradictory pairs (i.e., when he declared that one was the "other" of the other), and they could hardly do that if their individual molecular structures failed to do this, too.

Nevertheless, dialecticians might want to add, as indeed they do, that life "emerges" at certain levels of molecular organisation, as quantity turns into quality (etc.). Hence, it is only at such higher levels of complexity that the contradiction arises, or becomes apparent. Naturally, that would mean the above criticisms are badly off target.

Or, so it could be maintained, once more.

However, to reiterate, this dispute arose because it was assumed that it is possible to see, verify, or confirm (in some way or other, by an appeal to something empirical, or to some fact) the existence of DM-'contradictions', which would justify describing them as "real, material contradictions". This is required, it was claimed, in order to stop DM sliding back into the Idealist swamp from which it had  emerged. Short of doing that, DM would be no different from Hegelian Idealism, in this respect at least.

In the present case, the 'contradiction' was supposed to be the following: that inside a cell living matter exists alongside matter that isn't alive, in some sort of 'dialectical' process, union or tension.

Difficulties then arose over ascertaining what sense could be made of the claim that there is a dialectical 'contradiction' here, as well as over the question whether this 'dialectical' link could be confirmed by observation, or by any other empirical means, as DM-theorists themselves demand of their own theory [link omitted].

It now turns out that this particular thesis can only be verified by an appeal to yet another rather shaky DM-'Law', but not by an appeal to anything empirical. If so, it seems that the existence of DM-'contradictions' can only be confirmed by reference to Q/Q –- but not by any comparison with reality --, as we had been led all along to believe.

[Q/Q = The Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality, and vice versa.]

As we saw earlier [link omitted], Q/Q is either a conventionalised, vaguely-stated 'Law' (more accurately, it is at best a trite rule of thumb which fails more times that it works), or it is yet another example of metaphysical confusion. It certainly can't bear the weight that this latest response places upon it. But, even if it could, we still await the empirical confirmation of Engels's claims about living cells; once again, an appeal to yet more theory is no help at all:

"A consistent materialism can't proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

It could be objected that the above argument fails to comprehend the dialectical process underlying the acquisition of knowledge, the interplay between the abstract and the concrete. But, even if the latter were relevant, reliable or, at least, comprehensible, in what way could it help us understand how it is possible to verify or confirm this 'dialectical' process by observation, or by any other empirical means? Clearly, the above difficulties (concerning empirical confirmation) afflict dialectical processes just as much as they afflict alive/dead 'dialectical' molecules.

Or, are we to suppose that DM-theorists can somehow non-empirically, or non-physically, 'intuit' processes of this sort in nature and society? Must we concede that they have a special way of confirming such Supertruths in ways that the rest of us do not possess -- but which 'ways' they can't actually explain to anyone else? [If so, how are they different from old-fashioned, unvarnished mystics?]

[Added on edit: A 'Supertruth' superficially resembles an ordinary scientific truth (such as "Copper conducts electricity"), but is in fact nothing like it. Super-truths transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M8 and M9 below are particularly good examples of this. Their alleged truth depends solely on the meaning of the words they contain, not on the way the world happens to be.

M8: Time is a relation between events.

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

No amount of evidence can confirm or confute the above; indeed, evidence is irrelevant.]

Inside or outside the cell, then, we don't seem to be able to confirm the presence of 'contradictions' -- except stipulatively (link omitted) --; certainly not by observation or by experiments that are themselves observation-based (or that are free from yet more ad hoc stipulations), or, indeed, which aren't simply "thought experiments" (link omitted), themselves.

Incidentally, to return to an earlier difficulty, not even a god-like observer could see, or confirm in any other empirical way, whether certain molecules (or processes) are alive or dead -- at any level of complexity or detail -- without recourse to a prior stipulation to either effect. In that case, short of such a convention, not even an 'Ideal Observer' could verify the presence of these supposed 'contradictions'.

That being so, the claim 'contradictions' exist in nature and society can't have been derived from experience (nor yet by a process of abstraction) -- it can only have been projected onto reality as just another a priori metaphysical dogma.

Now, even though DM-theorists repeatedly refer their readers to the necessary empirical checks that must be made in order to verify the presence of DM-'contradictions', what we actually find in their stead in TAR (and in other DM-texts, such as DN, AD, DMH, FPM, PN, IDM and RIRE) are a handful of superficial, conceptual, quasi-investigations into things like motion, identity, living and/or dead matter, matter in general, and the nature of the reality -- with little or no empirical evidence to back them up (evidence that hasn't itself been slanted by yet more stipulations).

[These allegations were thoroughly substantiated in Essay Two (link omitted).]

[DN = Dialectics of Nature; AD = Anti-Dühring; DMH = The Development Of The Monist View Of History; FPM =  Fundamental Problems Of Marxism; PN = Philosophical Notebooks; IDM = In Defence of Marxism.]

All this isn't the least bit surprising; no empirical verification of the presence of a contradiction is possible -- even in theory -–, as was demonstrated earlier.

[Graham Priest's allegations (link omitted) to the contrary will be examined in a later Essay. However, it is quite plain that his 'contradictions' aren't 'dialectical contradictions', to begin with, just rather confused ways of speaking. On that, see Slater (2002, 2004, 2007b, 2007c). (The references can be found in the original Essay -- just type "anti-dialectics" + "Engels's Three Laws" into Google; the link is at the top of the list.]

Now, DM-theorists might sincerely believe that there is a 'contradiction' between living and dead matter, life and death (or, indeed, that there are other 'contradictions' in nature and society) -- and that there are 'dialectical' processes at work all over the place --, but until they inform us which particular set of observations or experiments (not themselves dependent on further persuasive stipulations) confirm these acts of faith, they can't consistently maintain that their ideas have been continually checked against reality, and verified by experience. In fact, they have yet to provide even so much as a vague description how the existence of a single 'contradiction' can be confirmed in nature or in society.

In fact, and worse: we have yet to be told what a "dialectical contradiction" actually is!

Of course, the above objections leave unchallenged the rather naive, if not uninformed belief that DM-'contradictions' had originally been discovered empirically, or were prompted by observation, or, indeed, that they had ever been based on physical evidence of any sort. In fact, as is well known, most were simply lifted from Hegel (or from earlier Idealists and mystics). Even those that weren't borrowed in this way were based on Hegel's work (and he, too, offered little or no evidence in support of his dogmatic pronouncements) -- upside down or the 'right way up'.

Subsequent observations to 'verify' these 'contradictions' would be otiose, anyway -– that is, if DM-theorists ever bothered to carry out any such tests. John Rees certainly mentions none of the experiments he performed in this regard, neither do Woods and Grant -- the same can be said of Hegel, Engels, Dietzgen, Plekhanov, Lenin, Mao, Trotsky...

Dialecticians have not gone down in history as great experimental scientists.

Self-appointed Superscientists, certainly.

[Added on edit: Not even Levins and Lewontin report on the experiments they personally conducted to verify (by observation or by any other empirical means) the existence of a single one of their ill-defined 'contradictions'.]

As noted above, experiments would be otiose anyway; that is because it isn't possible to see (or to experience) 'contradictions' in nature without a decision already having been made to label them that way (the latter choice itself having been based on an explicit or implicit Idealist convention borrowed from thinkers who were themselves card-carrying members of an ancient, mystical, apriorist, philosophical tradition). This helps explain why so little evidence (as opposed to repeated assertions) appears in DM-texts, and why there is none at all that is aimed at substantiating the claim that 'contradictions' exist right throughout nature and society everywhere and at all times.

Any who doubt this should compare the average DM texts (even those that sincerely try to prove there is a dialectic in nature, such as RIRE, or Gollobin (1986)) with a bona fide scientific/technical paper published in any randomly chosen issue of, say, Nature (link omitted). The difference between Mickey Mouse Dialectical Science and genuine science will immediately be apparent

[Added on edit: I explained my use of this phrase earlier in this Essay, link omitted.]

In the place of hard evidence, what we invariably find in DM-texts are the same old clichéd examples dredged up year-in, year-out. These include the following hardy perennials: boiling and/or freezing water, cells that are alive/dead, grains of barley that 'negate' themselves, magnets that are UOs, Mamelukes' ambiguous fighting ability when matched against French soldiers, Mendeleyev's Table, the sentence "John is a man", homilies about parts and wholes (e.g., "The whole is greater than the sum of the parts", etc., etc.), characters from Molière who discover they have been speaking prose all their lives, laughably weak and misguided attempts to depict the principles of FL, "Yay, Yay", and "Nay, Nay", anything more than this "cometh of evil", wave/particle 'duality', 'emergent' properties popping into existence all over the place, etc., etc., etc.

Even then, we are never actually given a scientific report on these phenomena; all we find in DM-texts are a few brief, amateurish and impressionistic sentences (or, at most, a couple of paragraphs) devoted to each hackneyed example. At its best (in, say, Woods and Grant (1995), or Gollobin (1986)), what we are presented with are one or two chapters of secondary and/or tertiary, specially-selected evidence, heavily slanted in the favoured direction. No contrary evidence (of which there is much) is even so much as mentioned.

[FL = Formal Logic.]

In contrast, and in relation to, say, economics or current affairs, Marxists are keen to provide countless pages of primary and secondary data and analysis (much of it original), which they update regularly. Indeed, whole books have been written of topics such as ideology, the nature of class, or the transition from Feudalism to Capitalism. But, when it comes to dialectics all we find is watery-thin 'evidence', and even thinner reasoning and analysis. Small wonder then that to its Marxist opponents, like myself, this area of theory is regarded as risibly weak and is treated with the contempt it deserves.

Incidentally, Lenin let it slip that evidence is irrelevant in this regard:

"This aspect of dialectics (e.g. in Plekhanov) usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum-total of examples ['for example, a seed,' 'for example, primitive communism.' The same is true of Engels. But it is 'in the interests of popularisation...'] and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)."  [Lenin (1961), p.357. Emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at my site).]

A 'Law of Cognition', of course, follows from, or depends on, a priori reasoning, not the facts.

Nevertheless, even though the examples of 'contradictions' referred to by dialecticians are viewed as instances of genuine DM-principles at work in nature and society, they are mistakenly identified as such. Without exception these alleged 'contradictions' turn out to be anything but contradictions; they are invariably little more than badly described, paradoxical, quirky, or oppositional situations -–, or they are just plain contraries. Even then, little or no evidence is presented to substantiate the hyper-bold extrapolations DM-theorists regularly advance from even this impoverished evidential base to all of nature for all of time. In place of convincing evidence we are offered sketchy, half-baked analyses, derived from a few superficial "thought experiments" (and even these are invariably badly constructed) -- with some homespun, Stone Age Logic thrown in for good measure. Our intelligence is then insulted with the claim that this Dialectical Mishmash is the very epitome of the scientific method!

[Again, these serious allegations are thoroughly substantiated in the Essays posted at my site.]

There thus seems to be no way of interpreting living cells as UOs other than in a poetic or figurative sense -- as a sort of throwback to the romantic era in Biology -- but otherwise of little relevance to modern science. And yet, once again, this shouldn't surprise anyone given that these DM-ideas originated in mystical Hermetic Theology (which belief system we know for a fact had a profound influence on the aforementioned Romantics and Natürphilosophers of Hegel's day (several links omitted), and thus on Hegel himself). [On this see Essay Fourteen Part One.]

This area of dialectics, therefore, clearly depends on ancient forms of mysticism, not on modern science. It is little wonder then that it can't be confirmed in any way at all -- or that is has failed us for so long.


Dialectical Metaphor?

So, no literal sets of internal opposites are apparent here; this means that, at best, DM-UOs are figurative. But, are these dialectical figures of speech of much use to DM-theorists keen to parade their scientific credentials? Indeed, are they of any assistance to revolutionaries in their endeavour to understand Capitalism and how it can be overthrown?

Well, once again, given the fact that dialectics has dominated revolutionary thought for over a hundred and forty years, and during that time Dialectical Marxism has enjoyed legendary lack of success (link omitted), the only viable response to the above questions must be in the negative. If practice is a test of truth, dialectics stands condemned out of its own contradictory mouth. In that case, this 'theory' is clearly of no use to revolutionaries either in their endeavour to understand Capitalism or in their desire to overthrow it.

However, independently of this, these aren't even good metaphors!.

For example, as we have already seen, workers do not contain capitalists (their alleged internal 'opposites') literally or metaphorically; the same is probably true vice versa. And, even though Capitalism contains both workers and capitalists, as entire classes, they do not seem to change into one another. More-or-less the same can be said of the forces and relations of production, and of the alleged 'contradiction' between use and exchange value. Do factories, power lines and transport systems literally 'struggle' against mill owners, bankers, and/or bourgeois politicians? Do they even seem to do this figuratively? Does the hypothetical use value of, say, a sugar spoon 'struggle' against its monetary (or exchange) value? Does the actual use of an escalator in a shopping mall 'struggle' against…, well, what? Do any of these objects collectively or severally have the wit, brains or brawn to 'struggle' against anything at all? Does a single one turn into the other, as we were told they must? [Link omitted.]

[Certainly, these and other things cause capitalism to change all the time, but not by 'contradicting' anything, and for the reasons given above, in Essays Five and Eight Parts One, Two, and Three, as well as for those summarised below.]

This is to deny neither the irrationalities we see in Capitalism nor the horrors we witness every day, but since agent-orientated verbs like "contradict", "struggle", "oppose" (etc.) are clearly out of place in the study of inanimate matter (save we use them figuratively -- but we have just seen that these metaphors are ill-suited to this particular task) and social change, these comments will strike those with a reasonably secure grasp of the vernacular as entirely uncontroversial.

Nor is this to claim that HM can't account for such things either; indeed it can, but it needs no help from Hermetic Mysticism to that end. In fact, the reverse is the case: dialectics only succeeds mystifying HM.

However, the fact that these assertions will still sound controversial only to dialecticians suggests that linguistic naivety is their only defence.


Living Things Change Into...What?

As far as option (5) above is concerned -- the "something else" that each living thing is supposed to be, or to become, according to Engels (i.e., whatever it was he imagined living things were supposed to change into) --, no obvious candidates come to mind. Engels was perhaps appealing to the alleged fact that the 'Law of Identity' doesn't apply to living matter, and that living things are constantly changing into "what they are not" -- that is, that at any moment a living thing is "A and not A" -- "itself and something else" (etc.).

Indeed, here is how Thalheimer expressed this point:

"The most general and the most inclusive fundamental law of dialectics from which all others are deduced is the law of permeation of opposites. This law has a two-fold meaning: first, that all things, all processes, all concepts merge in the last analysis into an absolute unity, or, in other words, that there are no opposites, no differences which can't ultimately be comprehended into a unity. Second, and just as unconditionally valid, that all things are at the same time absolutely different and absolutely or unqualifiedly opposed. The law may also be referred to as the law of the polar unity of opposites. This law applies to every single thing, every phenomenon, and to the world as a whole. Viewing thought and its method alone, it can be put this way: The human mind is capable of infinite condensation of things into unities, even the sharpest contradictions and opposites, and, on the other hand, it is capable of infinite differentiation and analysis of things into opposites. The human mind can establish this unlimited unity and unlimited differentiation because this unlimited unity and differentiation is present in reality....

"...It is more difficult with such opposites as true and false and still more difficult with the concepts of being and non-being, which are the most general of all, the most inclusive, and, at the same time the poorest in content. The average person will say: how can one unite such absolute opposites as being and non-being? Either a thing is or it is not. There can be no bridge or common ground between them. In the treatment of Heraclitus I have already shown how the concepts of being and non-being actually permeate each other in everything that changes, how they are contained in changing things at the same time and in the same way; for a thing which is developing is something and at the same time it is not that something. For example: a child which is developing into a man is a child and at the same time not a child (sic). So far as it is becoming a man it ceases to be a child. But it is not yet a man, because it has not yet developed into a man. The concept of becoming contains the concepts of being and non-being. In this concept they permeate each other.... [Thalheimer (1936), Dialectical Materialism, pp.161, 165-66. Bold emphases added.]

[Other DM-theorists say more-or-less the same.]

But, as we saw earlier, this can only mean that whatever livings things "are not" must already be present in or near to whatever "living things are" if this combination is to count as a UO, and if all living things are to change into what they "are not" -- let alone if "what they are" is to struggle with "what they are not" in order to change.

In this instance, one suspects that Engels and Thalheimer have simply confused a logical principle with an empirical fact: since anything that changes must change into "what it is not" (as a mater of discursive logic) -- either in whole or in part -- these two clearly thought that this general (I would say grammatical) point applies to living things (indeed, to anything) that changes.

[Added in a footnote: Of course, this is mere word-juggling, for it is equally legitimate to argue that a cell or an organism changes into what it is and not into what it is not, in view of the fact that change is built into our concept of living things. [Anyone who didn't know that living things change would clearly have a defective concept of life.]  Hence, while cells and organisms are changing all the time, their identity remains the same, for it is the same cell or organism that undergoes the said change, not some other cell or some other organism. So, if we speak about cell C, or organism O, part of what we mean here is that these living things change in certain ways (or they'd be dead and we'd not call them either living or an organism!), but neither C nor O changes into what it is not (i.e., neither develops into not-C or not-O). Our concepts of growth and development imply that while these living things change they remain both C and O all the while.

And even when these organisms die, we possess an equally sophisticated vocabulary that enables us to cope with this eventuality, too. We certainly do not need to appeal to the obscure jargon Hegel invented to talk about change, life, growth and death. So, we say that in the case of C, for example, that it has died; we do not say that not-C is dead, but C is dead. We do not even say that C is now not-C.

Again, to take a less 'abstract' example: when, say, Socrates is dead, we do not say "Not-Socrates is dead" but "Socrates is dead"; we don't even say "Socrates is now not-Socrates", nor yet "Socrates is not-Socrates". Even DM-fans still refer to Socrates. Not one dialectician refers to not-Socrates. And has a single one ever spoken about not-Hegel, not-Marx, not-Engels, or not-Lenin? Has Das Kapital now to reprinted and attributed, not to Marx, but to not-Marx?

So, in practice, once more, dialecticians reveal that even they do not accept their own theory!]

This brings us back to the problems we noted earlier about the confused way that DM-theorists picture change -- detailed in Essay Seven Part Three (link omitted), and in particular in the case of domestic cats. These hapless animals, it seems, must undergo some sort of dialectical change into what they "are not" (or they would remain the same, clearly -- or so this DM-argument goes). And this is precisely the verbal trick that DM-theorists put to no good, having inherited more than their fair share of dubious notions from Hegel's very own shaky 'logic'.

However, as with other examples of metaphysical word-juggling (found throughout Traditional Philosophy (link omitted)), this one has a tendency to strike back, especially against those who use it unthinkingly. In this case, since living things are clearly not cars, not calculators, not mountains, not Quasars, not sewage systems, not volcanoes, not books on DM -- meaning, of course, that all of these (and many more) are also "what living things are not" --, Engels's formulation that living things are constantly changing into "what they are not" in fact implies that all living cells are constantly changing into cars, calculators, mountains, Quasars, sewage systems, volcanoes and books on DM (and much else besides). The fact that living things do not do this (to anyone's knowledge) suggests that cats do not actually change into "what they are not", or anything remotely like it. Here, material reality once again stands in the way of another dotty piece of dialectical chicanery.

And, it is no use complaining that this makes a mockery of Engels's claim, since his confusion of a logical principle with empirically determinable facts invites such ridicule. Moreover, dialecticians have no way of neutralising the above objection, or, rather none that leaves this piece of quirky Hegelian word-magic intact. If it is logically true that everything changes into "what it is not", and what an object "is not" is everything that it logically is not, then it must change into everything in the universe that it logically is not.

[As we have seen (link omitted), Hegel tried to block this untoward implication of his 'logic' by appealing to a unique dialectically-united "other" with which objects and processes are pared, so that when they change, they do so in a determinate manner. But, Hegel carelessly holed his own theory below the waterline, for it was obvious to him (as it is to the rest of humanity!) that objects and processes can change in many different ways -- more on that here (link omitted). In that case, dialecticians can't appeal to this hypothetical "other" to neutralise the above objection.]

So, things do not change as a result of logical principles magicked into existence because of Hegel's tenuous grasp even of AFL.

[AFL = Aristotelian Formal Logic.]

On the other hand, if Engels's formulation doesn't mean this (i.e., if it means that things don't change into "what they are not"), what then does it mean? While this saying might look profound, no sense can be attached to it.

Once again, it could be objected that this makes a nonsense of Engels's claims, not because they are confused, but because of the repeated refusal by Ms Lichtenstein to interpret him in a sympathetic way.

Well, quite apart from the fact that dialecticians are not known for their sympathetic reading of their opponents' writings (a quick leaf through Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, for example, will amply confirm that accusation -- as should a five minute 'debate' with DM-fans on Internet discussion boards (link omitted)), the above criticism of mine actually takes Engels words both seriously and literally. When that is done, it is easy to see that no sense can be made of them. Anyone who still thinks otherwise is welcome to make of them what they can (or e-mail me (link omitted) with their best shot!).

[They would then, of course, be the dialectical equivalent of those individuals who stillthink sense can be made of the Christian Trinity.]

However, whatever sense can be made of Engels's enigmatic prose, if any can, it is quite clear that dialecticians have totally misconstrued the 'Law of Identity'. As will be argued in detail in Essays Six, and Eight Parts Two and Three, in relation to this 'law', if a living thing changes, then anything identical to it will change equally quickly.

That, of course, makes identity no enemy of change.

And, with that observation much of DM falls apart.


Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:14 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:07 pm

Mercifully, my comments on Levins and Lewontin are much shorter. I should be able to post them tomorrow.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Celtiberian on Tue Feb 25, 2014 7:56 pm

Rosa Lichtenstein wrote:Mercifully, my comments on Levins and Lewontin are much shorter. I should be able to post them tomorrow.

Thank you, Rosa. I look forward to reading your remarks on Lewontin and Levins.

You've given us all a lot analyze, and I intend to do so as soon as I complete what I'm currently working on.

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"Nationality. . . is a historic, local fact which, like all real and harmless facts, has the right to claim general acceptance. . . Every people, like every person, is involuntarily that which it is and therefore has a right to be itself. . . Nationality is not a principle; it is a legitimate fact, just as individuality is. Every nationality, great or small, has the incontestable right to be itself, to live according to its own nature. This right is simply the corollary of the general principle of freedom."
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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Wed Feb 26, 2014 6:02 pm

This has been taken from Essay Eleven Part Three at my site (to find it on-line, just type "anti-dialectics" + "DM-Wholism -- Full of Holes" into Google (including the quotation marks); again, the right link is at the top), which is almost entirely devoted to a detailed dissection of the following four DM-theses:

G1: The entire nature of a part is determined by its relation with the other parts and with the whole.

G2: The part makes the whole and the whole makes the parts.

G3: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

G4: Each part becomes more when it is part of a whole than it would otherwise have been (individually) apart from that whole.

As before, the material below depends on much that has gone before in the above Essay.

This is one of my longest comments about Levins and Lewontin. The rest are shorter; I'll post several of the latter over the next few days.

-------------------------------

Flights Of Fancy

Levins And Lewontin

Theoretical considerations like those discussed in earlier sections of this Essay are unlikely to cut much ice with DM-fans. Hence, a discussion of the more concrete claims advanced in TAR and other DM-texts on this issue is clearly called for.

[DB = Dialectical Biologist, i.e., Levins and Lewontin (1985); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution.]

The first problem here is that Rees and other DM-theorists provide us with few examples of what they mean -- i.e., any that purport to illustrate the rule/'law' they claim operates between parts and wholes throughout the universe, not just locally --, and which suggest that everything is 'dialectically' linked in the intended manner. However, Rees does mention one particular example, which had in fact been lifted from DB. Alas, even this turns out to have been a rather unfortunate choice.

As we saw above, this particular example of the part/whole relation is itself connected to the following (hackneyed) formula that Holists incant from generation to generation:

"For dialectical materialists the whole is more than the simple sum of its parts." [Rees (1998), p.77.]

To this the authors of DB added the following comment:

"The fact is that the parts have properties that are characteristic of them only as they are parts of wholes; the properties come into existence in the interactions that makes the whole. A person cannot fly by flapping her arms simultaneously. But people do fly, as a consequence of the social organisation that has created airplanes, pilots and fuel. It is not that society flies, however, but individuals in society, who have acquired a property they do not have outside society. The limitations of individual physical beings are negated by social interactions. The whole, thus, is not simply the object of interaction of the parts but is the subject of action of the parts." [Levins and Lewontin (1985), p.273.]

The general idea here appears to be that novel properties "emerge" (out of nowhere, it seems; they certainly can't be reduced to the microstructures of each part, or of each whole -- according to Rees (1998), pp.5-8, and other dialecticians we will meet in Essay Three Part Three), because of the new relationships that parts enter into when they become incorporated into wholes -- coupled with the new natures they acquire as a result.

The above passage seems to be claiming that: (1) When human beings act as individuals (or, is it in less developed social wholes?) they lack certain properties --, in this case, the power of flight. Nevertheless: (2) As a result of their social organization, human beings apparently gain this new 'property' collectively -- even though as individuals they still can't fly. The conclusion seems to be that: (3) Because of economic and social development (etc.) individuals (or is it groups or individuals?) acquire characteristics that they wouldn't have had otherwise --, which appears to indicate that when they are appropriately socially-organised, human beings become "more" than they would have been had this not happened.

But, once again, in what sense are human beings "more" than they were before flight became possible? Manifestly, they still can't fly. They don't sprout wings, develop engines or grow sophisticated landing gear.

----------------------------

Added in a footnote: The only way that human beings would be "more" than they used to be would seem to be as a group. Hence, it could be maintained that as a group, humanity now has a property that it once lacked -- flight. Of course, human beings as a group or as individuals still can't fly; clearly it is the machines they build that do this!

So, humanity itself still lacks this 'property'.

If it is argued in response that humans can now do something they couldn't do before (namely, fly through space), even this isn't entirely correct. Since we now know that the earth rotates on its axis as it orbits the Sun humanity has in fact been travelling/flying through space for hundreds of thousands of years.

Again, it could be maintained that it is only since the invention of balloons and aeroplanes that human beings can do things at will that earlier generations could not: i.e., leaving the surface of the earth whenever they want.

[But, even this isn't correct. Human beings have been hurtling off cliffs and high building for thousands of years. To be sure, the vast majority do not live to tell the tale, but for a few seconds they manifestly possess the property of flight (in the sense described above).]

Once more, it is only in aeroplanes (etc.) that they can leave the surface of the earth at will. And if that is so, it still seems that it isn't humanity that has this new property, but these new artefacts which have.

Moreover, the properties of these machines are reducible to their parts. Try taking off without engines made of heat resistant materials; a chocolate jet engine will not get you very far, and neither will wings made of margarine.

So, what precisely is the new property we are supposed to have gained? The ability to hitch new sorts of rides? Or, perhaps the capacity to form queues at check-in desks?

------------------------

Whatever meaning can be given to the "more" that human beings supposedly become, this can't have resulted from the part/whole relation. That is because immediately before or after flight finally became possible no new wholes or parts actually came into existence -- nor did these new parts and allegedly novel wholes become newly related, either.

------------------------

Added in a footnote: When powered flight was finally achieved by the Wright Brothers in December 1903, (or, earlier, the hot air machines of the 1800s), what novel parts and wholes had emerged? To be sure, there was the new 'whole' comprising the Kitty Hawk (the name of the first flying machine) and its pilot, but it isn't easy to see how the entire nature of Orville Wright, say, was determined by this new Orville/Kitty Hawk 'whole', or that the entire nature of the Kitty Hawk was determined by its "internal relation" to Orville, as the DM-theses under review here would suggest.

Moreover, when the first commercial flights began a few years later, what new wholes and parts came into existence? To be sure, new capitalist ventures were set up, but what was whole and what was part here? Was this capitalist venture/whole the workers and the bosses, the buildings, the legal documents, the lawyers who drafted the contracts, the energy fed in from the outside, the roof on the office, the waste paper basket in the corner of the room, the air circulating in and through one and all, the natural 'forces' holding everything together...?

And, were the parts any of the aforementioned items, too? Or were the parts the passengers, the freight, the paint on the aeroplane's fuselage, the rubber molecules in its wheels, the fuel in its tanks, the countless millions of small sea creatures that went into forming that fuel millions of years ago...?

In fact, and in general, as we have repeatedly seen, the precise nature of DM-wholes and DM-parts is terminally obscure. Consider several possible alternatives:

(1) Dialecticians refer us to molecules as examples of wholes (see below [link omitted], and Woods and Grant (1995), p.7), but no single molecule is an isolated unit in nature (as DM-fans are themselves quick to remind us). All share energy and particles with one another. So, what is the whole here? One molecule, two..., ten million? And what is a part? The sub-atomic particles/probability waves, or combinations of these items? But, the latter are notorious for not staying put, interacting and merging with one another constantly. And, according to DM-fans, all of these are interconnected with everything else in the entire universe (and not accidentally, either; they are inter-linked by those mysterious "internal relations"), or at the very least in the local vicinity (if we concentrate, say, only on their "external relations", for the moment). What then is the boundary between part and part, whole and whole, part and whole in this dialectical menagerie? If there isn't one, can they be considered physical parts/wholes at all?

To be sure, there are many different sorts of parts [link omitted (to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on 'Mereology' (the name given to that branch of philosophy that studies parts and wholes))] --, for example, part of a play, part of a cake, part of a problem, part of a fight, part of a plan, part of an animal, part of a criminal conspiracy, part of a strike, and so on. These aren't all physically comparable; but, in material reality, it must be possible to discriminate among parts to be able to say that they are indeed such, and to count/identify them over time.

On the other hand, if it isn't possible to do this, even in thought -- as seems to be the case in DM --, then key elements in this theory become too obscure to be of much use.

(2) DM-theorists generally refer us to organisms as excellent examples of part/whole ensembles. But, once more, what is part and what is whole here?

Again, as dialecticians are quick to remind us, nothing in reality stands in splendid isolation. If that is true, it is difficult to see how it would be possible to identify and /or distinguish the alleged members of either category, one from another. For example, is a whole, therefore, an identifiable organism --, say, a cat --, or something else? But cats are continually exchanging matter and energy with their environment. Only if we freeze frame a targeted moggie would it be possible to stop annoying seepage like this at its recklessly porous feline boundary. But, such an un-dialectical mammal, it seems, would be of little use to dialectical Whole-Seekers. So this can't be the cat-whole we seek. But then, what is it?

Does this cat, therefore --, which is, according to Physicists, really a four-dimensional manifold, a sort of mathematical, furry sausage in 4-space -- comprise all its temporal parts (even if we could identify them), or only those freeze-framed at some arbitrary point in time? [Links omitted.]

Do DM-objects (parts and/or wholes) endure in time, or merely perdure? [Links omitted.]

[Readers keen to find out more about the intricacies of this branch of modern Ontology can download this PDF. (That article is in fact Hales and Johnson (2003).) On this, see also Sider (2001), Hawley (2004), and Hawley (2010). While I reject this entire approach to Philosophy (for reasons explored in Essay Twelve Part One), it is incomparably clearer and vastly superior to the trivial, confused and superficial theses one finds in DM-Wholism. (Links omitted.)]

Of course, the same problems afflict this hapless cat's parts, too. In that case, a cat's tail, for instance, is not only extended in 3-space, it is also a manifold of a 'tail' in 4-space (intermixed with other manifolds -- of mice, birds, the contents of tins of cat food, and the like -- intersecting with it), if modern Physics is to be believed. This non-dialectical, ontologically-complex set of moggie parts is, one suspects, no friend of DM. Indeed, we saw in Part One of this Essay (and in Essay Seven Part One) how this quintessentially reactionary mammal helped demolish several cherished DM-theses all on its own. A catabolic process if ever there was one. [Links omitted.]

Dialecticians who are tempted to respond impatiently to all this along the lines that the above aren't legitimate objections to their theory in view of the fact they themselves admit the existence of just such dynamic and interconnected parts and wholes (for example, cats in relation to their environment), should themselves pause for a moment before pushing that point too far. Unless they are careful, and agree to freeze-frame things once more, this unfortunate cat might wind up being a part that is, say, several miles wide as it dynamically interacts with is territory/environment over several years.

And if we change the example, we could easily end up with, for instance, 'whale parts' that are tens of thousands of miles across as they patrol the Pacific.

[That is to say nothing of the real size of this dialectical whale-whole if we throw in the motion of the Earth around the Sun, and then the latter's transit through the Galaxy.]

In fact, and worse, it isn't easy to see how dialecticians can prevent this (or the earlier furry) mammal expanding catastrophically (and about as quickly as HEX did) to encompass the entire universe, if this 'part' is allowed to include all that it interacts with or all to which it is "internally related". This Cheshire Cat In Reverse is, indeed, a sort of metaphysical time bomb purring away at the centre of this ramshackle 'theory'.

[HEX = Hegelian Expansionism, a term explained in Essay Ten Part One.]

(3) Now the whole point of DM-Holism (no pun intended) was to provide an account of capitalism so it could be replaced by a socialist society. To that end, for example, dialecticians view capitalism as a whole, and various classes as sub-wholes/parts.

But, once more, what is whole and what is part, here? Even if we were to wave aside the insurmountable 4-space difficulties noted above (when DM is confronted with modern Physics), that isn't an easy question to answer. So, is the entire capitalist class a whole, a part --, or is it part part, or part whole? Is a single proletarian a part, a whole, or wholly part or partly whole?

Anyone who thinks that my pointing out these 'difficulties' will make the slightest impact on the adamantine brains of the DM-fraternity (even if the latter could be bothered to read this!) knows nothing of their capacity to develop hysterical blindness when it suits them. (In fact, in Essay Nine Part Two, this handy trick will be re-christened, "cognitive dissonance"). Determined to stay super-glued to these pre-scientific, mystical ideas -- come what may --, such comrades soon reach for the "pedantry" button, and press it continuously, backed up, or not, by a liberal use of the 'sophistry' raspberry, and the 'special-pleading' smoke bomb (along the lines, perhaps, that dialectics is "different", and it can't be expected to be judged by the normal cannons of scientific reasoning, a ploy we also know theologians are rather adept at using) -- on that, see here. [Links omitted.]

Clearly, benighted DM-critics (like yours truly, RL) have failed to notice that when Lenin said that no science is complete and/or un-revisable, he meant to exclude DM. Now that this has been made clear, we can surely allow DM-fans to remain in thrall to such mystical nostrums, secure in the belief that no advance in human knowledge can or will ever disturb their dogmatic slumber.

----------------------

Hence, even if these hackneyed sayings (i.e., G3 and G4) were true, flight wouldn't be one of their exemplars.

G3: The whole is more than the sum of its parts.

G4: Each part becomes more when it is part of a whole than it would otherwise have been (individually) apart from that whole.

It could be objected that the above is incorrect. The point is that as the forces and relations of production develop (and as new modes of production arise), human beings enter into new and more complex social and material relations with one another. These generate/facilitate novel capacities and possibilities that were unavailable to them in earlier modes of production.

[HM = Historical Materialism.]

Now, this way of putting things will not be controverted here (nor anywhere else for that matter), but it is worth adding out that this HM-style re-formulation of the picture only works because the part/whole metaphysic has been dropped. This can be seen by the way that the language used in the above rejoinder only becomes available (and begins to make sense) when the unhelpful metaphysical 'concepts' under review here have been discarded. There is no mystery about the details of the social organisation of production and the new capacities it makes available to human beings. But, this has nothing to do with the alleged DM-connections between parts and wholes (for reasons given in previous paragraphs and in Note 10). [Link omitted.]

Independently of this, it is worth wondering how such a scenario could be made consistent with G1.

G1: The entire nature of a part is determined by its relation with the other parts and with the whole.

G2: The part makes the whole and the whole makes the parts.

So, are we really meant to believe that the entire nature of passenger NN, say, is determined by her relationship with the aeroplane she has just boarded? [Or is it with some other whole that we must compare/inter-link her?] Conversely, is the entire nature of this new aeroplane/passenger ensemble determined by passenger NN? What if she missed the flight and passenger MM took her place? Would the entire nature of that plane, and all on board, have changed as a result?

[Added on edit: NN, MM and NM (etc.) are ways certain analytic philosophers refer to unspecified individuals.]

Once more: in all this, which is part and which is whole? Is the entire nature of airline passenger MM determined by his/her relation with one or more of the following 'wholes': the aeroplane, the Airline, the Airport, the flight controller, the factory that built the aeroplane, the other passengers, the man at the check-in desk (and his sick grandmother), MM's whole life up to that point, the entire earth and its history, the cluster of galaxies of which ours is a part…?

Which one of these is the 'whole' that makes MM "more"?

Moreover, do we include in the part, here, passenger MM's hand luggage, her glasses, her clothes, her unborn foetus, the cells now sloughing off her skin, the air coming out of her lungs, the material she just flushed down the loo?

[Footnote omitted, which deals with several obvious objections to the above.]

So, which parts and which wholes are in the end entirely constitutive of, say, passenger NM in seat 26 -- minus his toupee, sun glasses and copy of The Da Vinci Code? What if he hadn't forgotten one or more of these items? Would the passenger/aeroplane 'whole' have been 'less'/'more' as a result? Would NM?

And, would an aeroplane be more of an aeroplane if there were 100 people board it as opposed to 99? Is the airport itself more than it would otherwise have been if passenger MN had failed to check-in last Sunday at 19:02?

But, all these would have to be the case if the entire nature of each part and whole is determined in the way that G1 and G2 assert. In that case, passenger MN must indeed be greater than she would otherwise have been had she not flown last Sunday; and the same would be true of the airport. And if MN repeats this journey regularly, over many years, is there no end to how much more she will become?

Is this the case with anything else? Is the entire nature of the universe enhanced as a result? If everything is interconnected (in order for it to be true that the nature of the whole is determined by its relation to the parts), and inter-linked by these mysterious "internal relations", then the universe must be more of a universe than it used to be because MN checked in last Sunday. To be sure, had MN's cosmic significance not escaped her on the day in question, she would surely have been much better insured.

In Essay Three Part One, we saw this DM-thesis (about parts and wholes) is a direct consequence of Lenin's reading of Hegel, and thus his derivation of a set of inter-galactic truths from a sentence like "John is a man":

---------------------

[Added on edit: In what follows,  I am discussing this passage taken from Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks -- Lenin, in turn is discussing a passage from Hegel's Science of Logic:

"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other….

"Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a 'nucleus' ('cell') the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general." [Lenin (1961), pp.359-60. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added.]

This above quotation is examined in detail in Essay Three Part One -- here follows part of that discussion.

------------------------

Here is the 'rationale' underlying Hegel and Lenin's use of the sentence 'John is a man' (although Hegel used 'The rose is red'), and from which Lenin claimed all of dialectics flowed:

Now, the correct 'dialectical' analysis of such propositions reveals the following deeper truth: ordinary language in fact alludes to an identity between subject and predicate names (or the objects they designate; Hegel continually mixes the two up, and so do his latter-day clones, DM-theorists). Hegel then reasoned that this cannot be correct, because no particular can be identical to a universal. This then leads "speculative reason" dialectically to the opposite conclusion: that the subject of such an ascription of identity is not (and cannot be) identical with the said predicate (here interpreted as a named abstract particular). So, in reality John cannot be identical with this predicate, or with what it 'names' (i.e., he is not identical with Man, or 'Manhood'). 'Thought' is thus led to the negation of this identity.

[Added on edit: (1) In traditional Logic and Grammar, a predicate is that part of a proposition/sentence which is used to say something about whatever is named by the subject term. So, in "John is a man", "John" is the subject, and "is a man" (or, according to many, just "a man") is the predicate. Hegel resurrected a Medieval theory (invented by Roman Catholic theologians -- now called 'The Identity Theory of Predication' -- which re-interpreted the "is" here, not now as one of prediction, but of identity. I can't go into why he/they did this, or where it goes wrong; but I will do so if asked. So, in this case John is now said to be identical with Manhood, a supposed universal term. From word-juggling like this, 'the dialectic' emerged!]

(2) An 'abstract particular' is like a genuine particular (such as the chair you are now sat in (if you are), the screen you are looking at -- or even, you), to which we can, if we so choose, give names, or pick out by the use of a singular term (such as "the screen you are now looking at"), except 'abstract particulars' don't exist in the world around us. They are, however, still picked out by the use of names or other singular terms (such as "The Form of the Good" (in Plato), or "Manhood" (almost everywhere else)). But, as noted in the main body of Essay Three Part One, abstractions are supposed to be general (they supposedly pick out all cats, all dogs, all men/women, all electrons, etc.), and yet they are in fact particular in form (since they speak of "Man/Womanhood", or "The population"). Unfortunately, when used by those who seek to account for generality (i.e., our capacity to refer to all cats, or all dogs), 'abstract particulars' in fact only succeed in destroying it. Plainly, this is because neither a singular term nor a particular can be general -- the chair you are sat on is not all chairs there are or have ever been, the screen you are now using is not every screen there has ever been or will be. Nor can "the chair you are sat on" or "the screen you are now using" refer to all chairs or screens there are or have ever been. So, and alas, every theory invented by Traditional Philosophers (and that includes DM-theorists) ended up destroying generality, and with that went the capacity language has for saying anything at all. (Further details supplied on request.)]

But, this too can't be the entire truth, since John is essentially a man; in that sense he is identified by his essence. This once more leads 'thought' back to another opposite conclusion, to the negation of the former negation, yielding the final result that John is not not-identical with Manhood, all of which concepts are now understood in a new and more 'determinate' light. This astounding conclusion now expresses an 'essential' truth about John (and, indeed, about everything else in the entire universe, since a similar 'analysis' reveals that every object and process is essentially connected with its own 'other' [this is a technical term Hegel introduced in order to account for change and development, and which Lenin said was crucially important for understanding dialectics; in this case, as far as can be ascertained, the 'other' is 'Manhood'], in a negative and then in a 'doubly negative' sort of way, along similar lines), which liberating 'analysis' isn't available to those who are trapped either by 'formal thinking' or 'commonsense'.

During these proceedings, Spinoza's 'principle' (which neither Spinoza, Hegel nor Lenin even so much as attempted to justify) is dragged off the bench and sent into play, as a result of which we are informed that every determination is also a negation. [On that, see here. (Link omitted.)]

So, not only is "thought" thus driven to opposite poles in its bid to differentiate an object like John from all others (and this necessarily involves negativity -- that is because, clearly, John is not Peter, not Fred, not Tarquin…, neither is he a mountain, a planet, a coffee mug...), "thought" is also forced to conclude that no individual object could be identical with a universal. In that case, John is not mankind. But, as we saw, a further consideration of his 'concept', his 'essence', tells us he is also not not-mankind, and thus his original identity needs revising.

John is thus made 'determinate' by negation (as is everything else). The whole here determines the part and the part determines the whole, via negativity.

Hey presto, everything in existence has negativity programmed into it (simply because dialectically-'enhanced' language reveals this deeper truth to us), and it is this negativity which powers the universe.

The Big Bang from the Big Re-write....

Several other myth-begotten creatures of DM-lore owe their existence to this error of simple syntax, one of these being the quasi-mystical "Totality". A reading of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity motivates the idea that everything must be inter-related.

[Added on edit, the above confusion is the main topic of Essay Three Part One.]

The 'reasoning' runs something like this:

If, as in H1, John is both identical and not identical with a universal, and this universal has the infinite built into it (otherwise it wouldn't be a universal), then John is only himself when he is viewed in infinite dialectical connection with everything else of this sort.

H1: John is a man.

If John is now put in a similar relation with all the predicates applicable to him (including all the negative ones expressed in propositions like "John is not Blair", or "John is not the Pope", "John is not an interstellar dust cloud"), then he is in fact only an individual of the sort he is because of the seemingly endless and infinite connections he actually has with everything in existence (all those "mediacies" Lenin spoke about), which gives him a 'determinate' nature -- if we but knew what that was in all its infinite glory (which is why Engels said what he did about the "asymptotic" path to knowledge [Link omitted.]). Moreover, all these things are "internally related" to John -- not externally, or materially, but 'logically' -- all guaranteed by that distorted diminutive verb, "is".

John thus assumes truly cosmic significance; the whole of reality is linked to him and this makes him what he essentially is. Not only that, but everything else is conditioned in like manner by John in return. John is now at the centre of a web of identities and differences spanning right across all that exists, and for all of time; he is now situated at the very heart the universe -- and so is everyone and everything else. All of 'Being' depends on him to a small extent, and he depends on all of 'Being' in return.

All this from a simple sentence written in Indo-European grammar! [Link omitted.]

Who'd have thought it?

[Added on edit: the point of that comment is that only the above family of language uses "is" as part of predication. So, not only is this Hegelian word-juggling bizarre in the extreme, it is highly parochial.]

Even so, one small step for John is a huge step for mankind. 'Innovative' logic of this sort cannot be restricted to just one individual; it has quite definite imperial aspirations, as humanity itself now assumes universal significance. The fate of our entire species now takes centre stage in John's universe -- all guaranteed by the semi-Divine Logic built into DL. Thus, whatever happens to humanity is interconnected with everything in reality, and vice versa. Indeed, each of us has his or her cosmic role assigned to them by linguistic magic like this....

[DL = Dialectical Logic.]

Not only is John related to the Whole, he is what he is because this dialectically-'developed' diminutive verb implies he both is and is not identical (and then not not-identical) with an infinite concept. Indeed, and in this way, every person, each atom, each speck in the entire universe, and every process in nature, for all of time, has assigned to it its rightful mediated place in the Infinite Whole. Every single object and process is identical with, and not identical with, and then not not-identical with its unique 'other', guaranteed by a 'logic' that smuggled identity into sentences in place of boring old material predication....

This view of reality thus pictures the logical structure of sentences mirroring the logical essence of 'Being'; everything is simultaneously both at the centre of an infinite web of relations and at its periphery -- all are insignificant and yet all are cosmically important at the same time (a 'unity of opposites'). Part and Whole are thus interlinked and inter-determine one another.

In this way, mystical Christianity was smuggled into Marxism. Linguistic chicanery of this sort is just as bogus upside down as it is 'the right way up'.

--------------------------

Hegelian word-magic like this -- but not scientific theory/observation -- is the real source of DM-Wholism, and much else besides. Small wonder then that it readily falls apart upon examination.

It could be argued that no DM-theorist in her left mind would argue this way, and that is because the interconnections mentioned above are not all of the same order or type. Some things in nature are intimately inter-related; others more remotely so. In that case, local events will have a vanishingly small effect on distant parts of the solar system, never mind the rest of the Galaxy --, or, indeed, the universe at large (and vice versa). Fortunately, that response has been neutralised here, and in Note 14. [Links to other sections of Essay Eleven Part Two omitted.]

Indeed, it is worth asking again: What exactly are the parts and the wholes in this example? For instance, is the carpet on a plane one of the parts? Is it now "more" of a carpet than it was before it was laid on the plane? What about the drink dispensers? Is a drink dispenser "more" of a drink dispenser on a plane than one in the airport? Have both carpet and dispenser acquired this new property of flight, as it were, parasitically? Is an aeroplane "more" of an aeroplane with a pencil on board than one without? But, where do we stop? Is a passenger on an aeroplane "more" of a passenger if the 'plane she is on had two such dispensers, as opposed to an aeroplane with only one? Does quantity affect property here?

Of course, such questions are obviously crazy -- but, that is only because they have been prompted by the vague and obscure concepts we find in DM. The confused nature of the example given in DB is a direct consequence of the unworkable, Metaphysical-Wholist ideas expressed in G1-G4.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Fri Feb 28, 2014 10:35 pm

Apologies for the delay; my next post should be ready within the next 24 hours.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Sat Mar 01, 2014 10:34 pm

Ok, here is my penultimate post on this topic (unless, of course, I am asked for more!). It is aimed at setting up my comments about Levins and Lewontin (which comments would be hard to see the point of without them).

[This material was taken from Essay Four Part One -- just type "anti-dialectics" + "Formal Logic And Change" into Google (including the quotation marks); the link is once again the first item in the list -- where details about the reference I use can be found.]

------------------------

A Purely Academic Issue?

At first sight, it would seem obvious that a logical system based on a static view of the world -- as it is alleged of FL -- would have few if any practical consequences. On the other hand, it would appear equally clear that a different logical system based on the opposite view of reality -- as is also claimed of DL -- should have countless practical applications in science and technology.

[FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic.]

Oddly enough, the exact opposite is the case: DL has no discernible practical or scientific applications, and has featured in none of the advances in the natural or physical sciences (and arguably none even in the social sciences) -- ever. Worse still, DL has made no contribution to technological innovation.

--------------------

Added in a footnote: Naturally, DM-apologists will want to deny this (indeed, they do deny it!), but apart from claiming that scientists are all "unconscious dialecticians", their evidence peters out alarmingly quickly. [This is examined in more detail below.]

Of course, if the claim that all scientists are "unconscious dialecticians" is still maintained, then what is to stop Buddhists, for example, claiming that all scientists are "unconscious followers of The Eightfold Path"?

This is no joke; some already have! On that, see McFarlane (2003), and, of course, the works of Fritjof Capra (except, in his case, scientists are perhaps "conscious" Daoists). Cf., also Wilber (1984). For a useful and timely corrective, see Stenger (1995).

But, why don't we go the whole hog? Why not claim that scientists are "unconscious head-hunters"; there is about as much evidence to support that wild idea, too.

The historical connections between FL and science are detailed throughout, for example, Losee (2001); similar links with mathematics can be found in Kneale and Kneale (1978), pp.379-742, with a brief survey in Nidditch (1998). There is a clear summary of the connection between Fregean FL and advances in mathematics in Beaney (1996), pp.269-77 and pp.1-117. However, the best introductions can be found in Weiner (1990, 1999, 2004) and in Noonan (2001); the general background is supplied by Giaquinto (2004). There is an excellent short introduction to Frege's life and work in Potter (2010), although anyone unfamiliar with modern logic might find this book tough going.

[On Frege, just type "Frege" into Google, and consult the article in The Stanford Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. it will be very near the top of the list.]

----------------------------

In stark contrast to this, FL has played an invaluable role on the development of science and mathematics, and has featured in countless applications in technology and the applied sciences.

Indeed, one excellent example (among the many) of the impact FL on technology is the development of computers. Their origin goes back many centuries, but advances in mathematical logic (post 1850) proved to be decisive. The invention of Boolean and Fregean Logic, the mathematical logic of Russell, Whitehead, Hilbert, Peano, von Neumann and Church (etc.) -- along with the logico-mathematical work of Alan Turing -- all helped make possible the development of computers. FL has not only contributed to the evolution of software and of computer languages, the principles of Propositional Calculus govern the operation of all standard processors (etc.). [Links omitted.]

In addition, there are numerous other examples of the practical applications of FL, ranging from Cybernetics to Code Theory and from Linguistics to Game Theory and Discrete Mathematics. The question is: Can DM-theorists point to a single successful application of DL in technology, or in the natural and physical sciences? The answer is reasonably plain; they can't. But this glaring failure becomes all the more revealing when it is remembered that dialecticians repeatedly claim that their 'logic' is superior to FL when it is applied to the material world. [Links omitted]

This is perhaps one paradoxical mismatch between DM and recalcitrant reality that can't be solved by the simple expedient of "grasping" it.

[DM = Dialectical Materialism.]

-------------------------

Added in a footnote:  Admittedly, this is a controversial claim -- but only in so far as some have thought to controvert it.

As pointed out in Note 18 (reproduced above), so divorced from reality have dialecticians become that some even claim that scientists are "unconscious dialecticians", and because of this they then imagine that the successes of science can be attributed to DL! For example, George Novack refers his readers to a series arguments put forward by the famous French Physicist, Jean-Pierre Vigier -- who was also a Dialectical Marxist -- in a public debate with Jean-Paul Sartre, which took place in December 1961. In the course of that debate, Vigier responded to the criticism that DM has no practical scientific applications with the following (I am relying here on Novack's summary):

"The existentialist [Sartre -- RL] resents and rejects the rationalism and objectivity of science. It supposedly leads us away from real being, which is to be perpetually sought, though never reached, through the ever-renewed, ever-baffled effort of the individual consciousness to go beyond our human condition. The terrible destiny of the human race is like 'the desire of the moth for the star/the night for the morrow/the devotion to something afar/from the sphere of our sorrow'.

"So the exasperated existentialist Sartre flings as his trump card against the dialectics of nature the current crisis in science. 'There has never been, I believe, as grave a crisis as the present one in science', he cries to Vigier. 'So when you come to talk to us about your completed, formed, solid science and want to dissolve us in it, you'll understand our reserve.'

"Vigier calmly replies: 'Science progresses by means of crises in the same manner as history; that's what we call progress. Crises are the very foundation of progress.' And he concludes: 'The very practice of science, its progress, the very manner in which it is today passing from a static to a dynamic analysis of the world, that is precisely what is progressively elaborating the dialectic of nature under our very eyes.... The dialectic of nature is very simply the effort of the philosophy of our time...of the most encyclopaedic philosophy, that is, Marxism to apprehend the world and change it.'

"This ringing affirmation will appear bizarre to Anglo-American scientists who may respect Vigier for his work as a physicist. They summarily disqualify dialectical logic on the ground that, whatever its philosophical or political interest, it has no value in promoting any endeavour in natural science. If the method is valid, the anti-dialecticians say, then purposeful application by its proponents should prove capable of producing important new theories and practical results in other fields than the social. Marxists are challenged to cite instances where the dialectical method has actually led to new discoveries and not simply demonstrated after the fact that specific scientific findings conform to the generalisations of dialectical logic.

"The most splendid contribution of this kind in recent decades has been Oparin's theories on the origin of life, which are widely accepted and have stimulated fruitful work on the problems of biogenesis and genetics. The Soviet scientist's theory is based on the hypothesis that the random formation and interaction of increasingly complex molecules gave rise to the simplest forms of living matter, which then began to reproduce at the expense of the surrounding organic material.

"Oparin consciously employed such principles of materialist dialectics as the transformation of quantity into quality, the interruption of continuity (evolution by leaps), and the conversion of chance fluctuations into regular processes and definite properties of matter, to initiate an effective new line of approach to one of the central problems of science: How did inanimate nature generate life on earth? Such cases would undoubtedly multiply if more practicing scientists were better informed about the Marxist method of thought." [Novack (1978b), pp.245-46. I have used the on-line version here. Selling altered to conform to UK English. Typos corrected.]

However, we have seen in Essay Seven Part One that these 'dialectical laws' are so vague and imprecise (that is, where any sense can be made of them), they can be made to conform to practically any theory/scientific fact one chooses.

Even so, what basis is there in the claim that Oparin "consciously employed" such principles, whether or not they are valid?

[In fact, upon reading the above comments, I promptly obtained a copy of Oparin's book -- Origin of Life -- but could find no dialectics in it at all, conscious or unconscious! Surprisingly, Oparin mentions Engels only five times in the entire book [Oparin (1953), pp.31-33, 131, 136], dialectics and its 'laws' not once. And even where he mentions Engels, it is only in connection with (1) his idea that proteins are important for life and (2) his criticisms of spontaneous generation.]

Of course, the first point worth making is that while Novack is at pains elsewhere to distance his own brand of Trotskyist 'superior', dynamic dialectics from the 'wooden, scholastic and lifeless' form that was allegedly on show in Stalin's Russia (cf., p.232), he is quite happy to quote the work of a Stalinist scientist (who was a state apparatchik, too!) in support. Perhaps then Stalinist Dialectics isn't quite so "ossified and scholastic" as Novack would have us believe. On the other hand, if it is "ossified and scholastic", it can't have been used by Oparin to make any useful discoveries! Novack seems to want to have it both ways -- but then that is what one has come to expect of DL-fans.

The second point is that scientists in Stalin's Russia learnt rather quickly that if they didn't appeal to the 'laws' of dialectics in their work (and those 'laws' as they were interpreted by the party hacks at that time) they soon disappeared (cf., the career of Nikolai Vavilov [Link omitted]). So, Oparin's "conscious employment" of DM was more of a conscious desire to preserve his own skin than it was an application of "conscious" dialectics. That suspicion is confirmed by the Wikipedia article on him:

"The influence of the Marxist theoretical concept of dialectic materialism, the official party-line of the Communist Party, fit Oparin's definition of life as 'a flow, an exchange, a dialectical unity'. This notion was enforced by Oparin's association with Lysenko." [Quoted from here (link omitted). Bold added.]

However, Birstein disagrees that Oparin did this to save his neck; he claims Oparin did it in order to advance his career:

"I strongly disagree with [those] who justified Oparin's behaviour [in supporting Lysenko -- RL] as the condition necessary for his survival....

"In fact, nothing threatened Oparin's survival. He was an academic and director of the Institute of Biochemistry, which then was not directly involved in the study of genetics or evolutionary theory. He was not attacked by Lysenko or Prezent [a Lysenko supporter, DM-fanatic and self-styled 'philosopher' -- RL] in the press. He simply was an opportunist who saw his chance to advance his career in exchange for his support of Lysenko. Academician Schmalhausen, Professors Formozov and Sabinin, and 3000 other biologists, victims of the August 1948 Session, lost their professional jobs because of their integrity and moral principles and because they would not make compromises with their consciences." [Birstein (2001), p.289. Details of the above events can be found on pp.255-62.]


And we all know what wonderful results were obtained by Lysenko when he tried to apply dialectics to agriculture, don't we? [On Lysenko, see below.]

The third, and perhaps more important point is that Novack nowhere tells us what these "quantities" and "qualities" are that Oparin is supposed to have taken into account. We have already seen that DM-fans are quite happy to make stuff up as they go along (especially in relation to this particular 'law'), using highly flexible and malleable 'definitions' (or, what is more often the case, none at all!) of "quality" as the need arises, so Novack's lack of detail here is no surprise.

Anyway, here is how Wikipedia summarises Oparin's work in this area:

"As early as 1922, he asserted the following tenets:

1. There is no fundamental difference between a living organism and lifeless matter. The complex combination of manifestations and properties so characteristic of life must have arisen in the process of the evolution of matter.

"2. Taking into account the recent discovery of methane in the Celestial body atmospheres of Jupiter and the other giant planets, Oparin postulated that the infant Earth had possessed a strongly reducing atmosphere, containing methane, ammonia, hydrogen, and water vapour. In his opinion, these were the raw materials for the evolution of life.

"3. At first there were the simple solutions of organic substances, the behaviour of which was governed by the properties of their component atoms and the arrangement of those atoms in the molecular structure. But gradually, as the result of growth and increased complexity of the molecules, new properties have come into being and a new colloidal-chemical order was imposed on the more simple organic chemical relations. These newer properties were determined by the spatial arrangement and mutual relationship of the molecules.

"4. In this process biological orderliness already comes into prominence. Competition, speed of cell growth, survival of the fittest struggle for existence and, finally the natural selection determined such a form of material organization which is characteristic of living things of the present time.

"Oparin outlined a way in which basic organic chemicals might form into microscopic localized systems possible precursors of the Cell from which primitive living things could develop. He cited the work done by de Jong on coacervates and other experimental studies, including his own, into organic chemicals which, in solution, may spontaneously form droplets and layers. Oparin suggested that different types of coacervates might have formed in the Earth's primordial ocean and been subject to a selection process leading eventually to life." [Quoted from here (link omitted); accessed 09/10/11. Spelling altered to conform to UK English.]

However, Point 1 above isn't unique to DM, so that can't be attributed to this theory. Neither are Points 2 and 4. We might seem on firmer ground with Point 3, however; but, as noted above, this can't be seen as an application of the 'Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality', either -- not until we are told what these new 'qualities' are. If these 'qualities'/'properties' are the result of novel arrangements of the constituent atoms of each molecule involved (as the above suggests), then this too can't be an example of Engels's 'Law' in action.  Here is what I have argued in Essay Seven Part One on this:

Engels...said the following:

"For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954) Dialectics of Nature, p.63. Bold emphases added.]

In response, once more, it is worth pointing out that this makes a mockery of Engels's claim that such "qualitative changes" [i.e., new arrangements of the atoms] can only come about through the addition of matter and/or motion, and that it is "impossible" to alter a body "qualitatively" in any other way. [Possible objections to this line-of-argument are neutralised here. [Link omitted.]]

So, if anything, Oparin was "consciously" failing to apply Engels's 'Law', since these new molecular arrangements do not involve the addition of matter or energy. [Again, several obvious objections to this response were neutralised in Essay Seven Part One (link omitted).]

But, what about the claim that increased complexity results in the 'emergence' of new 'qualities"? I will deal with "emergent properties" in Essay Three Part Three. Independently of that, what about the following claim advanced by Vigier?  

"Oparin consciously employed such principles of materialist dialectics as the transformation of quantity into quality, the interruption of continuity (evolution by leaps), and the conversion of chance fluctuations into regular processes and definite properties of matter, to initiate an effective new line of approach to one of the central problems of science: How did inanimate nature generate life on earth?" [Novack (1978b), p.246.]

But, where is the "interruption of continuity" here? Does Vigier imagine that, for example, nature incorporates elementary particles into organic molecules until this amounts to the addition of a new atom, and thus a "leap"? Presumably not. On the other hand, maybe he thinks that atoms are added one at a time; if so, there's no continuity here, either, just discontinuity.

Here is what I have written on this (also in Essay Seven Part One [Link omitted]:

The argument here is plainly this: (1) Quantitative increase in matter or energy results in gradual change, and hence that (2) At a certain point, further increase breaks this "gradualness" inducing a "leap", a sudden "qualitative" change.

But, this doesn't happen in the Periodic Table! Between each element there is no gradual increase in protons and electrons leading to a sudden change -- there are only sudden changes as these 'particles' are added! For example, as one proton and one electron are added to Hydrogen, it suddenly changes into Helium. Hydrogen doesn't slowly alter and then suddenly "leap" and become Helium. The same is true of every other element in the Table. In that case, one of the 'best' examples dialecticians use to 'illustrate' this 'Law' in fact refutes it! There is no "interruption" in gradualness.

Now, this is a more honest reading from the extant data, is it not? And not a single foisting anywhere in sight!

These comments also apply to the other examples drawn from Organic Chemistry [quoted by Engels (and Woods and Grant (1995), examined in Note 4, above); cf., Engels (1954), pp.161-63 and (1976), pp.65-68]:

Furthermore, between each of the organic molecules (to which DM-theorists refer) and the next there is no gradual increase in atoms leading to a sudden change -- once again, there are only sudden changes as 'atoms are added! For example, as one atom of carbon and two atoms of hydrogen are added to Butyric Acid, it  suddenly changes into Valeric Acid. Butyric Acid doesn't slowly alter and then suddenly "leap" and become Valeric Acid. The same is true of every other molecule in similar series. In that case, another of the 'best' examples dialecticians use to 'illustrate' their 'Law' in fact refutes it! There is no "interruption" in gradualness, here, either. [Links omitted.]

Once again, if Oparin did use this idea, then, whatever else he was, he wasn't a "conscious dialectician".

It is worth noting that Fundamentalist Christians claim the same sorts of things for their belief in the literal truth of the Book of Genesis (as do Muslim literalists, too) -- that nature is 'proof' of the existence of 'god', etc.; indeed, even mainstream believers put the advancement of science down to divine guidance. [On that, see here (link omitted).] This is one straw, it seems, that both wings of modern mysticism (religious and 'dialectical') appear eager to clutch, for all the good it does them. [Links omitted.]

Dialecticians have been forced into this corner since, of course, few human beings have ever heard of dialectics. Outside of the old Communist Block and its satellite states it is reasonably certain that there aren't enough dialectical scientists to fill a medium-sized cinema.

But, if as we are constantly being told, scientists are stuck with the rusty old concepts that FL has bequeathed to them (this fable is retailed countless times in RIRE; here are just a few of the places where it crops up: pp.42, 67, 69, 82, 83, 85, 86, 87, 88, 89, 91, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 106, 107, 119, 132, 148, 152, 156, 234, 255, 354, 365, 387, 406; even John Rees has joined in -- cf., TAR, pp.3-4), how would it have been possible for human knowledge and technique to advance quite so dramatically over the last 350 years? If, in practice, scientists actually use these 'decrepit, outmoded, formal categories', and science has advanced as a result, doesn't that amount to a practical refutation of the idea that FL is inferior to DL? [Links omitted.]

Well, you would think this was a safe inference to draw, but DL addles the brain to such an extent that it would be unwise to expect its victims to make such a simple deduction.

[RIRE = Reason in Revolt, i.e., Woods and Grant (1995); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

On the other hand, is there a scrap of evidence to show that there is (or there has been) a single scientist who is (or who was) an "unconscious" dabbler in the Dialectical Black Arts? If there is, dialecticians would be well advised to keep it to themselves no longer.

And what of the few supposedly genuine examples on offer where dialectics has been used in science? If the work of Lysenko is anything to go by, we must surely conclude that DL hasn't been a ringing success: Lysenko's theory held Soviet agriculture back for over 30 years. [Links omitted.]

[On Lysenko, see Birstein (2001), Graham (1973, 1987, 1993), Joravsky (1970), Lecourt (1977) [this links to a PDF], Medvedev (1969), and Soyfer (1994). For a different view, see Lewontin and Levins (1976). See also here. (Links omitted.)]

Of course, if and when things go wrong in non-Soviet or non-DM science, dialecticians don't attribute that to "unconscious dialectics"; rather they put it down to "bourgeois logic", "formal thinking" or an unwise adherence to "commonsense", etc. Which is rather odd, given the fact that all the evidence suggests that logic (both Formal and discursive [Added on edit -- on that see the entry on 'Informal Logic' at the Stanford Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] has actually helped scientists refine and test their theories for centuries -- while there is none whatsoever that DL has featured anywhere at all.

Small wonder then that dialecticians also believe that appearances 'contradict underlying reality'; given the above, they would, wouldn't they? Even so, this is, of course, an odd sort of thing for materialists to have to argue: if the material world contradicts a certain idea, ignore reality and cling to that idea!

For sure, dialecticians consciously do that! And here indeed is one: this is Herbert Marcuse, commenting on Hegel:

"The doctrine of Essence seeks to liberate knowledge from the worship of 'observable facts' and from the scientific common sense that imposes this worship.... The real field of knowledge is not the given fact about things as they are, but the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form. Knowledge deals with appearances in order to get beyond them. 'Everything, it is said, has an essence, that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is therefore something more to be done than merely rove from one quality to another and merely to advance from one qualitative to quantitative, and vice versa: there is a permanence in things, and that permanent is in the first instance their Essence.' The knowledge that and appearance and essence do not jibe is the beginning of truth. The mark of dialectical thinking is the ability to distinguish the essential from the apparent process of reality and to grasp their relation." [Marcuse (1973) One Dimensional Man, pp.145-46. Marcuse is here quoting Hegel (1975), p.163, §112. Minor typo corrected.]

Marcuse nowhere criticises Hegel for this Idealist approach to knowledge; quite the reverse, in fact, he endorses it.

Indeed, and on the contrary, all the signs are that dialecticians are pretty visible practitioners of self-delusion. So: on the one hand we are told that dialectics is and always has been central to revolutionary practice -- and that revolutionary cadres have to be, always were and still are over-flowing with conscious dialecticians --, on the other, we have witnessed little other than the constant failure of Dialectical Marxism to seize the masses, or even so much as lightly hug them.

Hence, if we are to believe this tale, conscious dialectics seems to be super-glued to long-term failure; 'unconscious' dialectics appears to be welded to success!

What conclusion should we draw from the above? Perhaps this: Every revolutionary should copy these other scientists and become consciously ignorant of DL. Maybe then our movement will experience some success.

Admittedly, certain 'dialectical' biologists have claimed that DL has had an important part to play in the study of living systems -- for instance, the authors of DB, along with several notable members of the Communist Party from a few generations back (e.g., Haldane, Levy and Bernal). [Also see Lewontin and Levins (2007) [i.e., Biology Under The Influence, and here (link omitted). In fact, the authors of DB tell us they consciously use DL in their work. However, in a debate with Levins a few years back [Added on edit -- see an earlier post of mine in this thread], it became apparent that he, like so many other DL-fans, has a very insecure grasp of logic.] [Links omitted.]

[DB = The Dialectical Biologist; i.e., Levins and Lewontin (1985).]

---------------------------

In my next post I will continue the above, but aim it more pointedly at Levins and Lewontin. It should be ready in the next few days.

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Re: Anti-dialectics

Post by Rosa Lichtenstein on Thu Mar 06, 2014 6:54 pm

Ok, this is my last post on this topic. Apologies for the delay, but I find the editor at this site very difficult to use, and the white on a black background does my eyes in. So, I have had to edit this material by hand, inserting all the italic, bold and quote codes in, which I have then had to check individually. This has taken hours of work!

I have other things to say about Levins and Lewontin, but those remarks are buried in my general demolition of this theory (where I have taken apart Engels' 'three laws', the idea that 'internal contradictions' can cause change, or that they can be modelled by 'opposing forces', etc., etc., so unless I reproduce hundreds of thousands of words from my site, it isn't practical to post them here). Finally, because of its length, I have split this post into two sections.

The following material was taken from Essay Four Part One.

[Exact references for the books and articles I have cited can be found in the Bibliographies of the Essays from which this and subsequent material has been taken.]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2004.htm

However, if you are using Internet Explorer 10, you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu).

-------------------------

'Cartesian Reductionism'

Unquestionably, an appeal to organic wholes and interconnectedness (proposed, for example, by Levins and Lewontin) makes some sort of sense in both the Life Sciences and in the study of social development. However, that admission doesn't mean we have to accept the entire DM-enchilada, and opt for universal Holism. [On this, see Essay Eleven Parts One and Two. (Links below.)] Anyway, as will be demonstrated throughout the rest of this site, the concepts found in DL and DM are far too vague and incoherent for them to play a useful role in any of the sciences. [So, it is little surprise to find that conscious dialecticians helped ruin Soviet Agriculture and Genetics, or that subsequent dialecticians found they had to appeal to the work of all those 'unconscious dialecticians' in non-Soviet science in order to undo the damage.]

[DL = Dialectical Logic; DM - Dialectical Materialism.]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2011_01.htm

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2011%2002.htm

But, do any DM-fans regale us with the following salutary tale involving the 'dialectical ruminations' of Olga Lepeshinskaya (a personal friend of Lenin's)? [Links omitted.]

"In the 1920s Lepeshinskaya discredited the work of her supervisor, Alexander Gurvitch, who investigated biophotons and mitogenic rays. She claimed that low doses of ultraviolet light were released by dying cells that had been treated with high doses of UV light. Later she claimed that cells could propagate by disintegration into granules which could generate new forms of cells, different from the parental cells. Also, crystals of inorganic matter could be converted into cells by adding nucleic acids. Further, she espoused spontaneous generation and the presence of a 'vital substance'. These claims were propagated as official dogma in the Soviet Union. A claim that soda baths fostered rejuvenation led to a temporary shortage of baking soda. She based her career on claims to observe de novo emergence of living cells from non-cellular materials, supporting such claims by fabricated proofs which were 'confirmed' by others eager to advance in the politicized scientific system. Actually, she filmed the death and subsequent decomposition of cells, then projected these films reversed.

"In May 22–24, 1950 at the special symposium 'Live Matter and Cell Development' for the USSR Academy of Sciences and the USSR Academy of Medical Sciences that was supported by Stalin and chaired by Alexander Oparin, Lepeshinskaya gave the keynote speech, and her discoveries were celebrated as revolutionary by the invited audience. She was the recipient of the Stalin Prize for that year, and her ideas became mandatory instruction in biology. In 1952 a second conference took place to demonstrate 'using experimental methods' that the bourgeois Virchowian concept of cell development (only a living cell can produce another cell) was replaced by a 'new dialectical-materialistic theory on the origin of all living cells from non-living matter.' While her impact and dogmatic dominance have parallels to those of Lysenko, her claims were never officially renounced but just faded away.

"She involved her daughter Olga and her son-in-law Vladimir Kryukov in her work; in contrast, her husband, Panteleimon Lepechinsky, thought little of it. 'Don't you listen to her. She's totally ignorant about science and everything she's been saying is a lot of rubbish' he told a visitor...." [Wikipedia, accessed 09/10/11. (Links omitted.)]

Birstein adds a few extra details:

"Academician Aleksandr Oparin (1894-1980) was another who gained significantly from the August 1948 Session. In 1949 he became secretary academician of the Biology Division instead of Academician Orbeli. In contrast to Prezent, he was a serious scientist and the author of a theory on the origin of life. The first version of his book Origin of Life was published in Russian in 1924, and the English edition that appeared in 1938 was widely read by Western scientists. He became corresponding member of the academy in 1939, academician in 1946, and director of the Bach Institute of Biochemistry in 1946. But from the 1940s-1960s, Oparin was more a Soviet official than a scientist. Besides his positions at the academy, in 1950 he was appointed a member of the International Council for Peace, and in 1952 and 1962, he was elected vice president of the International Federation of Scientists.

"During his years of power, Academician Oparin was an open pro-Lysenkoist. I have already mentioned his role in the tragic fate of Sabinin [pp.255-56 -- RL]. He became even more famous as a supporter of Olga Lepeshinskaya and her pseudotheory on 'the origin of cells from noncellular matter.'

"Lepeshinskaya (1871-1963), and old Bolshevik, a personal friend of Lenin, and an active Party functionary, started her biological studies in the 1920s, when she was over fifty years old. In the 1930s, she published a few papers on 'the origin of cells from non-cellular matter,' which were seriously criticised by many scientists, including Professor Koltsov [an outspoken critic of Lysenko -- RL]. It was evident that all Lepeshinskaya's 'discoveries' were simply based on artefacts (i.e., artificial substances or structures formed during the preparation of microscopic slides) obtained because of poorly and nonprofessionally made histology preparations (she worked at home with her daughter, granddaughter, and daughter's husband, who assisted her)....

"Finally, with the help of another old Bolshevik, F. Petrov, in 1945 Lepeshinskaya managed to publish a monograph under the same title as here theory. It had a forward written by Lysenko and one of his closest co-workers, the VASKhNIL [Lenin All-Union Academy of Agricultural Sciences -- RL] academician Ivan Glushchenko. The book described Lepeshinskaya's experiments in which, for instance, red blood cells 'were developed' from yolk.

"After Lysenko's victory in 1946 and using her Party connections in the Central Committee, Lepeshinskaya initiated a joint meeting of the Academy Biology Division, the Medical Academy, and representatives of the Agricultural Academy. This meeting took place on May 22-24 1950. Academician Oparin presided over the commission that organized it. He formulated the goal of the meeting:

'The attempts to create living systems are possible...only in the Soviet Union. Such attempts are not possible anywhere in capitalist countries because of the ideological position.... I think that the goal of the meeting should be the criticism and destruction of...the last basics of Mendelism in our country, the Virchowian description of the cell theory [i.e., that a cell can be originated only from another cell].'

"Twenty-seven speakers praised Lepeshinskaya's alleged discovery.... Some of them were forced to speak by personal order from the Central Committee.

"The same year (1950), Lepeshinskaya received the highest Soviet award, the Stalin Prize. Two years later, in 1952, with the involvement of Oparin, a second joint conference of the Medial Academy and the Academy Biology Division on the problem of cell origin was organized. As Lepeshinskaya declared 'Using experimental methods...a new dialectical-materialist theory of the origin of all cells from non-living matter has been developed.'

"All this nonsense was stopped only after Stalin's death. However, Oparin continued to be an admirer of Lysenko. In 1954 he wrote:

'The August 1948 Session of the VASKhNIL and the joint session of the USSR Academy of Sciences...had a profound influence on the development of Soviet biological science. They were turning points after which all branches of biology in our country started to be developed on the basis of materialistic principles of the Michurinist biology and Pavlov's physiology.... Our duty is to continue to guard biological science from the influence of foreign reactionary concepts of Morganism and vitalism.'"
[Birstein (2001), pp.260-62. (Links omitted.)]
 

[See also Wetter (1958), pp.451-55.]

Was all this off-the-wall pseudoscience a result of a "conscious application" of DL, too?

It could be objected that any theory (including FL) can be misused. Indeed, but how can one possibly tell if DM has been used correctly, or not? After all, it sanctions the derivation of anything a theorist chooses, and its opposite (often by the very same theorist, sometimes on the very same page, or the in very same paragraph, or even in the in very same speech!). That is because it glories in contradiction. [Dozens of examples of this phenomenon can be found in Essay Nine Part Two. (Link below.)]

[FL = Formal Logic; TAR = The Algebra of Revolution; DB = The Dialectical Biologist (i.e., Levins and Lewontin (1985).]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_02.htm

Nevertheless, the authors of DB advance certain claims (which TAR quotes approvingly; e.g., p.4) that require some comment:

[1] Levins and Lewontin maintain that something they call the "Cartesian mode" [i.e., Cartesian Reductionism, [CAR]] has dominated post-renaissance science; unfortunately, they failed to substantiate this claim and simply left it as a bald assertion:

"The dominant mode of analysis of the physical and biological world and by extension the social world...has been Cartesian reductionism. This Cartesian mode is characterised by four ontological commitments...:

"1. There is a natural set of units or parts of which any whole system is made.

"2. These units are homogeneous within themselves, at least in so far as they affect the whole of which they are the parts.

"3. The parts are ontologically prior to the whole; that is, the parts exist in isolation and come together to make wholes. The parts have intrinsic properties, which they possess in isolation and which they lend to the whole. In the simplest case the whole is nothing but the sum of the parts; more complex cases allow for interactions of the parts to produce added properties of the whole.

"4. Causes are separate from effects, causes being the properties of subjects. and effects the properties of objects. While causes may respond to information coming from the effects.... there is no ambiguity about which is causing subject and which is caused object...." [Levins and Lewontin (1985), p.269.]

However, these allegations are themselves framed in rather broad, general and somewhat vague terms. While it is undeniable that some philosophers and scientists adopted parts of the world-view that these two attribute to CAR, many rejected it. Indeed, since most of the theorists who allegedly adopted this mode-of-thought (if it is one) were devout Christians, they could hardly posit 'parts separate from wholes' given what they found in the book of Genesis. [Naturally, that depends on what one means by "separate".] It is worth noting, however, that the authors of DB cite no sources (primary or secondary) in support of their views -- and no wonder, since that would have ruined the neat picture they hoped to paint.

Admittedly, different forms of atomism dominated early modern science, but Atomic Theory and the belief in the existence of molecules wasn't universally accepted among scientists until after the publication of Einstein's work on Brownian motion and the work of Jean Baptiste Perrin, approximately 100 years ago. [Cf., the remarks on this topic in Miller (1987), pp.470-82; a detailed history can be found in Nye (1972).] Also, worthy of note is the fact that classical Atomic Theory (propounded by Dalton) had to be rejected before these newer innovations became generally accepted. [Cf., Laudan (1981).] [Links omitted.]

[There is an illuminating discussion of these developments in Toulmin and Goodfield (1962), pp.193-305. See also Mason (1962), Brock (1992), Pullman (1998), and Pyle (1997).]

DB's authors also ignore the fact that many scientists and philosophers (these two roles were not really distinguished before the middle of the 19th century) up until about 150 years ago almost invariably depicted the unity of the world in theological/mystical terms. Many of the pioneers of modern science (and Philosophy) openly accepted Hermetic, Rosicrucian, Alchemical, Occultist, Kabbalist, Neo-Pythagorean, NeoPlatonic and Teleological theories of the origin and nature of the world. On this see: Bono (1995), Copenhaver (1990, 1998), Coudert (1995, 1999), Debus (1956, 1977, 1978, 1987, 1991), De León-Jones (1997), Dobbs (2002), Easlea (1980), Faivre (1994, 1995, 2000), Harkness (1999), Henry (1986), Hughes (1992), Katz (2005), Linden (2003), Lenoir (1982), McGuire (1967, 1968), McGuire and Rattansi (1966), Newman and Grafton (2001), Newman and Principe (2005), Pagel (1986), Principe (1998), Ross (1983a, 1998), Shumaker (1972), Vickers (1984), Webster (1976, 1982), White (1999), and Yates (1991, 2001, 2004). See also here. [Links omitted.]

As Historian of Philosophy, George Ross, notes:

"During the middle of the seventeenth century, there was a growing consciousness of a divide between two rival and apparently incompatible world-views. On the one hand, there was the materialist, mechanist picture, according to which the world was to be understood exclusively in terms of particles of matter interacting with each other in accordance with the laws of motion. On the other hand, there was the spiritualist, occultist picture, according to which some or all natural phenomena were to be understood in terms of the sympathies and antipathies of spiritual beings acting purposefully. An important dimension of Leibniz's philosophy was his project of synthesising these two approaches through a new set of concepts which would do justice to the insights of each." [Ross (1983b). (Link omitted.)]

Moreover, the impact of Christianity on the development of Western science is undeniable; a particularly illuminating account can be found in Hooykaas (1973). The book on this is, of course, Webster (1976).

In fact, it is arguable that DM itself represents a return to an earlier and pre-enlightenment, enchanted view of nature. Given the fact that this doctrine [DM] originated in the theories of prominent Natürphilosophers (i.e., Schelling and Hegel), who themselves derived their ideas from previous generations of Hermetic Mystics (for example, Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Pseudo-Dionysius, (and the shadowy figure, Hermes Trismegistus), John Scotus Eriugena, Meister Eckhart, Raymond Lull, Nicholas of Cusa, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Giordano Bruno, Paracelsus, Valentin Weigel, Jacob Böhme, Emanuel Swedenborg, and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger), this isn't the least bit surprising. [Details can be found in Essay Fourteen Part One (link to summary below). A few sources are cited below. (Links omitted.)]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Fourteen_Part_One.htm

Finally, and connected with he above, DB omits any mention of the strong Organicist and Holistic tradition in modern science (represented most notably in the works of people like Herder, Goethe, Schelling and Oken). Emerging out of the aforementioned Hermetic and Neo-Platonist philosophies of the Renaissance, this strand of thought underpinned Natürphilosophie, just as it inspired Vitalist and Romantic views of nature. As is clear, this take on the world dominated the thought of those in the Romantic Movement, and from whom Hegel derived much inspiration. This alone casts doubt on DB's simplistic picture of the development of science since Descartes time. Post-Renaissance scientific thought therefore was both Atomist and Organicist. [On this, see Holmes (2008).] [Links omitted.]

However, of much more interest are the common metaphysical threads running through most of theoretical science and all of Traditional Philosophy, which cast DM in a rather more compromising light -- certainly far more than the authors of DB imagine, or might be prepared to admit. [A political context will be given to this phenomenon in later Essays (notably Nine Part One (link above), and Essays Twelve and Fourteen Parts One and Two; summaries here and here).] [Links omitted.]

On the Hermetic influences on Hegel, see J White (1996), pp.36-43, and Magee (2001); the Introduction to the latter has been posted here (link below). On Goethe, see Bortoft (1996), Naydler (1996) and Tantillo (2002). Cf., also Collingwood (1960) and Lovejoy (1964). On the Natürphilosophie of thinkers like Böhme, Schelling, Oken, Kielmeyer and Goethe, see Benz (1983), Mason (1962), pp.349-62, O'Regan (1994), Richards (2002) and Tuveson (1982). On Oersted's influence on Engels, cf., Graham (1973), and Williams (1980). See also, Brown (1977), Harrington (1996), Horn (1997), and Weeks (1991, 1993). There is an excellent summary of some of the above, and their influence on Hegel, in Beiser (2005), pp.80-109; see also Heidelberger (1998). [Links omitted.]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/glenn_magee.htm

To be fair, Rees does go on to argue that a holistic view of nature on its own is insufficient to distinguish DM from other superficially similar systems of thought. [However, on this, see here. (Link omitted.)] Nevertheless, the examples he gives of other holistic belief systems were pointedly taken from religious/mystical views of the world: for example, we are referred to Roman Catholic and Taoist beliefs. [Rees (1998), p.6.] Moreover, Rees also failed to mention the important Organicist tradition in post-Renaissance science, nor did he alert his readers to the latter's influence on Schelling and Hegel (and hence on Engels). Admittedly, not all those who advocated these systems believed that change was caused by contradictions -- although some did --, but many others thought that change was brought about by dialectically-connected and inter-related opposites, different from Hegel's 'contradictions' in name alone; on this, see the Summary of Essay Fourteen Part One (link above), and Appendix One to Essay Two (link below).

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2002.htm#Appendix-One

Even so, it is also clear that DB's authors have themselves adopted a mildly revisionist view of Engels's work in this regard; in fact, they go so far as to say that "much of what he wrote about [the physical world] seems quaint" [DB, p.279]. True, DB's authors also interpret contradictions as opposing forces [DB, p.280], but in Essay Eight Part Two (link below), it will become clear how unwise a move that was. Nevertheless, in their characterization of CAR, DB's authors pointedly failed to argue that the absence of an appeal to "contradictions" (to account for change) was one of its weaknesses. Perhaps this was an oversight, but it does ruin the neat picture Rees tried to paint of their work.

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2008_02.htm

(2) DB counterposes DL to CAR, as a superior method, at least in the Life Sciences -- and by implication throughout the whole of Science. However, as we will see in other Essays posted at this site, DL introduces into epistemology its own far more pernicious virus: HEX.

[HEX = Hegelian Expansionism (this will be explained later on in this and the next post).]

Small wonder then that the vast majority of scientists (outside of the old Stalinist block, and/or their 'fellow travellers') have completely ignored DL, if they have ever heard of it. [On Soviet Science, see Birstein (2001), Graham (1973, 1987, 1990, 1993, 1998), Joravsky (1961), Kojevnikov (2004), Krementsov (1997), Pollock (2006), Soyfer (1994), and Vucinich (1980, 2001).]

Trotsky himself commented on a related fact:

"In order to deal me a blow in the most vital spot Burnham informs me that in the university textbooks on logic that he deals with, the dialectic is not mentioned at all. He should have added that in the university courses on political economy Marx's labour theory of value is not mentioned either, or it is mentioned only under the sign of condemnation. And the main thing that should have been mentioned is that in the university textbook there is no mention, or only a condemnation, of historical materialism. In the courses in civil law there is no exposition, or only a condemnation, of the socialist attitude toward property forms, etc., etc.... From the fact that the dialectic is not mentioned in the university textbooks [it is essential] to draw some conclusions about the class nature of official scholarship -- its fear of revolution, the inability of bourgeois thought to go beyond the limits of empirical tasks, etc. For Burnham and his ilk the banning of Marxism from official scholarship suffices to disprove the scientific nature of Marxism." [Trotsky (1973), p.403.]

To be sure, there is much prejudice against Marxism evident in academic circles (and elsewhere), but the reason DL isn't mentioned in logic textbooks can't be put down to bourgeois hostility since Hegel was a quintessentially bourgeois philosopher himself -- whose work and ideas are, alas, experiencing a significant revival even among Analytic Philosophers (for reasons that will be explained in Essay Twelve -- link below). [On that, see for example, Redding (2007).] And yet, DL still fails to make its way into logic textbooks. The reason for that is plain (and it is comparable to the reason Astrology doesn't make it into academic textbooks on Astronomy, or why Crystal Healing is mentioned in Medical textbooks): it isn't even logic. [Links omitted.]

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2012_01.htm

-------------------------

This is taken from Essay Two.

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2002.htm

In that Essay the truth or falsehood of the things DM-theorists say isn't at issue (that is tackled in other Essays). What is at issue is whether they are consistent in their claim not to have imposed their theory on nature and society. There, I produce literally scores of quotations from the DM-classics and lesser DM-works to show that they all do this: impose their theory of the world. Here is what I have to say about Levins and Lewontin:

Levins And Lewontin

These two scientists aren't above imposing DM on nature, either:

"What characterises the dialectical world, in all its aspects, as we have described it is that it is constantly in motion. Constants become variables, causes become effects, and systems develop, destroying the conditions that gave rise to them. Even elements that appear to be stable are in a dynamic equilibrium of forces that can suddenly become unbalanced, as when a grey lump of metal of a critical size becomes a fireball brighter than a thousand suns....

"This appearance of opposing forces has given rise to the most debated and difficult, yet the most central, concept in dialectical thought, the principle of contradiction.... For us, contradiction is not only epistemic and political, but ontological in the broadest sense. Contradictions between forces are everywhere in nature, not only in human social institutions.... Opposing forces lie at the basis of the evolving physical and biological world.

"Things change because of the action of opposing forces on them, and things are the way they are because of the temporary balance of opposing forces....

"The dialectical view insists that persistence and equilibrium are not the natural state of things but require explanation, which must be sought in the actions of the opposing forces....

"The opposing forces are seen as contradictory in the sense that each taken separately would have opposite effects, and their joint action may be different from the results of either acting alone.... However, the principle that all things are internally heterogeneous directs our attention to the opposing processes at work within the object....

"...Thus systems are either self-negating (state A leads to some state not-A) or depend for their persistence on self-negating processes.

"We see contradiction first of all as self-negation. From this perspective it is not too different from logical contradiction. In formal logic process is usually replaced by static set-structural relations, and the dynamic of 'A leads to B' is replaced by 'A implies B'. But all real reasoning is takes place in time, and the classical logical paradoxes can be seen as A leads to not-A leads to A, and so on....

"As against the alienated world view that objects are isolated until proven otherwise, for us the simplest assumption is that things are connected...." [Levins and Lewontin (1985), pp.279-87. Bold emphases alone added. Spelling altered to conform to UK English.]

As usual, these two make a gesture at providing adequate supporting evidence, but the level of sophistication and detail they give would result in the award of an F grade had it been reproduced in a paper submitted by one of their undergraduate students, let alone a postgraduate researcher. I have called this approach to proof, Mickey Mouse Science. [More on this below, and in the next post.] All DM-fans indulge in it.

Levins and Lewontin also have the cheek to quote Engels:

"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Quoted in Levins and Lewontin (1995), p.279. However, these two mistakenly attribute this passage to Engels's Dialectics of Nature.]

And yet they tell us the following on the very next page:

"The dialectical view insists that persistence and equilibrium are not the natural state of things but require explanation, which must be sought in the actions of the opposing forces...." [Levins and Lewontin, op cit., p.280. Bold added.]

A "must" and an "insistence", of course, differ from an "imposition" in name alone.

The other things they say in the section of their book devoted to feedback systems in living organisms (not quoted) have been dealt with in Essay Seven Part One (here and here (added on edit: this material formed part of my first post in this thread)), where their status as 'dialectical' systems/processes has been shown to be no less misguided (which, of course, means that this idea has also been imposed on nature). We have also seen in Essay Eight Part Two (link above)) that there is no way that opposing forces can be interpreted as 'dialectical contradictions' (even if we knew what they latter were!). [Links omitted.]

Finally, what these two have to say about FL would result in them being failed from the introductory class to Logic 101. [More on this in Essay Four Part One. (Link above.)]

I have also highlighted Richard Levins's 'errors of logic' (which originally appeared in an e-mail exchange with me), here. [That material was also posted earlier in this thread.]

----------------------------

This is from Essay Eleven Part One (which destructively analyses the idea that change is the result of the action of 'internal contradictions' (link above)):

In their characterization of CAR, the authors of DB spoke about the "intrinsic properties" that objects must possess if CAR were the case.

"The dominant mode of analysis of the physical and biological world and by extension the social world...has been Cartesian reductionism. This Cartesian mode is characterised by four ontological commitments...:

"1. There is a natural set of units or parts of which any whole system is made.

"2. These units are homogeneous within themselves, at least in so far as they affect the whole of which they are the parts.

"3. The parts are ontologically prior to the whole; that is, the parts exist in isolation and come together to make wholes. The parts have intrinsic properties, which they possess in isolation and which they lend to the whole. In the simplest case the whole is nothing but the sum of the parts; more complex cases allow for interactions of the parts to produce added properties of the whole.

"4. Causes are separate from effects, causes being the properties of subjects. and effects the properties of objects. While causes may respond to information coming from the effects.... there is no ambiguity about which is causing subject and which is caused object...." [Levins and Lewontin (1985), p.269.]

Contrary to CAR-theorists, dialecticians appear to believe that objects and processes have what can only be called an 'extrinsic' nature -- that is, one which is a consequence of the relations each object or process has with other unspecified objects (or sets of objects) and/or processes in reality.

-------------------

Added in a footnote: DM-theorists will need to be careful here, too, for if objects don't have intrinsic qualities (presumably, those that originate from an object's structure as a UO), then the belief that change is internally-driven will be even more difficult to maintain.

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

--------------------

Unfortunately, as we will soon see, this DM-option rapidly inflates into HEX (on this, see the next post).

Consider the following example of a seemingly banal scientific truth:

D28: Sodium has the properties it has as a result of its atomic structure.

But, because D28 is expressed in what might seem to be reductionist, CAR-like terms, it won't be entirely acceptable to DM-theorists. The following therefore would seem to be be more in line with their anti-CAR agenda:

D29: Sodium has the properties it has as a result of its interconnections with other atoms.

However, even this appears to get things wrong since Sodium seems to have the relations it has with other atoms because of its inherent properties or dispositions, and the latter in turn appear to be based on Sodium's sub-atomic structure. While it is surely a truism that unless there were other atoms, Sodium wouldn't behave the way it does, the unique atomic structure of each element must surely have some bearing on its nature and properties (otherwise, much of modern Chemistry would have to be binned).

This seems to indicate that even though D29 looks anti-reductive, it has in fact omitted the mediated nature of Sodium -- that is, D29 fails to express Sodium's transient nature as a complex of processes in dialectical tension/relation with its surroundings, reflected in and by its inner structure as that too interacts with, or relates to, other atoms (etc.). Perhaps then the following is closer to the DM-truth?

D30: Sodium has the properties it has because of its mediated nature and its interconnections with other atoms.

Moreover, in D30, the word "nature" could be understood to mean "atomic structure" (with there being no implication that there was anything static about Sodium), as in the following amended version of D30:

D31: Sodium has the properties it has because of its mediated atomic structure and its interconnections with other atoms.

But, whatever is true of Sodium must be true of these other atoms, too:

D32: Sodium has the properties it has because of its mediated atomic structure and its interconnections with other atoms, which in turn have the properties they have because of their mediated atomic structures and their relations with still other atoms.

But, as seems clear, D32 is another incipient HEX-type sentence. [A HEX-type sentence is one that has inflated to take into account everything in the entire universe and for all of time. On this, see the next post.]

In which case, it is not easy to see how the following implication might be avoided:

D33: Sodium has the properties it has because of its mediated atomic structure and its interconnections with the entire universe, for all of time, and vice versa.

Put like this, D33 looks like another example of Hegel's idea that "the truth is the whole", which is itself an eminently mystical notion. [Hegel (1977), p.11; Preface, paragraph 20.]

Glenn Magee makes this clear:

"Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel is the doctrine of internal relations. For the Hermeticists, the cosmos is not a loosely connected, or to use Hegelian language, externally related set of particulars. Rather, everything in the cosmos is internally related, bound up with everything else.... This principle is most clearly expressed in the so-called Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which begins with the famous lines 'As above, so below.' This maxim became the central tenet of Western occultism, for it laid the basis for a doctrine of the unity of the cosmos through sympathies and correspondences between its various levels. The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected.
 
"...The universe is an internally related whole pervaded by cosmic energies." [Magee (2001), p.13. Bold emphases added.]

On Hermeticism, see here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermeticism

And yet, D33 is implausible. It isn't just that there are no credible causal interconnections (that we are aware of) between the atoms of Sodium, which are currently on or near the earth's surface, and events on the other side of the universe today, or billions of years ago, but, even if this were believable, it would be difficult to see how any of this could possibly explain Sodium's properties as opposed to merely re-describe them in a rather complicated, infinitary sort of way.

[Which is just another way of saying that DM can't actually explain anything, even if it were true!]

Of course, this is why metaphysicians like Hegel (and his Hermetic friends) had to appeal to a Mind, or to Mind-like principles, to provide a rationale for existent beings -– dressed up in suitably important-looking a priori finery. On this view, if there are no logical or conceptual connections between objects and events, then it wouldn't be possible to give a rational explanation of the course of events -- just infinitary re-descriptions, based on what Hegel called "bad infinities" -- and, of course, those nasty, unreliable material facts and 'appearances'.

This is the insurmountable barrier that constantly confronts DM-theorists; by avowedly inverting Hegel's system, and in their endeavour to explain what anything actually happens, they have forfeited the right to appeal to the principles Hegel employed to give his system its pseudo-explanatory force: the over-arching 'Mind' behind all development. And yet, dialecticians have no choice: they have to appeal to such mystical principles to give their theory its 'rational' cutting edge.

Without it, their system is like a clock without a spring (to paraphrase Trotsky)

So, DM-theorists find at every stage they have to re-introduce fetishised (teleological) concepts through the back door (via the sophisticated reflection theory (on this, see Essay Three Part Three, and  Essays Twelve Part Four and Thirteen Part Two, when they are published), spruced-up with just enough abstractions to satisfy all but the most fastidious of traditional of thinkers --, and with no little word-magic, to boot --, in order to supply the necessary/logical rationale for their supposedly non-Ideal Universe.

[Added on edit; the 'sophisticated reflection theory' maintains that knowledge is a reflection of reality, but it adds an active element, as human practice both intervenes with and shapes the world. In a later Essay, I show that this 'theory' not only fails to account for human knowledge, it has untoward idealist implications.]

Unfortunately, these shiny new DM-concepts are now no longer the ultimate principles upon which Hegel himself relied. They are just yet more 'brute facts', as Baker and Hacker point out:

"Empirical, contingent truths have always struck philosophers as being, in some sense, ultimately unintelligible. It is not that none can be known with certainty…; nor is it that some cannot be explained…. Rather is it that all explanation of empirical truths rests ultimately on brute contingency -- that is how the world is! Where science comes to rest in explaining empirical facts varies from epoch to epoch, but it is in the nature of empirical explanation that it will hit the bedrock of contingency somewhere, e.g., in atomic theory in the nineteenth century or in quantum mechanics today. One feature that explains philosophers' fascination with truths of Reason is that they seem, in a deep sense, to be fully intelligible. To understand a necessary proposition is to see why things must be so, it is to gain an insight into the nature of things and to apprehend not only how things are, but also why they cannot be otherwise. It is striking how pervasive visual metaphors are in philosophical discussions of these issues. We see the universal in the particular (by Aristotelian intuitive induction); by the Light of Reason we see the essential relations of Simple Natures; mathematical truths are apprehended by Intellectual Intuition, or by a priori insight. Yet instead of examining the use of these arresting pictures or metaphors to determine their aptness as pictures, we build upon them mythological structures.

"We think of necessary propositions as being true or false, as objective and independent of our minds or will. We conceive of them as being about various entities, about numbers even about extraordinary numbers that the mind seems barely able to grasp…, or about universals, such as colours, shapes, tones; or about logical entities, such as the truth-functions or (in Frege's case) the truth-values. We naturally think of necessary propositions as describing the features of these entities, their essential characteristics. So we take mathematical propositions to describe mathematical objects…. Hence investigation into the domain of necessary propositions is conceived as a process of discovery. Empirical scientists make discoveries about the empirical domain, uncovering contingent truths; metaphysicians, logicians and mathematicians appear to make discoveries of necessary truths about a supra-empirical domain (a 'third realm'). Mathematics seems to be the 'natural history of mathematical objects' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.137], 'the physics of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1976), p.138; however these authors record this erroneously as p.139, RL] or the 'mineralogy of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.229]. The mathematician, e.g., Pascal, admires the beauty of a theorem as though it were a kind of crystal. Numbers seem to him to have wonderful properties; it is as if he were confronting a beautiful natural phenomenon [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47; again, these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.41, RL]. Logic seems to investigate the laws governing logical objects…. Metaphysics looks as if it is a description of the essential structure of the world. Hence we think that a reality corresponds to our (true) necessary propositions. Our logic is correct because it corresponds to the laws of logic….

"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v, RL], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted at my site. (Links omitted.)]

This approach to knowledge was required because material reality can't supply its own rationale -- which is what Traditional Philosophers and DM-theorists require -- since, plainly, nature isn't Mind.

Unfortunately for DM-fans, brute facts seem to be all that nature has to offer.

[Which is, once again, just another way of saying that DM can't actually explain why anything happens, even if it were true!]

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Last edited by Rosa Lichtenstein on Thu Mar 06, 2014 7:00 pm; edited 2 times in total
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