Essay Sixteen: Summary
This Essay is now badly out-of-date, and is being progressively replaced by shorter introductory Essays. Readers are encouraged to read those instead.
This Essay contains an outline of the most important ideas found at this site. The vast majority of the minor -- and all of the subsidiary -- issues have been omitted. Each point is developed more fully in the corresponding Essay, where background details and substantiation can be found.
Essays Two, Three And Ten
These three Essays focus on several of the main features of DM-epistemology, which, despite pretensions to the contrary, is surprisingly conservative. The reasons for saying something as controversial as this will become clear as the argument advances -- but first an apparent digression.
For over two thousand years traditional Philosophers have been playing on themselves and their audiences what can only be described as a series of complex verbal tricks. Since Greek times, metaphysicians have occupied themselves with deriving a priori theses solely from the meaning of a few specially chosen (and suitably doctored) words. These philosophical gems have then been peddled to the rest of humanity, dressed-up as profound truths about fundamental aspects of reality, peremptorily imposed on nature -- often without the benefit of a single supporting experiment.
In fact, traditional theorists went further; their acts of linguistic legerdemain 'allowed' them to uncover Super-theses in the comfort of their own heads, doctrines they claimed revealed the underlying and essential nature of existence, which were supposedly valid for all of space and time. Unsurprisingly, discursive magic of this order meshes rather well with ambient ruling-class forms-of-thought (for reasons that are explored in detail in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here), chief among which is the belief that reality is rational.
Clearly, the idea that the world is rational must be forced onto nature since nature is not Mind. Nevertheless, it is far easier to justify the imposition of a hierarchical and grossly unequal class system on 'disorderly' workers if ruling-class ideologues can persuade one and all that the 'law-like' order of the natural world actually reflects, and is reflected in turn by, the social order from which their patrons just so happen to benefit --, the fundamental aspects of which none may question.
Material reality may not be rational, but it is certainly rational for ruling-class "prize-fighters" to claim it is.
Radical talk -- Conservative Walk
Even before the first dialecticians put pen to misuse, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by ideas drawn from this ancient tradition. Clearly, they faced a serious problem: if they imposed their ideas on nature in like manner, they could easily be accused of constructing a comparable form of Idealism. On the other hand, if they didn't do this, they wouldn't have a 'philosophical' theory of their own to lend weight to, and provide a bedrock for, their claim to lead the revolution. Confronted thus by traditional styles-of-thought (which they had no hand in creating, but which they were only too happy to appropriate), DM-theorists found there was no easy way out of this traditionalist minefield -- or at least none that managed to keep their theory the right side of immaterialism.
Their solution was simple and effective: ignore the problem.
This is not to deny that dialecticians are aware of the Idealism implicit in traditional thought; on the contrary, but their excuse for ignoring its pernicious influence on their own ideas is that the materialist flip they say they inflicted on Hegel was deemed capable of changing theoretical dirt into philosophical gold. However, flip or no flip, their own thought is still thoroughly traditional in style: it is dogmatic, a priori, and couched in jargon lifted straight from the Philosophers' Phrase Book. Even though few DM-theorists deny that traditional Philosophy itself is predominantly Idealist, not a single one has avoided copying its conservative approach to a priori knowledge.
So, despite the fact that dialecticians constantly claim that DM has not been imposed on nature -- for that would surely brand their theory "Idealist" -- they all invariably end up doing exactly that, imposing their theory on reality. In so doing, they merely underline the fact that traditional thought has found a new batch of converts among erstwhile radicals.
Hence, in spite of frequent claims to the contrary, Marxist Philosophy has from its inception been remarkably traditional, if not disappointingly conservative. Instead of trying to bury traditional theory, dialecticians have in fact done the opposite, indirectly praising it by emulating it.
The Gospel Of John: In The Beginning Was The Word "Is"
For instance, in his Philosophical Notebooks Lenin attempted to derive the entire dialectic from a single sentence like "John is a man." [Lenin (1961), p.359.] There, Lenin was quite happy to construct several tall stories atop this alarmingly weak foundation, claiming to know what must be the case for all of reality, for all of time.
However, John's material insignificance did not prevent Lenin from uncovering a host of universal and omnitemporal truths concealed beneath this fictional character's imputed manhood. Thus, from this figment of the imagination, Lenin thought he could derive a number of seemingly eternal and all-embracing scientific facts. Indeed, from sentences like these (all of which were of the subject/predicate form -- a highly limited form of discourse, anyway), and scarcely giving a thought to the epistemological megalomania this implied --, Lenin was able to claim that not just John, but everything in reality must be a UO, and thus that everything in existence is contradictory. His reason? Simply that John cannot be identical with the universal term "man", a subject cannot be identical with a predicate.
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Granted, this is not very impressive logic, but it is at least eminently traditional.
Indeed, the imposition on reality of 'truths' of this sort is thoroughly traditional; in DM-circles this goes largely un-remarked upon (and this is still the case even after this manoeuvre has been pointed out) simply because not only does everyone do it, they always have. That is precisely what makes DM so traditional: moves like this are part of a philosophical game that was invented and has been played by ruling-class hacks for thousands of years.
To change the image: this is the theoretically-poisoned chalice from which not a single DM-theorist has failed to quaff. In fact, they happily pass it around and commend its contents to others. In this way, therefore, the ideas of the ruling-class have come to rule our movement, too. Dialecticians like Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky have been quite happy to borrow these alien-class ideas, internalising them and chiding others for denying that Marxists should buy into a single one of them.
Hardly pausing for breath, Lenin was also able to 'derive' several other ambitious theses from a defective understanding of the copula -- i.e., the predicate connective "is", as it appears in sentences like "John is a man". In so doing, he uncritically accepted Hegel's "Identity Theory of Predication" (a logical dodge invented by post-Aristotelian logicians, and one that was also quite popular with medieval theologians), confusing the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity. To be sure, this is a seemingly minor faux pas, but it is one that has hugely disproportionate consequences, as we will see.
This allowed Lenin to argue that "John" was at the same time identical with, but different from, all men. But, neither Hegel nor Lenin so much as attempted to justify this innovative grammatical segue, and yet that did not stop them both from extracting substantive metaphysical truths from so diminutive a misconstrued verb.
This manoeuvre was then compounded by the belief that the subject/predicate form -- as found almost exclusively in Indo-European grammar -- had profound ontological implications. This superficial grammatical feature of just that family of languages (i.e., this use of "is") was now transmogrified from a predicative into a relational form.
[The "is" of identity is relational, not predicative. So, because of the above slide, propositions of the form "NN is F" now become "NN = F", which is just one aspect of the aforementioned medieval "Identity Theory of Predication".]
It is thus no surprise then that from this serious misreading of so simple a verb bogus 'contradictions' freely flowed. This supposedly meant -- so this fable went -- that ordinary language must be riddled with paradox (since it implied contradictions so readily), that nature must therefore be fundamentally contradictory, that the universe and thought are universally dialectical, that everything is interconnected, that change is powered by internal contradictions, and that necessity and contingency are dialectically united as complimentary aspects of reality. All this a priori superscience Lenin managed to extract from this one sentence!
"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, pp.359-60. Emphases in the original.]
This was later amplified by comrade Novack:
"This law of identity of opposites, which so perplexes and horrifies addicts of formal logic, can be easily understood, not only when it is applied to actual processes of development and interrelations of events, but also when it is contrasted with the formal law of identity. It is logically true that A equals A, that John is John…. But it is far more profoundly true that A is also non-A. John is not simply John: John is a man. This correct proposition is not an affirmation of abstract identity, but an identification of opposites. The logical category or material class, mankind, with which John is one and the same is far more and other than John, the individual. Mankind is at the same time identical with, yet different from John." [Novack (1971), p.92.]
Here, as elsewhere in traditional Philosophy, a seemingly insignificant grammatical 'enhancement' 'permits' theorists to ignore and bypass the clear distinctions ordinary humans have built into material language. This then 'allowed' them to blame the vernacular and common understanding for discursive faults that were entirely of their own making.
On this basis, Lenin clearly felt quite justified in projecting dialectics right across the universe -- and, to rub it in, he did so without the aid of a single confirming experiment, just like the traditionalists mentioned above.
This was clearly regarded as a safe manoeuvre since, if language itself has dialectics built into it, and since we have to use it to depict nature, nature cannot fail to be dialectical. In that case, dialectics can be imposed on reality and the earlier bluff denial that this is never done may now safely be ignored.
The Idealism implicit in all this is not easy to miss: on this view, nature is dialectical because language can be made to say so at the flick of a verb.
In this way, sentences depicting John and his manhood guarantee that nature is contradictory because propositions contain contradictions between their subject and predicate terms (i.e., John cannot be all men).
[However, if the predicative form is merely descriptive, then predication cannot be confused with a reference to all the members of a certain group (in the case, allegedly, all men -- since description is not reference). Aristotle saw through that 'difficulty' 2500 years ago; for him predicates applied to subject terms -- so, as he saw things, there was no "is" anywhere in sight to magic into an identity. More details in Essay Three Part One.]
In addition, 'innovative' logic of this sort showed that the LOI cannot apply to concrete reality (again, this was supposedly because subject terms are not identical to predicate terms), and that contingent reality is not only ruled by dialectical logic, the entire world is an interconnected Totality. Luckily, these amazing facts are easy to discover: no boring experiments or observations are required. No, in but a few seconds they can be extracted from a 'dialectical analysis' of any given subject/predicate proposition, which 'analysis' shows that every part of reality is implied by, and is linked to, each and every other part. This is because John is identical with but different from a universal, which linguistic fact connects him with universal reality, but in a contradictory sort of way.
Fortunately, there are other superscientific fact that can be obtained from this 'analysis': appearances must contradict underlying 'essences' (since the essential logic of the relation between John and his universal cannot be accessed by mere appearances, but only by a process of 'abstraction'), and all of reality is governed by dialectical law --, which, paradoxically, also guarantees freedom of the will. This is yet another DM-contradiction that just has to be "grasped" to be believed -- since John is both contingently and essentially a man, apparently.
[LOI = Law of Identity]
However, the best part of this thoroughly traditional tale is that anyone so minded can do a little dialectics with ease, in the comfort of their own convoluted jargon. Who needs expensive equipment, time-wasting experiments and rigorous scientific training when impressive truths like these can be derived so effortlessly from a few shafted words?
If every journey starts with a small step, this particular mystery tour began with just such a simple misreading of this tiny word (i.e., "is"). Traditional Philosophers (like Parmenides and Plotinus -- and their latter-day clone, Hegel) have been doing this sort of thing for centuries. Dialecticians, are thus mere parvenus in this regard; late-comers who have slotted rather nicely into this conservative groove. In fact you can't even see the join.
So, if discourse has dialectics programmed into it, then no language-user could possibly deny the 'truths' DM-theorists have effortlessly wrung from it. Super-verities like these can now be pulled straight out of Hegel's hat since every single one of his theses is hidden in all our sentences. DM can now be read into nature (on the pretence that it hasn't -- and then this can be called a 'materialist inversion' of Hegel) because any reading of anything must have dialectics built into it. The need for evidence can be waved aside since the seemingly obvious nature of the 'truths' obtained from such linguistic trickery is all the proof anyone could possibly need. Dialectics thus becomes self-evident; judge and jury in its own behalf.
This helps account for the relaxed ease with which all dialecticians slip into the a priori mode, and why they all fail to notice when they are doing it -- again, even after this has been pointed out to them.
It all looks so 'obvious'.
A Priori Dogmatics -- The Only Game In Town
This style-of-thought was invented by ancient Greek theorists who spoke, wrote and thought as if reality was actually rational and linguistic -- i.e., the product of Logos. Ever since then, every branch of traditional Philosophy has more or less done likewise, but in its own idiom, as each Mode of Production dictated the content, but not the form. This tradition has provided the back-drop and created the theoretical climate-of-opinion that sets the limits to, and fixes the parameters of, 'acceptable thought'. Hence, and since then, if a theory isn't based on some form of word-juggling -- the more baroque the better --, it isn't 'proper' Philosophy.
Dialecticians have naively swallowed this ancient marketing ploy. This is why so many of them express genuine incredulity when it is suggested to them that Marxism does not need a philosophy of any sort, shape or kind -- never mind the one they lifted from Hegel. DM-fans are so neck-deep in this tradition (which sees a priori knowledge as the only legitimate goal) that they can't help but defend it against radical attacks (like those mounted here).
Small wonder then that Marx declared that the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling-class. [Dialecticians superficially accept this saying, but point the finger at everyone else, scarcely noticing the origin of their own a priori theses in Hermetic thought.]
Lenin thus calmly concluded that the principles he had uncovered while reading Hegel's Logic -- and after tinkering with a few simple sentences -- governed the "eternal development of the world." [Lenin (1961), p.110.] Furthermore, and despite the fact that dialecticians repeatedly tell us that their theory is not a "master key" to all that exists, Lenin let the metaphysical cat out of the linguistic bag when he declared that:
"[t]he identity of opposites…alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing." [Ibid. p.358.]
One minute DM is not the key; next it is. One minute we are told dialectics must not be imposed on reality; next it has been. All DM-theorists indulge in this pragmatic contradiction: first they disarm the reader with an open declaration that dialectics has not been imposed on reality (their favourite way of making this point recently is to say that DM is not "a royal road to truth"), then, sometimes on the same page or in the next paragraph -- or even in the very next sentence -- they proceed to do the exact opposite, claiming that this or that DM-thesis is universally true throughout all of space and for all of time.
For example, Engels felt bold enough to claim that:
"Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself." [Engels (1976), p.74.]
Exactly how Engels knew this to be true of all matter and motion in the entire universe, and for ever, he sadly kept to himself.
Similarly, Lenin felt moved to "demand" that nature be regarded dialectically because he was able to reveal (and presumably he knew this by non-physical means) that the universe actually works this way:
"Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement'." [Lenin (1921), p.90.]
Naturally, after reading this, the only conclusions possible are that either the word "imposed" meant something different in Lenin's day, or he was taking the dialectical piss.
[Q«Q: The Law of the Transformation of Quantity into Quality, and vice versa.]
DM-theorists tell us that nature is a contradictory unified whole, subject to the operation of Engels's Q«Q 'law', but their evidence in support of these a priori claims is alarmingly thin at best, non-existent at worst (on this see here).
For instance, Engels's thesis that all motion is contradictory is based solely on a verbal trick he copied from Hegel -- , a doctrine the latter lifted from Zeno -- , and which has been dutifully copied by subsequent dialecticians, almost word for word since.
No experimental evidence is adduced in support of this 'analysis' (nor could any be; no matter how accurate the instrument, or how careful the observation, no object could be shown to be in two places at the same instant, merely in two places during the same interval). Indeed, all that Engels presented us with was an unbelievably thin 'conceptual' argument about what bodies must do when they move, in a series of claims predicated on an extremely narrow and idiosyncratic interpretation of what words like "move", "place" and "same time" -- and prepositions like "in" -- must mean.
Once again, from the alleged meaning of a few words universal and eternally true 'scientific' theses have been 'derived' by generations of dialecticians. On a similar basis, of course, Darwin could have extracted his entire theory from the meaning of the word "evolution", and saved himself the bother of having to find any evidence to support it.
[Incidentally, and once more, it is not easy for dialecticians to appreciate these points because of the seemingly obvious nature of this Hegelian 'argument' about the contradictory nature of moving bodies. In this case, we are presented with a 'truth' that appears to follow either from the alleged definition of motion or from its 'concept', and because traditional Philosophy has always done this sort of thing, it seems quite natural to accept this way of deriving a priori truths from a handful of words in this way.
Hence, just as political Conservatives do not question tradition, dialectical conservatives happily accept philosophical tradition.
However, this dialectical complacency will be severely bruised here, and more comprehensively in Essay Five.]
Not to be outdone, Trotsky tried to criticise the universal applicability of the LOI on the basis of an alarmingly brief consideration of his own mis-description of it -- having confused it with the principle of equality -- and on a perfunctory thought experiment involving imaginary bags of sugar!
Indeed, he was quite open about his own apparently semi-divine knowledge of reality:
"[A]ll bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves…. [T]he axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is, if it does not exist…. [This] is established not by formal logic…, but by the dialectical logic issuing from the axiom that everything is always changing…." [Trotsky (1971), pp.64-65.]
Once again, exactly how he knew that all bodies are never equal to themselves he left his readers to guess. Unfortunately however, Trotsky inadvertently gave the dialectical game away: clearly an axiom can be read from nature only if reality is Ideal -- otherwise it has to be foisted on it. [Manifestly, axioms are linguistic entities; if anything remotely like one exists in reality for it to 'reflect', that would imply reality is Ideal. More on this here.]
None of the above comrades carried out any experiments, and not only is the evidence collected so far by humanity insufficient to substantiate these eternal and universal theses, when examined more closely, what little data DM-theorists have scraped-together in support of their grandiose claims fails to justify even their local application, let alone their universal validity.
Naturally, that has not prevented DM-theorists from continuing to impose their ideas on nature -- just like countless previous generations of traditional metaphysicians.
Linguistic Idealism -- The Original LIE
This time-honoured approach to theory is here called "Linguistic Idealism" (LIE); LIE is a highly fertile thought-form, having given birth to centuries of superscientific theses conjured out of less than thin air.
This family of doctrines is based on the unsupported (often implicit, unacknowledged or even unrecognised) idea that language itself can reveal substantive truths about the world. This theoretical view of philosophical knowledge goes back (at least in the West) to the Greeks (although, ideologically, the doctrine is embryonically Mesopotamian, Egyptian and Hebraic). Greek Philosophers, who thought the universe was indeed rational (the product of Mind), were quite happy to derive substantive truths about nature from a few tailor-made abstractions. To be sure, this is the only way that peremptory Metaphysics like this can be justified -- that is, if reality is assumed to be fundamentally linguistic.
However, as we shall see, the material world resists theoretical impertinence of this sort -- as does ordinary language, which is the social form upon which human interaction with reality has historically been based, and through which it has been appropriated most fully.
[In Essays Nine, Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here and here) the political implications of the traditional approach to knowledge are examined in detail, as is the ideological motivation underlying the opposite view of ordinary language to that taken here.]
However, at least one comrade unwittingly gave the Ideal game away:
"Nature cannot be unreasonable or reason contrary to nature. Everything that exists must have a necessary and sufficient reason for existence…. If everything that exists has a necessary and sufficient reason for existence, that means it had to come into being. It was pushed into existence and forced its way into existence by natural necessity…. Reality, rationality and necessity are intimately associated at all times…. If everything actual is necessarily rational, this means that every item of the real world has a sufficient reason for existing and must find a rational explanation…." [Novack (1971), pp.78-80.]
How Novack knew all this he sadly took to his grave.
Abstraction -- An Ancient Fable Beloved Of All Traditionalists
There is another aspect of the traditional approach to knowledge that has been copied by all card-carrying dialecticians: the Greek emphasis on "abstraction".
[It is worth recalling here that the usual philosophical justification given for assuming the existence of abstractions is that they account for general features of the world and thus our ability to study them. It is also worth noting that the ordinary use of abstract nouns is not being attacked here, just their metaphysical misuse.]
As it turns out, this ancient thought-form is in fact inimical to DM. This is because the process of abstraction radically alters key features of language, robbing indicative sentences of their capacity to say anything at all: this process changes general terms (i.e., "universals" -- which are outwardly general in form, but which turn out to be either bogus general nouns or reified linguistic functions) into abstract particulars named by abstract nouns.
[A linguistic function is an expression that allows the formation of indicative sentences when combined with singular terms, quantifier expressions, and the like.]
This move prevents language from expressing generality (hence destroying predication), which, clearly, fatally undermines DM-epistemology.
Abstraction achieves both by turning propositions into lists of names conjoined by the misconstrued identity sign (the hapless "is" again). To use an earlier example: in "John is a man", just as "John" names John, "man" allegedly names all men (or the abstract universal, Man). This abstract universal is now singular in nature, having had the generality it formerly expressed (in ordinary material language) neutralised. Singular terms, obviously, are not general.
To compound things further, the participle "is" (of the verb "to be") is then transmogrified into a referring expression, only now it acts as the name of the identity relation. So, "John is a man" becomes "John Identity Man."
[Clearly, this can't be "John is Identity Man", or even "John is identical with all men", without awkward questions arising once more over the nature of the extra (and this time irremovable) "is" we would be forced to use here. Now that "is" cannot be one of identity, for obvious reasons. If it were, "John is identical with all men" would have to become "John is identical with identical with all men", as the underlined italicised "is" is itself replaced by an "is identical with". In turn, that bold "is" must now itself suffer a similar fate, and the whole thing would quickly spin off to infinity.]
In this way, DM propositions become lists of concatenated names, preventing them from saying anything true or false -- because, of course, lists say nothing. By re-interpreting the "is" of predication as an "is" that names abstract identity, nothing at all can now be said of John, or of anyone else, or of anything at all. The use of Hegel's defective logic thus denies all DM-propositions a sense, preventing them from communicating anything whatsoever. In fact, they are not now even propositions.
So, despite what they say, dialecticians do not in fact start with general terms in order to extend knowledge, but with the names of abstract particulars. This stalls the dialectical juggernaut on the starting grid.
In Essay Three, Parts One and Two, the process of abstraction is subjected to destructive analysis; not only is it psychologically impossible to carry out -- and in principle impossible to check inter-subjectively --, its results are incomprehensible. And this is because, once again, abstraction undermines generality, producing only the names of abstract particulars wedged into pseudo-propositions, concatenated with other transmogrified names -- which prevents language from saying anything true or false, as noted above.
The early Marx and Engels are recruited in support of these claims because of their surprisingly similar views in this area.
Abstraction -- The Mirror Of An Ideal World
Despite appearances to the contrary, these observations are in fact good news; if abstractions could express truths about the world, it would mean that reality is rational, and thus Ideal.
What exactly could there be in material reality for a single abstraction to reflect? According to Lenin, scientific abstractions are supposed to reflect nature more truly and deeply; and yet, if this were the case, there would surely have to be extra-mental abstractions in reality for the mind to reflect.
On the other hand, since abstractions would not have existed had human beings not invented them, they are fundamentally mental entities. But, if the mind is able to reflect knowledge by means of them, then a belief in abstractions must commit believers to the idea that nature is Mind, or mind-like. Small wonder then that Greek thinkers invented this process, because that is exactly how they saw things. [The details supporting that assertion are given in Essay Twelve, and summarised here.]
The only way to avoid this result would, it seems, have to involve the denial that abstractions reflect anything in nature, but few, if any, dialecticians would want to admit that.
Of course, it could be claimed that abstractions help us reflect nature, but how they are able to this if they do not exist is entirely obscure. And anyway, what exactly do they reflect? In order to be able to say, such abstractions would have to be imposed on nature -- which is precisely what DM-theorists find they have to do.
As ancient mystics once pictured things, the inner microcosm must reflect the outer macrocosm; or as they put it: "as above, so below". In its more modern incarnation in DM, abstractions therefore reflect "essences" in the mind: as outside, so inside. This is thus the abstract core of their mystical system.
Once more, this is no surprise given the demonstrable influence that Hermetic ideas had on Hegel. No surprise either then that, according to Lenin, each and every proposition is capable of reflecting the dialectical structure of the entire universe, which they could do only if nature were in some way linguistic -- and if that earlier sentential microcosm (i.e., "John is a man") was indeed able to reflect in the mind the entire macrocosm (i.e., in this case, the "eternal development of the world" [Lenin (1961), p.110.]).
Unfortunately for him, Lenin unwisely let it slip that Hegel had in fact "divined" these mysteries into existence for us -- perhaps not noticing the significance of that particular dialectical gaffe. [Lenin (1961), p.197.]
Divine Logic from a Hermetic source. So thoroughly traditional.
Appearances Ain't What They Used To Be
The traditional division of the world into "appearance" and "reality" is also destructively criticised. Even if valid, this metaphysical dichotomy would fatally undermine DM, since it makes validation impossible.
This is because DM is supposedly confirmed in practice; but if practice takes place anywhere, it takes place at the phenomenal level, in the world of appearances. That being the case, the deliverances of practice would be no less unreliable than any other superficial feature of empirical reality supposedly is. If a possibly suspect theory can only be confirmed by phenomenologically-challenged practice, what is there left to exonerate practice? More suspect practice? More suspect theory?
But, each and every theory has to make its shaky entrance in this dubious world as an appearance of some sort; that is, they all have to be written down on paper or broadcast into the air as phenomenal objects. As such, each infant theory, born thus into this material world, is quite incapable of justifying itself, and hence is incapable of substantiating its equally unreliable epistemological cousins: those questionable appearances. On this view, knowledge would remain forever trapped in sceptic-world.
The solution here is of course to reject in its entirety the metaphysical dichotomy "appearance/reality", one that was invented by Aristocratic Greek thinkers who held the material world (and the labour that bought them their leisure) in open contempt.
Now, a 'dialectical' response to all this might include the claim that truth is in fact ever converging on a limit, a target which presumably lends to knowledge its objective clout. Indeed, Engels himself asserted that DM is converging "asymptotically" on truth:
"The identity of thinking and being, to use Hegelian language, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other but never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. Because a concept has the essential nature of the concept and does not therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it had to be abstracted in the first place, it is nevertheless more than a fiction, unless you declare that all the results of thought are fictions because reality corresponds to them only very circuitously, and even then approaching it only asymptotically…. In other words, the unity of concept and phenomenon manifests itself as an essentially infinite process, and that is what it is, in this case as in all others." [Engels to Schmidt (12/3/1895), in Marx and Engels (1975), pp.457-58.]
Unfortunately, this analogy is inimical to DM-epistemology, too. First of all Engels forgot to say how he knew knowledge is convergent. Of course, if what he said were true, his words would thus be infinitely incorrect. That is because, when asserted, this claim would itself be infinitely far away from absolute truth, and thus infinitely unreliable. And manifestly, practice cannot confirm that knowledge is an infinitary process, so it is of no help either.
Second, Engels failed to prove that there is such a limit for knowledge to converge upon asymptotically (in fact, he did not even attempt such a proof, and as far as can be ascertained, no dialectician since has bothered to supply one, either). In that case, this mathematical metaphor is doubly inappropriate: if there is no limit, human knowledge must be divergent. And if that is so, then at any point in human history, knowledge must be infinitely far from this supposed epistemological goal -- which still hasn't been shown to exist. On this view, given Engels's inapt metaphor, humanity will always be infinitely ignorant of anything and everything.
Once again, it is no use appealing to practice to bail this theory out; given the truth of what Engels said, the claim that practice confirms theory is itself infinitely far from the truth (a truth that still hasn't been shown to exist).
Connected with this is the DM-idea that there is a "contradiction between appearance and reality", which claim is itself surprisingly ill-considered.
First, if things only appear to be so, then they surely cannot contradict a true proposition that they are not so -- not unless, of course, appearances are themselves propositional, which would mean that reality was linguistic after all.
[Of course, if appearances were linguistic agents, and were capable of arguing their corner, they could contradict whomsoever they liked; but they aren't and so they can't.]
Second, the distinction itself rests on yet another superficial 'thought experiment', and one which, just as soon as it itself has been uttered or written down (as a phenomenal object), must fend for itself in this reputedly untrustworthy phenomenal world -- but which phenomenal object must somehow miraculously remain unsullied, for all that.
In that case, the Immaculate Conception is not just a feature of Roman Catholic Theology, for here we have the Immaculate Concepts of DM-Epistemology. On this basis, while these objects of thought exist in material reality, they somehow manage to remain stain-free, above epistemological reproach and capable of self-justification -- having been born into this world without the usual inherited character defects shared by all other fallen material appearances/phenomenal objects.
However, delivered into the world of appearances, and whose own 'mother' was and still is an appearance (the latter being a pen, typewriter, printer or computer screen), these now materially-embodied concepts are surely appearances themselves, with an equally suspect pedigree. All the same they are supposed somehow to be miraculously free from epistemological stain: Immaculate Concepts.
In that case, it is more than a little mysterious how and why a single DM-proposition can be trusted whenever it is written down or uttered (since it would thus become an appearance); in either material state (i.e., expressed in ink, or as vibrations in the air) one and all must surely come under immediate suspicion, and be contradicted by the reality they foolishly tried to picture.
[And it will not do to be told that dialecticians believe that appearances cannot be trusted. The fact that the 'dialectical' view of appearances means just that, is confirmed by the way that DM-theorists themselves depict them. For example, when this distinction (between appearances and reality) is applied to Capitalism we are told that while that system might, for instance, appear to be fair (but surely not to Marxists), in reality it isn't. In that case, appearances must be deceptive.
It is worth noting that this is not my belief, but that of dialecticians; but just try getting one of them to admit to this. No worries; we can apply some 'dialectics' to sort this out: DM-fans appear not to admit this, but that just means that in reality they do.
Of course, this is far too fast and trite an argument -- or it appears to be. Again, no problem: in essence this argument must contradict this appearance. So despite its superficially trite appearance, in reality it is quintessentially profound.]
Of course, if DM-propositions are phenomenal objects, what they appear to say must contradict what they really say -- that is, if all appearances contradict reality, as we are led to believe. Hence, every DM-proposition that plies its trade in this world, but which brashly asserts that appearances contradict reality, must, it seems, contradict itself. [Or, it must at least appear to do so.]
This is worth spelling-out in more detail: if appearances always contradict reality, then with respect to any true empirical DM-proposition, "p", say, its contradictory, "not-p", must really be true (i.e., it must be "essentially" true). But, if "not p" is essentially true, "p" must be false. That means that no DM-empirical proposition that appears to be true is in fact true. In that case, this particular DM-thesis (that appearances contradict reality) must be self-refuting -- if it appears to be true, it must really be false.
[Of course, the above uses the LEM, which dialecticians do not trust. However, they can console themselves with the thought that if the LEM appears to them to be defective, in reality it must be eminently sound!]
[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]
Indeed, if the contradictory of "John Rees is a revolutionary" is "John Rees is a not a revolutionary" then, if it appears to be the case that John Rees is a revolutionary (as indeed it does), he must in reality not be a revolutionary.
This surprising result can, of course, be generalised until it ends up falsifying every true empirical proposition, no matter how valid it might otherwise appear to be. Thus, it must in reality be false that Paris is in France, Hydrogen Cyanide is poisonous, and the Sun is hot. Worse, if, according to DM-theorists, appearances contradict reality, and the material world appears to change, then in reality it must remain changeless.
Of course, it could be argued that dialectical logic holds that appearances and under-lying realities are both true (i.e., that reality 'shines' out through appearances).
In that case, the following must both be correct: (1) Nitric Acid appears to be corrosive; (2) Nitric Acid is not corrosive. Are both of these true? Of course, dialecticians carefully choose which propositions they apply their supposedly universal dialectical solvent to, but for any apparently successful application of this handy device, reality must say the opposite. Hence, if it appears to be the case that dialecticians think that reality contradicts appearances, in reality they do not. [Now: can both of those be true?]
Finally, this ancient distinction would completely undermine scientific knowledge. This is because, not only do scientific theory and practice take place in the phenomenal world, they can only be confirmed there. To take just one example, if light appears to bend when it passes between media, and all appearances are contradicted by underlying "essences", then it must be true that light does not really bend when it passes between media. Clearly, both of these cannot be true -- no matter how many dialectical prayers are said over this dying theory.
Dialecticians have hitherto applied the distinction between "appearance" and "reality" without giving much thought to the effect this has on social and economic phenomena. Although it is undeniable that workers hold many false beliefs (as do others), the claim that this is down to "false consciousness" on their part cannot be attributed to Marx. Not only did he not employ the term, Engels himself only used it once in his life, and then only in a letter written late in his life. This is not a solid base on which to build a reliable theory of ideology. [On this, see here.]
However, for the purposes of argument, let us assume that appearances do indeed contradict reality, and that although, to some, Capitalism looks fair, in reality it is highly unfair and grossly exploitative.
But, as should now seem plain, no Marxist could actually assert that fact in material reality without compromising the objectivity of what she or he had just said, for as soon as any proposition saying that Capitalism is unfair is written down or asserted, it enters the shadowy world of appearances, and, like the cat in the proverbial hot place, it stands zero chance of emerging unscathed.
It may indeed be true that capitalism appears to be unfair, just as it is true that in reality it is the opposite, but adherence to this Aristocratic and metaphysical dichotomy means that no Marxist could ever risk asserting either of these facts for fear that by doing so he or she would condemn them both to unreality -- by turning both into appearances.
In the event, DM-theorists are chided for their reliance on ideas and bogus distinctions inherited from traditional defenders of class society -- i.e., those who based their concepts on a denigration of ordinary material language and common understanding, and thus on a dismissal of the collective experience of working people.
This means, of course, that DM is not even a materialist theory.
It also implies that any revolutionary party that taps into this Aristocratic tradition must cease to be the genuine "memory of the class"; in relying on distinctions that actually undermine the collective experience of workers, such a group would become, in effect, the amnesia of the class.
In order to rescue HM from this immaterial black hole, the metaphysical dichotomy between appearance/reality and essence/accident must be rejected in its entirety.
In fact, anyone asserting the opposite of this can safely be ignored on the grounds that whatever they say, it must be a mere appearance, and cannot therefore real.
[A rather nice negation of a rash prospective negator this, one feels.]
[HM = Historical Materialism.]
Essay Ten: Practice -- No Friend Of Dialectics
Finally, we turn to practicalities. First, it is argued that Lenin's advice to revolutionaries that objects and processes should be considered in an all-round sense -- taking all their infinite "mediacies" into account (which idea was itself based solely on a hasty consideration of what he considered must be true of a simple tumbler!) --, is impractical in the extreme. [Lenin (1921), p.90.]
Quite apart from the fact that Lenin forgot to say how he knew that everything had an infinite number of "mediacies", it is surely impossible to consider everything before anything can be concluded, let alone done. Indeed, in order to consider what Lenin wrote, we would need to ignore his advice.
An attempt to appeal to relevance to filter out the vast bulk of these will not do, since one man's irrelevance is another woman's relevance. Worse: how could we prove that relevance was itself not irrelevant in this regard? Where are the infinite "mediacies" behind that claim?
Small wonder then that there is no evidence that Lenin took his own advice! Indeed, any revolutionary stupid enough to accept his counsel in this instance would be useless to the movement -- and a potential danger to themselves --, having thus been condemned to a state of infinite prevarication. Just think how long it would take to decide to print a single strike leaflet, let alone build the first barricade!
Secondly, the idea that truth is confirmed in practice is dependent on the CTT, not the other way round. This is because, if a theory predicts that "p", and practice brings it about that "p" is the case, in order to judge that "p" is indeed the case, "p" would have to be compared with reality. Manifestly, no one would try to guess whether "p" was the case; and there is no way that more practice could confirm that "p" was indeed the case.
[CTT = Correspondence Theory of Truth.]
So, the confirmation of the results of practice is dependent on correspondence relations, not the other way round. To give a concrete example: if, say, party RR set out to help win a strike by, among other things, mounting a series of meetings, distributing leaflets, organising marches, making collections, and so on -- and that strike was won as a result --, the fact that it had been successful could not itself be confirmed by more practice. That outcome would be clear from the way that the world had changed in line with earlier expectations. But who in their left mind would try to verify this by having another march, or holding more collections? In that case, the practical output of revolutionary activity cannot serve as a fundamental test of its correctness; there is much more to it than this.
In addition, it worth noting that incorrect theories make successful predictions all the time -- as did Ptolemy's system for many centuries; the allegedly superior Copernican system was no more accurate than the older theory. Indeed, Ptolemy's system was refined in line with observation for many centuries, and became more accurate over time, but it was no nearer what we now regard as the truth, for all that.
It could be objected to this that it ignores much wider issues. For example, the Ptolemaic system was finally abandoned because it proved inferior to its rivals in the long run.
That is undeniable, but this response is alas double-edged: if it is only in the long run that we may evaluate a theory as successful, then that theory might never be so judged. This is because future contingencies could always arise to refute it -- no matter how well that theory once seemed to 'work'. In fact, if history is anything to go by, this has been the fate of the vast majority of previous theories; even though all 'worked' at some point, most of them have been abandoned. So, if anything, practice shows that practice is not reliable!
Moreover, if it is only in the long run that superior theories win out, then for most of the time, inferior theories will make successful predictions. In that case, we would have no way of telling the good from the bogus for most of the time.
The above observations apply equally well to dialectics; if Marxists have to wait for the revolutionary overthrow of society before they know whether their theory is correct, they might not only have a long time to wait, they could find that Marx's caveat -- the one referring to the "common ruin of the contending classes" -- in the end refutes everything (that is, everything but that anti-deterministic pronouncement). Clearly, Marx and Engels would not have put this particular phrase in the Communist Manifesto if practice always determined truth, and correct theories invariably worked -- whatever they might appear to have said elsewhere:
"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes." [Marx and Engels (1968), pp.35-36. Bold emphasis added.]
Anyway, such long-term promissory notes cannot tell us today whether dialectics is now correct. Indeed, that is one of the main weaknesses of pragmatic criteria such as these; they are projective, not assertoric.
Part of the problem with this sort of alethic consequentialism is that conditions and circumstances change -- a fact which dialecticians would be the first to acknowledge. But, this minimal point of agreement only serves to weaken their case, for if they continue to pin their hopes on outcomes alone to vindicate their theory then it might never be judged correct. Indeed, the opposite could turn out to be the case, especially if events unfolded in unexpected ways -- a denouement clearly allowed for by Marx and Engels, as noted above.
Naturally, in such circumstances, an appeal would have to be made to mitigating factors to save the theory from any awkward facts that might emerge; but if such additional (possibly theoretical) principles have to be deployed to reinterpret such apparently refuting outcomes -- in order to explain why the latter do not actually disconfirm the theory, but 'conform' to it -- then pragmatic criteria are clearly irrelevant.
This should be apparent even to hard-nosed Bolsheviks, if they but thought about their own practice with respect to practice. There seems to be little point in appealing to practice if the results have to be constantly reinterpreted when outcomes fall short of expectations -- as they almost invariably seem to do for us Marxists.
Indeed, when confronted with the glaring and long-term failure of Dialectical Marxism, dialecticians do just this -- they deny that DM has been tested in practice and shown to fail, and promptly appeal to 'objective factors' to account for its long and sorry history. So, practice is never used to account for failure, only success. In that case, practice need never be altered, since it can never fail. And so this sorry story staggers through yet another decade of defeat.
Pragmatic theorists must always do this sort of thing, or abandon their criterion.
The reason for saying this is that pragmatic theories are eternal hostages to fortune. Because of that, those who appeal to practice as a test of truth should feign no surprise when future contingencies fail to match expectations.
Again, it could be objected that modern scientific theories are remarkably successful which must mean that they are closer to the truth -- and that is why they work.
But, theories have to survive rigorous testing, and they evolve over time. The fact that certain theories remain viable is down to the additional fact that they have so far survived. But just because of that it does not mean that they are 'closer to the truth', no more than the fact that an organism survives in nature means that it is 'closer to the truth'. There is no such thing as the true form of a cat that all cats are evolving toward. Cats just survive. Truth does not enter into it. So successful cats do not prove cats are true; and cats, like theories, could become extinct one day, no matter how well they once survived, or 'worked'. Indeed, most organisms are now extinct; does that mean that they were unsuccessful when they were around? Hardly. And did that guarantee they would always remain so? Clearly not. And the same goes for any and all theories.
It could be objected that theories are not like cats, or dogs, or any other species; they are either true or they are not. Species cannot be so characterised.
Maybe not, but the reason why some theories survive and others do not is analogous to the way certain organisms do likewise: there are all sorts of historical, social and ideological pressures on theories, which, like the environmental impact on organisms, filter out those suited to that environment. In that case, the fact that a theory survives/works does not imply it is true (a case for the obverse inference might be viable (that a true theory will work/survive), but not this one). Unless we know on independent grounds that a theory is true, its survival cannot be used to infer its truth. And, as we have seen, practice itself cannot discriminate the good from the bad here.
[However, a new Marxist approach to the nature of scientific theories will be outlined in a later Essay -- one that does not make HM a hostage to fortune.]
If all this is so, then the emphasis revolutionaries place on practice as a guide to truth is misguided at best --, which is a good thing, given the next point.
Thirdly, I argue that while revolutionaries constantly claim that their theory has been tested successfully in practice, the opposite is in fact the case. Indeed, given their unenviable record, it would be advisable for militants to stop appealing to practice to confirm dialectics. This is because throughout its history Dialectical Marxism has been spectacularly unsuccessful. It is perhaps among the most glaringly unsuccessful of all the major political theories/movements in human history -- even though this need not be.
I do not merely assert this; I list (in Essay Ten) the many DM-inspired failures our movement has faced -- alongside its few successes -- to prove the point.
DM has never seized the masses; by its own lights it stands refuted.
Essay Four: Formal Logic Meets Wilful Ignorance
In this Essay I expose the woeful ignorance of FL generally displayed by DM-theorists. Few dialecticians can resist making ill-informed and unsubstantiated criticisms even of AFL, while fewer still appear to know anything of MFL.
[FL = Formal Logic. MFL = Modern Formal Logic. LOI = Law Of Identity. AFL = Aristotelian Formal Logic. LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction. LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]
One particularly egregious aspect of this self-inflicted ignorance is the fact that most DM-theorists seem to think that FL began and ended with Aristotle, despite being told repeatedly that they are wrong. In fact, as any reasonably decent history of logic would have told them (had they bothered to check), 95% of FL is less than 130 years old. Sixty years ago Burnham tried to tell Trotsky that his knowledge was badly out-of-date, but he might as well have been talking to the cat for all the good it did.
This is one idea that seems to have escaped the Heraclitean flux.
Even to this day, the 'news' that logic underwent a profound revolution in the late 19th century (easily of the same order that Physics underwent in the 17th century) has yet to penetrate most dialectical skulls. Still, they refuse to be told. In fact, I raised this with John Rees at Marxism 1990 -- in front of a large audience -- but there is no evidence in TAR that the message got through. Similar attempts posted on Internet discussion boards are an equal waste of time.
Dialecticians, it seems, are happy to wear this particular badge of ignorance with pride.
Furthermore, based on what DM-theorists themselves write, it is clear that the majority of them do not appear to have opened a single logic text ever, especially before they began pontificating on the subject -- at least, not one written since Hegel misnamed his own particular work Logic. And, of the tiny minority who have, few seem to have understood much of what they rapidly skimmed. The hackneyed definitions that DM-theorists give of the three allegedly fundamental 'laws' of logic are hopelessly confused; their 'research' in this area has clearly been confined to copying these 'non-definitions' off of one another.
However, in most of the above the LOI is defined as "A = A", "A is equal to A" -- or even "A is A" (on this see Essay Six) --, which is said to imply that "A cannot be other than A" (which is incorrect). The LOC is similarly characterised as "A cannot at the same time be A and not be A" (or even "A cannot be non-A"), which is said to follow from the LOI (but with no proof that it does), whereas the LEM is depicted rather loosely as "Everything must be A or not A", or even worse, "A does not equal B". [These confusions are dissected here.]
Do dialecticians really think that a philosopher of Aristotle's stature and sophistication actually believed that, say, "Everything must be rat or not rat" (sic), or that "rat does not equal cat"? [Interpreting here the 'dialectical definition' of the LEM literally, replacing "A" with "rat", and "B" with "cat", respectively.]
If they do, we might wonder why Marx thought so highly of him.
Of course, anyone familiar with Aristotle's style of writing (or who bothers to check!) will know that he never expresses himself this way. Indeed, I have been unable to find a sentence remotely like any of these in his work. And he does not even so much as mention the LOI.
Nevertheless, even if their analysis of the LOC were correct, and it was true that "A is A and at the same time non-A", it would be impossible for DM-theorists to give voice to their criticisms of these alleged AFL-principles. This is because it would be impossible to state the following:
B1: "A is A and at the same time non-A".
Hence, if it were true that "A" is at the same time "non-A", then sentence B1 would have to be re-written as:
B2: "Non-A is non-A".
Or even worse:
B3: "Non-A is non-A and at the same time non-(non-A)".
That is, if each "A" in B1 is replaced with what it is supposed at the same time to be (i.e., "non-A"). B1 thus dialectically disintegrates into B3.
Now, this fatal result can only be denied by someone who also rejects the DM-inspired version of the LOC, and who thinks B1 is false.
Even worse still, if every "A" is also "non-A", then these would surely follow from B3:
B4: "Non-(non-A) is non-(non-A) and at the same time non-(non-(non-A))."
B5: "Non-(non-(non-A)) is non-(non-(non-A)) and at the same time non-(non-(non-(non-A)))."
And so on, as each successive "A" in B3 and B4 is replaced by the "non-A" dialecticians insist that they are. Once more, this could only be denied by those who reject standard DM-criticisms of the LOC.
As should now seem apparent, the LOC has an annoying way of hitting back in a most un-dialectical way when challenged; it thus becomes impossible for dialecticians to say what they mean. The same problems afflict other DM-inspired criticisms of principles dialecticians claim to have found in textbooks of FL.
Perhaps worse, DM-theorists are invariably unclear what the "A"s in these alleged FL-laws are supposed to stand for. Based on what they say (the details are given in Essay Four), it is obvious that DM theorists regularly confuse these letters with one or more of the following: propositions, judgements, properties, qualities, words, objects, processes, predicates, statements, assertions, type-sentences, token-sentences, concepts, ideas, beliefs, thoughts, phrases, clauses, relations, relational expression, indexicals, places, times, names and "existences".
The significance of logical disorder of this magnitude lies not so much with the unmitigated confusion it creates, but with the fact that the vast majority of the DL-faithful have not even noticed it!
As will be shown in Essay Four, 2400 years ago (and despite his own confusions in this area) Aristotle was far clearer about such things than the vast majority of DL-fans are.
And this set of doctrines represents ideas we are told lie at the very cutting edge of modern science?
Now, anyone tempted to respond to the above on the lines that it gets the DM-view of contradictions (etc.) wrong, and that dialectical contradictions are really this, or they are in effect that, or they are…whatever, need only reflect on the fact that according to the DM-inspired criticism of the LOC, that criticism itself must be this or that, or whatever, while at the same time being not this or that, or whatever -- if we here interpret the "A"s above as "this or that, or whatever", since, on sound DL-principles, these letters can be interpreted in any which way we fancy.
Thus the radically imprecise nature of the DM-inspired criticism of the LOC (which sees everything as "this or that, or whatever, and not this or that, or whatever" -- where each "this or that, or whatever" is not defined) must itself be seen as "both a criticism and not a criticism" of the LOC. This is so, unless of course criticisms are themselves exempt from their own criticism (and cannot thus ever aspire to become one of those wishy-washy dialectical "A"s).
Alas, this means that DM's own criticism of the LOC must now self-destruct. So, for example, any attempt made by DM-'logicians' to define the LOC must be "a definition and not a definition" -- if their own 'analysis' of the LOC and LOI is itself invoked against any such attempt.
Hence, using "D" to stand for the DM-'definition' of the LOC (whatever that 'definition' is, and whatever it means, if we are ever told), it must be the case that "D is at the same time non-D". Clearly, that would mean that the DM-inspired criticism of the LOC undermines its own definition of it! Or, at least, it does and it doesn't.
It is at this point that even DM-advocates might just begin to see how devilish their own Diabolical Logic really is.
Now, it could be objected once more that DM-theorists do not object to the use of the LOC, the LOI and the LEM in their proper field of application; where these principles fall short is when they are applied to processes in the world, to change and movement. This hackneyed response will be tested to destruction in Essays Five, Six and Eight, Parts One and Two (where consideration will be given to Engels's 'analysis' of motion, Hegel and Trotsky's attempt to criticise the LOI, and the claim that change is the result of 'internal contradictions').
In the meantime, it is worth pointing out that these DM-inspired criticisms of FL are themselves phenomenal/material objects (i.e., they have to be written in ink on a page somewhere (etc.), or propagated in the air as sound waves at some point), and as such they are surely subject to change (if everything is). In that case, they "are never equal to themselves". If this is so, the above DM-inspired criticisms of FL must apply to each material copy of such DM-inspired criticisms of FL.
In that case, no materially-configured DM-criticism of the LOC is equal to itself, and hence each phenomenal example of a DM-criticism is at the same moment both "a criticism and not a criticism".
The rest follows as before.
The counter-argument to this (that dialecticians only need to appeal to the 'relative stability' of material objects/processes to make their point) will be examined in Essay Six. The other counter-argument that this ignores Hegel's use of identity to derive the alleged fact that everything is related, or 'reflects' to its 'own other', but not to everything that it is 'not', is defused in Essays Seven and Eight, Part Two.
However, in order to refute the claim that FL cannot account for change (a charge DM-theorists make as often as they fail to substantiate it), I demonstrate how even AFL (never mind modern Temporal Logic, for example) can easily cope with change. By way of contrast, I reveal that DL cannot even handle a simple bag of sugar!
Moreover, given that DL is supposed to be applicable to the practical affairs of the material world, the surprising fact is that so far there have been no discernible practical or technological applications of DL. This contrasts unfavourably with the many real applications there already are of MFL, not the least of which are those that have enabled the development of computers. Every standard processor, for example, operates with rules drawn from modern-day Propositional Calculus.
Once more, 'dialectics' meets its worst enemy: practicalities. MFL is eminently practical; DL is practically useless.
essay Five: Dialectics, The 'Doctrine Of Change' Cannot Account For Movement
In Essay Five I demolish Engels's alarmingly brief 'analysis' of motion:
"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]
There are many problems with this passage, not the least of which is Engels's claim that the alleged contradiction here has something to do with its "assertion" and "solution". This is not easy to square with his other belief that matter is independent of mind. Who, for example, "asserted" this alleged contradiction before humanity evolved? And who did the "solving"?
Or, are we to assume that things only began to move when sentient beings capable of making assertions appeared on the scene?
In fact, Engels's 'analysis' itself was based solely on a very brief thought experiment, one motivated by a superficial consideration of a limited number of words associated with movement. Indeed, Engels was quite happy to derive a set of universal truths about motion -- applicable everywhere in the entire universe for all of time -- from the alleged meaning of a few simple phrases. Clearly, the concepts Engels used cannot have been derived by 'abstraction' from his (or from anyone else's) experience of moving bodies since no conceivable experience could confirm that a body is in two places at once, only that it moves between at least two locations in a finite interval of time. To be sure, that is why Engels not only had to indulge in flights of fancy to make his case, he had to impose his views on reality.
Leaving this aside, even if Engels's claims were correct, they can't account for movement (and hence they can't explain change). Clearly, Engels failed to notice (just as subsequent dialectical-copiers of the above passage have failed to notice) that the way he depicts motion does not distinguish moving from stationary bodies. Stationary bodies can be in two places at once, and they can be in one place and not in it at the same time. For example, a car can be in a garage and not in it at the same time (having been left parked half-in, half-out); and it can be in two places at once (in the garage and in the yard), and stationary with respect to some inertial frame, all the while. Not only that, it can be in and not in the same place at the same time (in the garage but not fully in the garage, being half-in and half-out of it).
The only way this and similar awkward counter-examples can be neutralised is to re-define the relevant terms in ways that make Engels's 'analysis' inapplicable to material bodies, in that it would then only apply to immaterial, mathematical points. Unfortunately, in that case, Engels's thought experiment would not then pick out what is unique to moving material bodies.
Of course, mathematical points themselves cannot move by occupying still other points, hence they cannot move. Since points are not containers, no point can occupy another point. Points have no physical dimensions or rigidity, so they cannot even 'push' each other out of the way as they try to 'move'. Certainly, there are mathematicians who talk as if they believe points can move, but, beyond a certain way of speaking (i.e., figuratively), there is nothing to support the idea that they can (and everything to suggest they can't -- not the least of which is that such points do not exist in space and time to move anywhere).
Indeed, if certain ways of speaking could make things move, then more of us would believe in magic.
Moreover, Engels's claim that motion is contradictory only follows if a body cannot logically be in two places at once, or if it cannot be in one place and not in it at the same time (otherwise he would not have called it a logical contradiction, and he could not have used it to illustrate the alleged limitations of FL). Engels just assumed the truth of this premiss; he nowhere tried to justify it (and no one since seems to have bothered to fill in the gaps).
However, because an ordinary stationary material body can be in two places at once, and in one place and not in it at the same time (as we have just seen), Engels's key premiss is not even empirically true; hence it certainly can't be a logical/conceptual truth restricted only to moving bodies. If it is true that stationary objects can also do what Engels says, then it cannot be a contradiction when moving bodies do it -- or it can't be a contradiction true only of moving bodies. In that case, it cannot be something that accounts for motion, or that distinguishes motion from rest.
Now, Engels needed to be able to show that if someone asserts that their car is both in the garage and in the yard at the same time, and it is in the garage and not in it (being half in, half out) they must be contradicting themselves. Clearly, since no one else would think this of anyone who asserted such things, if dialecticians still insist on depicting these as contradictions, then they must be using this word in a new and as yet unspecified sense. Otherwise, the word "contradiction" must lose the sense it has, and Engels's claim would be devoid content (for we would not then know what he was ruling in or out -- just as we would not know what on earth he was talking about).
Engels's use of "contradiction" is thus based on ambiguities in language, ones that are easily eliminated once the details are filled in. In Essay Five I list many other examples where ordinary language seemingly allows everyday miracles to happen if it is interpreted in a similarly crude manner.
For instance, it is possible to show that some things move while staying still: worker NN is second in line in a queue, and rooted to the spot. Worker MM, at the front of the queue, drops out. At that moment, NN will have moved to the front of the queue without necessarily moving a muscle. Similarly, some things can move but stay in the same place: so on a train moving at 100 mph, worker NM is reading his copy of Engels (1976); miraculously the words on page 152 (quoted above) all stay in the same place on the page. So, not everything that moves needs to be in two places at once, and not everything that moves needs to change places. There are many more examples of this sort of everyday miracle.
Of course, the above examples only work because of ambiguities in language, and they can easily be removed when disambiguated. But the same applies to Engels's abstract 'analysis' of motion. So, anyone who objects to the previous paragraphs along those lines should therefore also object to Engels's equally cavalier use of language.
Furthermore, Engels's 'argument' depends on the claim that while the location of a particular body is subject to infinite divisibility (an assumption which, one presumes, is necessary to support the claim that moving bodies must be in two places at the same time, no matter how microscopically close together the latter are -- which implies that spatial locations can be given in endlessly finer-grained detail), the time interval during which that body occupies this or any other location is not subject to such a division. This is an a priori and non-symmetric restriction -- that is, it is being applied to time but not to space -- which is impossible to justify either on empirical or logical grounds.
If this constraint is waved (as surely it should!), it would mean that no matter how close together the two locations are that a body is supposedly in, we can always specify a time interval in which this occurs -- or, perhaps two moments isomorphic to them. The alleged 'contradiction' thus vanishes.
Again, the only way to neutralise this response is to counter-claim that a body is motionless if it is in a certain place at a certain time. In that case, if it is moving, a body must be in two places at the same time. But, that just repeats the non-symmetrical restriction noted above, for if we can divide up places more finely so that it is possible to say an object is in two of the latter while the 'instant' during which this occurs stays the same, then we can surely do the same with time, specifying two times for each of these two places.
Yet another negative response (from DM-fans) to that question needs to justify this asymmetric restriction before it can be taken seriously.
Once more, none of this is surprising since Engels's claims about motion and change date back to the a priori speculations of that ancient mystic Heraclitus -- a thinker who did not even bother to base his wild ideas on anything remotely like evidence (having derived his 'profound' conclusions about all of reality for all of time from what he thought was true about the possibility of stepping into a certain river!) --, and to an Idealist conundrum invented by Zeno.
Engels also failed to note that several other paradoxical consequences follow from his ideas. One of these is that if a moving body is anywhere, it must be everywhere, all at once. This is because Engels's argument depends on the idea that a moving body must be in two places at the same time --, i.e., in, say, P1 and P2 --, otherwise it would be stationary. This allows him to derive his 'contradiction': a moving body must be in two places at once and both be in and not in at least one of these at the same moment.
But, clearly, if the said body is in P2 it must also be in P3 in the same instant. If this is denied, then the assumption that a moving body must be in one place and not in it at the same instant, and in another place at the same instant, will have to be dropped. However, if it is still true to say that at one and the same instant a moving body is in one place and not in it, and that it is in another place at that instant (otherwise it would be stationary), then it must be in P3 at the same instant that it is in P2, or it would not be moving while at P2, and would be stationary at P2.
So, assuming that the said body is still moving while at P2, then by the application of a sufficiently powerful induction, it can be shown that any moving body must be everywhere if it is anywhere, all at the same instant!
Now that is even more absurd than Zeno's ridiculous conclusion.
But that's Diabolical Logic for you.
Essay Six: Trotsky Is Equally Confused About Identity
In this Essay, Trotsky's radically misconceived criticism of the LOI is analysed in detail and shown to be patently wrong at best, incomprehensible at worst. [Comments on Hegel's 'analysis' of Identity, which is marginally better than Trotsky's, will appear in Essay Twelve.]
For example, the 'definition' Trotsky uses (viz., "A is equal to A" ) -- and one reproduced identically by his followers -- is in fact an example of the principle of equality, not of identity:
"The Aristotelian logic of the simple syllogism starts from the proposition that 'A' is equal to 'A'…. But in reality 'A' is not equal to 'A'. This is easy to prove if we observe these two letters under a lens -- they are quite different from each other. But, one can object, the question is not the size or the form of the letters, since they are only symbols for equal quantities, for instance, a pound of sugar. The objection is beside the point; in reality a pound of sugar is never equal to a pound of sugar -- a more delicate scale always discloses a difference. Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is true (sic) -- all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves. A sophist will respond that a pound of sugar is equal to itself at 'any given moment'…. How should we really conceive the word 'moment'? If it is an infinitesimal interval of time, then a pound of sugar is subjected during the course of that 'moment' to inevitable changes. Or is the 'moment' a purely mathematical abstraction, that is, a zero of time? But everything exists in time; and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation; time is consequently a fundamental element of existence. Thus the axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is if it does not exist." [Trotsky (1971), pp.63-64.]
From this poor start Trotsky's 'analysis' deteriorates rapidly. Neither he nor his epigones quote classical versions of the LOI (for example, that of Leibniz), and the latter seem to be unaware of more recent, technical definitions of this 'Law'. Clearly, these major interpretive blunders fatally compromise DM's claim to be a science, let alone a philosophical theory that merits serious attention.
Identity and equality are relatively easy to distinguish (so much so that even the children of workers can grasp the difference). For example, in elementary mathematics the equation 2x + 1 = 7 is true if and only if x = 3, but no one supposes that x is identical to 3, otherwise it could never equal any other number (as it does in, say, 3x – 2 = 19).
In contrast, the "º" sign that appears in, say, 2sinxcosx º sin2x expresses identity, for this rule yields the true for all defined values of x. Worse still: two or more identicals can be equal to, but different from, the same identical; for instance, even though 0 = 0, it is also true that 0 + 0 = 0, even while it is also true that 0 + 0 is not identical to 0.
In MFL, the distinction between these two is even more profound. "=" is a relational expression (and can be flanked only by names (or other singular expressions)), whereas "º" and is a truth-functional operator (and can be flanked only by propositions, and the like). [Of course, these distinctions are not the same as those applied in ordinary language (no irony intended), nor yet those in traditional Philosophy -- more on this below.]
[MFL = Modern Formal Logic.]
Some might object to these and other examples on the grounds that they are "abstract"; but even if this were correct, there would still be a clear difference between abstract identity and abstract equality, something Trotsky also failed to notice.
Furthermore, in ordinary material language the difference is even clearer. So, we can say things like "The author of What is To Be Done? is identical to Lenin" (whereas, it would be odd to say "The author of What is To Be Done? is equal to Lenin"), just as we can say that "The number of authors of What is To Be Done? is equal to one" (but not, "The number of authors of What is To Be Done? is identical to one"). And, since counting objects is just as material a practice as weighing them is, no dialectician can consistently take exception to these and other such awkward material examples of the difference between identity and equality, while accepting uncritically Trotsky's point about weighing bags of sugar.
Not only that, two equal things can fail to be identical, and vice versa. For example, two distinct comrades could be equally first in two separate lists (and the material embodiment of this fact could alter either greatly or hardly at all without affecting their status -- so, for example, their names could be written in neon signs that flashed on and off every second, and out of sequence, or, one could do handstands while the other read a book, but they would still both be equal first, and non-identical for all that).
Moreover, two items can be identical as well as equal in certain respects but not in others; for example two workers could be identically placed in two unequal queues -- for instance, both second from the front. And, some things can be equal and identical, or not, as the case may be. For example, the letter "T" can occur identically in first place in two different words (such as "Trotsky" and "teamster") even though neither letter nor word is equal or identical in size or shape. And, two letters, which are identically first in the alphabet (namely two "A"s) can be non-identically positioned in two unequal words (such as "target" and "Antarctic"). Indeed, careful optical examination will fail to show that those two "T"s were not identically positioned at the front of the two quoted words (nor equally first in each), or that the two numerically different "A"s are not identically the opening letter of the alphabet. This sort of identity is clearly not sensitive to empirical test, eyeglass or no.
And we needn't concentrate on examples that some might consider "abstract"; two physical ink marks on a page (two letter "A"s, say) which are not identical in shape or size (i.e., "a" and "A") could be identically positioned between other non-identical letters. So, in "Pat" and "PAT" each letter "A" is identically sandwiched between two other non-identical letters. Now the physical position of material ink marks on a page, or even that of these electronically produced pixels on your screen, is not abstract, it is eminently material --, so much so that it can be obliterated by the non-dialectical application either of Tippex or the delete key.
This non-dialectical deletion would not be deleting an abstraction.
Ordinary material language is in fact almost limitless in the possibilities it allows those who refuse to be led astray by the obscure jargon employed by Idealist philosophers (like Hegel) to express sameness, equality, identity and difference. It is a pity that Trotsky's otherwise brilliant mind failed to notice such banalities, ones indeed the children of workers are capable of grasping. Many other examples are given in Essay Six -- so many that many non-identical readers might all be in danger of becoming equally bored perusing the same list on their non-identical screens.
[The triteness of some of these examples should provide no reason for anyone to cavil; after all Trotsky it was who advised his readers to consider bags of sugar and letter "A"s.
It could be objected that the above examples do not address the classical problem, which concerns the entire set of predicates "true of" an object, or indeed of some 'substance'. This is undeniable, but then DM-theorists do not consider these either (fixated as they are on "A = A"), and neither did Hegel. As soon as they do, I will address what they have to say.]
Moreover, some things can change even while they stay the same; for example, it is easy to transform 1/√n into √n/n thus: 1/√n x √n/√n = √n/n. But, 1/√n does not even look like √n/n, even though the two are identical: 1/√n º √n/n. So, here we have change with no change! [Recall: the signs used here are eminently material. Also, note that I am using the "º" sign mathematically here, not logically.]
Again, it is possible to choose other non-'abstract' examples here: an actor can change costume while playing identically the same role in a play (say the Prince in Hamlet -- indeed such a change might actually define that character's identity, not necessarily in this particular play, but a different one), just as a passenger can change buses while still on identically the same holiday (i.e., two weeks in Bognor), and a worker can change jobs while occupying identically the same position (as Treasurer) in her local Stop the War! branch.
Trotsky Refutes Himself -- Again In Practice
Even if it had have been correctly worded and targeted, Trotsky's attack on the LOI would still backfire. This is because his argument depends on the LOI being true of instants in time so that he can criticise it when it is applied to bags of sugar. Hence, his criticism depends on, say, a bag of sugar being non-self-identical during the same moment in time, and yet moments in time are just as capable of being measured as bags of sugar are. In that case, Trotsky cannot consistently use "same moment" while criticising "same weight"; both are legitimate examples of identity. In that case, Trotsky needs the LOI to be true of instants in time so that he can criticise it as false when it is applied to bags of sugar!
Again, if time can be measured (just as sugar can be weighed), the above objection of mine to Trotsky's 'analysis' cannot be neutralised by claiming that time and/or temporal moments are "abstractions". Even if they were, Trotsky cannot argue that a bag of sugar changes in the same instant, for there could be no such thing (if he were right) -- unless the LOI can be applied validly to them (as abstractions). So he has to be able to refer to the same 'abstract moment'.
And Trotsky (or one of his epigones) can't use the fall-back option that bags of sugar are the "same, yet different" (employing the "identity-in-difference" gambit) since Trotsky had already torpedoed that response, declaring that all things are never the same:
"Again one can object: but a pound of sugar is equal to itself. Neither is true (sic) -- all bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves." [Ibid., p.64. Emphasis added.]
Hence, if objects and processes are never the same, they cannot be the "same, yet different", they can only be "different, yet different". Of course, if it is true that they are the "same, yet different" then it cannot be true that they are never the same. Either way, Trotsky's criticism backfires.
Moreover, Trotsky also ignored clear examples of identity that are not subject to his strictures on equality. For example: the number of volumes of Das Kapital in 1917 is identical and equal to the number of volumes of Das Kapital in 2005, namely three. This is true even though copies of the books in question could differ radically, and be changing diachronically all the while. As already noted, since counting and weighing are both physical activities carried out in the material world, no DM-apologist can complain that this is an "abstract" example (indeed, when comrades refer to Volume Three of Kapital, they are not referring to an abstraction!). Moreover, the 'concept' of "abstract identity" (where any sense can be made of it, that is) itself requires reference be made to material identity to give it some content (as we will see); in that case, "abstract identity" is based on notions of sameness and difference already present in material language.
In fact, just to consider one such use: any two dialecticians who fancy they have the same idea of "abstract identity" must either accept that a material version of the LOI applies to their two distinct ideas of "abstract identity" (so that they can confirm they are talking about the same thing in this material world), or they must concede that they are talking about two different things, and stop their blather.
[And any response from the DM-community that the above two are and are not doing the aforementioned must suffer the same fate.]
Furthermore, the idea that ordinary identity (or even the misconstrued version of it that Trotsky used) only really approximates to abstract identity (so that no two concrete things in material reality are exactly the same, even if they are approximately (abstractly) identical, or are only approximately (abstractly) self-identical), is equally misconceived.
We are surely no further forward unless we can be told with what it is that our ordinary terms for identity are supposed to approximate (if anything), for if these terms do not approximate to anything specifiable, they must be empty notions. On the other hand, if DM-apologists can say with what it is that our words for identity do in fact approximate, then they must have a clear idea of abstract identity which cannot itself be subject to Trotsky's criticisms, since their idea of abstract identity (situated here and now in this world) must be materially identical to abstract identity itself. On the other hand, if this idea is not identical to abstract identity, then what they say about identity (ordinary or abstract) can safely be ignored, for it won't be about identity, but about something different.
Furthermore, Trotsky's appeal to the hypothetical weighing of bags of sugar is no less misplaced. Since weighing devices are just as susceptible to change as bags of sugar are, Trotsky had no way of knowing whether the different weights he predicted were genuine effects (because the weight of the sugar (etc.) alters) or merely artefacts of changing machinery -- or the result of a locally variable gravitational field, or even the changing eyesight of the experimenter, or indeed a host of other factors.
In fact, this latest objection can only be neutralised if weighing machines, experimenters and the rest of the universe (other than bags of sugar) are all exempted (from consideration) as changeless beings. In such circumstances it would then be safe to assume that differing measurements were solely the result of changes in the items being weighed. Short of that, Trotsky could only be 100% confident that subsequently detectable differences were always and only the result of changes to the weight of the sugar because of an a priori stipulation to that effect. In that sense, Trotsky would have imposed dialectics on nature, contrary to what he elsewhere said should never be done:
"Dialectics cannot be imposed on facts; it has to be deduced from facts, from their nature and development…." [Trotsky (1973), p.233.]
On the other hand, if Trotsky had been faced with someone who claimed that at least two of their weighings gave identical results, he could only have responded in one of the following ways: (1) Insisting that this experimenter must have been mistaken; (2) Complaining that the machines used were not accurate enough; (3) Claiming that his instructions had not been carried out exactly as prescribed; (4) Arguing that identically the same experiments had not been performed each time. In other words, in the absence of a mistake (and if the same results were recorded on more accurate scales), Trotsky would only be able to criticise the above reported experimental verification of the LOI (i.e., one which reported identical weights for the same bag) by an appeal to that very same law, but now applied to his own instructions!
Hence, in order to counter results that disconfirmed his forecast, he would have to argue that only those who followed his instructions identically and to the letter could disprove the LOI!
The irony is thus quite plain: identically performed experiments are required in order to prove that nothing is identical with anything else (including experiments)!
Of course, anyone who only roughly followed instructions (who was perhaps content with a wishy-washy, "approximate-within-certain-limits" dialectical-sort-of-equality) would probably find that many (if not most) of their measurements gave identical results for the weights of bags of sugar.
In which case, Trotsky's predictions about the weight of sugar varying would end up being refuted by anyone who adopted this diluted version of the LOI, since they would quite often obtain identical weights.
Such experimenters would succeed in confirming the absolute version of the LOI by adopting a weaker variant of it!
Conversely, the more exactly the experimenters adhered to Trotsky's instructions, the more likely they would be to detect non-identical weights. In that case, they would succeed in disconfirming the absolute version of this 'law' (applied to sugar) by applying an exact copy of Trotsky's instructions! So, by converse irony, they would refute Trotsky in practice by doing exactly as instructed, using the LOI applied to instructions to disconfirm it as applied to bags of sugar!
Finally, and most damningly, Trotsky (and Hegel) failed to notice that if anything changes then whatever is identical with it must change equally quickly. In that case, identity is no enemy of change.
With that observation, much of classical DM falls apart.
Essay Eleven: Totality
In this Essay, the aim is to show that the refusal/failure by DM-theorists to say what they mean by the word "Totality" fatally undermines their entire theory, turning it either into a crude form of Conventionalism or into a confused version of Phenomenalism.
The author of TAR, for example, simply says that:
"Totality refers to the insistence that the various seemingly separate elements of which the world is composed are in fact related to each other." [Rees (1998), p.5.]
This can't be right since it tells us that the "Totality" is an "insistence", which if it were --, and as the word suggests --, it would have to be foisted on nature.
When pressed, dialecticians sometimes appeal to "nature" (or perhaps "the Universe") as a physical embodiment of the "Totality", but this is of little help. As we will soon see, such vague gestures allow in far too many things one would normally prefer to keep out.
This response also leaves out of consideration the past. The past is surely part of nature, and the universe, one supposes. But, clearly, the past does not exist (except for those with a novel take on the word "exist"). And yet, if the past is included as part of the "Totality", then the latter will contain many things that do not exist. This might make it difficult to explain how everything in the "Totality" is interconnected. Clearly, no matter how big the Universe now is, most things that have featured in it at some point did so in the past. If so, items in the present "Totality" must be interconnected with far more non-existent things than existents. The word "interconnected" would then become rather difficult to account for in physical terms.
If now the past is said the be interconnected with the present as a result of certain processes that stretch into the past, then that would mean that while those processes are connected with things in the past, the past is not actually interconnected with the present (unless we allow 'backwards' causation, where the present is back-connected with the non-existent past). At best, that would mean that the vast bulk of the "Totality" would not be interconnected, as we were led to believe.
On the other hand, if the past is said to exist (as part of a sort of Einsteinian four-dimensional manifold) then that would scupper the dialectical belief in change. This is because there is no objective change in such a world. On this view, change is the result of our subjective perception of how successive orthogonal hyperplane slices through this manifold seem to be related to one another.
And even if that is rejected, then most of the Totality would still be changeless. If the past does exist somehow, it could not change (into what?). That would mean that the vast bulk of the "Totality" would be frozen like Plato's Forms.
Alternatively, if the existence of the past is rejected, then dialecticians might find it difficult to account for the present. How can anything non-existent create all that now exists? That would be worse than believing in 'God'.
Of course, the same sort of problems afflict the "Totality" in relation to the both present and the future. Given that the present lasts only a moment (easily less than a yocto second, i.e., 10-24 seconds), it is surely far too ephemeral to be interconnected with anything -- if the "Totality" consists of only the present state of the Universe. It is hard to see how such a ghostly entity could account for anything. And if the present is interconnected with anything, what is it? It can't be the past; that does not exist. It can't be the future either, for the same reason.
It rather looks like the DM-"Totality" is even less substantial than the Cheshire Cat's smile.
[Possible responses to these and other objections are considered in detail in Essay Eleven, Part One.]
More significantly, DM-theorists have in general failed to inform us just how they know that there is only one "Totality" (as opposed to two, or ten thousand). Nor have they revealed how they are quite so sure that everything belongs to the same "Totality".
Appealing to the BBT here will do no good since that just accounts for the origin of our universe (although some scientists and Marxists reject this theory; on this see, for example, here, and here), not the "Totality" (for which we are still owed so much as even a vague DM-gesture, let alone anything like a clear definition).
[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]
Nor will it do to appeal to what the word "Totality" itself means (i.e., "everything") -- unless, that is, those aiming to do so openly admit to trying to derive yet another substantive truth about nature from the supposed meaning of yet another word.
Of course, if there are a few brave DM-fans who still want to link their "Totality" to whatever the Big Bang produced, then they would, it seems, have to accept that they live in that changeless four-dimensional manifold mentioned above.
Moreover, the word "everything" is a little too loose a word to use in political company, since it would allow the "Totality" to contain some rather odd items. [On this see below.]
Some might want to refer us to scientists to tell us what the "Totality" is; but that might not be such a good idea. If we naively relied on what scientists have at some point told us exists then the "Totality" would contain things like Caloric, Phlogiston, Piltdown Man and the Crystalline Spheres (as well as numerous other peculiar objects and processes that scientists used to swear once existed).
On the other hand, if the "Totality" does not contain these things (any longer?) then either (1) the "Totality" must have changed in the past in line with our ideas about it, or (2) scientists shouldn't be allowed the sole right to decide what its contents are.
But, if scientists are now refused exclusive rights in this area, then one can only sympathise with the poor comrade who has to sit on the 'revolutionary selection panel' charged with deciding whether any of the following belong to the "Totality", or not:
Vacua, mirages, illusions, holes, surfaces, corners, shadows, the 'Unconscious', mirror and lens images, para-reflections, the perspectival properties of bodies, phantom limbs, dreams, rainbows, refractions, pains, hallucinations, memories, emotions, the Ether, N Rays, The Odic Force, Orgone, the Fifth Force, Bioenergy, Polywater, Superstrings, branched time zones, Axions, Branes, the Higgs Boson, virtual particles, particles themselves, selfish genes, I.Q., race, Morphogenic Fields, homeopathic phenomena, 'Mitochondrial Eve', the Placebo effect, gravitons, tachyons, Gaia, singularities, geodesics, gravitational waves, electrons travelling 'backward' in time, magnetic monopoles, tetraneutrons, phase space, photinos, dark matter, the Field, world-lines, Strange Attractors, Cold Fusion, MACHO's, WIMPS, spinors, the future, the past and the specious present. [Reference to what many of these are is given in Essay Eleven Part One, here.]
However, without such a panel, the DM-"Totality" would be as Ideal as Hegel's Absolute ever was (or it would largely be empty). On the other hand, even with such a panel, the "Totality" would be sensitive to human choice -- and thus as conventional as other areas of science are.
Moreover, if Lenin is right and all knowledge is provisional (and it is worth recalling here that Lenin himself described the existence of the Ether as "objective" [Lenin (1972), pp.50, 312, 314, 329]), then the "Totality" would have to change whenever its contents list was revised (as indeed it might have to do soon, given the fact that the Higgs Boson is barely clinging onto its theoretical life right now, as it seems is 'Dark Matter', too). Naturally, that will mean that this supposedly objective "Totality" must change in line with the decisions we take, making it even more identical to Hegel's Absolute. On the other hand, if the "Totality" does not change in line with our decisions about it, what on earth is it?
Given the fact that some scientists are beginning to think that the Ether should be re-introduced into Physics (details are given in Essay Eleven, here) this seems to mean therefore that the "Totality" has its own sort of metaphysical revolving door, as it were, in order to accommodate the changing roll-call nominated by constitutionally fickle scientists.
But worse, if we can't decide on what basis to include or exclude things from this avowedly contradictory "Totality", then perhaps it includes things that not only do not exist, but things that cannot exist?
This latest possibility now poses far more serious problems for any attempt to construct an Ontological Definition of the "Totality". This is because several DM-theses indicate that the 'perimeter fence' (as it were) encircling the "Totality" is full of holes.
While rival ontological systems operate with some sort of closed-border policy -- admitting the existence of certain entities, but disallowing others -- it turns out that DM-theorists may not reject anything at all, since they openly admit (if not adamantly insist upon) the existence of contradictions -- and countless trillions of them (indeed, possibly hundreds, if not thousands, in each atom in the entire universe)!
Hence, the 'DM-boundary fence' is not so much porous as non-existent. The "Totality", it seems, could contain anything, including impossible objects -- not just contradictory objects and processes, but mythical and imaginary ones, too. Maybe it includes four-edged hexagons, the round square, the golden mountain, unicorns, all the Olympian Gods, the end of the rainbow and the Adhedral Triangle?
Anyone tempted to respond here that the above list is absurd since it contains contradictory items, which can be ruled out in advance, should once more consult their local DM-oracle before they pontificate quite so hastily in future. In fact, given well-known DM-principles, it is not easy to see how any of the above (and more) could be rejected on such an a priori basis.
Thus, if the DM-"Totality" is to be rescued from absurdity some way must be found to stop these and countless other 'impossibles' before they cross its leaky border.
It could be objected here that this is ridiculous; dialecticians only acknowledge the existence of contradictions that can be empirically verified. Hence, they do not countenance the actuality of 'theoretical' contradictions, nor do they admit the mere existence of all 'contradictory', imaginary, and impossible objects.
But, this counter-claim is demonstrably incorrect. [This claim is substantiated in detail in Essay Seven, and Essay Eleven Part One.]
Again, it could be argued that 'contradictory objects' are easily excluded because they are not material and do not represent verifiable material forces. But who says? How do we know that scientists might not one day discover weird and wonderful things like these? They already have a few of their own to contend with; several of these were listed above. Electrons travelling backwards in time, and events happening before they occur seem pretty absurd. Electrons travelling backwards in time, and events happening before they occur seem pretty absurd.
[UO = Unity of Opposites; DL = Dialectical Logic; FL = Formal Logic.]
Worse still: such possibilities cannot be ruled out by anyone wielding principles found only in DL -- because of those, DM-theorists openly admit the existence of countless contradictions and other assorted impossibilities. [On this, see below.]
In fact, if everything in existence is a UO (as Lenin claimed) then there should be as many contradictions in reality as there are elementary particles (possibly more). In that case, the above 'impossibilities' cannot be ruled out in advance of all the evidence having been considered, certainly not on principles exclusive to DL.
Of course, DM-theorists already acknowledge the actual existence of contradictory objects and processes prior to all (or even most, or even a tiny fraction) of the evidence has been amassed (and in many cases in abeyance of any evidence) since they view (nay, insist that) everything as(is) a UO. If this is so, then for all they know the Totality could contain these and other absurdities. If, according to DM, an infinite amount of knowledge awaits future discovery, then at any point in history (such as the present) humanity must be infinitely ignorant of the final contents of -- and the principles governing -- the universe. That being so, no one in the grip of this Hermetic virus is in any position to rule such absurdities out. The only way these could be excluded is by an appeal to principles exclusive to FL -- and on a basis of rules of language that are incompatible with those found in DL.
As we have already seen (in connection with Engels's analysis of motion, and several other core DM-theses, here, here and here), DM-theoreticians already admit the existence of contradictory objects and events. Examples of these include the unity of opposite poles in a magnet, 'contradictory' opposing forces throughout nature, contradictory moving objects, contradictory numbers and mathematical concepts, seeds which negate themselves, the existence of actual infinities (that is, the existence of something which both terminates (so that it is an existent) and does not), the fundamentally contradictory nature of matter (in that it is both wave and particle, continuous and discontinuous, all at once), and contradictory cells (in that they are both alive and dead at the same time), and so on.
As Lenin noted:
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [E]ach thing (phenomenon, process, etc.)…is connected with every other…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other….
"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics….
"The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics….
"In mathematics: + and -. Differential and integral. In mechanics: action and reaction. In physics: positive and negative electricity. In chemistry: the combination and dissociation of atoms….
"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….
"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
This means that DM-theorists cannot consistently exclude any of the contradictory and unlikely entities listed earlier solely on the basis of their contradictory natures. Theorists who postulate contradictions everywhere, but who suddenly become arbitrarily fastidious about them just when it suits their 'theory', should not be expected to be taken seriously.
But, what could be more contradictory than a "Totality" that perhaps admits among its denizens things that not only do not exist (like the past), but also those that cannot exist (like abstractions, since if they exist they must be concrete)?
Unfortunately, once this metaphysical roller-coaster starts moving it takes something a little more substantial than DL to stop it.
If DM is not to be imposed on the world, but read from it -- as its supporters constantly intone -- then, as it now turns out, DM-advocates cannot consistently stipulate what their "Totality" does or does not contain ahead of an empirical investigation to that end.
Others might be able to do this, but they cannot.
This is their millstone; they should wear it with pride.
Hence any attempt to rule out of existence one or more of the contradictory objects listed above would trap DM-theorist between that millstone and yet another hard place: FL.
Now, those of us who are not wedded to a crazy system of logic -- i.e., DL -- not only can, but do in fact, rule out of existence certain things because of principles expressed in FL and/or in ordinary language. And we are right to do so.
[However, it is better to say that it makes no sense to suppose such things exist.]
On similar grounds we may legitimately and consistently deny the veracity of DM-propositions that report the existence of 'contradictions' in nature, as has been done in these Essays.
However, that avenue is closed-off to DM-theorists who claim that humanity has to wait upon the deliverances of their infinite meander through epistemological space (and toward 'Absolute Knowledge') before anyone is in a position to decide whether such propositions are fully true.
If so, dialecticians may not now complain about the allegation that their "Totality" might contain some or all of the odd things listed above -- the possible existence of which is predicated on the cavalier DM-rejection of the protocols of FL and ordinary language.
The dilemma that DM-theorists now face is quite stark: either they continue to disdain FL -- the repudiation of which partially created this problem --, thus admitting the possible existence of all manner of contradictory objects, events and processes; or they reject the existence of such things (and abandon the idea that contradictions exist in nature) because of rules codified in FL and expressed discursively in ordinary language.
What seems certain, however, is that the unwise rejection of specific tenets of FL has left the DM-"Totality" wide open to infestation by countless weird and wonderful 'entities', the elimination of which requires rapid inoculation with a belated dose of those very same FL-tenets, and the adoption of a believable/workable theory of knowledge.
Hence, as a result of yet another dialectical inversion, FL would be required to rescue DM-theorists from the contradictory "Totality" they summoned into existence; a Whole that could include, for all we know -- or for all they know -- the complete Hindu pantheon, all the Norse gods, the departed spirits of the entire Apache nation, and possibly even the Evil One Himself.
[It is important to note here that I accept that human society and history can quite rightly be viewed scientifically as a total system, as a whole; but we do not need to use obscure Hegelian ideas to conclude that. Remember, these Essays are primarily attacking the idea that there is a dialectic in nature; in that case, whether there is a totality in human affairs is not open to doubt.]
The Contradictory Totality
Other themes are examined in detail in this Essay: (1) the universally confused use of the word "contradiction" in DM-texts (where it is often confused with "contrary"); and (2) the belief that everything is interconnected.
Criticism of (1) is partly based on the observation that if nature is fundamentally contradictory then any evidence drawn from the world must simultaneously refute and confirm the predictions of whatever theory is being tested. The options available to DM-theorists to paint their way out of this corner are examined in detail; all are shown to fail.
The best spin that can be put on this whole idea is that in DM-propositions containing the word "contradiction" must be figurative -- unless, that is, we are to suppose that objects and processes in nature and society literally argue with one another, anthropomorphising reality to suite.
Moreover, contrary to what is usually claimed, the LOC makes no existential claims; it merely says that if one proposition is true its contradictory is false. [This works with non-existents, too: the proposition that Sherlock Holmes is a detective is contradicted by the proposition that he is not.] To be sure, dialecticians reject this (where it suits them), but they can do so only on the basis of the above figurative extension to the content of sentences using the word "contradiction".
[LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction.]
In response to this, it is of little help being told that "contradiction" really means "conflict" or "struggle" since these words gain whatever sense they have from their use in connection with agents. In which case, unless we are prepared to populate the entire universe with literal agents, sentences containing the words "conflict" or "struggle" can only be understood figuratively, too. Hence, it is not possible to make literal sense of the use of the word "contradiction" in dialectics.
The etymology of the word "conflict", from the Latin, supports this view: conflictus: 'a contest', is defined here.
[Of course, this is not to deny that there are profound and fundamental conflicts in class society; but here there are agents -- and they can contradict one another, just as they can enter into conflict with one another, and thus power the class war.]
Finally, it is difficult to see how such figurative "contradictions" could actually cause change -- any more than, say, the depiction of an uncouth man as a "pig" can create rashers of bacon.
Interconnected -- Or Hermetically Sealed Units?
As far as (2) is concerned, serious questions are raised as to how DM-theorists can possibly know that everything in reality is interconnected, what the boundaries are to this claim (Is the past included? If not, how can the present be explained?) and what exactly is the nature of these interconnections. Are they instantaneous, across all regions of space and time? If so, how might this be confirmed? If not, what are their limits? Are they transmitted faster than light?
These worries are then linked to concerns raised in Essay Eight Part One: if everything is indeed interconnected, change cannot arise from "internal contradictions", as DM-theorists insist. Conversely, if change does result from a dynamic internal to each object and process, nothing in the universe could be interconnected (except in the most trivial of senses). [More details can be found here.]
The Whole Truth?
Furthermore, DM-holism has more holes in it than a New Labour Intelligence Dossier. TAR depicts this doctrine as follows:
"In a dialectical system, the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole. The part makes the whole, and the whole makes the parts…. In this analysis, it is not just the case that the whole is more than the sum of the parts but also that the parts become more than they are individually by being part of a whole…. [F]or dialectical materialists the whole is more than the simple sum of its parts." [Rees (1998), pp.5, 77.]
However, DM-holism rests on little more than a few trite and superficial maxims (such as "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts", etc.); in this case, therefore, profound truths about nature will now have been derived from a handful of catch phrases. Not only do these home-spun proverbs fall apart on examination, they are not even empirically true -- many examples are given in Essay Eleven Part Two where material parts are greater than wholes.
One or two instances will suffice here:
(1) If a set of non-zero forces is aligned in a couple so that their resultant is zero, then each part is greater than the whole (which is zero), and on one view the whole is equal to, but not greater than the sum of the parts. On another, it is less than the sum of the parts (the whole being zero).
(2) Imagine a rope that is made from, say, 1000 strands of material and each strand is, say, 0.5 metres long. Assume that these strands overlap one another for approximately 90% of their length. Collectively, because of this overlap, the fibres stretch (as part of the whole rope) for only 50 metres. However, the sum of the lengths of these strands taken individually is 500 metres -- which would be their total length had they not been woven into that rope. Here the whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts (even if the strength of the rope is equal to but not greater than the sum of the individual strengths of the parts).
Indeed, every item of clothing is a counter-example to this trite rule, for in each case the total length of all the strands of fibre constituting any garment is greater than the length of that garment as a whole. And what goes for garments goes for most manufactured goods, as well, just as it applies to the parts of organisms: hence, the total length of all the muscle fibres in a wombat, say, is greater than the length of a whole wombat. And we need not stop at fury rodents: the total length of all the xylem tubes in a tree is greater than the length of that tree, and so on.
Finally, of course, the universe is equal to, but not greater than the sum of its parts.
It is only the extremely vague use of terms in dialectics that allows these counterexamples to stand. Of course, if the definitions dialecticians use were tightened to exclude these and other examples, we would once again have a DM-thesis made true (in a thoroughly traditional way) by yet more linguistic tinkering.
Furthermore, it is not too clear how the very same part can be "more" than it used to be before it was incorporated into the whole of which it is a part -- if this were true, it would not be the same part. Of course, if "the entire nature of the part is determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole", then it cannot be the same part anyway, or even remotely like it.
Moreover, it is also far from clear how anything could become "more" than it used to be before it was incorporated into the whole of which it is a part, since everything is always part of the "Totality", and since its "entire nature" is "determined by its relationships with the other parts and so with the whole", its entire nature must determined by its relation to the "Totality" either side of incorporation into any sub-whole.
In addition, it is not easy to see how a whole could be greater than the sum of its parts if that whole did not exist before the parts became its parts. It is not as if the whole was a certain size (or whatever) before it had any parts, but then grew larger (or whatever) when it gained them. But, if not, then what is the force of words like "greater" or "more", here? What becomes "greater", or "more", and in what respect?
Of course, those committed to a belief in this sort of Holism often appeal to the existence of organic composites wherein the parts interconnect, so that, for example, a heart in a living organism is "more" than it would have been had it not been part of that organism.
But, in nature, no actual heart is related to organisms in this way; all normal hearts are parts of such animals from day one. No one supposes that hearts somehow sneak into living bodies and thus become "more" as a result of this underhand invasion. So how can such hearts be "more" if they were never "less"? And, when invasive surgery (etc.) is taken into account, are we to say that a heart waiting transplantation into a new body, for instance, is less of a heart? Why transplant it then? Or that blood waiting transfusion is not really blood? Where do we stop? Are artificial legs not legs until they are attached? Is a coat not a coat until it is worn?
The few examples DM-Holists produce in support of their theory are also shown to fail (as we saw with respect to the heart example, above). Indeed, if the entire nature of each part were dependent on the whole, and vice versa, human beings would experience significant changes every time they had their hair cut, teeth drilled or nails trimmed.
Worse still, mundane events like these would have profound effects on distant stars and galaxies (if everything is interconnected and if the entire nature of each part is dependent on the whole, and vice versa). Does anyone believe this? If not, what is the point of asserting the trite maxims beloved of DM-holists? Are they merely being whimsical?
It could also be argued that even if the entire nature of each part in the "Totality" is determined by its relation to other parts and the whole, that does not mean that all such influences are of equal significance. In that case, parts that are separated by billions of light years, say, would have vanishingly small effects on each another, which could safely be ignored because of their negligible impact.
This response would be effective if it had been made by anyone other than a DM-fan. This is because they hold that these 'influences' are not external and/or causal, but "internal" and dialectical-logical. This means that remoteness has no effect on the inter-linkages imagined to exist part on part, whole on part or whole on whole.
Consider a legitimate logical connection: are husband and wife less married if one goes off on a world cruise, or into outer space? Consider another, is a mile on Jupiter shorter than one on Earth?
[DB = The Dialectical Biologist; i.e., Levins and Lewontin (1985).]
More specifically, Rees and other DM-theorists provide few concrete examples to illustrate the rule they claim operates between parts and wholes throughout the universe, instances that seem to suggest they are dialectically linked in the intended manner. However, one example that Rees does mention was in fact lifted from DB, and even this turns out to be a rather unhappy choice. As we saw above, this particular explication 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 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 appears to be that novel properties "emerge" (out of nowhere, it seems; they certainly cannot be reduced to the microstructures of each part, according to Rees: TAR, pp.5-8) because of the new relationships that parts enter into as they become parts of wholes; this will be examined presently.
The above passage seems to be claiming that when human beings act as individuals (or, is it in less developed social wholes?) they lack certain properties --, in this case, that of flight. Nevertheless, as a result of their social organization, human beings apparently gain this new 'property' collectively -- even though as individuals they still cannot fly. The conclusion (if there is one) seems to be that as a result of economic and social development (etc.) people acquire characteristics that they would not have had otherwise --, which appears to indicate that when they are appropriately socially-organised human beings become "more" than they would have been otherwise.
But, in what sense are human beings "more" than they were before flight became possible? Manifestly, they still cannot fly. They do not sprout wings, develop engines or grow sophisticated landing gear.
The only way that human beings would be "more" than they used to be would be as a group. Hence, as a group, humanity would now have a 'property' that they did not used to have, that of flight. Of course, human beings as a group still cannot fly; clearly it is the machines they build that take off! So, humanity itself still lacks this 'property'.
If it is now argued that humans can do something they could not do before (namely, fly through space), even this is not entirely correct. Since we now know that the earth moves, humanity has in fact been travelling through space for hundreds of thousands of years.
Again, it could be countered that since the invention of balloons and aeroplanes, human beings can do things earlier generations could not: leave the surface of the earth at will, and move about the place at great speed, flying to destinations that would have been unimaginable over 100 years ago.
But, once more, it is only in aeroplanes (etc.) that they can do this. If this is so, it still seems that it isn't humanity which has this new 'property', but the new artefacts (i.e., these aeroplanes, whose properties are reducible to their parts –- try taking off without engines made of heat resistant materials, for example) that they have built which do. Human beings just hitch a ride, as it were. So what exactly is the new 'property' they have gained? The ability to hitch new sorts of rides? Or, perhaps form queues at check-in desks?
Moreover, whatever meaning can be given to the "more" that these passengers supposedly become, it can't have resulted from the part/whole relation. This is because immediately before or after flight finally became possible, no new wholes or parts actually came into existence -- nor did these parts and allegedly novel wholes become newly related. Did anyone notice anything new about humanity as a whole just as the Wright Brothers took off on the 17th of December 1903? Hence, even if the hackneyed saying above were true, this would not be one of its exemplars.
It could be objected here that the above is incorrect. The point is that as the forces and relations of production develop human beings enter into new relations with one another, ones that generate novel capacities and possibilities that were unavailable to them in earlier modes of production.
Now, this way of putting things will not be controverted here, but it is worth pointing out that this HM-style re-formulation 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 when the unhelpful metaphysical notions under review in this Essay 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. This has nothing to do with 'parts' and 'wholes', for reasons given in previous paragraphs.
Summarising the above DM-claims, we have:
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.
Despite this, it is worth wondering how the above aeronautical scenario (from DB) could be made consistent with G1. 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 some other whole? The airport? The travel company that booked the flight? The part of the continent she is in?]
Conversely, is the nature of this or any other new aeroplane/passenger ensemble determined in return by passenger NN? What if she missed the flight and passenger MM had taken her place? Would the aeroplane itself be any different? Would the other passengers?
And, in all this, where is the part and where the whole? Is the entire nature of an airline passenger determined by his/her relation with 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), the entire earth and its history, the cluster of galaxies of which ours is a part…?
Which parts and which wholes are in the end entirely constitutive of, say, passenger NM in seat 26 -- minus his toupee and copy of The Da Vinci Code? What if he hadn't have forgotten either? And, is the aeroplane more of an aeroplane because there are 100 people on board as opposed to 99? Is the airport itself greater than it would otherwise have been had passenger MN not checked in last Sunday at 19:02?
[Richard Lewontin is a great scientist, so it is rather dismaying to see him accept the validity of such ill-defined concepts. There is no way that he would have accepted sloppy thought like this from one of his PhD students.]
But, all these would have to be so if the nature of each is determined by all, as G1 and G2 allege. In that case, passenger MN is greater than she would have been had she not flown last Sunday; and so is the airport. But is 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), then the universe must be more of a universe that 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 better insured.
Indeed, it is worth asking again: What exactly are the parts and 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? Is it more of a carpet if NN misses the flight? What about the drink dispensers? Is a drinks dispenser "more" of a drinks dispenser on a plane than one in the airport? Have both the carpet and the dispenser also 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? Again, where do we stop? Is a passenger on a 'plane "more" of a passenger if the 'plane she is on has two such dispensers, as opposed to when she is on a 'plane with only one? Does quantity affect property here?
Of course, such questions are obviously crazy -- but, this is only because they arise from a consideration of the use of concepts drawn from DM. The obscure nature of the example given in DB is a direct consequence of the unworkable, metaphysical-Wholist ideas expressed in G1-G4.
In the above passage, the authors of DB referred to the ability to fly as a "property" that humans acquire as a result of social organisation, one that they had not possessed earlier. But, is it correct to call this a "property"? Should we not rather want to call it a "facility", or perhaps a realisable "opportunity"?
In any case, in what sense is flying a property? What if someone carried a parrot onto a plane? Would that bird now have a double property? Or, what if, say, an eagle carried off a rabbit? Would that hapless rodent thereby have acquired a new property of flight -- or one of being eaten by winged assailants? Indeed, would the new eagle/rabbit-whole be symmetrically unified (as far as part/whole determination was concerned, and as G1-G4 seem to suggest)? Do eagles, therefore, acquire anything from rabbits when they enter into such predatory part/whole ensembles? Does, for example, the eagle part of this novel duo acquire the rabbit part's ability to wriggle excessively when carried off by predatory birds?
Again, many of the above arguments are unlikely to impress convinced DM-theorists, or persuade them that their neat formula is unreliable. This is perhaps because the reasoning given here uses analytic techniques uncongenial to DM’s 'wholistic' approach. Fortunately, however, we do not have to appeal to such analytic tactics to demonstrate the weaknesses of DM-style Wholism.
Consider a passage written by Sean Sayers:
"Of course, a living organism is composed of physical and chemical constituents, and nothing more. Nevertheless, it is not a mere collection of such constituents, nor even of anatomical parts. It is these parts unified, organized and acting as a whole. This unity and organization are not only features of our description: they are properties of the thing itself; they are constitutive of it as a biological organism." [Sayers (1996), p.162.]
Now, this argument only looks plausible because it is based on a consideration of biological systems, but, it fails to explain how a generalised sort of Wholism operates throughout non-organic nature, or indeed the rest of the universe. So, even if Sayers were correct, what he says would be of little assistance in trying to understand the vast bulk of the material world in Wholist terms. For example, what sense could be made of the idea that a mountain was only a mountain because of its relation to the whole (which whole?)? Or that, the Sun was only the Sun because of its relation to…, well, what?
Moreover, when a wider selection of examples is considered, further fundamental weaknesses in DM-Holism soon emerge. Consider, for instance, a car. Do its parts cease to be what they once were if they are removed from that vehicle? Does a wheel, for example, cease to be a wheel if it comes off its axle? Is it any less of a wheel? Indeed, does the axle cease to be an axle when it loses a wheel? Is it, too, any less of an axle? What happens if, in the case of a lorry with four doubled-up rear wheels, it loses one while the other three remain on the axle? Would they still be wheels, and would they still be on an axle if the entire nature of a part is determined by its relation others, and to the whole?
In a similar vein, consider the following unlikely conversation in the Parts Department of garage:
A: "Can I have a fan belt?"
B: "Sorry, mate, you can't because fan belts are only fan belts when they are attached to the cooling system of an engine."
Or, another in a café:
C: "Can I have a slice of cake?"
D: "No, but you can have a slice of non-cake, which used to be cake when it was attached to the whole cake before we sliced it up for you."
If a part is only a part -- and its nature is fully determined in the said manner when it is incorporated in a whole --, the Parts Department in the above example is mis-named. It should be called the "Non-parts Department" -- or, perhaps even:
Or, maybe even:
Interested readers can join in this game and dream up their own 'Dialectical Menu' for the 'Wholist-café' mentioned earlier. [The Parts Department example has probably reached the end of the dialectical road, though.]
It could be objected that things like fan belts are what they are because they have been designed to fit cars, and that it is this intended role that makes them parts of the wholes they later join. But, this would make the part/whole relation impossibly vague, for in that case we would not know what was part and what was whole -- or how they were connected -- until some intention or other had been ascertained. Worse still, this new twist might have untoward teleological implications for the parts of plants and animals, to say nothing of the rest of the Universe.
In addition, consider cases where objects retain their identity (designed or not) even though they feature in a temporary/semi-permanent whole for which they were not actually 'designed'. Examples here would include instances where, say, ordinary tools (such as hammers) are used in non-standard ways -- to prop open doors, deter a rioting Policeman, or smash the windows on buses carrying scabs. Or, where a house brick might be used to weigh some papers down, frighten some more scabs, or re-configure a few Nazis. In the latter case, the brick clearly remains a brick throughout; the fact that it won't lose any of its usual properties if it enters into, say, a new brick/damaged Nazi whole will be one of the reasons why it would be used. Are Nazis any more scum-like (or brick-like) when they are in a new Nazi/brick whole? Would this brick be more of a brick when lobbed at a scab, than it would be if it is thrown at the BNP? Does the said scab get a similar 'Wholistic promotion' because the brick knocks him out? If parts and wholes are entirely determined (by means of "internal relations") in the way specified, all or most of these should be true.
It could be argued that the above are not good counterexamples since the items in question were not designed to feature in such systematic wholes, nor do they assume wider functional roles as working units in their old or new guises. But, we have been here before. A response like this would rule out one or more of the few positive examples that TAR and other DM-fans themselves use. Moreover, it would still fail to account for the altered roles that systematically functioning items often undergo as a result of inter-systemic exchange -- even while they retain their 'identity'.
Take, for instance, a seat from an old car: it could still be used apart from that car as a seat in a house, or as an ornament (but only because it is a seat), or as a display in a museum, or as part of a barricade, still serving as a seat for the barricaders to use. If the properties of parts actually changed as a result of their separation from the wholes they were 'meant' to fit (as this 'theory' implies they should) a seat would no longer be of any use in such new surroundings.
And, we do not have to think up weird and wonderful counter-examples taken from human interaction; consider those cases where animals commandeer parts taken from other animals and use them in the same or nearly the same way their former owners once used them. For example, Hermit Crabs use the shells of other sea creatures as protection. Is such a shell more or less of a shell in this new ensemble? What about holes in the ground or in trees used as 'homes' (but successively occupied by rabbits, foxes, moles, badgers, and assorted birds)? Does a hole, therefore, become "more" of a hole whole when it is part of, say, a new mole/hole whole? Indeed, does that rodent become more of a mole whole in a new mole/hole whole?
Think, too, of wool and feathers gathered by birds to line their nests, used for warmth and padding, and so on. Again, consider the way that human beings use animal skins to keep warm, employing the latter in the same way their former owners used them. Does wool, for example, become more of an insulator when it forms part of a new child/pullover whole than when it was on the original sheep? Does it become more woollen when used as part of a scarf/worker ensemble?
What about the use of animal parts in human beings? Xenotransplantation (as it is called) would be a non-starter if parts and wholes were "internally related" as DM-theorists would have us believe.
Finally, consider a Big Mac being eaten by Little Mick: does the Big Mac become an even Bigger Big Mac or a Smaller Big Mac because of this new Mick Mac Whole -- or does Little Mick become a Bigger Little Mick because of his fondness for cramming Big Macs down his cake hole?
Which part alters which Whole?
Or is this theory so much junk, like the guff Little Mick stuffs down his gullet?
Summary of Essay Eight -- Part One
The Theory Of Change Through Internal Contradiction Is Itself Riddled With Contradictions
In this Essay the claim that change is the result of "internal contradictions" is critically examined.
Lenin depicted things this way:
"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….
"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Emphases in the original.]
This is a rather odd passage since it suggests that things can move themselves. If so, much of modern mechanics will need to be re-written. Presumably, then, on this view, when someone throws a ball, the action of throwing does not really move the ball. On the contrary, the ball moves itself, and it knows exactly where it is going and how to get there. Intelligent balls like this, it seems, need no guidance systems -- they happily 'self-develop' from A to B like unerring homing pigeons. It is to be wondered, therefore, why the US military do not invest in such smart projectiles, and save themselves billions of dollars.
Thank goodness those at the Pentagon do not 'understand' dialectics!
Nevertheless, this probably explains the origin of the following 'joke':-
Q: How many dialecticians does it take to change a light bulb? A: None at all; according to Lenin, they change themselves.
Unfortunately, however, Lenin failed to note the origin of ideas like these. Hermetic Philosophy is based on the belief that the universe is alive; indeed is a cosmic egg -- which notion was later transmogrified by Hegel into a Cosmic Ego. Since eggs appear to develop all of their own (i.e., to those who know nothing of heat and oxygen etc., fed externally into eggs), and just as Hegel's immaterial cosmic Ego self-develops too, it seemed natural for Lenin to think this of physical reality.
Nevertheless, not even eggs develop of their own; in fact, it is hard to think of a single thing in the entire universe (of which we have knowledge) that develops of its own, or moves itself. Not even Capitalism does. Switch off the Sun and watch American Imperialism fold a lot quicker than Enron.
But, based on the bird-brained ideas of ancient mystics, and no evidence at all, we find Lenin yet again propounding cosmic laws that do not make sense even in DM-terms -- and ones that not even chickens observe.
However, if Lenin were correct, and everything were self-moving, no object in the universe could interact with any other (since that would amount to external causation, and objects would not be self-motivated). Self-motivated beings are causally isolated from their surroundings, it would seem. Clearly that would mean that, despite appearances to the contrary, nothing in reality could interact. This would, of course, make a mockery of the other DM-thesis that everything in reality is interconnected.
The only way to avoid such dialectically unhelpful conclusions would be to argue that interconnection does not imply causation. However, as far as I am aware, no dialectician has been able to explain how every particle in nature can be interconnected and yet be causally isolated from every other. Are they telepathically linked (the atoms, not the dialecticians)?
Or is this just another contradiction that just has to be "grasped"?
On the other hand, if external causation is to be permitted, as part of a 'dialectical' fudge of some sort, there would seem to be no point in appealing to "internal contradictions" and "self-development" to account for change.
In Essay Eight Part One, several fall-back options are examined and all are shown either to collapse into CAR (i.e., Cartesian Reductionism), or inflate alarmingly into HEX (i.e., Hegelian Expansionism).
HEX itself implies that if the nature of each part is determined by the whole, and the interconnections enjoyed by whole and part are infinite (according to Engels and Lenin), then no part may be known as a part (indeed nothing could be known about anything) until everything was known about everything. Since that will never happen, the former cannot be known. And if that cannot be known, then the whole cannot either (since knowledge of the whole arises from knowledge of the parts).
In that case, on this view, human knowledge is going nowhere, having begun from nothing, using no known methods, and employing only guesswork along the way.
Of course, in Hegel's system this is all catered for with a few handy neologisms and some 'innovative reasoning'; but materialists cannot be so cavalier. We cannot 'intuit' the whole since, without complete knowledge of it, it might not be the whole (or even a whole), it could just be a large part. Indeed, it might be the wrong whole, or there could be thousands of the beggars out there, or none at all. But, until we know that 'whole' (absolutely), if there is one, we can know nothing for sure, about anything -- and that includes the nature of any part. But, since we will never know that whole (or even anything remotely close to it, should there be one), we will never know anything for sure -- not even this!
Furthermore, since the nature of any part is dependent on an infinite number of interconnections, no part could have a nature (whether we knew what that was or not), since infinite totalities are uncompletable (by definition).
In addition, one of the widely touted advantages of DM-inspired internalist explanations of change is that they undercut appeals to supernatural external causes to account for origins -- as indeed TAR points out with respect to other theorists who adopt various forms of externalism, they:
"…often find themselves courting semi-mystical explanations of original cause." [Rees (1998), p.78.]
Thus is because externalists hold that:
"…the cause of change [lies] within the system…and it cannot be conceived on the model of linear cause and effect…. If change is internally generated, it must be a result of contradiction, of instability and development as inherent properties of the system itself." [Ibid., p.7.]
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998); STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]
But, if change is now to be regarded as the result of a 'dialectical' interplay between internal and external causes (which Bukharin, for one, certainly believed; indeed, more recent STDs seem to be fond of this cop-out, too -- on this see Essay Eight Part One), that would surely allow room once more for an external (hence supernatural) cause of the universe, and dialecticians would not only have to ignore Lenin's "absolute" dialectical caveat, recorded above, they would have to join the externalists and admit to their own "bad infinity", which, according to Rees:
"…postulates an endless series of causes and effects regressing to 'who knows where?'" [Ibid., p.7.]
Thus, the motivating point of DM-Holism would disappear, for change neither to system nor individual would be explicable solely internally -- nor by an appeal to purely natural causes.
In the event, it is shown in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two (as well as in Essay Five), that "internal contradictions" (if they exist) cannot account for change anyway; at best, they merely re-describe it. Exactly why anything would change into its opposite, or how an opposite can make anything change, is left entirely mysterious in DM. Dialecticians leave this verbal tangle to explain itself, assuming that just because we can depict things as turning into "what they are not", this "what they are not" must have caused it. [This example of dialectical licence is picked apart in Essay Seven.]
Of course, not only do things turn into "what they are not" they also turn into "what they are" (hence, whatever a cat turns into, it is what it is; anyone who does not agree this verbal trick should now appreciate why us genuine materialists eschew all such linguistic chicanery, not just the bits we do not like). Why the one is given precedence over the other is left for the bemused reader to work out for herself. And precisely how a neat verbal formula can so easily be turned into yet another a priori superscientific thesis, true for all of time and space, is passed over in silence. And no wonder, that would reveal the Idealism implicit in DM a little too starkly.
With that, the alleged superiority of DM over its rivals disappears. Of these, Rees concludes that:
"...[they offer a] mere description, not explanation; the what, but not the how or the why." [Ibid., p.7.]
Well, it now seems that DM cannot do this either.
[The claim that forces are the physical correlate of contradictions, and hence cause change, is examined below.]
In conclusion, it is pertinent to ask: how could DM-theorists possibly know that change is always and only the result of "internal contradictions"? Clearly, unless they are semi-divine beings, they could not possibly know this. The dogma itself certainly cannot have been derived from experience since it is not possible to observe or confirm the existence of real contradictions (the claim that these are physically "real" (or have real correlates) is examined in detail in Essays Four, Five, Seven, Eight Part One and Part Two, and Eleven Part One), which means that they cannot have been obtained by 'abstraction' from experience. In that case, this DM-thesis (like all the others) must have been imposed on nature.
The thesis that change is the result of "internal contradictions" is thus revealed for what it is: another piece of a priori Superscience, only this time one based on a series of dubious metaphysical 'thought experiments', a revealing array of anthropomorphic concepts, and no evidence at all.
Again, from mere words we get SuperFacts.
Summary Of Essay Eight Part Two -- Forces and Contradictions
In this part of Essay Eight it is argued at length that there is no way that "contradictions" can be interpreted as "opposing forces".
In fact, since most of the motion in the universe is governed by the action of only one central force (i.e., in classical Physics, the force of gravity which governs the motion of planets around stars, and stars around galactic centres of mass, etc.), classical DM cannot account for most of the bulk changes that take place in nature. Now, even if these are regarded as the result of the complex inter-relation between gravitational fields, change in motion would still be caused by only one force: the resultant. No contradiction has just one term.
Of course, if General Relativity has its way (where gravity has been replaced by the motion of bodies along geodesics and world-lines, forces having been edited out of the picture) most of the bulk motion in the universe would take place under the action of no forces at all. Naturally, that would mean that most of the changes of this sort could not be the result of "contradictions" -- if the latter are still to be regarded as opposing forces.
Nevertheless, let us assume that two forces (say, F1 and F2) do in fact 'contradict' one another; if so, one of the following options would, it seems, have to obtain: (1) F1 must prevent F2 from acting, or (2) F1 must impede F2, perhaps stopping it from producing its usual effects.
In the first case, F2 must either: (1a) cease to exist, or (1b) confront F1 directly (as force on force) while it exists -- if it is to be affected by F1, or if it is to be prevented from operating. However, if in (1a) F2 ceases to exist, it cannot contradict or be contradicted by anything, since it would no longer exist to do anything.
Assuming, on the other hand, that F2 is contradicted by F1 up until it ceases to exist, then option (1a) would become (1b). In the latter case, therefore, the alleged contradiction between F1 and F2 must see these forces as directly oppositional in some way. If so, these two forces must confront one another as forces of attraction and/or repulsion (or as a 'dialectical' mix of the two).
But, once again, it is not easy to see how this configuration could be a contradiction in anything other than a figurative sense. If a literal interpretation were still insisted upon here (although it is impossible to see how that would work: since to contradict literally means "to gain-say", then are we to imagine that forces engage in conversation, or in argument?), this sort of confrontation between forces could only take place if they were particulate in some way -- that is, if they registered some sort of resistance to one another. If, on the other hand, they are not particulate, it is equally hard to see how they could interact at all, let alone 'contradict' each other. Continuous media have no rigidity and no impenetrability to exert forces of any sort (except, of course, as part of a figurative extension to particulate interaction, after all).
Now, there are well-known classical problems associated with the idea that forces are particulate (these are fully referenced in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two) -- not the least of which is that if forces are particulate then they could only interact if they exerted still other forces (contact forces, cohesive forces, forces of reaction, and so on) on other particulates, initiating an infinite regress. That is, in order to account for the ability of particles to resist one another, we would need to appeal to forces internal to bodies to do that, to stop one body penetrating the other, or to prevent distortions tearing that body apart, etc. But, if the forces internal to bodies are particulate too, we would thus need further forces to account for the coherence of these new particles, and so on. Alternatively, If they are continuous, they would not be able to provide such inner coherence.
In the end nothing would be accounted for, since at each level there would be nothing to provide the required resistance/coherence.
So, reducing the interaction between forces to that between bodies means that particles could not 'contradict' one another without exerting non-particulate forces on their operands -- which would once again mean that such entities were incapable of exerting forces, having no rigidity to do so.
[Even the exchange of particles (in QM) would succeed in exerting forces only if there were reaction forces internal to bodies which were themselves the result of rigidity, cohesion, contact, etc. Of course, Physicists appeal to Fields, energy gradients and the like, but if these are continuous, the above problems just re-emerge. If they are particulate, this merry-go-round merely takes another spin around the floor. Some Physicists recognise this problem; many just ignore it.]
[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]
Of course, it could be objected that the above adopts an out-dated mechanistic view of interaction, and hence is completely misguided. However, the 'modern' mathematical approach surrenders any possibility of giving a causal, or physical account of forces, or at least one that does not depend on a figurative use of verbs we use in everyday life to give such an account in the macro-world. So, if a particle is seen as a 'carrier of a force', and that 'force' can be given no 'physical bite', but it is still regarded as being capable of making things happen, forcing particles to divert their course of action (etc.), then these words must lose contact with words like "make", "force", "divert" as they are used to depict macro-phenomena. Now there is no problem with this, but then such an account would become merely descriptive (or at best predictive). Differential equations and vectors cannot make things move, or alter their paths. (More details on this can be found in the full Essay.)]
If problems like these are put to one side for the moment, it would seem that forces could interact only by affecting the motion of bodies that are already under the control of other forces. In that case, (1b) would now reduce to the action of F1 on the effects of F2, or vice versa -- thus becoming option (2).
That being so, these forces would 'contradict' one another by preventing the normal effects of one or both of them from occurring. But, once more, if the latter are prevented from happening, they would not exist to be contradicted, and we would be back at square one.
If this set of inferences is rejected for some reason, then if F1 does indeed succeed in 'contradicting', say, the velocity of any body under the control of F2 (call this velocity V2), we would have a conflict between two unlike terms: F1 and V2. Clearly, given this scenario, the original contradiction between two forces will have disappeared to be replaced by a new relationship between a force and a velocity (which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "contradictory", since the operating force merely alters a velocity -- in many cases it might even augment it, or merely deflect it).
Nevertheless, for a force to alter the velocity of a body, the force would have to be particulate, too, meaning that inter-particulate forces would come into play once again. As already noted, continuous media have no inner coherence to alter anything -- save they are viewed as particulate, once more. This would then collapse this scenario back into option (1) once more, with all its associated classical/figurative problems. Either way, the alleged contradiction here would evaporate for want of terms.
This criticism would still apply if the word "contradiction" were replaced by "conflict"; clearly, things cannot conflict if they don't exist, nor can they conflict with what they have prevented from taking place.
Also, the word "conflict" lacks the logical multiplicity that the word "contradiction" possesses. [What exactly is the 'inner conflict' here that supposedly makes things move? A metaphysical motor of some sort?] The whole point of using the word "contradiction" in DM is to emphasise the limitations of FL, which then allows dialecticians to argue that contradictory states of affairs can exist simultaneously. That was the thrust of the DL-claims examined earlier that "A and not A" could be true. In this case, since "A" and "not A" are logically connected (in that, if propositional, ordinarily the truth of one would imply the falsehood of the other), which allows dialecticians to point to the superiority of DL over FL.
[FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic.]
If now the meaning of the word "conflict" is imported to do duty in place of "contradict", that logical connection would be severed, and the alleged superiority of DL over FL would vanish, since no Formal Logician of any sense would deny that things can conflict -- nor indeed reject the claim that two propositions expressing conflict cannot both be true (or false) at once. [Indeed, that would be tantamount to them admitting that "conflict" was not synonymous with "contradict".]
On the other hand, if the old logical connections possessed by the word "contradiction" were exported and glued onto "conflict", then the meaning of the latter word must change accordingly. In that case, this particular DM-thesis would have been made true solely as a result of yet more linguistic tinkering, and that would mean that another DM-'fact' had been created by linguistic fiat, confirming DM's status as a form of LIE. Thus from (doctored) language alone, superscientific 'truths' would have followed once again.
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
And finally, since only agents are capable of conflicting, this term may be used literally by those prepared to personalise nature.
[This topic is discussed at more length in the full version of Essay Eight Part Two. Also, see here, and here.]
That might help explain why Engels modified his ideas, declaring that:
"It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion." [Engels (1954), p.71.]
In other words it seems that forces should be regarded as "useful fictions". Engels was aware of the anthropomorphic origin of the scientific concept of force. So, for once his scientific intuitions seem to have been working correctly.
But, even if this were a viable option, it is not easy to see how on DM-grounds one form of motion could in fact 'contradict' another form of motion. Classically, if one body alters another's motion, it would have to exert a force on it, which would introduce the very things Engels tried to eliminate.
So, despite what Engels said, DM needs forces; it cannot do without them. It requires them to provide the dialectical 'connective tissue' (as it were) and the motive power of the universe; without them there would be nothing internal to bodies which would be able to connect their motion to that of others, and nothing to interlink processes in the "Totality". In their absence, DM would look little different from "crude materialism". Indeed, without forces, dialecticians could not even pretend to explain why things moved.
In that case, dialecticians cannot afford to take heed of this rare example of Engelsian good sense.
On the other hand, if we accept that forces do in fact exist -- that is, that they are more than just the complex ways of speaking about the interaction of bodies (and thus if we reject Engels's advice) --, then the DM-account would still not work. This is because changes are in fact produced by a single resultant force operating in the system, not by two contradictory forces.
In that case, if nature must be populated with forces -- and if the present author is allowed for a moment to indulge in some insincere a priori Superscience of her own --, change would then be the result, not of struggle, but of the cooperation, unity and harmony between forces as they naturally combine to produce change, helpfully assisting particles on their way. If so, we should rather raise an analogy here with logical tautologies -- not contradictions -- and argue alongside other ancient mystics (following the excellent precedent set by Hegel) that nature is indeed governed by forces of empathy, affection and love.
The conclusion seems quite plain: since resultant forces cause every change in nature (given the truth of the classical account), movement in general must be the result of dialectical tautologies. This new 'theory' has at least the advantage of being consistent with classical Physics, and every known observation. The same cannot be said of DM.
[Naturally, those critical of this particular flight-of-fancy would do well to turn an equally sceptical eye on the similarly suspect anthropomorphic moves made by dialecticians all the time.]
Alternatively, if it is now argued that both of the 'contradicted' forces (i.e., F1 and F2) still exist even while they interact with one another, change would then be the result of the operation of at least three forces (the original two and the resultant); that would, of course, create energy from nowhere.
[Needless to say, if this is so, there is a pressing need for revolutionaries to identify this 'third force' since (on this view) it seems to be the one that will put paid to Capitalism.]
Of course, all this depends on whether the equation of forces with contradictions makes any sense to begin with. Clearly, the forces that operate in Capitalism are not vectors. It makes little sense to suppose that the forces of production are, say, orthogonal to the relations of production, or that the 'contradiction' between use- and exchange-value has an inner product, or even a div, curl and grad. If not, it is difficult to see why anyone would want to call such things (or the relations between them) "forces" (or even less, "contradictions"). What do they have in common with the forces found in Physics?
In that case, it would seem that the word "force" -- as it is used in DM-propositions -- must be figurative, too. It thus seems that DM can only be made to work if we adopt a poetic view of nature.
On the other hand, if it should turn out that these forces are reminiscent of those found in mystical religious systems (which personify 'god', or carry out 'His' orders (in ancient astronomy, these were the angels who supposedly pushed the planets about the place; in Newton they were the direct action of 'God'), etc.) then it would make eminent good sense to suppose they could 'contradict' one another (i.e., 'argue' among themselves).
It is no surprise, therefore, to find once again that this is precisely from where this 'dialectical' notion was lifted. This we know for a fact. [On this, see Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
As such, DM clearly represents the re-enchantment of nature and society. Modern science banished will and intelligence from nature; DM simply re-introduced them.
Furthermore, it is difficult to picture any of the above elements as opposites; the forces of production, it would seem, are no more the opposite of the relations of production than a diesel engine is the opposite of the person using it.
Up until now DM-theorists have been more intent on merely asserting that forces are contradictory than they have been with providing any evidence or argument to show that they are -- or with clarifying what it could possibly mean to assert that they are. Once again, it is clear that DM-theorists have been quite happy to derive yet more a priori Superscience from a set of inappropriate concepts and dubious analogies, compounded by a poetic view of the assorted antics of ancient mystical intelligences, all subsequently confused with a precise logical principle.
Standard examples DM-theorists regularly wheel-out to illustrate the analogy between forces and contradictions are considered in detail in Essay Seven and shown to be misconceived. For instance, the alleged UO between the north and south poles of a magnet (or even that between positive and negative electrical charges) fails to illustrate the opposition between attractive and repulsive forces. In a magnet, two north poles, or two south poles (i.e., two likes), repel -- whereas two opposites (a north and a south pole), attract. So, if anything here, non-opposites 'contradict' (i.e., 'conflict' -- two Norths or two Souths repel each other), while actual opposites do not (North and South attract). Instead of struggle between opposites here we see harmony once more, confirming that change is indeed the result of those aforementioned 'internal tautologies'.
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Finally, several examples of "real material forces" supposedly at work in Capitalism are considered in detail in Essays Eight and Eleven. Under close scrutiny none of them turn out to be contradictions in any meaningful sense of the term. In fact, they all turn out to be one or more of the following: discursive paradoxes, unexpected events, complex inter-relationships, injustices, irrationalities, contraries or mistakes.
Of course, if DM-theorists intend the word "contradiction" to be taken in a special sense, all well and good (but see below); however, to date, they have signally failed to say clearly what this 'special' sense is. Or, perhaps more accurately, they have in fact sought to equate it with "conflict", which verbal 'solution' does at least have the advantage of making overt the covert animism in DM -- for only if inanimate matter were sentient or intelligent could it enter into conflict with itself (internally), or with anything else (externally).
As will be argued in detail in Essay Twelve (summary here), the tendency to see conflict in linguistic, moral or conceptual terms (in traditional thought) was a direct consequence of the way that leisure-dominated Greek Philosophers fetishised both language and the natural world, populating it with surrogate discursive terms to give sense to their own mode of being. No surprise, therefore, to see this traditional view reappear in DM.
On the other hand, if DM-theorists aim to re-define the word "contradiction" as "conflict" then their theory would merely be a form of stipulative conventionalism -- since there is nothing in the meaning of either the everyday word "contradiction", or in its logical twin, that remotely suggests such a connotation; nor is there vice versa with "conflict".
In that case, it would now be clear that this word had been re-defined just to make DM work. But, we should be no more convinced of the acceptability of that manoeuvre than we would be if, say, an apologist of Capitalism 'defined' that system as "natural" and "beneficial to all". If the re-definition of terms provided a "royal road" to truth, those with the best dictionaries would surely win Noble Prizes.
In that case, it is now clear that this word has been re-defined just to make DM work. But, we should be no more convinced of the acceptability of that manoeuvre than we would be if, say, an apologist of Capitalism 'defined' it as "natural" and "beneficial to all". If the re-definition of terms provided a "royal road" to truth, those with the best dictionaries would surely win Noble Prizes.
To be sure, one online dictionary says the following sort of thing:
"contradiction, n 1: opposition between two conflicting forces or ideas..."
However, it is worth recalling that
dictionaries are repositories of usage, and are neither normative nor
prescriptive. Indeed, they 'define' many things dialecticians would disagree
"God: A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.
The force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being.
A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality.
An image of a supernatural being; an idol.
One that is worshiped, idealized, or followed: Money was their god...."
"negation n 1: a negative statement; a statement that is a refusal or denial of some other statement 2: the speech act of negating 3: (logic) a proposition that is true if and only if another proposition is false."
No mention here of "sublation" or the NON, but does that force dialecticians into accepting this 'definition'? Of course not; they pick and choose when it suits them.
[NON = Negation of the Negation.]
In that case, dictionaries record ideology as much as they record use or meaning. Here, the writers of this dictionary have recorded the animistic use of this word as employed by DM-fans.
As the above shows, since no literal sense can be made of the equation of forces and contradictions, dialecticians should not believe all they read in dictionaries.
Summary of Essay Twelve: Metaphysics -- The Ideology of The Oppressor
Non-Empirical Propositions Masquerading As Super-Empirical Theses
This Essay contains the main thrust of the anti-metaphysical ideas advanced at this site, and hence some of my principle objections to DM.
[Incidentally, the characterisation of Metaphysics found here is consistent with the way Marx and Engels depicted it in their early work.]
In MEC Lenin quotes the following words from Engels:
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
Here, Lenin is making a typically metaphysical statement. Naturally, DM-theorists will reject this assertion; nevertheless, it is the aim of this Essay to substantiate this claim and to explore the effect that other metaphysical theses have on DM as a whole.
[MEC = Materialism And Empirio-Criticism; i.e., Lenin (1972).]
It is worth noting at the outset that theses like M1 purport to inform us about fundamental aspects of nature, albeit in this case disguised as part of Lenin's admission of his own incredulity. Nevertheless, we are not to conclude from M1 that Lenin was merely recording his own personal views. On the contrary, Lenin certainly believed that matter and motion were fundamental aspects of "objective reality"; that they were inseparable and that this was a scientific fact. Moreover, like Engels, he held the view that motion was a form of the existence of matter -– that is, he believed that matter could not exist without motion, and vice versa. Motion was thus one of the ways in which matter expressed itself.
Now, the metaphysical nature of Lenin's declaration can be seen by the way that it obviates the need to find any supportive evidence. Even if humanity had access to information about motion and matter many orders of magnitude greater than is available today, it would still not be enough to show that the separation of matter from motion was unthinkable. No amount of data could substantiate that.
But as we will see, Lenin's declaration has much more serious problems to contend with than lack of any evidence backing it up.
The superficially-profound nature of theses like M1 derives from something rather more mundane --, that is, from certain features of the language in which they have to be expressed: the main verb they use is invariably in the indicative mood. Sometimes this is beefed-up with modal qualifiers (such as "must" and "necessarily") -- which, incidentally, help create even more of a false impression. In fact, this misleadingly innocent-looking outer facade masks a deeper logical form -- something that becomes plain only when such propositions are examined more closely.
As noted above, sentences like these look as if they expressed profound truths about reality since they resemble empirical propositions, which also use the indicative mood; in the event, they turn out to be nothing like them.
Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:
T1: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra Of Revolution.
Compare this with these similar-looking indicative sentences:
T2: Time is a relation between events.
T3: Motion is inseparable from matter.
In order to understand T1, it is not necessary to know whether it is true or not. However, the comprehension of T2 and T3 goes hand-in-hand with knowing either or both are true (or, conversely, knowing either or both are false). The truth of T2 and T3 seems to follow directly from the meaning of the words they contain, which now links their alethic status with meaning, but not with material confirmation/confutation, hence not with a confrontation with reality.
In contrast, understanding T1 is independent of the evidence that could or would confirm or refute it -- indeed, it would be impossible to confirm or confound T1 if it had not already been understood. Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that would fix their truth-status.
However, and conversely, T2 and T3 need no evidence in their support; their truth-values follow from the meaning of the words they contain (or from certain definitions -- i.e., from yet more words). Hence, their truth-status is independent of the evidence.
The implication of these observations will now be spelt-out in more detail.
Here, we have two sorts of indicative sentences, each with a radically different relation to reality. In the first sort (i.e., those like T1), their understanding is independent of their truth-status, but their actual truth or falsehood depends on the state of the world. In the second (i.e., those like T2 or T3), their truth or falsehood is not dependent on the state of the world, but follows from the words they contain.
Indeed, metaphysical theses (like T2, and, as will be agued, T3) are deliberately constructed to transcend the limitations of the material world, but which tactic is excused on the grounds that it allows the aspiring metaphysician to uncover "underlying essences", revealing nature's "hidden secrets". Theses like these are necessarily true (or necessarily false), and are thus held to reveal genuine knowledge, unlike contingent propositions whose truth can alter with the wind. Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like T1 were not considered capable of revealing authentic knowledge. Indeed, philosophical knowledge (secure knowledge) has always been held to be of the sort delivered by T2 or T3-type sentences: necessary, a priori, non-contingent, and generated by thought alone.
Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound super-empirical truths, which cannot fail to be true (or cannot fail to be false, as the case may be). They do this by aping the indicative mood, but they go way beyond this. Thus, what they say does not just happen to be this way or that, as with ordinary truths -- these propositions cannot be otherwise. The world must conform to whatever they say. All this helps account for the use of modal terms (like "must", "necessary" and "inconceivable") if and when their status is questioned for whatever reason --, or, of course, when someone is trying to sell them to us.
Conversely, if anyone were to question the truth of T1, the following response: "Tony Blair must own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution" would be highly inappropriate -- unless T1 itself was the conclusion of an inference, such as: "Tony Blair told me he owned a copy, so he must own one", or it was based on a direct observation statement, perhaps. But even then, the truth or falsehood of T1 would depend on an interface with material reality at some point.
In such cases, reality would be dictating to us whether what we said was true or false -- we would not be dictating this to nature by our own use of words, in the way that metaphysicians do.
With respect to T2 and T3, things are radically different; the second option would apply, for their truth-values (true or false) can be ascertained independently -- and in advance -- of the way the world happens to be. Here, the essential nature of reality could be ascertained from words alone. Such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods) are derived solely from the alleged meaning of the words sentence like T2 and T3 contain (or from the 'concepts' these somehow express). In that case, once understood, metaphysical propositions like T2 and T3 guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. They are thus true a priori.
So, with a metaphysical thesis, to understand it is to know it is true or to know it is false. That is why, to their inventors, metaphysical propositions seem so certain and self-evident. Questioning them seems to runs against the grain of our understanding, not our experience. Moreover, they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm their status; they provide their own evidence, and testify on their own behalf -- their veracity follows from the alleged meaning of the words they contain. They, not the world, attest to their own truth (or falsehood).
Unfortunately, this divorces these theses from material reality, since they are true or false independently of any apparent state of the world.
In that case, any thesis that can be judged true or false on conceptual grounds alone cannot feature in a materialist account of reality, only an Idealist one.
This might seem to be a somewhat dogmatic statement to make, but as we shall see, the opposite view is the one that is dogmatic, since it is based on a ruling-class view of reality (and one whose validity is not sensitive to empirical test).
Nevertheless, it is now possible to see exactly why DM-theses can be (and are) so readily imposed on nature (as we saw was repeatedly the case in Essay Two): their internally-generated certitude means that no material fact could possibly controvert them. But this also implies that they cannot be read from nature, since that would undermine their status, turning them into ordinary, common-or-garden empirical propositions, demoting them from super-duper truths to boring material facts.
This is why they have to be based on linguistic resources that have been deliberately divorced from material reality -- that is, on non-material abstractions, jargonised expressions and bogus terminology, on entities that inhabit an inner, immaterial or merely mental world, like the 'gods' of old -- just as we saw in Essay Three Part One and Part Two.
In like manner, the truth of DM-propositions is ascertainable from the alleged meaning of the words they contain, not from the way the world happens to be. Naturally, this accounts for the easy slide into apriorism witnessed among metaphysicians and DM-theorists alike, highlighted in the Essays posted at this site.
For instance, the conclusions Engels drew about motion command assent from the supposed meaning of words like "move", "same time" and "place", and they can be safely extrapolated to all of reality because they guarantee that what Engels concluded applied to every single example of motion in the entire universe, past, present or future.
That is why, if pressed on this, dialecticians cannot appeal to evidence to support this thesis (as we saw in Essay Five, no evidence could show that an object is in two places in the same instant), but must rely on the meaning of the words Engels (or Hegel, or Zeno) used.
This also explains why dialecticians find it hard to disagree with Engels, Lenin or Hegel; this is because their conclusions are based on (alleged) meanings not on evidence. Hence, the rejection of what, for example, Engels said seems to conflict with fundamental aspects of language (thus making their opposites "unthinkable") -- except, of course, dialecticians see his words as picturing fundamental aspects of reality, having now thoroughly confused linguistic theses with empirical truths.
We will soon be in a position to see how and why this occurs, and what it is that makes all traditional thinkers do likewise.
In like manner, Trotsky was able to refer to the "axiom" that things are never equal to themselves because of the logical properties supposedly built into words like "equal", "change", "same" and "different" (indeed, Hegel was able to do something even more impressive by considering a few transmogrified "concepts" (such as 'Being' and 'Nothing'), and what they allegedly implied as they "developed").
In Essays Three to Six (and in more detail here), we will see that this thesis follows from Hegel's idiosyncratic analysis of subject/predicate propositions, wherein the subject is allegedly different from the predicate, which meant to Hegel that our words/concepts had alteriety or difference (and hence negativity) built into them. [Certain modern French Philosophers make a big deal of this too (following Heidegger) -- likewise confusing a contingent linguistic fact with a profound ontological truth.]
Hence, from words and/or concepts alone we get SuperFacts. All thoroughly Idealist, all thoroughly traditional.
Lenin, too, felt he could declare that motion without matter was "unthinkable", and well in advance of the unimaginably large body of empirical evidence that would be needed to justify even a weaker form of this thesis -- and he was able to do this because matter and motion are inter-defined in DM (the latter being a "form" of the former). So, from a definition, super-empirical truths suddenly began to flow, by-passing the empirical checking stage.
As is abundantly clear from the record, Lenin did not review the evidence in favour of his thesis (that motion without matter is "unthinkable") before he delivered this semi-divine pronouncement, he dictated what he thought the world must be like, deriving this from what he took the words "matter" and "motion" to mean, or from what the DM-tradition stipulates they must mean.
We have also seen that Lenin was able to ascertain from a simple sentence about "John" most of the deep structure of reality. This is an impressive magical skill dialecticians can claim for themselves because of the social space that traditional thought has opened up for them -- and which, because of their own class position, predisposes them to use it. [More on this below and in Essay Nine (summary here).] So, DM-acolytes are playing this age-old game according to the rules, deriving a priori theses from words alone.
The only problem is that these rules were laid down by our class enemies.
Hence, Lenin and other DM-theorists could safely ignore any evidence that disconfirmed their theses, since they weren't empirical to begin with -- despite their indicative veneer.
Unfortunately, as noted above, this means that dialectical-metaphysical theses can form no part of a material account of reality, and hence cannot be used to change the world. They follow from abstract ideas, and are thus thoroughly Idealist; no amount of spin can give them the radical or materialist make-over dialecticians allege for them.
This also explains why DM-theorists to this day ignore anything (material) that contradicts their theses (in fact, like the benighted souls in Galileo's day, who would not even look down his telescope, many simply refuse to read these Essays -- exactly why this is so will be explored in Essay Nine (summary here)). This also accounts for their cavalier approach to FL, the ideas of their opponents and the watery-thin evidence they offer in favour of their own theses. This is because, if DM-theses are self-evident (or follow from the sort of immanent 'logic' one finds in Hegel), then it licences the knee-jerk high-handedness practically all dialecticians display. Since nothing materially-based can count against their theory -- it is indeed hermetically sealed-off from the world --, anyone who dares to produce evidence against it can safely be ignored.
In fact, this attitude of mind is somewhat reminiscent of the theologically-motivated arrogance displayed by certain Protestants sects. Anyone who has met, say, a devout Protestant from Northern Ireland will know of what I speak -- there is ore than a superficial resemblance between born again DM-fans and such born-again Christians.
Thus, if your beliefs have been sanctioned by the impenetrable logic found in Hegel, or indeed the equally impenetrable will of God, you are going to think and act as if you are special. Now, this accounts for the sectarianism dialectics encourages in all who allow it to colonise their brains. [More on this in Essay Nine (summary here).]
Since DM-theses are not materially-based, nothing in material reality could possibly disconfirm them. That is why dialecticians consider it a waste of time reading demolition-jobs like this. Once saved, always saved.
As is well-known, every single DM-thesis owes its life to the Idealist speculations of anti-materialist thinkers like Hegel, not to empirical research. [On this, see Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
That is why DM-theses fall apart so quickly when confronted with materially-grounded language and materially-based evidence -- and it is also why DM-theorists have to denigrate (or ignore) the vernacular to protect their ideas (and ignore the evidence).
In this way -- and as with other forms of ruling-class, anti-materialist thought --, DM is just another form of Idealism. To be sure, this is what Hegel himself said of all philosophical theories:
"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle…." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55.]
That rare moment of clarity needs no spinning to put it back on its feet.
If Reality Is Fundamentally Linguistic, No Wonder It Can Contradict Itself
However, in spite of the rich metaphysical pickings that this a priori approach to knowledge seems to bring in its train, the search for apodictic 'certainty' of this sort is invariably done on the cheap, as it were. No expensive equipment is required, no elaborate or time-consuming experiments need to be performed. Anyone with a flair for jargon, spiced-up with a love of prolixity perhaps --, and, of course, sufficient leisure time --, can do it. Even better: no empirical evidence is required to substantiate the bold theses that effortlessly roll off the page, since these can be condensed from thought alone.
Metaphysical theories were originally invented by thinkers who (in the main) displayed an aristocratic contempt for ordinary language and empirical knowledge -- and hence for the manual labour on which both are based. [There is an excellent account of this in Conner (2005).] Ordinary language and empirical knowledge are grounded in communal life, which means that they are ultimately based on collective labour and common understanding.
Traditional thinkers were indirectly alienated from this communal aspect of the human condition by the social division of labour that scarred nascent class society. Early thinkers were quite open in their contempt for the 'semi-animal' existence they attributed to working people, and the superiority of their 'culture'. [There is a very clear echo of this in Plato's Republic.]
In that case, the universal inclination that DM-theorists display for wanting to derive substantive truths about reality from language alone (i.e., from 'thought experiments', or from a priori theses and trite maxims, etc.) is no surprise. Philosophical theorists have been doing this sort of thing for millennia; this practice is now part of the philosophical furniture. Since ruling-class hacks have always done this as part of their contribution to traditional thought, when DM-theorists copy it, it seems to them (because of their own class origins) a perfectly normal way to think -- so normal that no one (until recently) has either noticed it or analysed its ideological provenance.
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
Their appropriation of traditional thought-forms (outlined throughout this site) thus locates DM-theorists in a philosophical current possessed of excellent ruling-class bona fides, one consequence of which is that DM is itself a form of LIE.
LIE, is in fact a family of doctrines which share many things in common:
A distortion of the vernacular; the distillation of substantive theses about nature from 'thought experiments' alone; the promulgation of what seem on the surface to be empirical propositions, but which are not, since they are applicable throughout all of reality, for all of time on the say-so of the promulgator; the invention of empty neologisms and abstract terminology, where words drawn from everyday language will not do; the derivation of 'necessary truths' that supposedly reveal the "essential" aspects of "Being", but which have been obtained from words alone; the confusion of rules of grammar and logic with empirical propositions (which allows theorists to 'derive' 'scientific-looking' laws from what are in fact contingent features of language, which, more often than not, has been Indo-European); hasty generalisations based on a strictly limited number of examples (all of which are unrepresentative, distorted or specially-selected); the 're-interpretation' of everything else to fit this a priori picture.
Metaphysicians (and DM-theorists) not only take it for granted that reality has an underlying rational structure, they arrogate to themselves the sole right to uncover its hidden secrets and inform the rest of us of the eternal truths they have thus exposed.
As noted above, the truth-values of ordinary empirical propositions can only be determined by an interface with material reality; their truth-status is materially-driven.
With metaphysical theses, on the other hand, the opposite is the case: the underlying state of the world is determined by what they say. They do not reflect the world -- the world reflects them: reality is a reflection of what they declare to be the case. The way the world has to be is determined by their content; they stand out as philosophical pictures, delineating the conceptual boundaries of reality (or 'Being'), as lone theses or foundational principles, which trace out the logical or essential form of any possible world. That is why no evidence is needed, and none is ever really sought. No world is conceivable in which they do not apply.
That is of course why Lenin considered the opposite of Engels's thesis about matter and motion so "unthinkable".
Which is also why such theses can safely be imposed on nature.
In fact, it would be unthinkable not to.
Lenin Thinks The Unthinkable
In order to substantiate these allegations, we need to examine Lenin's claim in more detail:
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
As we will now see, this collapses into incoherence: even though Lenin had to think these very words (i.e., "motion without matter") -- to make the point that they were "unthinkable" --, that did not stop him from concluding that what he himself had just done (i.e., think these very words) could not in fact be done by anyone -- which clearly must have included himself!
In purporting to deliver a particularly profound truth about matter and motion (the adamantine nature of which is such that its opposite is not just false, it is "unthinkable" -- i.e., no world is imaginable where there is motion without matter), Lenin had to engage in a practical refutation of his own words. So 'profound' were they that in communicating them to us Lenin had to do the opposite of what he himself said could not be done!
This shows that it is not possible to relate the content of Lenin's claim to anything that could be found (or that could occur) in material reality, since it was based on concepts knitted together in defiance of material reality and of the language derived from our complex relation to it (on which topic, see below).
The paradoxical nature of Lenin's words illustrates the ineluctable slide into non-sense that all theorists must undergo whenever they try to undermine either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based -- ones, for example, that ordinary speakers use to state truths or falsehoods about the world without such a fuss.
Intractable logical problems soon begin to emerge with such putatively empirical propositions if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities associated with empirical propositions: truth and falsehood. This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical proposition is declared to be only true or only false (or, more pointedly, necessarily the one or the other) -- as a "law of cognition", perhaps -- or, more likely, when a necessary truth or falsehood is mis-identified as a particularly profound sort of empirical thesis. As we will soon see, this tactic results in the automatic loss of both options, and with that goes any sense that the original proposition might once have had.
This is because empirical propositions leave it open as to whether they are true or false; that is why their truth-values cannot simply be read-off from their content, why evidence is required in order to determine their semantic status, and why it is possible to understand them before their truth of falsehood is known. If that were not so, it would be impossible to ascertain their truth-status.
When this is not the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, when propositions are said to be 'necessarily' true or 'necessarily' false -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant. Thus, whereas the truth or falsehood of an empirical proposition cannot be ascertained on purely linguistic (or syntactic) grounds, either or both of these appear to be ascertainable in this way if the proposition is metaphysical.
Conversely, this means that if the truth or falsehood of a proposition is capable of being established by such structural factors alone (i.e., from the supposed meaning of its constituent terms/concepts), it can't have been empirical to begin with -- nor can it relate to the material world or anything in it, nor can it help change reality. Otherwise the truth or falsehood of that proposition would be world-sensitive, not solely meaning- or concept-dependent. And that explains why the comprehension of a metaphysical proposition goes hand in hand with knowing its 'truth' (or its 'falsehood') -- it is based on thought/language alone, and not on the material world.
[Of course, it could always be claimed that such thoughts 'reflect' the world, which nullifies the above comments. But, if thought reflects the world, it must be possible to understand the propositions that allegedly express this in advance of knowing they are true, otherwise confirmation in practice, or by comparing them with the world, becomes an empty gesture. If the truth of a thought/proposition can be ascertained from that proposition itself (if it is 'self-evident'), then the world itself drops out, and that thought/proposition cannot be a reflection of that world. The world becomes, in effect, a reflection of that thought/proposition -- something I have called the "Reverse Reflection Theory" [RTT] --, which implies the world is thought/language-like, and not physical. The world thus takes on the contingent features of thought/language, which are themselves an expression of social relations. These are then read into nature, thus anthropomorphising it. More on this below, and in the full Essay.]
It is now possible to see why Lenin's claim about matter and motion encounters serious problems. In this instance, in order to declare a proposition containing the phrase "motion without matter" necessarily (and always) false, the possibility of its truth must first be entertained, even if this is immediately rejected. This is because, if the truth of this claim is to be permanently excluded (by holding it as necessarily false), whatever would have made it true has to be ruled out conclusively.
But, that just means that whoever propounds such a thesis would have to know what "motion without matter" rules in so that he/she knows exactly what it rules out as always and necessarily false. And yet, this is precisely what cannot be done if "motion without matter" is "unthinkable".
If a proposition containing the phrase "motion without matter" is necessarily false (i.e., if its truth "unthinkable") a logical charade of this sort cannot be carried out, since it would be impossible to say (or to think) what could possibly count as making it true (since the words used cannot even be 'mentally-processed' -- they have been declared off-limits).
However, because the truth of the content of the original proposition (i.e., perhaps: "There is motion without matter") cannot even be conceived, anyone propounding it would now be in no position to say what was being excluded by declaring it "unthinkable". But, if it is not possible to say under what conditions such a proposition could be true, then it is impossible to say what would make it not true -- for what was being ruled out could not be specified since it has been declared "unthinkable".
Unfortunately, this now prevents any account being given of what would make a proposition containing "motion without matter" false, let alone necessarily false, or "unthinkable". Because no account can be given of what would make it true, none can be given of what would make it not true (i.e., false).
Hence, such a proposition would be necessarily false if and only if it was not necessarily false -- that is, only if what would make it true could not in fact be entertained just in order to rule that option out!
According to Lenin, the conditions that would make this defective proposition true cannot even be conceived, so this train of thought cannot be joined at any point. And, if its truth -- or the conditions under which it would be true -- can't be conceived, neither can its falsehood, for we should not know what was being excluded (since that use of those words have been 'withdrawn from circulation', as it were).
In that case, the negation of this defective proposition can neither be accepted nor rejected, for no one would know what its content committed anyone to, in order that it might be accepted or rejected. Hence, this proposition would lose any sense it might once seem to have possessed, since it could not under such circumstances be true or false -- nor even so much as capable of being entertained so that these might be ascertained.
Alas, such Super-Empirical theses collapse under the weight of their own defective use of language.
[An appeal to the falsity of the LEM here (as a way of diffusing these dialectically-disconfirming conclusions -- since that 'law' might seem to have been used above, as in "Either M1 is true or it is false") would be of little help, for not even Lenin would have accepted that it was both true and false to say that "motion without matter is unthinkable". Nor could he, since, clearly, to do so he would have to think the proscribed words!]
[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]
[The same slide into incoherence can be demonstrated with respect to each and every metaphysical thesis (but not on the same lines as above); this will not be demonstrated in the project since it is not relevant to its aim. However, every DM-thesis of any import has been shown so to disintegrate.]
Another odd feature of such theses is worth underlining: since the truth-values of such defective sentences are plainly not determined by the world, they have to be given a truth-value by fiat. They have to be declared necessarily true or necessarily false (which declaration will have unavoidably been 'derived' from the supposed meaning of the words they contain -- and this is plainly because their truth cannot be derived form the world, with which they cannot now be compared).
Or, more grandiloquently, their opposites have to be pronounced "unthinkable" by a sage-like figure -- a Philosopher, or perhaps a Dialectical Magus of some sort. Metaphysical decrees of this sort are as common as dirt in traditional thought -- and, alas, also in dialectics, as we can now see.
So, the truth-value of each metaphysical thesis is not determined by the way the world and hence has to be bestowed on them by their inventors. Isolated theses like these have truth or falsehood granted them as a gift. In that case, instead of being compared with material reality to ascertain their truth-status, they are compared with other related theses (or more often, they are compared with yet more jargon) as part of a jargonised gesture at 'verification'. Their bona fides are thus thoroughly Ideal.
The normal cannons that determine when something is true or false (i.e., its comparison with reality) have to be set aside, and a spurious 'evidential' ceremony substituted for it -- which in DM is often carried out after the event, and even then only ever applied to a very narrow range of examples (as we found with Trotsky's 'analysis' of the LOI and Engels's account of motion, etc.) -- or, if it is carried out in advance, it is performed in the head as a 'thought experiment', or perhaps as part of a very hasty and superficial consideration of the 'concepts' involved.
As far as traditional Philosophy (Metaphysics) is concerned, we know this is precisely what has taken place as the subject developed. But with respect to DM, its class-compromised origins mirror this ideological degeneration. As is well-known, dialectical doctrines were lifted from Hegel (and allegedly given a materialist spin), but Hegel's ideas were not based on experimentation of any sort, they were not derived from material reality, he merely borrowed them from earlier mystics (as we shall see in Essay Fourteen (summary here)), while attempting to justify them with some of his own innovative word-juggling.
So, it is only after the event that evidence is sought by dialecticians to substantiate these a priori theses -- and, as we will see in the Essays posted here, this 'evidence' is not just wafer-thin, what little there is does not support DM anyway.
In this way, therefore, DM-theses are quintessentially Idealist and thoroughly anti-materialist.
Indeed, Engels went further than Lenin:
"Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself." [Engels (1976), p.74.]
However, in this particular case, not only is it easy to speak about motionless matter (using materially-grounded ordinary language -- several examples are given in Essays Five and Twelve) -- up until recently human beings actually managed to think about it. Indeed, motionless matter was a fundamental tenet of Aristotelian Physics.
Beware Greeks Philosophers Bearing Metaphysical Gifts -- Or Why Words Have Power
DM is thus situated in an ancient metaphysical tradition, one that was (and still is) based on the systematic misuse and denigration of ordinary material language. The vernacular was (and still is) variously regarded as theoretically limited, paradox-friendly, the repository of unreflective 'commonsense', ideologically-compromised, and subject to the appearance/reality dichotomy.
The original, ideologically-motivated attack on 'vulgar' speech began with the inception of class society. From the historical record (in Essay Twelve) I show how Greek thinkers incorporated abstract terms into their theories because they could not make ordinary words say what they wanted them to say. In so doing they were quite open about their aims and about their contempt for ordinary human beings, their language, beliefs, experience and culture. The class-confidence of these early thinkers meant they did not have to hide their ideas behind much metaphysical spin; in fact their thoughts began life ad-mixed with several genuine scientific concepts.
The scientific study of nature, and how to control it, began long before developed forms of class society reared their ugly heads (on this see Conner (2005)), but once the latter emerged, science became all too easily overlaid with the results of subsequently imposed Idealist speculation.
Nevertheless, with the development of technique, when more practically-orientated human beings started to take a closer note of the material world, and also of the physical constraints this imposed on speculation (i.e., when they began to experiment, test and dovetail their theories with observation and improved technique, etc.), science was able to make steady progress. In this way, science was able to pull itself out of this ideal intellectual quagmire. However, in order for this to work it has to take material reality (and hence contingency) into account. Traditional Philosophy could not do this. Hence, science was able to distinguish itself from the Idealism that surrounded it by its increasing contact with the material world and with developing technology.
[Of course, the situation here is vastly more complex than this suggests, but this is a summary Essay! More details will be published in the Additional Essays section of this site.]
However, the first traditional 'philosophical' exercise in 'linguistic surgery' (that we know of in the West) was undertaken in ancient Greece in order to transform earlier, aristocratically-motivated myths and theogonies into secular and/or metaphysical 'truths' so as to provide a de-personalised (but now rational) legitimacy for the new forms of state power emerging in and beyond the sixth century BC.
Taking one specific example: this process is illustrated in detail in relation to the autocratic, antidemocratic and violent politics found in Pythagorean society (situated in Southern Italy in the sixth century BC). Ideologically, this social form was based on the notion that nature is governed by rational, mathematical and hierarchical principles, ones that the Pythagoreans alone understood. That, naturally, justified their contempt for democracy. This particular case is important because of the profound influence Pythagorean concepts had on Plato, Neo-Platonists and thus on more recent Platonists (such as Galileo, Hegel and in some respects, Lenin), and hence on much of Western thought. This includes the way that Mathematics and Physics have been widely interpreted since; they are, by-and-large, still understood in a thoroughly Pythagorean/Platonic manner.
Indeed, as fate would have it, the first use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (that we know of) was directed by the Pythagoreans of Croton on the hapless people of Sybaris, a neighbouring city in Southern Italy. In 510 BC Pythagorean forces diverted the River Crati into Sybaris, wiping out a whole community, killing tens of thousands.
The links between Philosophy and violent, anti-democratic state power were less difficult to see in those days.
[It is worth recalling here that Stalin's criminal invasion of Finland (in November 1939) was justified by dialectical philosophy of similar murderous insincerity (as was the Hitler/Stalin pact). This invasion was an unforgivable attack, and, hard though it is to believe, defended by Trotsky(!), who, although a principled anti-Stalinist, supported this action by the Red Army on sound dialectical grounds. Socialism spread by tanks, justified by dialectics? Substitutionism -- courtesy of DM.
The result? Tens of thousands of dead workers, and a breathing-space for Hitler. It is now perhaps a little easier to see why workers hate Dialectical Marxism. But, you can still find dialectically-deadened comrades who defend this attack (but who also fail to note how impressively unsuccessful they are at attracting workers to their ranks -- not making the obvious connection, so dialectically myopic have they become).]
Such traditional notions merely helped justify the formation and reproduction of ruling-class hegemony: if the latter rule "reflects" the underlying rational/'objective' order of reality (as ruling-class hacks have generally claimed, albeit modified to suit the needs of each Mode of Production, and each ruling elite), then all opposition to the state can be condemned as irrational, against "the natural order", and thus "evil". The moral order could thus be linked to the rational order of reality. Indeed, the ethical state of the soul and the orderly nature of the State were not just accidentally linked in Plato, they were constitutive of the whole cosmos and of rightful governance on earth. The same was true (in a different idiom) of other ruling-class thinkers.
For example, in earlier societies, opposition to royal authority was tantamount to disobeying the will of the 'gods'; in later class societies to resist the State (or established religion, or the status quo) was to struggle against 'natural law', or even the rational order of reality. These days, it is to fight against "Western values".
[Early Philosophers were in fact quite open about this; it is only recently that these notions have retreated into the background. However, they are now making a strong come-back, and just in time for a new wave of Imperial aggression in the Middle East. Now we have "Islamofascists" where once there were "Barbarians".]
Of course, the principles behind -- and the intentional objects of -- these theoretical flights-of-fancy are, and always were, and always will be, inaccessible to sense perception, 'commonsense' and ordinary material language/evidence.
And rightly so: only in a genuine democracy would mundane things like these really count for much.
Social Being Gives Rise To The Philosophy Of 'Being'
Superimposed on all this were a few rather more contingent factors, themselves a spin-off from class division: the extrapolation from language to truths about the world was an extension of, and justification for, each traditional theorist's own idiosyncratic take on reality. These were en masse derived from an alienated view of 'Being', ultimately predicated on an earlier division of labour in nascent class society.
As is well-known by Marxists, in their attempt to free themselves from the constant oppression of nature, humanity found that it not only had to enslave itself to political and social forms over which it lost control, it also had to submit to ideologies that parasitized and rationalised that alienation. Ruling-class ideas thus came to rule because there was no material counter-weight to their Ideal view of reality.
Superscientific truths derived solely from the meaning of words thus matched the intellectualist view of nature adopted by this new layer of theorists in ancient Greece, just as they reflected their daily experience of class society. In this way, their mode of being mirrored their view of 'Being'. The life of these idlers was largely one of leisure bought at the expense of the necessary labour time of those whose language and experience they denigrated. In order to give expression to this form of estrangement, these theorists developed an anti-materialist language deliberately set in opposition to the 'debased' language of those who had to work for a living.
In ancient Theogonies, conflict was inter-personal between the 'gods', whose verbal wrangles became the model on which later Hermetic thinkers based their ideas. In this way, such anthropomorphic ideas took on cosmic significance.
Unfortunately for humanity, this also meant that it became 'natural' for later theorists (like Anaximenes, and Heraclitus) to see conflict in conceptual, logical and linguistic (but not material) terms. [This is indeed from where Hegel got these notions.]
That, of course, set this new form of discourse in direct opposition to the material language of everyday life. This alienated thought-form was bequeathed to all subsequent generations of thinkers, since they largely shared the same privileged material conditions, and hence the ideological predispositions that came with this slice of the intellectual territory.
In this artificial world inhabited by indolent thinkers, words appeared to carry with them a hidden form of authority: commands, edicts and orders seemed to possess a secret power of some sort (which accounts for the long-term search for the original language God gave to mankind; on this see Eco (1997)).
Words were, after all, capable of moving slaves, servants, and workers effortlessly about the place; codified into law, words also appeared to possess genuine coercive power, which masked the class domination on which this parasitic social form was based. Naturally, this superficial aspect of official language would blind those who benefited from it to its material roots in class society. They would thus begin to confuse a conventionalised social form with a code necessary to grasp the essential aspects of 'Being'.
The spurious power that words seemed to possess would naturally suggest to these theoretical 'drones' that if certain forms of language underpinned both their own authority and, more importantly, that of the State, and if the State mirrored Cosmic Reality, then the universe itself must run along discursive lines.
In that case, such theorists would 'naturally' see reality as not just rational, but ultimately as linguistic, constituted by the word of some 'god', or other. In the act of creation, the 'Deity' spoke and everything not only sprang into existence, it jumped to attention, too. Hence, on this view of things, seemingly inert matter had the capacity to obey orders (when addressed with the right sort of language), as if it were intelligent and possessed of a will. Nature was thus an enchanted 'Being', and because of this distorted view of language, all this was directly or indirectly linked to State/Class Power.
Indeed, as early theorists saw things, nature was powered by opposing forces: good and evil, light and dark, order and chaos, love and hate, hot and cold -- all were either personified (as good/evil intelligences) or were viewed as discursive principles (i.e., as 'logical' laws, which were not just 'laws of thought', but laws governing reality, and which were derived from the supreme Logos, who made everything in 'His' image).
Ideas like this appear in all ancient creation myths, in Greek Philosophy, and in Buddhist and Chinese thought (in the latter as Yin and Yang, for instance; more examples here). The inner source of universal movement/development was thus linguistic, governed by discursive opposites, or it was based on intelligence/will (and thus on language again), and all of this was directly or indirectly linked with class hegemony.
Matter was thus not so much congealed energy as condensed language, equally the slave of 'God' as human servants were slaves/subjects of the state. These ruling ideas were thus derived from the alienated ideas of those who ruled, and they were believed to rule the universe because of that. So, ruling ideas ruled society just as they supposedly ruled the world. As above, so below; the microcosm mirrored the macrocosm.
Few traditional thinkers have strayed far from these ancient thought-forms, even if they expressed these guiding principles in different idioms as each Mode of Production changed, and as each ruling-class altered its own form.
This represented perhaps one small ideological step for alienated mankind, but a major step backward for oppressed humanity.
This is because it carved ruling-ideas into the fabric of the heavens.
Feuerbach's Half-Finished Project
In that case, Feuerbach uncovered only half the truth: it's not just 'God' who is an alienated projection of human nature. The classical view of reality (inherited by and large by all subsequent thinkers) is in fact a projection of alienated human society, purposely carried out by the ideologues of those whose interests manoeuvre this served. Such dead creations have weighed on the brains of the living ever since.
As they depicted things, the real universe (i.e., that which underpinned 'appearances') was in effect an externalisation of the hierarchical relations of power and authority either apparent or masked in class society. In this way, their specially-codified language was linked to the continuing order of the Cosmos and of the many forms of the State which the class war threw up.
For example, in early Greece, Justice became a cosmic issue, but linked to the alleged affairs of humanity. At the same time, and then later, property, exchange, debt, ransom, value, law, conflict, legal argument assumed metaphysical significance.
In Hegel, of course, the latter two notions resurfaced as "contradictions" -- and so it as that an anthropomorphised verbal expression came to power the universe.
All were justified by an a priori argument of some sort, coupled with an innovative use of jargon, because that was the only way they could be made to work.
As Marx argued:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an 'eternal law.'" [The German Ideology, quoted from here.]
Often these ostensively secular doctrines were overlaid with openly religious themes -- just think of the concepts that Christians use: inherited sin, ransom, debts owed to 'God' (since all are 'His' slaves), redemption, 'mediation', and so on. At any rate, discourse like this (of a mystical and legalistic drift) had a magical quality imputed to it; language powered the world, just as it supposedly ran the State.
Hence, a superficial social form (i.e., the ability to issue orders, to promulgate and enforce laws, or prosecute a legal argument, etc.) was inverted to become the sole medium that 'allowed' philosophers to unmask the secrets underlying surface 'appearances' -- and thus as the master key capable of unlocking the essential structure of 'Being'.
In later metaphysical systems this open mysticism became hidden behind an overt or covert reference to the logical principles that 'must' underlie all of nature, and every 'possible world' -- depersonalised now as cosmic "essences", "dialectical logic", "natural law", or "necessary truths". The Logos became Logic, and Logic ran the world.
This being so, it would be 'natural' for such theorists to conclude that not only is logical, rational, and conceptual analysis capable of revealing truths about reality, nothing else can. In that case, only a priori knowledge is real knowledge; it alone is reliable. Anything else is not 'proper Philosophy'.
This approach to 'knowledge' is well summarised by these two authors:
"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 here.]
[This is one of the reasons why the attack on the roots of all forms of Western thought (mounted at this site) is so difficult for comrades to accept (or even to grasp): in their heads ruling ideas are still dominant -- in this case in the shape of dialectical 'logic'. And they fail to see this, even after it is pointed out to them, because they accept as 'natural' this traditional, a priori approach to knowledge --, as indeed the only way to think rationally about reality. Hence, for them, only a priori speculation (backed up with little or no evidence) can possibly qualify as genuine philosophical truth. Materially-based scientific knowledge is not enough; Marxism needs a Philosophy. This idea is so firmly lodged in comrades' heads that it rules almost by divine right. Why this is so will be examined more fully in Essay Nine (summary here).
In this way, ruling-class ideas have come to rule militant minds.]
However, rationally obtained knowledge (of this sort) is far removed from material reality -- in fact it has been abstracted away from it, and is thus conveniently hidden far beneath surface appearances, and hence safe from material confutation. This underlines the further idea that such knowledge is occult, mystical, and esoteric -- which helps account for the popularity of occult thought among traditional thinkers (and, indeed, among many individual members of the ruling-class -- for example, these days the Masons) throughout history. This includes, of course, Hegel, a Hermetic thinker of the worst possible kind.
The original, ideological turn to this new conception of reality clearly mirrored the pseudo-democratisation that took place classical Greece in and around the fifth century BC -- based as the latter was on slavery.
It was now expedient to transform the earlier personified powers of the 'gods' into impersonal 'forces' and 'laws' in order to provide a more relevant and persuasive rationale for these new forms of class domination (wherein Kings and Queens no longer ruled, these having been replaced by Oligarchies, dictatorships, or by early forms of Republican government). Warring, envious and capricious gods had to be tamed and thus turned into impersonal forces, principles and laws (but, where necessary, these were still under the control of a single supreme 'Deity', or supreme rational principle, an Absolute), since a properly ordered Polis had to reflect a similarly rational cosmic order.
Nevertheless, this change still preserved the anthropomorphic and animistic overtones of the old way of seeing things --, even if this was now much harder to see.
This novel, class-motivated world-view was clearly aimed at demonstrating why nature and society had to be the way they were, linking the power of the State to the necessary structure of 'Being'.
Hegemony so easily derived from Hermeneutics.
[It is worth recalling here that Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek God Hermes, the founding figure of Hermetic Philosophy -- the system that Hegel bequeathed to our movement. Hermes was 'himself' based on the Egyptian god Thoth, who supposedly invented language and Philosophy (aka 'wisdom') -- and who, incidentally, made the world out of language --, from whom the Greeks derived their word for 'God' (Theos -- and hence Theology), and we our word "theory".
Ruling ideas, based on ruling words.]
Ordinary Language -- Denigrated By Class-Conscious Theorists
As a result, not only did the first wave of ruling-class warriors find that they had to dismantle primitive communism physically, their ideological "prize-fighters" also had to mount a pincer assault on communal language and the common experience of ordinary human beings, centuries later. This is no mere invention; the historical record fully supports this observation. [Details will be given in the full Essay, when it is published.]
They were forced to do this because the vernacular does not allow the formation of a single coherent metaphysical thought (for reasons outlined above, and explained in detail in several of the Essays posted at this site), and it cannot be used to confirm the a priori theses metaphysicians invent as the ideological mood takes them.
This accounts for the need to create 'abstract ideas' to help rationalise those newly emerging class hierarchies. [This can be seen in the work of early Greek thinkers, and they were quite open about what they were doing.] Of course, this move became the norm in later thought, and thus did not require overt ideological justification.
If 'concepts/categories' control all of reality, or all of thought (or both, as in Hegel), even though it is not possible to detect a single one by any means whatsoever, then no ordinary human being could possibly challenge their legitimacy or disprove indeed they 'existed'. If anyone were foolish enough to try to do so, that would be evidence enough that they did not 'understand' the precursor to dialectics -- i.e., the Neo-Platonic/Hermetic ideas that would later help sink Hegel (and thus Marxism) into a dogmatic slumber.
In the West, this ancient, aristocratic world-view found expression in the use of specially-tailored jargon -- wherein nature became a reification of contingent features of Indo-European grammar. As a result, subjects, predicates, and practically any vaguely relevant word -- especially participles of the diminutive verb "to be" (i.e., "is" and "being") --, were imbued with profound ontological significance. The superficial grammatical structure of a few specially-selected sentences was thus considered capable of revealing the underlying structure of the entire universe.
In these new social settings, the analysis of specially modified linguistic forms was not only metaphysically revealing, it was financially rewarding; patronage was available only to those who theorised along the 'right' lines and who drew the most useful conclusions.
Abstract thought could thus find a home for itself in a world where those who performed material work could find none -- for their thoughts and experiences were denied a legitimate home.
The material language of those who had to work to stay alive was thus doctored and distorted, since it represented the 'debased' experience of those directly alienated by these new social forms, but whose self-organisation could still threaten the "rational order", the "fabric of society" -- or, again of late, "Western values".
Hence, not only was materialism regarded as a dangerous ideology, the material language by means of which it alone can be expressed had to be continually denigrated.
In any subsequent rebellion against the State, however, the material language of everyday life rapidly became a focus for expressing the grievances and pressing the demands of those thrown into revolt. To be sure, the justification for the latter was often couched in religious terms (a classic example being the work and activity of Thomas Müntzer), but the demands and tactics of such groups had to be expressed in everyday words if support were to be won among ordinary folk. No matter how fervent one's belief in 'God', without the right tactics, weaponry and means of communication -- all of which are material constraints --, no revolt could even begin.
In this way, struggle from below (especially in the last few centuries) has gradually inverted the Ideal forms of domination that had been imposed for millennia on the majority, making the social world increasingly subject to material and collective control. Again, while this might have been expressed in religious terms centuries ago, it has emerged these days in more overtly material language.
That is, of course, why revolutionary papers have to use ordinary language.
And it is also why the present age is unique; we now possess a material counter-weight to Idealism, one that can help bring an end to the domination of ruling-ideas: an international working-class.
Indeed, the ideas represented here were only made possible because the working-class entered the stage of history as a material force.
[Details will be given in the main Essay when it is published.]
This explains why the larger the working-class, the less relevant dialectics becomes, and the smaller the impact Dialectical Marxism has on it.
The tide of history has changed -- dialecticians, with their heads in the sand, have yet to spot this.
True, in Hegel's work, the Ideal stands proudly on its feet, Absolute master of all. But it wasn't the work of comrades like Engels, Lenin or Trotsky that up-ended it, putting it the 'right way up' (as dialecticians claim). If anything, they put it on a cart and paraded it about the place, celebrating it as the work of "genius".
On the contrary, it was the material struggle of ordinary working people that has helped cut this metaphysical Frankenstein off at the knees, for they alone can provide the material counterweight to the Idealism that gives it life.
Marxist intellectuals and/or activists (no matter how devoted they are to the revolution) cannot of themselves do this, and for obvious reasons (these are spelled out in Essay Nine, Parts One and Two (summary of the latter here)): in general they are petty-bourgeois, and are 'naturally inclined' toward the Ideal.
Ordinary Language And Workers
In that case, no revolutionary movement can succeed without employing the material language of ordinary life, ditching the Ideal. Revolutionaries who think otherwise not only align themselves with those who still to this day benefit from class rule, they guarantee the further alienation from Marxist politics of those already estranged by the class-motivated deformation of their lives, language and experience: the majority of workers.
As Marx noted, in all ages the ideas of the ruling-class rule --, but it helps significantly if erstwhile radicals internalise the elitist thought-form encapsulated in DM, parrot it back at workers, and attempt to substitute it into their heads. Indeed, those who have adopted this tactic have merely help spread and confirm alien-class hegemony over thought.
Clearly, this makes the defence of ordinary material language a class issue.
Alienated Thought -- Fetishised Language
Everyday language had originally been developed by ordinary human beings who interfaced with one another and with the material world in collective labour. In contrast, ruling-class ideology encapsulated in traditional Philosophy is suffused with the sort of jargon that can only interface with yet more jargon.
Indeed, in such circumstances systematic jargon-juggling (aka Metaphysics) has become the norm, with traditional thought resembling what one might imagine a long and detailed commentary on the nature, temperament and predilections of the Jabberwocky itself looks like.
[This accusation can be levelled, too, but with more justification, against much that passes for academic Marxism. Small wonder then that it has so far had no detectable impact on the class struggle (other than a negative one). On this, see Essay Nine; summary here.]
In this way, traditional theorists readily mistook a social form (language) for the material world itself, inverting the products of social relations until they begin to mirror, and then constitute in a suitably Ideal form, reality itself, one that reflects in turn their own mode of being.
As a result, these theorists developed an alienated and fetishised view of language. In that case, what had once been the product of the relations between human beings thus became inverted in an ideological form as an expression of the real relation between things, or even as those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx).
This inversion has real material roots in the alienation from collective labour (and the language that arises from it) that class division forced on ruling-class hacks -- and, indeed, on contemporary Dialectical Marxists.
For traditional thinkers the proper function of language is representational: it must picture "Being", and it must re-present outer essences as inner certainties -- thus assisting class-ideologues in their rationalisation of 'social order'. There would be no point to Metaphysical language if it could not do that.
Theoretical and philosophical language was thus transformed into a specialised code that could represent to 'consciousness' the essence of metaphysical reality. This accounts for the need for all that jargon -- and then more jargon to 'explain' the original jargon -- and, of course, to ensure that this mutant medium remained the exclusive property of elite 'thinkers'. This is indeed one of the central tenets of Hermetic thought; just as Hermes interpreted the 'Gods', so a suitably arcane language could help interpret/represent 'God's' thoughts' to humanity. In this way, the inner linguistic microcosm could represent the outer Ideal macrocosm.
Hence, discourse was not seen as a social tool created by ordinary human beings in order to facilitate communal life and collective labour; no, its primary function was higher, it was aristocratic, it directly represented reality, but only as this was captured by the 'concepts', categories and ideas formed in the heads of those with far too much leisure time on their hands than was good for them.
Intellectualist metaphors connected with sight thus came to dominate theory; you either 'saw' the truth (by "intuition", or by divine illumination), or you were part of the problem -- or, latterly: you did not 'understand dialectics'. Hence, ideas linked in with special forms of perception (particularly a hidden, inner sort) seeped into all areas of traditional epistemology as representational theories swept the board; they were the only game in town.
Naturally, these ideas ruled Philosophy because they served the interests of the class that ruled.
Representationalism and the Inner Bourgeois Individual
However, if only small sections of the population were capable of representing divine ideas to themselves, then that automatically excluded the majority from genuine knowledge, and thus from power. As is well-known, the ruling-class has always preferred secrecy and mystery. No less so here.
On the other hand, if language is in fact primarily communitarian (and hence, if its main function is communication), mystery-mongering like this becomes impossible. Everything would be open to view; nothing would be hidden (to paraphrase Wittgenstein).
Nevertheless, according to the metaphysical/representational view of language, human beings have first to learn to represent the world to themselves before they can communicate their ideas to anyone else. Naturally, this makes this theory anti-communal, since it is predicated on exclusivity and individualism. It is also why ideas that allow for the existence of a priori theses have always appealed to philosophical traditionalists (and dialecticians).
Hence, propositions whose truth-values flow from the alleged meaning of words (which notion is based on the idea that language can directly represent to certain minds those parts of reality that cannot be communicated, or accessed by empirical means, rendering this form of knowledge esoteric and exclusive) --, will always appeal to such traditionalists. Representationalism, Metaphysics and Dialectics thus go hand in hand.
Representationalism of course became more overt in its early modern incarnation, concocted at or about the time of the last major change in class power, in the 17th and 18th centuries. This view of language and mind still dominates traditional thought (indeed, it typifies the bourgeois/individualist view of 'mind', which has hardly advanced much in 300 years).
If representationalism is correct, accounting for communication becomes problematic: how would it be possible, for example, to explain the meaning of a newly invented piece of jargon if that jargon only represents things in its inventor's head? Others may pretend to follow what is said (or imagine that they can), but beyond that, what content would there be to such pretence? [More on this in Essay Three Part Two.]
Representationalism threatens not just the status of knowledge, it undermines socially-conditioned meaning. The communicational model does not do this. There, meaning emerges from social interaction, not isolated mental processing.
Just as labour creates value, socialisation based on collective labour creates meaning.
Of course, representationalism not only makes it impossible to account for the social nature of knowledge, it helps create the spurious 'problem' of other minds -- for it now becomes obvious that, short of a miracle, no two individuals could share the same ideas about anything, or even so much as a single "abstraction". Far worse: no one could share the same idea about the 'same idea'.
In contrast once more, by its very nature material language is communitarian; only during (but mostly after) socialisation is it possible for human beings to begin to form beliefs about the world or express them in a comprehensible form (even to themselves). Hence, children have to be taught language by parents, carers and peers communicating with them; only after they have been successfully inducted into a speech community is it possible for them to represent anything to themselves.
Just as labour creates value, socialisation, based on collective labour, creates meaning.
In contrast to this, abstract metaphysical language is individualistic, divisive, atomistic and representational; if language were primarily of this nature, communication would be impossible. Language, instead of being a free medium of exchange, would thus become a prison trapping thought in a solipsistic dungeon. In fact no thoughts could be formed given this view. [Why this is so will be explained in a later Essay, where the above claims will be defended in depth.]
Hence, according to the traditional view (in its modern form), it is almost as if there were a surrogate inner bourgeois in us all. Representationalism itself suggests that we all have an 'inner spectator' in our heads; how else could we make sense of these 'inner representations' to 'consciousness'? What is the point of using the word "represent" if there is no one to whom things are represented? If this word means what we ordinarily take it to mean (that is, if we do not misrepresent its meaning!), then the use of this word depends on an homunculus theory of mind. The verb "to represent" is after all transitive.
At this point, the atomistic nature of this traditional line of thought should be obvious, for the 'explanatory' core of this approach to language presents us with what looks suspiciously like an isolated individual -- beloved of bourgeois thought -- lodged in each head. This oracular, cranial lodger -- who differs from the Cartesian soul in name only -– is, on this account, far removed from the affairs of communal life. Such a speechless atom would have no need of a public language -- nor would it require socialisation. Its 'discourse' (if such it may be called) cannot be social, it is just inner and private. However, private property in the means of mental production sits rather awkwardly with an avowedly Marxist account of language.
In order for this to work, representationalism has had to anthropomorphise the human brain, installing an inner bourgeois social atom in every head.
Thus, the individual strikes back and is living in a skull near you.
Small wonder then that ruling-class ideas have always ruled; every head contains its very own bourgeois ideologue. Or, rather, all who swallow this tale are led to believe they form their own ideas as separate, isolated individuals, only later to share them with others. These days, this seems so natural (even to Marxists) that few question it. DM-epistemology merely reinforces this misconception.
Thus was born Engels's classic 'problem' of the relation between "thinking and being" [Engels (1888), p.593], which is in fact a 'problem' only for those who accept the validity of representationalism.
In stark contrast to the traditional view of language, the vernacular is already part of the material world; hence any thoughts expressed in ordinary language need no further relating to material reality -- the vernacular is thus able to capture real life in all its accessible forms.
Seen this way, another classic 'problem' simply evaporates.
The Ideological Heart Of The Heartless World
Nevertheless, as a result of profound changes that took place in parts of Southern Europe in the sixth century BC, Metaphysics emerged as an alienated form of ruling-class consciousness: the theory that gave heart to those who ran this heartless world, the ideology that rationalised power and served as an intellectual source of the opiate of the oppressor.
To bring this condition to an end will require the end of the conditions that require it. The criticism of Metaphysics thus becomes one with the criticism of the ideas of those who have imposed their system on the rest of us -- and one with the criticism of the ruling ideas that have been imported into Marxism (in the form of dialectics).
To be sure, this criticism must assume material form in the class struggle, but that cannot possibly succeed if those who claim to be its most focussed cadres ape these alien thought-forms. Instead of dialectical comrades trying to reform this condition, occupying it and altering it from within -- as they have hitherto tried to do, concocting their own version of traditional thought (this being the philosophical equivalent of Reformism) --, Marxist theoreticians should aim rather to smash it.
There is thus no room in revolutionary socialism for any form of Philosophical Entryism.
This Ideal Tiger cannot be de-clawed one clause at a time.
In view of the above, the aim must now be to return Marxist Philosophy to its roots in the material language of working people; that is, to the language developed by that section of humanity that interfaces with material reality every day.
This accounts for the heavy emphasis placed on the vernacular in these Essays -- and hence, too, this explains its implacable opposition to all forms of traditional Philosophy.
The language used by traditional thinkers (like Hegel) actually insulates the mind from material reality (since it is not based on a material interaction with it -- either in communal life or in collective labour), just as it insulates the minds of comrades who to this day still think Marxism is a ringing success.
That's how good a job it has done on them!
As the historical record shows, Hegel's impenetrable jargon was cobbled-together from (im)material supplied to him by theorists and mystics working within an ancient metaphysical tradition -- but plainly not from those who interacted with the physical world in communal labour.
Traditional theorists interface with material reality only in their spare time (and seldom in communal labour); most of the time they enjoy the communion of books, Ideas and Concepts. Small wonder then that such thinkers had to develop a specialised vocabulary --, one that is suffused with words that have no material roots --, in order to give expression to their own particular alienated form of life.
Over the last 2500 years, such theorists have developed and elaborated upon this Ideal view of reality, one that is based on a systematic attempt to derive "necessary truths" from the alleged meaning of a few words (such as, "Being", "mediation", "cause", "contradiction", "substance", "reality", "infinite", etc., etc.). This approach to theory underlies all forms of ruling-class thought, in every Mode of Production, achieving a different form-of-expression in each.
This being so, there can be no philosophical theory that is not Ideal (here, at least, Hegel was right), and there can be none that is free from ruling-class concepts and priorities. These sweeping claims are not left as bald assertions, they are thoroughly substantiated in the Essays posted at this site.
Hermetic 'Genius' Derives Everything From A Participle Of The Verb "To Be"
One particular 'argument' is of special interest here; it is found in several places in Hegel's work, and it attempts to connect "Being" with "Nothing" and then with "Becoming", by 'deriving' all three from the verb "to be".
Amazingly, this 'argument' was praised by Lenin and Trotsky [Lenin (1961), p.110; Trotsky (1986), p.103; echoed in Rees (1998), pp.49-50], even though this prize piece of Jabberwocky Lore sits right at the heart of the Ideal monster. Rees summarises thus 'argument' in the following way:
"The 'Science of Logic' begins with the most abstract of all human ideas, Being. This is the bare notion of existence shorn of any color (sic), size, shape, taste or smell. This first concept is also, in its way, a totality. Although Being reveals no characteristics or distinguishing marks, it does, nevertheless, include everything. After all, everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, 'This is --,' even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being…. But Being also contains its opposite, Nothing. The reason is that Being has no qualities and no features that define it. If we try to think about pure Being…we are forced to the opposite conclusion, Being equals Nothing.
"But even Nothing is more than it seems. If we are asked to define Nothing, we are forced to admit that it has at least one property -– the lack or absence of any qualities…. This presents us with a strange dilemma: being is Nothing and yet Nothing is something. Hegel, however, is not so stupid as to think that there is no difference between being and Nothing, even though this is what our logical enquiry seems to suggest. All that this contradiction means is that we must search for a new term that…can explain how Being and Nothing can be both equal and separate (or an 'identity of opposites'…). Hegel's solution is the concept of Becoming." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50.]
Because of its centrality, this 'argument' is systematically taken apart line by line in Essay Twelve, and shown to fail even in its own terms.
There is no way that these concepts ("Being", "Nothing" and "Becoming") could have been derived from "careful empirical work", nor can they be "tested in practice" -- let alone abstracted from anything recognisably material.
In the end, the fact that erstwhile materialists (like Lenin and Trotsky) praised this prime example of linguistic mystification is not the least bit puzzling -- once their own ideas are viewed against the class-compromised background of traditional thought.
This is how Trotsky characterised this 'argument':
"The identity of Being (Sein) and Nothingness (Nichts), like the contradictoriness of the concept of the Beginning, in which Nichts and Sein are united, seems at first glance a subtle and fruitless play of ideas. In fact, this 'game' brilliantly exposes the failure of static thinking, which at first splits the world into motionless elements, and then seeks truth by way of a limitless expansion [of the process]." [Trotsky (1986), p.103.]
Whereas Lenin thought it was:
"Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear dead and shows that there is movement in them." [Lenin (1961), p.110.]
Of course, all this is unsurprising given what has gone before.
However, at no point do Rees and other DM-fans repudiate this style of reasoning, only some of its 'Ideal' implications -- which, coupled with the praise Lenin and Trotsky heaped on this 'argument', indicates that dialecticians' rejection of Hegelian AIDS is purely formal. By no stretch of the imagination have any of the above conclusions been drawn from an "analysis of real material forces", or anything even remotely like one. The fact that leading DM-classicists could claim to learn anything about the nature of "static thinking" from such woefully defective logic reveals how superficial their frequent and vociferous rejections of AIDS really are. The 'logic' of this passage is entirely bogus and thoroughly Idealist. The concepts it employs are the result of grossly exaggerated abstractions, tortured 'logic' and terminally dubious assertions.
[AIDS = Absolute Idealism; LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
In fact, this Hegelian 'derivation' has set a new gold standard for all forms of LIE, for from it everything in existence -- every speck, object, thought and process -- can be 'derived' miraculously from the verb "to be".
Indeed, to misquote Berkeley here: "to be" is to be blamed.
In order to uncover its well-concealed truths, this innocuous verb had to be transformed into the noun "Being" -– which now re-born supposedly names 'everything that exists'. This grandiose 'concept', stripped of all its 'properties', suddenly becomes 'identical' with "Nothing", which in turn immediately and magically produces "Becoming". The entire Trinity from a diminutive "is"; seldom can so much be owed by so few to so little.
First of all, Rees claims that: "The most abstract of all human ideas [is] Being...", but he forgot to say how anyone could ever know this for sure. Does anyone this side of the Kuiper Belt own an 'abstractometer' calibrated accurately enough to measure the exact level of abstractness possessed by any given word or concept? Does "Being" come supplied with its own metaphysical quality control certificate that declares the extent to which it has been removed from the material world? Is there a cosmic version of the Guinness Book of Records that catalogues this and other rival champion concepts? If so, Rees was remarkably quiet about it.
Far worse, Rees omitted the carefully collected, materially based-evidence (in the shape of a survey of novice and experienced abstractors alike) that supports this brave conclusion about what human beings can or can't do with their brains.
To be fair, Rees's claim was based on the exercise of thought, not on evidence. So, the idea seems to be that if anyone were to think about things long enough -- putting the verb "to be" through enough hoops -- they would arrive at a similar result. But, what if they don't? What if someone discovered an even more abstract idea than this one, perhaps as a result of more prolonged and intense meditation? How could Rees rule this out?
Fortunately, we need not wait for the results of experiments or surveys designed to test this brave supposition; several Philosophers have already pulled off the trick. According to them, there is something even more abstract than "Being": their undefeated world champion, Mega-Abstraction is Meinong's "Subsistence". This remarkable word/concept, we are told, nets not only things that actually exist, but also things that do not -- as well as things that cannot -- exist.
Luckily, no concrete evidence is required to substantiate this major advance in human knowledge; in fact all that any future contender for the title of "Champion Abstractor" need do to win this prize is summon up a greater determination to invent jargon/fiddle with diminutive verbs than Hegel and Meinong put together.
Of course, Meinong's 'discovery' means that, with respect to Discursive Magic, Hegel was decidedly second rate.
Well, what proof are we offered in support of the bold conclusions so easily obtained in the above passage? How much carefully gathered experimental evidence is there that substantiates these momentous results? What exhaustive analyses of real material forces are we presented with? Where is the practice that verifies all this innovative 'science'?
To be sure, Rees did offer the following 'proof' (and no doubt the evidence in support will appear in the second edition of TAR):
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, "This is --," even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50.]
One small nagging problem; several in fact: despite these claims, the reader is offered no grounds at all for supposing that "existence" and "Being" are connected, or that they are the same -– or, that "Being" is "shared" by everything which partakes of existence -– or, even that the one so much as suggests the other. There is no argument here either to show that "Being" is a quality, or even that it can be shared. Worse still, no reason is given for believing that there is such a thing as "Being" to begin with --, whether or not it is a quality, object, property, process, state or activity.
Admittedly, there is a word in the English language (viz.: "being"), which variously functions as a participle or as part of a compound noun (as in "human being"). But, what is this new term "Being" supposed to be? We are not told. And if we are not told, how are we supposed to agree that everything shares 'it'? On the contrary, we are simply left to assume that "existence", "being" and "Being" are one and the same, or that they are connected in some way. Presumably this is because these words look similar, or they seem to mean the same thing, or that traditionally they have been connected by previous thinkers (with no proof that they are linked in any way).
This is not a promising start to an analysis of a concept that is supposed to be "the most common of all human ideas" -- neither is it an entirely convincing way to demonstrate Hegel's "brilliance".
Thus the 'evidence' connecting "Being" and "existence" amounts to little more than the superficial typographical similarity between "being" and "Being". The former is a present participle (possibly), while the latter is supposed to be that "quality that is shared by everything that exists". But, how could such an unremarkable auxiliary verb come to imply so much?
Nevertheless, it seems that this "quality" ("Being") arises only if something already exists, for as Rees indicates:
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists." [Ibid.]
This clearly says that before anything can take on any "particular characteristics" -- such as the quality of "Being", one presumes -- it must already exist. So "Being" cannot be the same as "existence", since the former is acquired by 'things' that already exist -- a fact conceded by Rees's use of the word "before" --, but which bare 'things' presumably have as yet no qualities (or "characteristics"). "Being" must be a "quality" that 'things' which already exist later go on to acquire -- that is, of course, unless a "quality" here is not a "characteristic". Once again, we are left in the dark.
[Further ruminations on this 'argument' can be found in Essay Twelve.]
Philosophical Language -- Not Of Merchantable Quality
The claim that ordinary language cannot cope with change is also subjected to detailed refutation. In fact, and on the contrary, it is Hegelian jargon that cannot account for the dynamism we find in material and social reality -- it spectacularly fails to do what had been advertised for it. If there were a Sale of Philosophical Goods Act, Hegelian jargon would be Exhibit A for the prosecution.
Ordinary language contains countless words that express every conceivable sort of change, in whatever level of detail is required; practically every verb and adverb stand as clear testimony to that fact. [A long list of such words is given in Essay Six, with more detail in Essay Four.]
In contrast, Hegelian jargon is wooden, opaque and lifeless, having had its spirit removed without anaesthetic during abstraction.
Unfortunately, DM-theorists have been more intent on repeating the ill-considered criticisms of the vernacular found throughout traditional philosophy; their reliance on the opinions of a card-carrying mystic and purveyor of ruling-class forms-of-thought (i.e., Hegel) as justification for their denigration of ordinary material language thus implicates them in a metaphysical tradition which includes in its ranks some of the very worst apologists of class rule.
The LIE Detector At Work
In the event, I explain why DM suffers from all the failings of any metaphysic based on a ruling-class view of reality. The latter is in fact a family of views whose members hold several things in common; as already noted, chief among these is the belief that reality is 'rational', controlled by a 'Mind' (of some sort), or by mind-like 'laws', or it is 'governed' by mysterious forces that only the initiated are capable of understanding. For its successful depiction, this approach requires a specialised and impenetrable vocabulary, whose terms work rather like the words of the old Latin Mass: they are intended to mystify, thus guaranteeing exclusivity for the elite.
This esoteric language allegedly enables those engaging in 'conceptual analysis' (or, more accurately, the systematic production of empty jargon) to un-mask the hidden "essences" that lie 'behind' appearances, way beyond the reach of the "common herd". Naturally, the superscientific theses that traditional thought manages to weave together are incapable of being confirmed by any denizen of planet earth --, which fortunately renders them safe from refutation, and thus beyond democratic control.
Although others have argued along apparently similar lines (pointing out the implications of the traditional idea that reality is rational, etc.), the emphasis placed in these Essays is somewhat different. Here the assertion that reality is rational and its denial are criticised; both are metaphysical theses based on Ideal forms-of-thought.
The upshot of this approach is that the last 2500 years of traditional thought (i.e., Metaphysics) is little more that ruling-class hot air.
These Essays supply the reader therefore with a rather large material pin.
Wittgenstein's method is then enlisted to assist in the removal of this Hermetic poison (DM) from HM. His approach, despite what many of Wittgenstein's epigones claim for it, is neither relativist nor anti-realist. This is because Realism, Relativism, and anti-Realism are all metaphysical theories, and hence are equally non-sensical (i.e., they are all based on non-materially-grounded language).
The tactic adopted here thus seeks to destroy Metaphysics in order to make scientific knowledge possible (to paraphrase Kant). In Marxist terms, I do not aim to reform traditional Philosophy from within, but terminate it.
This therefore brings to a close the work Feuerbach initiated, for now it is possible to see all forms of alienated human thought for what they really are: the product of a fetishised view of class society -- one based on the assumed powerlessness of working people (the more to keep them that way).
If the challenge posed here is correct, revolutionaries are forced to adopt other criteria for truth. To that end, a particularly successful criterion (consonant with HM) is suggested -- one that classifies rival theories as defective because they all collapse into non-sense at some point. This is because they all depend on language that has not been derived from material interaction with the world, nor on communal life, but on jargon borrowed from fetishised forms of discourse which reflect ruling-class experience, priorities and interests.
It is also shown in detail how and why attempts to undermine ordinary language will always backfire on its would-be critics (as, for example, we saw happen to Lenin's attempt to declare motion without matter "unthinkable").
Furthermore, ordinary language is to be distinguished from "commonsense" (a distinction most theorists deliberately ignore, fail to notice or misunderstand).
Ordinary language cannot be the same as "commonsense" because every claim expressed in the latter can easily be contradicted in the former. [This argument is summarised here.]
Why All This Now?
Finally, it is also argued that the emphasis placed on ordinary language by certain Analytic Philosophers (up until a few generations ago, at least) was not unconnected with the rise of the working class as a political force in history. The latter-day demise of this tradition in Analytic Philosophy (and the resurgence of Metaphysics, and particularly Hegelianism) is also linked to the change in the balance of class forces that has taken place over the last thirty years or so.
In fact, the modern home of 'monetarist' economic theory (the USA) was also the source of the most determined attacks on Ordinary Language Philosophy (OLP). Over the same period, we have witnessed a resurgence of a plethora of right-wing ideas in science (for example, the rise of Sociobiology in the 1970's which later transmogrified into 'Evolutionary Psychology' in the 1990's, and arguably the re-emergence of the BBT). No coincidences these.
[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]
This is not to suggest that those working in OLP were revolutionaries, or that they saw things this way. It is to assert however that their emphasis on ordinary language had material roots, and that it did not just emerge out of thin air. Indeed, many of these thinkers were socialists of one sort or another. For example, the vast majority of Wittgenstein's friends were Communists or were sympathetic to Trotskyism. Wittgenstein himself wanted to move to the USSR in the mid-1930's, and was offered the professorship at Kazan University (Lenin's old College), which tenure the Stalinists of the day would hardly offer to an anti-red.
This, of course, makes the work of the most important philosopher working in OLP (i.e., Wittgenstein) crucially important for the defence of working-class politics. [Although it is not maintained here that he saw things this way.]
So, why all this now?
The working class in previous centuries was far too small and weak to provide a materialist counter-weight to the Idealism found in all forms of ruling-class thought. This is no longer the case.
The larger the working-class has become, the less impact Dialectical Marxism has had on it.
Now we can see why.
These Essays perhaps represent the first attempt in the modern age to reshape working-class thought de novo, and thus Marxist Theory in toto.
In which case, the Owl of Minerva can get stuffed.
[For those who do not know what the dialectics that is about, Hegel wrote in the Preface to his Philosophy of Right: "The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk" ([Hegel (2005), p.xxi] -- my paraphrase), meaning that philosophical wisdom will only appear at the end of a certain period of history; more details here, here and here.
The last link contains the full quotation.
The Owl of Minerva is also the official journal of the Hegel Society of America, and Minerva was the name of the Masonic journal (which preached radical French Jacobin ideas) that Hegel read in Berne in 1794 -- according to a letter he wrote to Schelling, 24/12/1794. There is no evidence that Hegel became a Mason, but he was employed at that time by a prominent Mason, Jean Gogel, to tutor his children -- and many of his friends were Masons, as were those who influenced him. It is worth noting that Masonic lodges, especially those in Germany, were heavily steeped in Hermetic Philosophy. More on this in Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
Summary Of Essay Nine: Militants On Methadone
In this Essay (the First Part of which has been published, here), the obvious objection that this critique implies that the ideas of the vast majority of leading revolutionaries have been compromised by the adoption of ruling-class ideology (which is patently absurd) is tackled head-on. This response (summarised below) is connected with a novel but partial re-analysis of the poorly understood term, "substitutionism".
In order to do this, I first of all show that it is not possible for workers to comprehend dialectics (this is because it is impossible for anyone to understand it), which means that it has had to be substituted into their heads, from the outside. This is not true of HM.
[HM = Historical Materialism.]
Unwitting Dialectical Dupes
It is first of all pointed out that revolutionaries of the calibre of Engels, Lenin and Trotsky did not wittingly allow their ideas to become compromised in this way. There were other factors at work --, which they were well aware, but apparently not as these applied in their own case -- that pre-disposed them toward adopting a traditional, ruling-class view of Philosophy.
Next, I show how and why dialectics cannot form the basis of a materialist or working-class view of reality. So, if DM is the 'world-view of the proletariat', they have yet to be told -- all three billion of them.
In the first place, Lenin's infamous declaration that no one could possibly understand Das Kapital who has not studied and thoroughly understood the whole of Hegel's Logic (a claim that it is worth remembering not even Marx made of his own work!) would not only rule out most revolutionaries -- and probably Lenin himself since he admitted in several places in PN that certain parts of Hegel's Logic were beyond even him! (E.g., Lenin (1961), pp.103, 108, 117, 229) -- but probably the vast majority of human beings.
[PN = Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks, or Lenin (1961); LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
Secondly, if not a single DM-theorist (in over a hundred and thirty years) has been able to explain DM in comprehensible terms to anyone this side of the Oort Cloud, let alone to one another, then it is scarcely credible that workers are capable of grasping this mystical theory. This is not to suggest that workers do not have the intelligence to comprehend DM; far from it. It is on the contrary to allege that there is in DM nothing for workers to grasp, since DM-propositions are either empty of content, devoid of sense or are patently non-sensical. That, of course, explains why even self-appointed DM-experts cannot explain a single dialectical concept to a living soul.
[Or if they can, they have kept this fact remarkably well-hidden.]
Thirdly, since DM is itself a sub-category of LIE, and as such depends on notions that are beyond workers' experience (i.e., beyond anyone's material understanding) -- and which are thus inexpressible in their language -- they would have to be bamboozled into abandoning their material good sense in order to have this alien theory substituted into their heads "from the outside" (to paraphrase Lenin).
Dialectics: Understood By (At Most) Nobody
Fourth, claims that there have been working-class dialecticians (such as Joseph Dietzgen, Tommy Jackson and Gerry Healy, etc.), who managed to create from scratch a dialectical view of reality, are shown to be bogus. Dietzgen, if anything, was of petty-bourgeois stock; according to his son, he obtained his ideas from reading books on Philosophy. [Introduction to Dietzgen (1906a).]
Jackson, on the other hand, was a genuine working-class Marxist, but he 'caught dialectics' from Hegel, and his own classic book on the subject [Jackson (1936)] shows that he, too, did not understand a word of it (not because it was too difficult, but because, like the Trinity, it is incomprehensible). In that classic work, where Jackson touches on DM his account is as clear as mud. [Proof? See the long quotation from Jackson's book given in Essay Three, Part One.]
Healy also came from a petty-bourgeois background; he drifted in and out of the working class for a while, only to 'catch dialectics' from reading Lenin's MEC -- a condition that was later seriously compounded by a lethal strain he picked up from a prolonged exposure to PN. [Proof? Just open up a copy of Healy (1990) at any randomly selected page -- then, it will readily be apparent that no sane individual could possibly 'understand' dialectics. Read more, if you dare, here, and here.]
[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, i.e., Lenin (1972); LOI = Law of Identity.]
Fifth, Trotsky's attempt to show that workers are "unconscious" dialecticians is subjected to detailed criticism. For example, his claim that workers know that it is impossible to make two identical objects is itself rather puzzling. [Trotsky (1971), p.65.] Not only is this not a counter-example to the LOI (which concerns an object's alleged self-identity), it is not even an instance of Trotsky's own confused 'definition' of it!
However, it is very easy to make two identical objects; physicists tell us that every photon, for example, is identical to every other photon. Hence, each time a worker turns on a light, he or she makes countless trillion identical objects, which, it seems, must mean that such workers are "unconscious" anti-dialecticians. [Substantiation for this assertion is given in Essay Six.]
Naturally, contentious claims like these can only be neutralised by an a priori declaration that every photon in existence (past, present and future) must be non-identical -- despite what scientists tell us, and in abeyance of the almost infinite amount of data that would be needed to support such a cosmically ambitious thesis.
At this point, perhaps, even the most hardnosed of dialecticians might just be able to see in such a stipulation a blatant attempt to impose DM on reality.
HM -- Introduced From The Inside
In the end, it is shown that no thesis exclusive to DM can be generated from workers' experience (whereas workers are already aware of key areas of HM -- and of those they aren't, they are easily persuaded of their truth when in struggle). This means, of course, that while DM has to be substituted into workers' heads from the "outside", HM does not have to be introduced to workers in this way.
Because of their materially-grounded language, their experience of exploitation and oppression, and the fact that HM is based on and addresses that experience (as well as their suppressed awareness of their own de-humanised condition, their struggle), it is actually introduced to workers, as it were, from the inside.
Hence, DM can only ever appeal to substitutionists.
Revolutionary politics merely brings to workers a developed, scientific theory (HM) that generalises their experience and provides the tactics, strategy and organisation necessary to overthrow Capitalism. In fact, this is all that needs to be "brought to workers".
This should make revolutionaries organisers and administrators, not prophets.
Ruling Ideas Continue To Rule
In order to make their theory seem to 'work', DM-classicists have had to adopt a ruling-class view of nature; hence, their theses are dependent on centuries of alien-class experience and Ideal forms-of-thought.
That being so, it is clear that the spectacular lack of success enjoyed by Marxism is no real surprise; plainly, this is partly due to the class-compromised and divisive theory (i.e., DM) that dialecticians have tried to substitute into workers' heads (against the materialist grain, as it were) -- making them in effect the objects of theory, not the subjects of history.
This tactic evidently undermines workers' natural tendency to accept ideas drawn from HM when in struggle. Dialectics cannot "seize" the masses since it seizes-up the brain of anyone unfortunate enough to "suffer from it" (to paraphrase Max Eastman).
Those who remain unconvinced by that assertion should read the writings of any randomly-selected academic dialectician. Unless they are extremely lucky, they will find page upon page of incomprehensible jargon, most of which material is about as clear as lengthy commentaries on the Incarnation of Christ -- and, as a lack of mere coincidence would have it, of equal relevance to the class struggle.
The writings of hardcore 'revolutionary' dialecticians (like Healy, and to a lesser extent, Woods and Grant, for instance), amply confirm this conclusion.
HM And DM -- A Dialectical Unity?
Throughout these Essays, HM has been counterposed to DM. To some, this might seem a bogus distinction; but no Marxist of any intelligence would use slogans drawn exclusively from DM to agitate workers. Consider for example the following: "The Law of Identity is true only within certain limits and the struggle against the occupation of Iraq!" Or "Change in quantity leads to change in quality (and vice versa) and the campaign to keep hospital HH open!" Or even, "Being is at the same time identical with but different from Nothing, the contradiction resolved by Becoming, and the fight against the BNP!"
Slogans like these would be employed only by militants of uncommon stupidity and of legendary ineffectiveness. In contrast, active revolutionaries employ ideas drawn exclusively from HM to communicate with workers. Socialist Worker, for instance, uses ordinary, material language, coupled with concepts drawn from HM, to agitate and propagandise; rarely does it employ DM-phraseology. The same is true of other revolutionary socialist papers.
Only deeply sectarian papers of exemplary unpopularity and impressive lack of impact use ideas lifted from DM to try to educate and agitate workers. Newsline (the daily paper of the old WRP) used to try to do this, but like the Dinosaurs it resembled, it is no more.
Chalk up another success to dialectics!
[The revamped News Line seems to be free of this disease, but is no less unsuccessful.]
[WRP = Workers Revolutionary Party.]
So, the distinction drawn here is made in practice every day by militants. The present work merely systematises it.
The Ruling-Class Bring On Their Sub(stitutionists)
Based on the above considerations, it is argued that DM forms the natural ideology of substitutionist tendencies in the workers' movement.
Certain Marxists (for reasons of their class-origin) have found Hegelian ideas conducive to their own contingent view of the world. In that case, the explanation for the importation of non-materialist ideas into Marxism given below is eminently materialist -- since it is based on the class origins of DM-classicists themselves.
This also helps explain why those who have tried to substitute themselves for workers -- be they STDs, Stalinist apparatchiks, professional revolutionary (i.e., dé classé) intellectuals, activists, Marxist academics, or even OTTs -- are among the most avid of DM-addicts.
If, for whatever reason, it is thought that the working-class cannot bring about a socialist society on their own (indicating, perhaps, to those who think this way that they need the help of Russian tanks, Maoist guerrillas, 'progressive' nationalists, professional 'representatives' in Parliament, hardened cadres of conspiratorial comrades, or Marxist intellectuals (to teach the benighted masses the deeper mysteries of 'systematic dialectics')), then a theory that places the proletariat right at the bottom of the intellectual pecking order is going to look very appealing. Or, more realistically, it is going to prove highly useful in helping to rationalise the further (or later) exclusion of the majority from power -- and obscure enough to justify their continued oppression ("in their own interests", of course) -- which is a political contradiction that only those who 'understand' dialectics are capable of "grasping".
In that case, what better than a 'philosophical theory' that appears to have Marx's stamp of approval on it (even though there is precious little hard evidence that he knew much about it)?
[STD = Stalinist Dialectician; OTT = Orthodox Trotskyist Theorist.]
In Defeat, Don't Organise -- Speculate!
Marxists are well aware of the fact that in defeat those in the movement who are looking for consolation often find it in Mysticism and Idealism. However, those (like Lenin) who point this out are themselves only immune to the attractive influence exerted by this metaphysical black hole if they can show that they are above the material constraints reality places on everyone else --, which, clearly, they are not, and hence plainly they cannot.
As we will see, dialecticians are among the first to seek consolation in defeat, something they experience all the time, and they do this by turning to a theory that tells them Marxism is a ringing success. DM teaches that appearances are contradicted by underlying realities; hence, even though Marxism might appear to be an abject failure to the 'victims of bourgeois ideology', to those with a well-tuned dialectical 'third eye', it is the very epitome of success.
As we will see, dialecticians are among the first to seek consolation in defeat, something they experience all the time, and they do this by turning to a theory that tells them Marxism is a ringing success. DM teaches that appearances are contradicted by underlying realities; hence, even though Marxism might appear to be an abject failure to the 'victims of bourgeois ideology', to those with a well-tuned dialectical 'third eye', it is the very epitome of success. One can almost hear them 'reason' as follows:
"So what if we are now further away from a workers' state than Lenin was in 1917? And what does it matter that all four Internationals have failed? And what relevance is it that Marxist ideas have less impact on ordinary workers today than at any other time in living memory? Who cares if revolutionary parties are small, and almost all are shrinking, splitting or fighting among themselves? None of this matters since the NON guarantees all will be well one day; indeed, each retreat is only another advance in the waiting...".
There is no reasoning with this sort of chirpy optimism, since it depends on a level of dislocation from material reality that would shame a coma victim -- as anyone who has tried to slap some sense into such dialectical day-dreamers can well attest. The fact that we have witnessed little other than defeat, retreat and set-back since the 1920's is brushed off as a mere blip. The dialectic will "spiral" back to save the day. [Hark! The second coming of 1917 is at hand....]
In that case, and to change the image, if this 'Dialectical Titanic' is not sinking, then there is no need to man the lifeboats, or even rearrange the furniture.
In fact, there wasn't even an iceberg!
Everything in La La Land is hunky dory; forward to the next heroic failure comrades!
[NON = Negation of the Negation.]
In contrast, revolutionaries drawn directly from the working-class appear to be less susceptible to this intellectual malaise (for reasons outlined above). Those entering our movement from other layers of society are, it seems, highly vulnerable in this regard. [Why this is so is spelled out below.] Unfortunately, the authors of the DM-classics were not workers -- and neither were the Hermetic Philosophers upon whose ideas they relied. And, in general, if we are honest, neither are those who lead the revolutionary movement today, and who control its ideas.
DM provides this professional layer with a form of intellectual consolation, which among other things helps reassure them that history (nay, the entire Totality) is on their side --, this despite the many material realities which every day seem to contradict this article of faith. DM helps account for this social layer's experience of constant defeat, rejection and failure by re-presenting it as its own internal opposite: as success in disguise.
Dialectics has thus helped insulate militant minds from the unwelcome fact that their Idealist theory is contradicted daily by intransigent 'appearances', which tell a different material tale. DL does this by re-configuring each defeat so that it only seems to have happened (or so that it only seems to be a defeat); hence recalcitrant experience does not refute dialectics, it confirms it!
[DL= Dialectical Logic.]
The Russian Revolution -- although now completely reversed -- was thus a 'resounding success'. Even though it presided over the deaths of untold millions, and has put even more off Marxism for life -- presenting anti-socialist forces world-wide with a propaganda gift they could not have designed better themselves -- it is still a total 'success'.
Dialectical Myopia of this order of magnitude will not be cured by the few words posted here; these Marxist Dinosaurs refuse to die.
[Lest it be thought that I think the revolution in 1917 was mistake, I am referring above to its subsequent failure, not its earlier necessity. Nor is this to reject the explanation of the defeat of the Russian revolution advanced by Trotsky (and others), even though he (they) clearly failed to take account of the factors aired in this Essay.]
However, on the few occasions when our movement has notched up a success here and there, this is unfailingly attributed to the 'dialectical method'. In contrast, on the very many occasions where we have failed, this is blamed on anything and everything else (often these are 'objective' factors...).
Success has subjectivity to thank for it; failure never. The Popes of Marxism are as infallible as the 'Vicar of Christ' -- except, of course, Catholicism has "seized the masses". Dialectical Marxism has merely ceased to.
Material reality is thus inverted so that in an ideal form it now conforms to theory. Dialecticians ignore or explain away whatever fails to fit the Ideal script Hegel produced (at a time when there were precious few proletarians to disturb his reverie). Naturally, this ostrich-like stance also serves as a defence-mechanism, protecting militant minds from the fact that workers in general reject the philosophical gobbledygook that the 'orthodox' constantly churn out.
But by doing this, dialecticians only succeed in engineering their own continued rejection, ensuring that those who remain in the thrall of this divisive theory waste their time pootling about in small, insular ineffective grouplets -- whose over-inflated view of their own historical significance neatly runs in inverse proportion to the genuine impact they now have on the class struggle.
[Spartacists, for instance, are an excellent example of this sort of dialectical malaise. The mystical mantle used to be worn (with pride) by the old UK-WRP, but the gods of dialectics took suitable revenge on them, 'negating' them with no little vehemence. No doubt the Sparts will be next -- unless, of course, the CIA knows different....]
In this way, DM succeeds in negating in an ideal form its own very real rejection by workers; it does this with some neat, internally-generated dialectical spin. Viewing things from beneath these dialectically-constructed sand dunes, DM-adepts can one and all pretend that workers en masse do not really reject dialectics. Far from it, they are in fact blinded by "empiricism" and "commodity fetishism" -- or they have been bought off by Imperialism with its super-profits; indeed, they suffer from "false consciousness".
Anything, rather than question the sacred dialectical mantra.
Anything rather than admit that the dialectical gospel is a fraud. Hence, unlike any other science known to humankind, DM has never been revised to accommodate reality; reality has been continually adjusted to suite its eternal verities.
Ironically, this means that in dialectics, lack of theoretical change is secured internally -- the internal contradictions of DM produce no development (just more 'epicycles').
According to the faithful (or at least, according to the way they re-process failure), the only thing in the entire universe that does not change through internal contradictions is DM itself!
It is, indeed, like the uncaused cause of traditional Theology; the Ein Sof of the Kabbalah.
Any other ordinary (or even scientific) theory that suffered continual refutation of this order of magnitude, and for so long, would be stone dead by now. But, not DM. The NON clearly has no power over its own most avid prophets -- their theory is continually negated by material reality, but it remains miraculously the same generation on generation.
Dialecticians are thus living disproof of their own ideas: they never change.
Another rather fitting dialectical inversion....
To support these contentious claims it is then shown that revolutionaries of the calibre of Engels, Lenin and Trotsky only turned to overt forms of DM when the revolutionary movement was in retreat -- as, indeed, did theorists, for example, in the UK/SWP after the industrial "downturn" of the late 1970's, and after the defeat of the NUM in the mid-1980's.
[Of late, dialectics has taken something a back seat in the UK/SWP; this is probably because the US/UK invasion of Iraq has allowed it to chalk up a few limited successes, which means there is less need for consolation. Hence, there are few banners on the many huge anti-war marches we have seen of late in the UK that extol the wonders of dialectics, no matter how central to Marxism the faithful claim it to be. ("The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, so bring the troops home now!"? I think not!)]
Indeed, as should have been clear to all, Hegel's original theory was itself invented to help account for the defeat of the French revolution, and hence the rise of Napoleon.
Dialectics is thus at once the daughter of defeat and the father of failure.
[OTG = Orthodox Trotskyist Group.]
In stark contrast, OTGs (i.e., the old WRP, (re-configured now as the MSF, among others), modern-day Spartacists, the scrag-end of the old Militant Tendency (more pointedly, Woods and Grant), other assorted Trotskyist grouplets (like the AWL) etc.) constantly appeal to DM because their catastrophist view of everything puts them in a permanently heightened, quasi-numinous state of mind. With nothing but failure staring them in the face, regular high doses of dialectical dope are essential to maintain the idée fixe that the revolution is indeed just around the corner.
To that end, it is worth noting that Gerry Healy -- surely until his death in 1989 the annual winner of the Dialectical Gold Medal in all events -- went into frenetic, dialectical overdrive after his party booted him out in 1985.
The result? That monument to designer gobbledygook: Healy (1990).
[Read it and weep.]
This accounts not only for the extra level of religious fanaticism displayed by OTTs in defence of their beloved "dialectics", it also explains their fondness for quoting DM-Scripture at erstwhile critics -- and at one another (over and over again, and then once more for good measure). As is the case with the occult, novelty is the enemy.
This also makes clear the almost universal contempt shown by the faithful for the "R" word: "revisionism". Which is rather odd, since Lenin argued that no science is un-revisable. So, because DM is not in fact revisable, and has never been revised, the only conclusion possible is that either DM cannot be a science, or Lenin was wrong -- and what he said about the nature of science needs revising itself.
Either way, the un-revisability of DM confirms its dogmatic status. Indeed, only Fundamentalist theologians jealously guard the changelessness of their 'revealed' truths with comparable zeal.
Water off a dialectical duck's back all this; such comrades gave up radical thinking (at least in Philosophy) years ago.
This accounts for the response so far to these Essays among certain of 'the faithful' who have ventured to my site. Many just skim read what I have posted, at best. Others warn the rest of the dialectical flock not to read these dangerous missives, lest they stray from the path of righteousness (and this is often accompanied with dire warnings that the abandonment of dialectics will lead anyone foolish enough to do so away from revolutionary socialism altogether, forgetting, of course, that there are now more than enough anti-revolutionary dialecticians on the planet to fill a reasonably large stadium).
Pages and pages of incomprehensible Hegel-speak are downed before breakfast, but a few thousand words of tightly-argued prose (such as those found here), and dialectically-sensitive comrades cast about for something (anything) to complain about -- such as calling these Essays "pedantic" -- forgetting, of course, the monumental detail and studious precision Marx incorporated into Das Kapital.
An equal number of non-sequiturs (and thousands of pages of appallingly bad 'logic', and even worse jargon) in Hegel's published writings is fine. In fact it is more than fine, it is 'genuine philosophy' (even if no one can comprehend it, and even fewer will admit to that in polite company).
In fact, one comrade on a revolutionary discussion-board, who will remain anonymous to protect his guilt, was happy to dismiss everything posted at this site (as "turgid" -- what then does that make Hegel's Logic?) -- even though on his own admission he had not read a single Essay --, on the basis of the assumed fact that I was a petty-bourgeois intellectual. When informed of my working-class credentials (and that I am a trade union representative), he still brushed this aside on the newly assumed basis that I must be a bureaucrat.
Hegel, of course, was a coal miner, and could not spell the word "turgid".
In fact, I hold down a full-time job, and represent union members at work without pay.
As I noted in the introduction, this response is predictable. So, this comrade was happy to malign me (and invent whatever he needed) rather than confront the awful truth about the ruling-class ideas he has uncritically swallowed. The fact that a working-class comrade like myself could rubbish this alien-class theory so thoroughly was anathema to him. Hence, I am now on his own private Index of Forbidden Books; his tender eyes can no longer look upon my work. Four hundred years ago, with respect to Galileo's discoveries, Aristotelian traditionalists refused to look at anything that threatened their world-view; the spirit of anti-Galilean bigotry seems once again to be alive and well, and camped in DM-circles. DM has given new meaning to Dogmatic Marxism.
Anyone who doubts any of this should try to get a randomly selected dialectician to specify under what conditions they would abandon a single DM-thesis; unless they are incredibly lucky (and, disingenuous responses aside), none will be forth-coming. This shows that DM-theses are neither empirically-based nor scientific, if we accept Lenin's own views on science.
There are in fact two main types of DM-adepts:
(1) Low Church Dialecticians [or LCDs] cleave to the original, unvarnished faith laid down in the sacred texts written by Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, and Trotsky. These simple souls are highly proficient at quoting endless passages from the holy books as an answer to everything and anything, just like the faithful who bow to the East or who fill the gospel halls around the world. Their unquestioning faith is as impressive as it is un-Marxist.
They may be naive, but they are at least consistently so.
(2) High Church Dialecticians [or HCDs], on the other hand, are often openly contemptuous of the 'sophomoric ideas' found in these classic works (and typically reject the dialectic as applied to nature), just as they are equally dismissive of these simple LCD souls for their adherence to every word in the DM-classics. [Anyone who knows about High Church Anglicanism will know of what I speak.] HCDs are mercifully above such crudities; they prefer the mother lode -- direct from Hegel, Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks and the writings of assorted latter day Hermeticists like Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James, Tony Smith, Chris Arthur and Bertell Ollman -- cut perhaps with a few kilos of hardcore jargon straight from that intellectual cocaine-den otherwise known as French Philosophy.
HCD's are generally, but not exclusively, academic. Tortured prose is their forte, and a pointless existence is their punishment.
At least LCDs try to pretend that their ideas are relevant to the class struggle.
High Church dialectics is just good for the CV.
[And clearly, the latter sort of dialectics is not an "abomination" for that section of the bourgeoisie that administers Universities.]
Both wings, however, are well stocked with conservative-minded comrades, happy in their own small way to copy the a priori thought-forms of two-and-a-half millennia of boss-class theory, seldom pausing to give any thought to the implications of such easily won knowledge: if knowledge of the world is a priori, and based on thought alone, reality is surely Ideal.
Even this simple truth will sail over their heads, so deep have ruling ideas sunk into their class-compromised brains.
This has meant that DM's baleful influence becomes important at key historical junctures (i.e., those involving defeat or major set-back), since it acts as a materialist-sounding alternative to traditional philosophical thought (even while it emulates the latter in all but name). It thus taps into thought-forms that have dominated intellectual life for 2500 years -- ones that define the boundaries of 'theoretical acceptability'. Because of its thoroughly traditional nature, DM is able to appeal to the closet "god-builders" and dialectical mystics that revolutionary politics seems to attract -- and who, alas, appear to congregate mostly at the top, and, of course, in Colleges and Universities.
The reason for this is that these comrades, unlike most workers, have entered the socialist movement, by and large, as a result of personal commitment, as an expression of their rebellious personality, because of personal alienation from the system, or for other contingent psychological motives, but not as a direct result of the class war (i.e., not through collective action).
This means that from the beginning (again, by and large), such comrades act and think as individuals; they are committed to the revolution as an idea -- as an ideal even --, as an expression of their own personal integrity. They are not revolutionaries for materialist reasons, that is as a result of their direct experience of working-class action, or as a consequence of a collective response to exploitation.
[Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with all this (indeed, such comrades are invaluable to the workers' movement), but, as we can now see, this has meant that the individual psychology of such comrades has stymied Marxist theory and practice for well over 120 years, if and when it has not been counterbalanced by working-class materialism.]
When these comrades encounter DM, it is 'natural' for them to latch onto its a priori theses (for the reasons given above). This response now connects dialectics with the revolutionary ego, for it is this theory that guarantees (for them) that their existence is not for nought, but is capable of assuming cosmic significance. The revolutionary ego can only do this if it becomes a willing vehicle for the tide of history, for cosmic forces that have governed the universe from the beginning. By becoming slaves to the 'Totality', through revolutionary theory and activity, by joining in a movement that will fundamentally alter the course of human history, the petty-bourgeois ego is born again as the professional revolutionary.
The scales now drop from its eyes; the Hermetic virus has found another victim.
This now provides that layer with well-known social psychological motives, inducements and reinforcements, convincing them, for example: (1) that their personal existence is not meaningless; (2) that they as individuals are key figures that can and will help decide what direction history will take, and (3) that whatever it was that caused their alienation from bourgeois society, it can be rectified (redeemed?) through the right sort of acts, thoughts and deeds -- somewhat reminiscent of the way that Pelagian forms of 'muscular Christianity' teach that salvation can be had through pure thoughts, good works, and the severe treatment of the body.
[Incidentally, this also helps account for the emphasis on praxis in DM-circles (truth is confirmed in practice, and practice will make you free).]
Dialectics takes over now from Divinity, giving cosmic significance to these petty-bourgeois comrades. Social atoms like these need the internally-driven unifying force of ideas to wed them to the international workers' movement -- whereas workers do not.
But such ideas can only come from a traditional source -- from ruling-class theories --, since these are not only the only ones around (as they were the sole ones on offer in Marx's day), they are the ideas to which this layer is most susceptible. Their background and education means that ruling-class ideas already dominate their minds.
In contrast, material forces in society unify those involved in collective labour (which by and large does not apply to the above dialectically-susceptible comrades). This forces workers to unite, but it does not persuade them to unite as a result of some theory; they are compelled to so out of material necessity. This type of unity is thus externally imposed on workers, and by forces the ruling-class cannot themselves control, which thus creates their collective grave-diggers. More importantly, these material forces are not linked to the revolutionary ego, nor to ruling-class ideas, but to a collective identity.
For petty-bourgeois comrades, dialectics replaces militant labour activism/struggle as a unifying force; without this theory the reason why such comrades believe they stand at the political centre of the dialectical universe would vanish. Moreover, because dialectics provides a seemingly coherent, but eminently traditional, picture of reality (i.e., as an idea), it supplies each individual with a unique motivating factor, which, because it is individualistic, only now serves to divide such 'dialectical comrades' one from the other (for reasons spelled out below). Dialectics, the theory of universal opposition, goes to work on militant minds and turns them into inveterate sectarians and faction hounds.
Unfortunately, in Bolshevik-style parties, collective discipline is paramount. But, petty-bourgeois militants are not used to this form of discipline, and fights quickly break out, often over personal issues, which are thus easy to re-present as political differences in this atomised climate. The desire to impose one's own views on others becomes irresistible; doctrinal control (the control of all those inner, privatised ideas in each atomised head) now acts as a surrogate for outer control by material forces. And just as traditional religions discovered, mind-control can more easily be secured with mysterious doctrines no one understands, but which must be repeated constantly to dull the critical faculties.
Moreover, because the Party cannot copy the class struggle, and force unity on its cadres externally, it can only control political thought by turning into such a mind-numbing mantra, all the while insisting on doctrinal purity. An authoritarian personality thus emerges to enforce this orthodoxy (and keep faith with 'tradition'), which now becomes a watch-word to test the loyalty of all those who must be forced to stray from that narrow path that promises to lead the few toward revolutionary salvation. Small thus becomes beautiful -- nay desirable --, since it allows for greater control. In small parties, the purity of the 'revolutionary tradition' is easier to enforce.
Democratic accountability is thus the first casualty of this polluted backwater of the class war.
No wonder then that such dialectical-clones cling onto DM like grim death, just like the religionists mentioned above; it now dominates and shapes their personal integrity. Any attack on this sacred doctrine is an attack on the glue that holds this sort of comrade together.
The implication of all this is that, in their own eyes, these professional (petty-bourgeois) revolutionaries are special; they live -- no they embody -- the revolution. They have caught the tide of history, they must keep the faith. Commitment to the revolution on these terms soon creates militants who, for all the world, appear to suffer from the dialectical equivalent of a personality disorder -- chief among which is a Leader Complex. All hale the Great Splitter!
[Indeed, this might be why they find Hegel's Super-Ego Philosophy so appealing.]
For workers, things are starkly different: material existence and survival forces them to action, not petty-bourgeois egocentrism. This makes workers far more collective-minded.
The opposite is true of professional revolutionaries; their atomised egos here make them 'naturally' factional. This helps explain why, among dialecticians, disagreements become so personal so quickly, and why factionalism is so rife (and how strong characters, like Ted Grant, Gerry Healy, Michael Pablo, Tony Cliff, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Lambert and host of others, formed splits and divisions in the movement almost from the get-go). Indeed, such splits are now almost synonymous with Marxism now (witness the well-aimed jokes in Monty Python's Life of Brian about the Judean People's Front, etc.).
And what could be more suited to helping create empty, meaningless, incomprehensible (and hence irresolvable) quarrels than the Mystical Mother Lode itself: Hegelian 'Logic'?
Dialectical Marxists thus rapidly become militant Prima Donnas. Often these individuals have very powerful personalities, something they can use to good effect in the small ponds they invariably patrol, and clearly prefer. Expulsions, splits and bans keep their grouplets small, and thus easier to control.
In that case, and in this way, the revolutionary ego keeps our movement fragmented: small, insular and ineffectual, in preference to being democratic, outward-looking and effective. No wonder then that in such circumstances, democracy soon goes out the window along with reasonableness.
[Anyone who has tried to 'debate' dialectics with these militant martinets will know exactly what I mean. Anyone who doubts this should check this out.]
The class struggle forces workers to unite, but it has the opposite effect on those who, so it happens, believe that opposites rule everything. No less so here. Class society created the damaged revolutionary ego; it now re-unites it with a fondness for easy fragmentation, courtesy of DM.
Ruling-ideas now rule Marxism by helping those who divide, rule.
In furtherance of the class war, each dialectical ego imagines that it alone has direct access to the exact meaning of the dialectic. But, since no one really understands this mystical theory, this is a very easy claim to make, and impossible to refute. Thus, every opponent is branded in the same way (on this see below) -- all 'fail to understand the dialectic' -- that is, all except the blessed soul that made that claim. [It is almost as if they had received a personal visit from the Self-Developing Idea itself; the road to Damascus and the road to Dialectics have more in common than just a capital "D".]
The success of the revolution becomes an idée fixe, only it is now wedded to the personal integrity of these individuals -- comrades who have not in general been subjected to the social and material forces that make workers think collectively and democratically. In fact, the forces that drive workers one way, send these Marxist Martinets the other.
Now this Unity of Opposites is no myth; the fragmentary nature of Marxism (and particularly of Trotskyism) attests to it every day. Indeed, it guarantees that revolutionary parties stay small, and thus suffer constant defeat, and thus more fragmentation.
In defeat, however, such comrades turn to Dialectical Methadone (the 'Opiate of the Party') to insulate their minds from reality and constant failure. And by all accounts it does a good job. As noted above, anyone trying to argue with these dialectical druggies would be far better off head-butting a Billy-goat.
However, narcoleptic stupor of this order of magnitude -- and the lack of clarity required to maintain it, alongside the divisions it foments -- only help engineer more defeats, thus creating the need for another sizeable hit, and so on. This is the real dialectical spiral, not the one we read about in the official brochure.
In situations where clarity of thought is paramount, we find spaced-out Marxists who just create more dialectical mayhem. No wonder Marxism is to success as religion is to peace on earth.
DM also encourages the spread of divisive, un-comradely thoughts and deeds. This is partly because the language and forms-of-thought it uses are not based on collective, communal life -- and are thus inimical to collective, democratic control.
But, the militant martinet is in its element here; the universe is now seen as an externalisation of its damaged ego (in this way it replaces 'god', as Feuerbach saw) -- only it is now called the "Totality".
In that case, the desire for a priori knowledge is at one with the projection of this ego onto nature. This explains the origin of the basic idea underlying dialectics (that reality is mind, and hence real knowledge is a priori): reality is the externalisation of the militant mind -- and that in turn explains why to each DM-acolyte, the dialectic is so personal, so intimately their own possession (and why you can almost hear the hurt in their throats when it is comprehensively trashed). Any attack on this 'precious jewel' is an attack on the revolutionary ego itself, and must be resisted with all the bile at its command.
Indeed, George Novack records the following meeting he had with Trotsky in Mexico in 1937:
"[O]ur discussion glided into the subject of philosophy…. We talked about the best ways of studying dialectical materialism, about Lenin's Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and about the theoretical backwardness of American radicalism. Trotsky brought forward the name of Max Eastman, who in various works had polemicized against dialectics as a worthless idealist hangover from the Hegelian heritage of Marxism.
"He became tense and agitated. 'Upon going back to the States,' he urged, 'you comrades must at once take up the struggle against Eastman's distortion and repudiation of dialectical materialism. There is nothing more important than this….'
"I was somewhat surprised at the vehemence of his argumentation on this matter at such a moment. As the principal defendant in absentia in the Moscow trials, and because of the dramatic circumstances of his voyage in exile, Trotsky then stood in the centre of international attention. He was fighting for his reputation, liberty, and life against the powerful government of Stalin, bent on his defamation and death. After having been imprisoned and gagged for months by the Norwegian authorities, he had been kept incommunicado for weeks aboard their tanker.
"Yet on the first day after reunion with his cothinkers, he spent more than an hour explaining how important it was for a Marxist movement to have a correct philosophical method and to defend dialectical materialism against its opponents!" [Novack (1978), pp.169-70. Bold emphases added. Spelling of "center" changed to conform to UK English.]
Given the content of this summary of Essay Nine, Trotsky's semi-religious fervour becomes much easier to understand.
DM has thus infected our movement at every level, fostering sectarianism, factionalism, exclusivism, unreasonableness, dismissive haughtiness (on the part of the High Church faction), and extreme dogmatism (bordering on paranoia in some cases) -- which dialectical vices have imposed on each and every tiny sectlet in the movement an open and implacable hatred of practically every other sectlet, and in some cases, every other comrade.
[Speaking personally, this was one of the first things that shocked me about Marxism (the almost ubiquitous back-biting). I did not at that time know much about the revolutionary ego, and its dark secrets; and I certainly failed to make the above connections.]
If faults such as these were to afflict an individual, they would provide adequate grounds for sectioning under the mental health act. The result is that the ruling-class does not need to divide our movement in order to help consolidate its rule; we are quite capable of doing this ourselves.
This particular (but ironic) unity of opposites is clearly the opposite of unity; indeed, DM divides Marxists by uniting them in the acceptance of an ideology that separates comrade from comrade, tendency from tendency, guru from guru.
Everybody in the movement knows this (some even joke about it -- along Monty Python lines!); others excuse it or explain it away with still more 'dialectics'. But, no one confronts it at its source in the divisive doctrines of DM -- in the petty-bourgeois individualism that is super-glued to dialectics, and which thus afflicts those who 'lead' us.
The Dialectal Magus
If doctrinaire Marxism is the final outcome of this mystical creed, it needs a guru to interpret it aright, rationalise the failures and justify the splits -- and create a few more.
Enter the cult of the personality with all its petty, nit-picking, small-minded, little pond megalomania. Enter the "Leader" who knows all, reveals all, expels all: the Dialectical Magus.
As observers of religious cults have noted, even the most mundane and banal of statements put out by such leaders are treated with inordinate respect, almost as if they had come down from off the mountain, and were possessed of profound cosmic significance.
[Witness the inordinate respect shown for the dialectical meanderings of Mao and Stalin by 'tankies' -- and of comrade Healy by prominent members of the WRP. In fact, Healy was well-known for fomenting strife among comrades (with added violence, so we are told) to accentuate the 'contradictions' in his 'Party', on 'sound' dialectical grounds. Witness too, the wholly un-merited semi-worship of Bob Avakian.]
This also helps account for the personal and organisation corruption revolutionary politics has witnessed over the years, which is largely the result of the noxious effect this doctrine has had on otherwise alert radical minds.
In this way, we have seen Marxism reduplicate much of the abuse -- and most of sectarianism -- found in religious cults. Small wonder: both were spawned by similarly alienated patterns of ruling-class thought.
As far as the 'faithful' are concerned, all this will fail to go even in one ear. This is because they refuse to accept that any of the pressures that operate on ordinary mortals could possibly work on the DM-elect. Social psychology does not apply to them. They are not like other human beings.
In that case, it must surely be a pure coincidence that revolutionary parties have replicated practically every single fault and foible found among the god-botherers -- even down to their reliance on an obscure book about an invisible 'Being': Hegel's Logic.
So, while all these faults and foibles have well-known material causes when they afflict the superstitious, they apparently have no cause whatsoever when they are exhibited by dialectical superscientists. They can thus safely be ignored, never spoken about in political company.
And so the dialectical merry-go-round takes another spin across the flatlands of failure....
Same Old Same Old?
Of course, as the above will seem (to some) to suggest, this analysis superficially resembles others that critics of Marxism have aired. The difference here is that this attack is being launched only against DM (not HM), and by a fellow revolutionary. It is also backed-up by an analysis that is fully conducive to HM, even if it is completely destructive of traditional forms-of-thought.
More importantly though, the criticisms raised here have been pushed much further than any enemy of Marxism would dare, for fear that a sustained attack on Metaphysics and traditional thought might easily spill over into a reflexive but equally destructive criticism of the theoretical opiates upon which important strands of ruling-class opinion also depend. Naturally, too, this would simultaneously endanger the ideologically-privileged position such theorists have hitherto enjoyed, fatally undermining their social-standing.
Without Metaphysics, traditional Philosophy not only lacks all content, it serves no purpose. Moreover, its demise would clearly threaten the jobs of most academic Philosophers. Too many holes punched in that particular hull might threaten to sink a few highly cherished ruling-class ideas along the way.
That alone makes the content of these Essays politically and historically unique; no one has pushed the points raised here this far, ever.
In that sense, and by attacking the ideological foundations of DM (in traditional thought), this work is no friend of anti-Marxist opinion, either. Indeed, quite the reverse: it is an implacable enemy of both, since they merely represent different sides of the same ideologically-compromised coin.
In stark contrast to DM, HM provides consolation for no one; among other things it allows for the mutual destruction of the contending classes (etc.). No room for that in DM; the NON knows nothing of retreat.
In stark contrast to DM, HM provides consolation for no one; among other things it allows for the mutual destruction of the contending classes (etc.). No room for that in DM; the NON knows nothing of retreat.
According to HM, humanity will rid itself of class oppression only through the collective action of ordinary human beings, not because of the operation of the metaphysical laws found in DM.
In its own small way, therefore, this project is aimed at ending the baleful influence on Marxists of this regressive anti-materialist theory (DM), so that HM can at last begin to stand for a fully Humanised Marxism.
Summary Of Essay Thirteen -- Lenin's Disappearing Matter
In this Essay it is argued that Lenin's philosophical ideas (in MEC, and elsewhere) actually undermine materialism, they in no way support it. One of the main problems lies with Lenin's determination to base human knowledge on "images" -- and later, even worse, on Hegel's theories. This seems about as sensible as trying to build a skyscraper at first on sand, and then on quicksand. As if to compound this strategic error, Lenin's entire approach is supported by very few (but nonetheless fatally weak) arguments, accompanied by scant evidence, topped off with a surfeit of repetitive bluster and misrepresentation. I have counted no fewer than 36 places in MEC alone where Lenin keeps on saying things like this:
"[I]t is the sole categorical...recognition of nature's existence outside the mind...that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Lenin (1972), p.314]
over and over again. [References in Essay Thirteen.]
If repetition won arguments, parrots would be formidable thinkers.
[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.]
However, in one of the few arguments in the whole of MEC that Lenin managed to string together he claimed that images imply the existence of the thing imaged. [Lenin (1972), p.69.] This argument is worse than useless, for if it were valid we would all believe in the existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
Nevertheless, even if Lenin were correct, no image (in Lenin's sense of that word --, i.e., a sort of 'mental' copy of objects and processes in the external world, albeit later enhanced by practice) -- could possibly correspond with its 'intended' object. This is because images are confined to partial and perspectivally limited 'views' of their 'intended' target. In that case it is not possible to form an image of the whole object viewed from every angle all at once. So at best, even if an image could correspond with its 'intended' target, it would only match a partial view of that object from that angle (that is, it would correspond with how that object would look when seen from that angle), but it would not correspond with the object itself.
So, the images to which Lenin refers could only correspond with views of objects from some angle or other, which would make his theory a rather limited form of Phenomenalism -- since his images would correspond with perspectivally-limited (or possible) views of objects, not those objects themselves.
And even if Lenin's "image" analogy were re-jigged (so that it now applied to an all-round scientific description of an object or process), not only would the "copy" metaphor have to be abandoned, the word "objective" would have to go, too.
This is because, in an objective world there are no "views" of objects for images to correspond with. Clearly, in such a world there are no viewers to have any views at all, and no specially privileged angles from which to 'view' them. The objective world, so we are told, is supposed to be that which exists independently of mind. Hence, in such a world there are no 'views' for Lenin's "images" to match.
Of course, it could be argued that the images Lenin had in mind actually correspond with how an object (or processes) would look to a viewer if he or she looked at it from that angle. No doubt this is so; but in that case, such images would correspond to possible views of objects (but made by whom?), not those objects themselves. And if there are only views, what becomes of objects? Given Lenin's account, it seems that there could only be images of views of objects -- or, as seems plain, just images of images, and no objects.
Ironically, Lenin's 'theory', which was cobbled-together partly in order to counter various Idealist attempts to spirit matter away, in the end actually manages to accomplish what his theoretical enemies had all along wanted: make matter vanish. In Lenin's universe there are now only partial images of images.
Bringing science in here would be of little assistance; every object and process in nature is -- according to physical scientists --, a set of scalar, vector, or tensor fields, spruced-up with a few probability density distributions, situated in at least four dimensions. Now, no humanly-formed 'image' could correspond with that bowl of mathematical spaghetti.
In such a universe, each image-former would at best have images of perspectivally-limited views of knotted heaps of 'mathematical pasta'. And even if such images could be formed, no human would be able to do this without first ascending into a higher dimension, and probably a considerably higher plane of consciousness (which one supposes only Gerry Healy ever to have attained). And with that the objectivity of DM would collapse, since it clearly requires the existence of an Ideal Observer, who is everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Interconnection Strikes Back
Furthermore, if DM-theorists are correct in believing that everything in nature is interconnected with everything else, then yet another idea of theirs (i.e., that matter is independent of mind, in the sense that (1) the vast bulk of matter in the universe is unaffected by our knowledge of it, and that (2) matter existed before there were any minds) will have to be abandoned. While it might be possible to base the independence of mind and matter successfully on the connectivity of all things in nature, this cannot be done on the basis of their interconnectivity. Why this is so will now be explained.
If all things are interconnected then the material processes in, say, a scientist's central nervous system from which 'emerges' the thought that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth must itself be connected with the material facts that make this thought true -- or it would not be true, but false.
So, the fact that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth is connected with and causes the processes from which 'emerges' the thought that the Sun is roughly that distance from the earth (or at least the material process involved cause this). So far so good.
However, if everything in nature is interconnected then the reverse is also true: the thought that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth is interconnected with and causes the material facts that make it true that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth. In other words there is at least one 'mental state' that is interconnected with and thus causes a remote material state of the universe. And if there is one, there are many; indeed, there is at least one for each true thought about nature.
There seem to be only two ways to avoid this Idealist conclusion: (1) the doctrine that everything in nature is interconnected must be abandoned, or (2) the link between interconnectivity and causation must be broken.
If the first escape route is chosen, much of classical DM would collapse, but if the second option is selected, the interconnectivity of nature would have to be recast in a non-causal (perhaps a non-physical) terms. But how might that be done without the whole thing turning into full-blown Idealism, with mystical and magical 'influences' permeating nature at every turn? The conveniently opaque word "mediation" and the openly misleading phrase "internal relation" are perhaps a little too obscure to rescue this beleaguered 'theory' -- unless, of course, one or both are interpreted as synonyms for "causation" again.
Anyway, their deployment here would confirm the suspicion that in order to cover the gaping wounds in their theory, the only sticking plasters available to DM-theorists come in the form of yet more linguistic fixes.
[That would of course turn at least this part of DM into a form of Ideal conventionalism.]
The precise nature of materialism is also examined, which is an issue that all DM-apologists duck to a greater or lesser extent. Oddly enough for avowed materialists, DM-theorists since Engels's day believe that matter is an abstraction. [But abstracted from what we are never told.]
This risks DM being liable to prosecution under the Metaphysical Trade Descriptions Act, for on this view it is not even a materialist theory.
It prompts, for example, the question: To what in nature does this particular abstraction correspond? What is there in nature that answers to this DM-abstraction? Indeed, if matter is not concrete, what has the concept been abstracted from?
In fact, the DM-'definition' of matter is almost identical to that put about by Bishop Berkeley.
With mystical friends like this, who needs friends?
Summary Of Essay Seven: Engels's Three 'Laws'
In this Essay, Engels's so-called "Three Laws of Dialectics" are analysed and shown to be thoroughly confused -- where any sense can be made of them, that is.
[This topic has been relegated to near the end of this Summary since these 'laws' do not feature prominently in TAR.]
'Law' 1: Never Mind The Quality -- Just Repeat the Mantra
Engels depicts his First 'Law' thus:
"…the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. 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), p.63; emphasis added.]
Exactly how Engels knew that it was impossible to "alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion" he annoyingly kept to himself. This worry is made all the more acute when we recall that for Engels, matter is an abstraction -- so it seems energy must be too. If so, how can anything be altered by the addition (or subtraction) of an abstraction?
However, Engels did at least try to deny that his:
"...laws [have been] foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them." [Ibid., p.62.]
But, this precipitous deduction of a necessary law (i.e., one that uses the word "impossible") from only a handful of cases (largely drawn from certain parts of chemistry, buttressed by a handful of quirky anecdotal examples) is a neat trick only dialecticians it seems (and, of course, traditional philosophers) are capable of performing.
Less partisan observers might be forgiven for concluding that Engels either did not know what the word "foisted" meant, or he hoped no one would notice when he actually indulged in a little of it himself.
Nevertheless, this 'Law' is at best only partially true; as we shall see, many processes in nature disobey it, so it cannot be a law (in any sense of that word).
For example, as the quantity of books and articles on DM increases year on year, their quality stays depressingly the same. A less impertinent example is perhaps the following: as the quantity of electrons passing along a wire increases, the electrons themselves do not change in quality. Of course, it could be pointed out that in these examples no energy has been added to either the books or the electrons (but then, that depends on how one defines that 'dialectical abstraction'), but DM-theorists themselves use examples where no energy has been added, but where only the number of items considered varies. For instance, they claim that this 'Law' is exemplified by the loss of hair which creates a bald head; and yet no energy seems to have been added here, either -- there is merely a quantitative reduction in hair. If it is then pointed out that hair is really energy, then so are electrons. Of course, no matter how much hair there is, it stays hair, and heads remain heads. So, whether or not this 'law' works seems to depend on how it is worded, which makes it eminently subjective.
It could be objected that Engels did not say that all quantitative changes pass over into qualitative, just that the latter can only be induced by the former. However, the vice versa codicil attached to this law seems to contradict this. But, who can say? Engels's First 'Law' is so vague, it could allow the creation of matter and energy from nowhere. [On this, see below.]
Anyway, things are not quite so simple. Many things change qualitatively without going through a DM-inspired "nodal point" -- or even so much as a tiny "leap". [Engels (1976), p.160.]
These include the following: melting or solidifying plastic, metal, rock, sulphur, tar, toffee, sugar, chocolate, wax, butter, cheese, and glass. As these are heated or cooled, they gradually change, with no nodal point in sight. There isn't even a nodal point with respect to balding heads! In fact, it is difficult to think of a single phase transformation from solid to liquid (or vice versa) that exhibits just such "nodal points" -- and this includes the transition from ice to water (and arguably also the condensation of steam). Even the albumen of fried or boiled eggs changes slowly (but non-nodally) from clear to opaque white while they are being cooked.
Now, since the duration of a "nodal" point remains undefined (or even so much as mentioned), dialecticians can safely indulge in some sloppy, off-the-cuff, a priori Superscience here (as they all seem to do -- nary a one fails to come up with their own favourite/idiosyncratic example, tested, of course, only in the laboratory of the mind, and studiously un-peer reviewed; remember this is Mickey Mouse Science).
These days a favourite example is Steven Jay Gould's theory of Punctuated Equilibria. However, our amateur dialectical palaeontologist friends forgot to note that the alleged "nodal" points involved in Gould's theory last tens of thousands of years, at least. This is a pretty unimpressive "leap" -- it's more like a painfully slow crawl. If it took that long for water to turn to steam -- or for Capitalism to turn to Socialism -- we would all die of boredom, or global warming, or both first. This particular watched dialectical kettle would never boil.
Another recent favourite is Catastrophe Theory. Some comments on this will be added to Essay Seven at a later date.
The difficulties the First 'Law' faces do not stop here; when heated, objects change in quality from cold to warm and then to hot, with no nodal point separating these particular qualitative stages. Moving bodies similarly speed up from slow to fast (and vice versa) without nodal punctuation marks affecting the transition. In like manner, the change from one colour to the next in the normal colour spectrum is continuous, with no nodal points evident at all -- and this is also the case with the colour changes that bodies experience when they are heated to red or white heat. Sounds, too, change smoothly from soft to loud, and back, in a node-free environment. In fact, with respect to wave-governed phenomena in general, change seems to be continuous rather than discrete, which means that since the majority of particles/objects in nature move in such a manner, most things in reality seem to disobey this aspect of Engels's unimpressive 'Law' -- at least at the macroscopic level.
[The application of this 'Law' to microscopic/quantum phenomena will be considered in Essay Seven (added at a later date).]
Unfortunately for DM-apologists, if we now mischievously apply this non-nodal aspect of the First 'Law' to Capitalism (as dialecticians themselves do, but only with respect to the liquid/gas phase change, in a bid to illustrate by analogy the revolutionary transformation from one Mode of Production to another, as quantity allegedly builds into quality), then since Capitalism is clearly not a liquid, but a solid of sorts, the transition to socialism should go rather smoothly (as it does with phase changes experienced by most solids).
Interpreted that way, it looks as if the First 'Law' is of little use to revolutionaries since it clearly suggests that they are not needed, and that Capitalism can be reformed away non-discontinuously -- a bit like the way a rock, say, can slowly melt to form lava, or heads can slowly turn bald as they lose hair. Sure enough, if dialectical revolutionaries are not needed, their antiquated theory isn't either.
In that case, this aspect of dialectics appears to be responsible for issuing its own auto-redundancy notice.
This would be a long overdue, but internally-generated and welcome change.
Moreover, the same number of molecules at the same energy level can exhibit widely differing properties/qualities depending on circumstances: think of how the same amount of water can act as a lubricant, or have the opposite effect, say, on wet clothes; the same amount of sand can help some things slide, but prevent others from doing so; the same amount of poison given over a short space of time will kill, but given over a longer period it could benefit the recipient -- Strychnine comes to mind here. To be sure, the effects of quantitative stasis of this sort (supervenient on qualitative change) are sensitive both to temporal constraints and to levels of concentration; but the extremely vague First 'Law' said nothing of these. And, try as one might, it is not easy to see how such eminently material aspects of nature can be accommodated to the Ideal dialectical universe Engels inherited from Hegel.
However, other recalcitrant examples spring rapidly to mind: if the same colour is stared at for several minutes it can undergo a qualitative change into another colour (several optical illusions are based on this fact). Something similar can happen with regard to many two-dimensional patterns and shapes (for example the Necker Cube and other optical illusions); these undergo considerable qualitative change when no obvious quantitative differences are involved. There thus seem to be numerous examples where quantity and quality do not appear to be connected in the way that DM-theorists suppose.
In fact, there are so many exceptions to this 'Law' that it would be wise to demote it and consign it to a more appropriate category, perhaps along with the trite rules of thumb that sometimes work -- a bit like "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", or even "A watched kettle never boils". Indeed, given the fact that this 'Law' has no discernible mathematical content it is rather surprising it was ever called a "law" to begin with.
Nevertheless, the situation is even worse than the above might suggest; there are countless examples where significant qualitative change can result from no obvious quantitative difference. These include the qualitative dissimilarities that exist between countless different chemicals for the same quantity of matter/energy. Isomeric molecules (studied in stereochemistry) are a particularly good example, especially those that have chiral centres (i.e., centres of asymmetry). Here, the spatial ordering of the constituent atoms, not their quantity, affects the overall quality of the resulting molecule (something Engels said could not happen); a change in molecular orientation, not quantity, affects a change in quality.
So here we would have, change in geometry, change in quality.
To take one example of many: (R)-Carvone (spearmint) and (S)-Carvone (caraway); these molecules have the same number of atoms (of the same elements), and the same bond energies, but they are nonetheless qualitatively distinct because of the different spatial arrangement of the atoms involved.
This un-dialectical aspect of matter is especially true of the so-called "Enantiomers" (i.e., symmetrical molecules that are mirror images of each other). These include compounds like (R)-2-chlorobutane and (S)-2-chlorobutane, and the so-called L- and D-molecules, which rotate the plane of polarised light the left (laevo) or the right (dextro)) -- such as, L- and D-Tartaric acid. What might appear to be small energy-neutral differences like these have profound biochemical implications; a protein with D-amino acids, say, instead of L- will not work in most living cells since practically all life on earth uses L-organic molecules. These compounds not only have the same number of atoms in each molecule, there are no apparent energy differences between them; even so, they have easily distinguishable physical qualities. Change in quality, identical quantity.
Moving into Physics: if two or more forces are aligned differently, the qualitative results are invariably different (even when the overall magnitude of each force is held constant). Consider one particular example: let forces F1 and F2 be situated in parallel (but not in the same line of action), diametrically opposed to each other. Here these two forces can exercise a turning effect on a suitably placed body. Now, arrange these same two forces in like manner so that they are still parallel, but act along the same line. In this case, as seems clear, these forces will have no turning effect on the same body. Change in quality with no change in quantity. Since there are many ways to align forces (as there are with other vector quantities, like velocities and accelerations, etc.), there are countless counter-examples to this rather pathetic First 'Law' here alone.
[Some might object that moving a force requires energy, so these examples are not energy neutral. However, the arrangements listed above could exist side by side. Here, we would have a qualitative difference for no extra quantitative input, something this terminally vague 'Law' does not rule out. And the said forces could be operating in a conservative field, which means that the energy budget could be zero. Naturally, this 'Law' could be tightened to exclude these and other awkward counterexamples out, but then it would cease to be a law, and would rather become narrow convention. Can you imagine what would happen if Physicists did the same with any of their Laws, altering them as the awkward facts mounted up?]
Perhaps more significantly, this 'Law' takes no account of qualitative changes that result from (energetically-neutral) ordering relations in nature and society. Here, identical physical structures and processes can be ordered differently to create significant qualitative changes. One example is the different ordering principles found in music, where an alteration to a sequence of the same notes in a chord or in a melody can have a major qualitative impact on harmony, with no quantitative change anywhere apparent. So, the same seven notes (i.e., tones and semi-tones) arranged in different modes (Ionian, Dorian, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, Aeolean and Locrian) sound totally different to the human ear.
Another example along the same lines concerns the ordering principles found in language, where significant qualitative changes can result from the re-arrangement of the same parts of speech. For instance, the same number of letters jumbled up can either make sense or no sense -- as in "dialectics" and "csdileati" (which is "dialectics" scrambled up).
Perhaps more radically, the same words can mean something qualitatively new if sequenced differently, as in, say: "The cat is on the mat" and "The mat is on the cat" --, or even worse: "It is impossible to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Hegel's Logic", and "It is impossible to understand Hegel's Logic, and especially its first chapter, without having thoroughly studied and understood the whole of Marx's Capital." What are odds that Engels would have tried to alter his First 'Law' to neutralise this awkward fact?
There are many other examples of this phenomenon, but a few more should suffice for the purposes of this summary: a successful strike (one that is, say, planned first then actioned second) could turn into its opposite (if it is actioned first and planned second). The addition of no extra matter or energy here can turn successful action into disaster, if the order of events is altered.
There are literally thousands of everyday examples of such qualitative differences (with no obvious quantitative changes), so many in fact that Engels's First 'Law' begins to look rather pathetic in comparison. Who for example would put food on the table then a plate on top of it? A change in the order here would constitute a qualitatively different (and more normal) act: plate first, food second. Which of us would jump out of a plane first and put their parachute on second -- or cross a road first, look second? And is there a sane person on the planet who goes to the toilet first and gets out of bed second? Moreover, only an idiot would pour 500 ml of water slowly into 1000 ml of concentrated Sulphuric Acid, whereas, someone who knew what they were doing would readily do the reverse. But all of these have profound qualitative differences if performed in the wrong order (for the same energy budget).
How could Engels possibly have missed examples like these? Is dialectical myopia so crippling that it prevents dialecticians using their common sense? [However, given the response to Essay Seven so far, it looks like modern day DM-fans are in dire need of an appointment at the Opticians.]
Pushing these ideas further, context can affect quality in a quantitatively neutral environment. So, a dead body in a living room has a different qualitative significance compared to that same body in the morgue (for the same energy input). A million pounds in my bank account has a different qualitative feel to it if compared to the same money now in your account (and vice versa). "Ceci n'est pa une pipe" has a different qualitative aspect when appended to a picture of a pipe, compared to when it might be attached to a picture of, say, a cigarette.
Indeed, "Ceci n'est pa une pipe" itself can change from qualitatively false to true depending on how it is interpreted. Hence, as a depiction of what the painting by Magritte is about (i.e., a pipe) it is false. But, despite this, it is also literally true, since manifestly a picture of a pipe is not a pipe! Change in quality here, but no change in quantity.
Furthermore, qualitative change can be induced by other qualitative changes (contrary to Engels's claim):
"...qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion..." [Engels (1954), p.63. Emphasis added.]
For example, in a 1:1 mixture of paint, one litre of brown can be made by mixing two half litres each of red and green, but the same qualitative effect can be achieved by using less or more of both (say, 2 litres of each), but in the same ratio. Here a change in the quantity of mixed paints has no effect on the qualitative properties of the mixture (i.e., its colour), while the qualities mixed do. In this case, two qualities (two colours) will have changed into new quality (a new colour) when mixed. Not only do the same amounts (and proportions) of red and green paint exist before and after mixing, for any fixed amount of each, the two former qualities have merged into a single one.
Of course, it could be argued that the mixture contains more paint than before (which means that there has been a quantitative change), but this is not so. In general, prior to mixing there were n litres of each colour (and 2n litres of both) preserving the 1:1 ratio; after mixing the same amount of paint still exists, namely n litres of each (and 2n litres of both, for any n), still preserving the 1:1 proportion. The qualitative change in colour has nothing to do with the quantities involved, but everything to do with the mixing of the two previous qualities in the same ratio. Of course, if the ratio of the mixed paints were changed, a different qualitative outcome would emerge, but as noted above, even this does not happen nodally, and so it seems to be of little relevance to the First 'Law'. But if the ratio is kept the same, we would here have a change in quality created by qualities, but not by an increase in quantity. Something similar can be achieved with the mixing of most chemicals, as it can with light, sound and taste.
Matter in general is thus reassuringly non-dialectical.
Other instances of qualitative change where there is no implied change in quantity include the following: the 'Big Bang' (if it actually happened) led to the formation of a whole universe of qualitative changes, with no overall increase in energy or matter (in the universe). Now, here we have a massive change in quality (with Galaxies and planets, and all the rest, emerging out of the original debris) with no overall change in the quantity of energy (in the universe), unless we alter the energy conservation law to save DM's neck.
Of course, if the 'Big Bang' is rejected, and an infinite universe is postulated, since there can be no increase in energy in the entire universe, any qualitative changes in nature will occur with no increase in universal energy.
More examples rapidly stack up: a child living in, say, Paris can become an orphan (qualitative change) if both of its parents die in South Africa (meaning that no quantitative change will have happened to that child -- unless, of course, we are meant to re-interpret a change in a distant geographical/familial relation as a quantitative change).
A cheque drawn, say, in New York will become instantaneously worthless (qualitative change) if the issuing bank in Tokyo goes bust (meaning that no quantitative change will have happened to that cheque).
A Silver medallist in, say, the Olympics can become the Gold Medal winner in an event (qualitative change) if the former Gold medallist is disqualified, say, because of drug-taking (meaning that no quantitative change will have occurred to that Silver Medallist).
Two identical "Keep off the Grass" signs can mean something different (qualitative change) if one is posted on a garden lawn and the other is positioned near a stand of Marijuana plants, at the same height above sea level (thus with no change in energy).
A circle looks like an ellipse (qualitative change) when viewed from certain angles for no change in energy.
The same three mathematical (or physical) points can undergo a qualitative change if, say, from being arranged linearly they are re-arranged as the corners of a triangle (hence, there would be a qualitative change with no quantitative change). There are, of course, a potentially infinite number of examples of that sort of change imaginable for 2-, or 3-dimensional shapes, for n points (be they mathematical or physical -- so this is not necessarily an abstract set of counter-instances).
Worse still, the "vice versa" codicil attached by Engels to this 'Law' renders it totally useless -- if not completely crazy --, for it suggests, for instance, that qualitative change can effect quantitative material change. Consider this example of Trotsky's:
"A housewife knows that a certain amount of salt flavours soup agreeably, but that added salt makes the soup unpalatable. Consequently, an illiterate peasant woman guides herself in cooking soup by the Hegelian law of the transformation of quantity into quality…." [Trotsky (1971), p.106.]
But, if the vice versa codicil is to work here, a qualitative change from, say, unpalatable soup to tasty-soup should in effect produce a quantitative pay-off: it must cause soup to have more salt in it! Clearly this magic trick will be of interest to those who still foolishly think that matter and energy cannot be created ex nihilo. And yet, there seems to be no other way of reading this vice versa codicil except as a of metaphysical blank cheque of this sort. [Dialecticians should consider cancelling it, perhaps.]
The other hackneyed examples DM-theorists regularly trot out to illustrate this 'Law' (i.e., boiling water, balding heads, Mendeleyev's table, the alleged fighting qualities of Mamelukes, and, of late, Chaos Theory), also only seem to work because of the way that the word "quality" has been defined (but then oddly ignored) by dialecticians.
For example, in the case of boiling water, the increase in quantity of one item (i.e., heat) is reputed to alter the quality of the second (i.e., water). As noted above, "quality" in DM-circles is defined in Aristotelian terms (i.e., as that property which is essential to a substance/process, without which it must change into some other --, or as "determinate being", to use the Hegelian jargon; on this, see Inwood (1992), pp.238-41). And yet, by no stretch of the imagination is liquidity an essential property of water (except, perhaps in an everyday or pre-scientific sort of sense). And even if it were, increased amounts of water do not seem to change that particular quality (i.e., its liquidity) into anything else; it takes an increase in something other than water to alter its state (namely heat). So, this 'Law' should perhaps be re-written in the following way:
E1: An increase in the quantity of one item leads to a change in what is perhaps not one of the essential qualities of another.
With that, much of the 'metaphysical bite' of this 'Law' disappears; in fact it becomes rather toothless.
In addition, it seems rather odd to describe an increase in heat as an increase in quantity when what happens is that the relevant water molecules just move about faster if energy is fed into the system. Of course, it could be objected that this is precisely Engels's point; since energy can be measured (here as an increase in heat, say), then that increase in heat is indeed an increase in quantity. But, the original idea appeared in Hegel at a time when heat was regarded as a substance, Caloric. We now know that what really happens is that molecules just move faster after having interacted with still other faster moving molecules. [This is something Engels admits anyway; see Engels (1954), pp.63-64].
So, when Engels speaks here of an increase in energy, he was either using a façon de parler, or he had not quite abandoned the old idea that heat is a substance. Nowadays we might want to call this phenomenon "energy" if we so wish; but that would plunge this part of the First 'Law' into complete darkness, since the word "energy" (if it is not a façon de parler, too) is not the name of an identifiable substance that can be qualified in this way.
Furthermore, using "quantity" to depict the change in motion of molecules is somewhat dubious. Certainly, we speak of an increase in velocity here, but there is no such thing as a quantity of velocity that could be increased. Velocity is not a substance either, and although we use numbers to depict it, we certainly do not refer to anything called the "quantity of velocity" (except again, perhaps as a façon de parler). Since velocity is a vector, its magnitude is given by a scalar, but velocity itself is just that scalar operating in a that direction. To call the magnitude of a vector a "quantity" would be to confuse a vector (or indeed a direction) with a substance.
Nevertheless, even if it were appropriate to depict things in this way, neither the heat nor the faster molecules change in quality themselves. Any amount of heat still stays as heat; motion is still motion. Hence this 'Law' does not seem to apply to them. It should now perhaps be re-written along the following lines:
E2: An increase in the quantity of one item (e.g., heat) leads to no qualitative change in that item, while it can help alter the quality of another item (e.g., water), which will in turn have changed in quality while undergoing no quantitative change itself -- but which qualitative change is inadmissible anyway since it is not a quality definitive of the latter (e.g., water).
This is not an impressive 'Law'.
As far as balding heads are concerned, it is difficult to believe that someone with, say, n hairs on his or her head is hirsute, when the same person with n-1 hairs is objectively bald -- even if at some point or other we all might subjectively change the words we use to depict either.
Now, if it could be shown that anyone with n-1 hairs (for some n) is always objectively bald, and that this is an essential defining quality of baldness or of bald people (in the Aristotelian/Hegelian sense just mentioned), so that a change from n to n-1 hairs, for some n, always results in baldness, and true for all hirsute human beings, then this 'Law' might have some life left in it in just this one instance. It could then be a dialectical 'Law' that applies on to hairy parts of nature, but nothing else.
Nevertheless, this is not so; with respect to baldness, human anatomists (or even hairdressers) have as yet to define hair loss in such Aristotelian terms. Unfortunately for DM-fans, they have so far failed to categorise all follically-challenged individuals this precisely, declaring that anyone with n-1 hairs, for some n, is essentially bald, whereas anyone with n hairs is thus non-coot. Until they do, there are no nodal points here, just as there seem to be no particular (Aristotelian/Hegelian) qualities definitive of bald human beings for dialecticians to latch onto. So, in this case it is impossible to see how an 'objective' example of this dialectical 'Law' could apply, merely a 'subjective' impression, and one that has to rely on quirky application of the already vague Hegelian 'definition' of a quality.
So it seems that the change in quality occurs, not in the person going bald, but in the one describing him/her/it as bald. Hence, with reference to human balding, change in the quantity of hair on one person's head changes the quality of someone else's opinion of him/her, and it does so subjectively and non-nodally.
There isn't much here to base a dialectical 'Law' on, not at least anything that would fail to brand this part of DM as a fringe science, at best.
This 'Law' can be made to work in a few selected instances if we bend things sufficiently (and if we fail to define either "quality", "node", or "leap" -- and if we ignore Hegel's own definition of a quality into the bargain); in contrast there are countless examples where this 'Law' does not apply, no matter how we try to twist things.
It might perhaps help dialectics if its supporters can be persuaded to change the quantity of their own 'Laws', from three to two, in a vain (but nodally-appropriate) attempt to improve the quality of their ailing theory.
'Law' 2: The Interpenetration Of Error With Even More Error
Nevertheless, the other two 'Laws' of dialectics fare no better. The doctrine that change only occurs through internal contradiction is analysed in detail in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two; however, the thesis that everything is a UO -- which is intimately connected with it -- has not yet been dismantled.
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Engels depicted this 'Law' as follows:
"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 62.]
Lenin put things this way:
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
However, DM-theorists (like Lenin and Engels) are decidedly unclear as to whether things change because of (1) the relationship between their internal opposites, or because (2) they change into these opposites, or even whether (3) change itself creates such opposites.
Lenin's words merely illustrate this confusion in an acute form -- where he declares, for instance, that: "the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other…" take place in nature. Engels is equally unclear: "[M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other...." The same can be said of Plekhanov:
"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]
This seems to suggest that objects not only change because of their internal opposites, but that they change into them (and all of them!) and that they also produce these opposites while they change, or as a result of that change. As we shall see, all this presents DM-theorists with some rather nasty dialectical headaches.
We will see in Essay Eight Part Two, that Hegel attempted to delineate such opposites very precisely, but his reasoning was defective from beginning to end.
Leaving that aside and ignoring for the moment the question of how Hegel, Engels, Lenin and Plekhanov knew this 'Law' was true of everything in existence (this topic is examined in more detail in Essay Two), it is worth pointing out that some things seem to have no internally interconnected opposites. For example, electrons, which, while they appear to have several external opposites (but not only it is not clear what the opposite of an electron is -- is it a positron or is it a proton? --, electrons do not seem to turn into either of these), electrons have no internal opposites as far as can be ascertained. In that case, they must be changeless beings -- either that, or if they do change, it cannot be as a result of "internal contradictions", and neither do they change into their alleged opposites. Admittedly, electrons had only just been discovered in Lenin's day, but that just makes his dogmatism even more puzzling (especially when it is recalled that it was he who insisted that all knowledge is provisional and relative).
Despite this, it is difficult to believe Lenin and the others are serious in claiming that everything is a UO -- just as it is impossible to give credence to the idea that "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…."
Are we really supposed to believe that, say, a domestic cat is a UO? But, what is the opposite of a cat? A dog? A tulip? A tin of beans? A 'non-cat'? And yet, if a 'non-cat' is the opposite of a cat, it would mean that if everything does indeed change into its opposite, cats must change into everything that they are not -- that is, they must change into any one or more of the following 'non-cats': oak trees, sandy beaches, cuff links, dog baskets, rift valleys, stars and galaxies, to name but a few.
Not only that, but according to Lenin cats must contain all these things if they are indeed unities of their opposites (or, they must be "internally related" to them in some way) -- i.e., they must presumably be a unity of cat and 'non-cat' --, especially if the latter opposite causes the cat to change. Is, therefore, each unassuming domestic moggie a repository of all its myriad opposites, and do these opposites contain their own sets of opposites, ad infinitem, like glorified Russian dolls?
Well, it seems they must if, according to Lenin: "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…." If change is the result of an internal struggle between opposites (declared above to be an "absolute" by Lenin), and everything changes into everything else, then cats must both contain and change into (at some point) a host of things, which must in turn contain and change into even more (or back into cats).
It is little use complaining that these are ridiculous conclusions; if everything changes into its opposite, then they must follow. Those who still object should rather pick a fight with dialecticians -- not me -- for championing such a crazy view of reality.
So, if cats do change, as they do, then they must change into their opposites. But where are these 'opposite cats', and how do they feature in and cause the changes they produced in the original animal? On the other hand, if they do not do this, does this mean that feline parts of nature are not subject to dialectical law?
Now, Engels did try to answer these fatal objections by arguing that we must learn from nature what the actual properties of objects and processes are in each case, and hence, presumably, what each can legitimately change into (he made this point in relation to the First and Third 'Laws', but there is no reason to believe he would have denied this of the Second 'Law'). He also said that and that dialectical negation is not annihilation. [Engels (1954, p.63 and (1976), p.181.]
However, nature is annoyingly ambiguous on this score. For example, lumps of iron ore can turn or be turned into many diverse things (with or without the addition of labour, etc.). These include: hematite, magnetite, taconite, countless ferrous and ferric compounds (including rust, Ferrous and Ferric Sulphides, Fools Gold, etc., etc.), car parts, aeroplane components, ships, magnets, cutlery, anchors, scaffolding, chains, bollards, cranes, tubes, engines, ornaments, girders, weapons, tools, instruments, coils of wire, furniture, gates, railings, railway tracks, wheels, doors, bars, handcuffs, scaffolding, bullets, iron filings, steel wool, cytochrome nitrogenase, and haemoglobin -- again, to name but a few.
Are we to believe that all of these reside inside each lump of iron? If not, what exactly is the point of this 'Law'? Again, if these items don't exist inside each lump of iron (or even if they do not confront them as antagonistic external opposites), how is it possible for human labour and natural forces to turn iron into many of these things, and remain in conformity with 'dialectical Law'? Does human labour counteract or work with the 'Laws' of dialectics? If a lump of iron does not contain, say, a carving knife, how is it possible for human beings to change iron into carving knives dialectically? Are there changes in reality that are not governed by DM-principles?
Are these iron 'Laws' not in fact applicable to iron itself?
In that case, exactly which opposites are united in iron ore? Of course, it could be argued that the above considerations completely misconstrue the nature of this Law. No one supposes that cats and nuggets of iron ore contain their opposites.
However, if nature works in pairs (at least), what is the paired opposite of a cat that causes that animal to change? If cats have no opposites, then it must be the case that feline parts of nature (at least) do not work in pairs. But, what applies to cats must surely apply to countless other things in reality. What then are the external or internal opposites of Giraffes, Snowy Owls, Mountain Gorillas, Daffodils, Oak trees, Chinese Puzzles, broom handles, craters on the Moon, copies of Anti-Dühring, and the question mark at the end of this sentence? Now all of these are subject to change, but not it seems because of any obvious oppositional pairing. [Is a question mark really locked in a life and death struggle with other items of punctuation?]
It could be objected to this that in the case of cats (and many of the other objects listed above), the opposites concerned are plainly "male" and "female". But even if that were so, these are manifestly not "internal opposites" (and neither are they "internally related" to each other -- they are causally, historically and biologically related, to be sure; sexual diversity is not a logical feature of reality), so change here cannot be the result of 'internal contradictions'. But, do males and females always conflict? [Anyone who has, for example, seen Leopard Slugs mating might be forgiven for thinking that these fortunate creatures have had a dialectical exemption certificate encoded into their DNA at some point. They do not 'conflict'!] And, manifestly, males do not change into females, nor vice versa.
Moreover, while it is true that cats are able to reproduce because of well known goings-on between males and females, cats themselves do not change because of the relationship between male and female cats. If they did, then a lone cat on a desert island would be able to live forever. Hence, just so long as this eternal (and miserably celibate) moggie stays clear of members of the opposite sex it should be able to look forward to becoming a sort of feline Methuselah.
But, what are we to say of those organisms that do not reproduce sexually --, and worse what are we to make of, say, hermaphrodites? Are the latter an expression of some sort of cosmic bourgeois prejudice against DM?
And what should we conclude about things like broom handles and copies of Trotsky's IDM? Do they change because of the tension created by their own inner/outer opposites? But what could these possibly be? Is the opposite of IDM, Mein Kampf or Stalin's Problems of Leninism? It might even be this Essay!
[Does this mean, therefore, that IDM will change into one of my Essays? Perhaps TAR will, since this work was originally set up specifically in opposition to that book. In that case, had this work not been undertaken, would TAR and IDM have been changeless beings?]
[IDM = In Defense of Marxism; TAR = The Algebra of Revolution.]
On the other hand, if cats change not as a result of the machinations of their external opposites but because of their 'internal contradictions', then factors internal to cats (and broom handles, etc.) must clearly be responsible. Should we now look inside cats for these illusive opposites? If so, do these appear at the level of this animal's internal organs? But what is the opposite of, say, a cat's liver? If it has none, is it an everlasting liver?
Maybe we should delve even deeper into the inner workings of these annoyingly awkward feline aspects of 'Being'? If cats' livers have no opposites, then perhaps their liver cells do? But once more, what is the opposite of a cat's liver cell? A kidney cell? A blood cell? (An onion cell?)
If we ferret deeper into the nether regions of feline inner space, perhaps these 'misplaced' opposites will appear at the molecular or atomic level? Some dialecticians seem to think so -- but they are only able to do this by ignoring their own claims that all of nature works in pairs [We have yet to be told what, say, the River Amazon is twinned with, let alone what the Oort Cloud's dialectical alter ego could possibly be.]
Nevertheless, it could be argued that internal opposites actually involve the relations that exist between sub-atomic and inter-atomic forces and processes at work inside lumps of iron, cats, and much else besides.
But, if each thing (and not just each part of a thing), and each system/process in the Totality, is a UO (as we were assured they are by the above DM-classicists), then cats and iron bars (and not just electrons, π-mesons (Pions) and positrons, etc.) must have their own internal and/or external opposites -- if they are to change.
So, for a cat to become a 'non-cat' -- which is, presumably, the 'external' opposite it is supposed to turn into --, it must be in dialectical tension with that opposite right now if the latter causes it to change. If not, then we can only wonder what dialecticians imagine the forces are (and from where they originate) that cause cats and lumps of iron to change into whatever their opposites are.
And even if molecular, inter-atomic or sub-atomic forces actually power the development of cats, the latter will still have to change because of their paired macro-level opposites (whose identities still remain a mystery). It is not as if each cat is struggling against all the protons, electrons and quarks that exist beneath its skin. Nor are they conflicting with their internal organs, fur or even whiskers.
And even if these sub-atomic particles are locked in a sort of quantum wrestling match themselves, one with another, the changes they allegedly induce in the average dialectical moggie must find expression in macro-phenomena. But what on earth could these be?
Furthermore, if change is to be found ultimately at the quantum level, then what are sub-atomic particles changing into? Many are highly stable. But even if they weren't, then whatever they are changing into must exist right now to cause them to change into it. And yet, if their opposites already exist, the original particles cannot have changed into them. The best that could have happened, given the truth of DM, is that these 'opposite particles' have merely replaced the originals. In that case, things do not change, they vanish.
[The idea that there are internal opposites of 'fundamental particles' is discussed in more detail in Essays Seven and Eight Part One.]
Moreover, if the forces that cause change are solely internal to cats, then as far as their mutability is concerned, cats must be hermetically sealed off from the rest of the world (as must everything else -– this dire dialectical difficulty is examined in more detail in Essay Eight Part One, and Essay Eleven Part One and Part Two), otherwise change would not be internal to cats. If, on the other hand, the causes of feline change are external to cats, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into 'non-cats', and we are back where we started.
The same applies to sub-atomic particles: if the forces that cause change are solely internal to such particles, then as far as their mutability is concerned, they must be hermetically sealed off from the outside world, otherwise change would not be internal to these particles. If, on the other hand, the causes of particulate change are external, then 'internal contradictions' can't be responsible for changing them into a 'non-whatever'.
In the macro-world, this would seem to mean that when a cat gets run over, say, that cat actually self-destructs, and the car that hit it had nothing to do with flattening it. One might well wonder then why nature produced such suicidal beasts. [Is this perhaps an example of natural de-selection?]
Of course, it could be argued along Leibnizian lines that had the cat been internally strong enough it would have survived this unequal tussle with the car. So, the real cause of the cats changed shape is to be found inside that cat. [This argument is outlined here.]
There is something to be said for this argument, but luckily not much. Whatever it is that causes a cat to alter when run over is not whatever it is that maintains its anatomical integrity from day to day. Something must have upset this 'balance' in order to alter that cat's shape; cats do not spontaneously flatten themselves. Few of us would be happy to be told by a Leibnizian drunk driver that it is not their fault that the family pet is spread half-way across the road because the cat itself is the cause of its radically new shape. Here we have a clear case of interacting causes for the demise of this cat, none of which can be put down solely to events internal to that unfortunate animal.
Whatever their commitment to this 'Law', one supposes(!) that no dialectician still in command of her or his reason would excuse, say, a policeman for inflicting on them actual bodily harm on the grounds that nature unwisely failed to incorporate into the heads of militants the ability to withstand Billy clubs. Once again, dialectics would be disproved in practice; gashed heads are not produced by "self-development".
Alternatively, if the causes of feline (or cranial!) mutability are both internal and external, then change cannot be the sole result of 'internal contradictions', and things would not be self-developing, as Lenin alleged.
Furthermore, if "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…", that would suggest that everything (and every property) must change into every other property!
Thus, heat, for example, must change into, say, colour, hardness and generosity (and much else besides); liquidity must transform itself into brittleness, circularity and inquisitiveness (and much else besides); gentleness must mutate into velocity, opacity and bitterness (and much else besides); squareness must turn into arrogance, honesty and duplicity (and much else besides), and so on.
Is there a single person on the planet not suffering from dialectics who believes any of this? Once again, if these bizarre changes are not the case (as they plainly are not!), and if such things are not implied by these terminally vague 'Laws' and by what Lenin said, what is the point of him asserting that this is precisely what everything does?
If it is further complained that in many of the above examples, it is human interaction that changes things that occur naturally, then what about substances that did not exist (so far as we know) before we made them?
Is plastic, for instance, governed by dialectical 'Law'? But, what then is the natural opposite of polyethylene? Is it the same as that of Polypropylene, polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), polystyrene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and polymethylpentene (TPX)?
If not, has humanity made things above and outside this 'Law'? If not, and each of these has its opposite (or they would not change), how did humanity manage at the same time to make each of these plastics along with its opposite, too? By default, as it were? But if we can turn these substances into all manner of things, do they not therefore have countless artificial (or is it natural?) opposites? [I.e., as many opposites as the things we can change them into.] And were all these artificial opposites created the moment the original substances were manufactured? All of them?
Moreover, if these opposites only pop into existence when these plastics are changed into them, how was it possible for those non-existent opposites to contradict the existent unchanged plastic so that the plastic could be changed into them?
But worse, if the 'opposite' of PVC causes it to change, how then does human labour feature anywhere in the transformation? What is the point of building factories and studying polymer chemistry if the opposite of PVC changes lumps of PVC into plastic buckets all by itself? When human beings work on PVC to change it into all the many things they do (using complex techniques and expensive machinery), are they merely onlookers, not part of the action, just viewing things that would have happened anyway -- naturally?
Or have the capitalists discovered a way of by-passing dialectical 'Law' (perhaps as part of their hatred of Marxism)? Is all plastic reactionary?
More importantly, have the Sparts produced a policy document on this?
Furthermore, is it really the case that everything turns into its opposite, as Hegel, Engels, Lenin and Plekhanov said? To be sure, certain states of matter do change into what we might conventionally call their "opposites" (e.g., a hot object might change and become cold; something above might later be below, and so on -- but here, these opposites do not causes even these changes!), but this is certainly not true of everything. Do men, for instance, turn into women, fathers into sons, brothers into sisters, left- into a right-hands, the working class into the Capitalist class, forces of production into relations of production, use values into exchange values, negative numbers/electrical charges into positive numbers/electrical charges, electrons into positrons, and matter into 'anti-matter'? If not, what is the point of saying that everything does do this? And why claim that objects and processes have internal or external opposites if in most cases they feature nowhere in the action, or, again, if many things do not turn into them?
Of course, that was the point of the observation made earlier about dialecticians vacillating between the idea that UO's cause change and the belief that things change into their opposites -- sometimes veering toward the doctrine that change produces these opposites. The first of these alternatives is examined in Essay Eight Part One, but if the second alternative were correct, we would surely witness some bizarre transformations in nature and society as men changed into women, cats into dogs, banks into charities and the Capitalist Class into the Working Class -- and then back again.
Naturally, if change merely creates these opposites then, plainly, that could not have been the result of a tension between a pair of opposites that existed simultaneously -- clearly so, since at least one of them would not yet exist. Hence, with respect to objects in the latter category, change would create them, not them it.
This completely scuppers the DM-account of change for it is now clear that there is nothing in the DM-scheme-of-things that could cause the many different sorts of change we see in nature and society.
In which case, if change occurs then dialectics -- the much vaunted science of change -- could not explain it.
However, 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), p.153.]
But what is the contradiction supposed to be here? Is it: (1) that living cells contain dead matter? Or: (2) that life is a constant struggle to avoid death? Or: (3) that life can only sustain itself by a constant struggle with dead matter? Or is it even: (4) that the contrast and/or conflict between these two (processes), life and death, creates the dynamism we see in living things? But, what on earth is this (5) "something else" that each living thing is supposed to be, or to 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 dead molecules -- that there is a 'life force' at work in nature. While it is unclear whether Engels believed this or not (in fact, in several places he seems to have rejected this notion, e.g., Engels (1954), p.282), it is reasonably clear that subsequent dialecticians do not accept it. So, this cannot be what underlies the contradiction in this case.
With respect to (2) then, 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. 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 both life and death inside its walls, slugging it out, as it were --, what form do these mysterious processes/beings take? It is not as if we could identify either or both -- as we can with, say, magnetic or electrical phenomena. There, the presence of apparently opposite poles and/or charges is verifiable and measurable. Here (with respect to life) there do not seem to be any easily identifiable opposing forces.
But, if DM-theorists are correct, and everything is a UO, each living cell should (it seems) contain death within its walls, 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? Indeed, what form does 'life' take? Is it an incarnation of the Archangel Gabriel? Or, Louis Pasteur, perhaps?
On the other hand, if this UO is a set of opposing processes (or indeed, if they are to be regarded as a special sort of interaction between certain forces), as options (3) and (4) seem to suggest (these here picturing living systems as constantly battling against disintegration, the latter perhaps manifested in catabolic reactions), 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 is not 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 host cell all the time, stabbing it 'inside the back', as it were. Nor is it credible to believe that the products of catabolism and anabolism are themselves locked in constant struggle. Indeed, it is not even easy to see catabolism as directly 'contradictory' 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 the cell.
So, anabolic and catabolic processes do not confront one another in normal cells, opposing whatever the other does. To imagine such processes as contradictory would be about as intelligent as, say, believing that a group of men digging a road up somewhere were 'contradicting' ("opposing" or "struggling against") another group mending or extending that same road a few hundred yards down the way. And, even if it were accurate to describe catabolism as undoing the results of anabolism, that would still not amount to either of them 'contradicting' each other. Undoing is not 'contradicting' -- if it were, then doing would be tautologious!
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 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 literal contradictions involve just such a gainsaying.]
But even if this were true, DM would still not be out of the non-dialectical woods. While we might have 'opposites' here 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. But, all change is internal, and everything develops of itself, according to Lenin:
"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), p.90.]
And yet, since anabolic processes certainly involve objects (i.e., molecules), if they undergo development, that cannot be the result of an interaction with catabolic process (because that would be an external influence once more). On the other hand, if they do, then Lenin's "demand" will have to be withdrawn.
Nevertheless, here, as elsewhere, DM-descriptors look decidedly figurative -- except, in this case it is not easy to see what the figure could possibly amount to. But, this might be all to the good; it would at least allow the interpretation of the contradictions uncovered in this 'Law' to be interpreted poetically. No one minds if poets contradict themselves (e.g., Walt Whitman).
Even if the word "struggle" were substituted for "contradict", the situation would not change noticeably. Since literal struggles can only take place between agents, that would mean that this part of DM could 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" would clearly be figurative, too. [More on this here, and here.]
There thus seems to be no other way of interpreting living cells as UO's 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 is no real surprise given that the ideas found in DM originated in mystical Hermetic Theology (which occult belief system we know for a fact did have a profound influence on the aforementioned Romantics and Natürphilosophers of Hegel's day, and thus on Hegel himself; on this see Essay Fourteen (summary here)). This part of dialectics, therefore, clearly depends on obsolete mystical ideas, not on modern science.
So, no literal sets of internal opposites are apparent here; DM-UO's are at best 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 effort to understand both the development of Capitalism and how it can be overthrown?
Well, once again, given the fact that dialectics has been tried out in practice for over a hundred years, and Marxism has enjoyed legendary lack of success all the while, the only viable response to the above questions must be a resounding "No!" If practice is a test of truth, dialectics stands condemned out of its own contradictory mouth. In that case, it is clearly of no use to revolutionaries in their endeavour to understand Capitalism, or in their desire to end it.
In fact, these figures of speech are not even good ones. 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 each other. 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, unions and/or bourgeois politicians? Do they even 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 wits, brains or brawn to 'struggle' against anything? Do any turn into one another?
[Certainly, these and other things cause capitalism to change all the time, but not by 'contradicting' anything, for the reasons given above, in Essays Five and Eight Parts One and Two, and those summarised below.]
This is to deny neither the reality of the irrationalities found in Capitalism nor the horrors we see 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 or perhaps animistically), these comments will strike those with a reasonably secure grasp of ordinary English (and who are fortunately do not assent to an animistic view of nature) as entirely uncontroversial.
And this is not to claim that HM cannot account for these things either; indeed it can, but it needs no help from Hermetic ideas to do so.
However, the fact that these assertions will sound controversial only to DM-fans suggests that linguistic naivety could be their only defence.
Living Things Change Into...What?
As far as (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 LOI does not 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" (etc.). But, this must mean that whatever livings things "are not" must already be present in or near each of them if they are UO's and they all change into what they "are not".
[LOI = Law of Identity.]
In this instance, one suspects that Engels has 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, although there are exceptions even to this rule) -- either in whole or in part -- Engels clearly thought that this general (I would say grammatical) point applies to every living thing (or to anything) as it changes.
Now, this brings us back to the problems we noted earlier about the confused way that DM-theorists picture change outlined above 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). And this is just the logico-verbal trick DM-theorists put to no good, having inherited more than their fair share of dubious ideas from Hegel's rather shaky 'logic'.
However, as with other examples of metaphysical word-juggling (found throughout traditional Philosophy), this one has a tendency to strike back, especially at those who use it unthinkingly. In that 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 more) are "what living things are not" --, Engels's formulation that living things are constantly changing into "what they are not" must imply that all living cells are constantly changing into cars, calculators, mountains, Quasars, sewage systems, volcanoes and books on DM. The fact that living things do not do this (to anyone's knowledge) suggests that they do not actually change into "what they are not", or anything remotely like it. Here, material reality once again refutes another dotty piece of dialectical chicanery.
It is no good complaining that this makes a mockery of Engels's claim, since his confusion of a logical principle with an empirically determinable fact invites such ridicule. Dialecticians have no way of neutralising the above objection that leaves this piece of quirky Hegelian logic 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.
[The idea that all things are somehow paired with their Hegelian "other", to use the jargon, ruling the above out, is defused here.]
If this is not so, then things do not change because of logical principles magicked into existence as a result of Hegel's tenuous grasp of clear thought.
On the other hand, if Engels's formulation does not mean this (i.e., that things change into what they "are not"), what then does it mean? While it might look profound, no sane content 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 of the present author 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 should amply confirm that accusation -- as should a five minute 'debate' with a dialectical clone on an internet discussion board), the above account actually takes Engels words seriously, and literally. Doing that shows that no material sense can be made of them. Anyone who still disagrees is welcome to make of them what they can.
[They would then of course be the dialectical equivalent of those who still think sense can be made of the Trinity.]
However, whatever sense can be made of Engels's enigmatic prose, it is quite clear that dialecticians have totally misconstrued the LOI. As will be argued in detail in Essays Six and Eight Part Two in relation to the LOI, if a living thing changes, then anything identical to it will change equally quickly. That, of course, makes identity no enemy of change.
With that observation alone, much of DM falls apart.
But, if we absolutely must view nature mystically/poetically -- as DM-theorists seem impelled to do given their acceptance of the Hermetic ideas they inherited from Hegel -- it could now be argued against them that nature is not in fact driven by "contradictions"; it is actually powered by 'dialectical tautologies' (as noted above).
As a result of my own incautious (but temporary, and wholly insincere) dalliance with metaphysical Superscience/Poetry, and no little word-juggling to boot, this observation can easily be confirmed by the way that each living thing changes: Every single one that we know of changes identically quickly as it itself does, and each and every one of them alters into something which has changed just as much as each itself has, and which is identical to the thing it has just changed into. Now, this 'thesis' is apparently tautologious -- or it is at least poetically so -- we might even call this new sort of word-juggling: Dialectricks.
Anyway, the words used can easily be 're-defined' on sound and 'consistent' dialectical lines so that the above 'thesis' becomes "tautologious" -- of course, with the latter term understood in a special and permanently unexplained sort of way, rather like the way that "contradiction" in DM has its own special and unexplained sort of sense -- or, indeed, we could insist that just as "contradict" means "conflict", "harmonious" means "tautologious", and dig our heels in, as DM-fans do.
Once again, this (temporary) a priori 'theory' of mine has the advantage of being consistent with every conceivable observation -- unlike those dubious DM-'contradictions'. Whether things stay the same, or change (fast or slow, it matters not), they do so no faster than they themselves manage to do it, and they all change into things that are identical with whatever they have changed into. That, naturally, makes this tautologically-poetic 'theory' of mine far 'more scientific' than DM.
I have no doubt that Marxism would be no less unsuccessful if we adopted it.
[Those still unconvinced by this 'innovative logic' clearly do not 'understand Dialectricks', probably because they suffer from too much lack of tenderness for things.
And those impatient with this sort of crazy logic perhaps need to turn an equally critical eye on the same sort of lunacy found in DM all the time.]
'Law' 3: NON-Sense
The 'Negation of the Negation' [NON] fares no better than the first two 'Laws'. Indeed, as with other DM-theses, the NON is itself based on a confusion of logico/linguistic categories with objects and processes in material reality, an ancient error Engels copied from Hegel, who in turn learnt it from earlier mystics. [More on this in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summary here, and here).]
Nevertheless, the few examples that DM-theorists have dredged up to try to illustrate this 'Law' fail to work even in the way they were intended. For example, Engels argues, concerning grains of barley, that:
"[T]he grain as such ceases to exist, it is negated, and in its place there appears the plant which has arisen from it, the negation of the grain… It grows, flowers, is fertilised and finally once more produces grains of barley, and as soon as these have ripened, the stalk dies, is in its turn negated…." [Engels (1976), pp.172-73.]
Leaving aside the confusion noted earlier (about whether plants (or whatever) actually change because of an internal "struggle of opposites", or even whether they change into their opposites), if each grain is indeed a UO (i.e., a union of grain and 'non-grain', i.e., the plant it becomes -- where that plant is itself the negation of the grain), the grain must also contain the plant, not potentially, but actually. If this were not so, the grain itself would not be a union of these opposites -- and hence there would be nothing to cause it to change, and nothing for it to change into.
However, this 'plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism must for the same reason contain its own opposite, yet another plant (i.e., a 'plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism, if, according to Lenin, the 'plant inside the grain' is itself a UO), which must likewise contain its own opposite, yet another grain (i.e., a 'grain-inside-the-plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism), and so on, forever.
This objection cannot be neutralised by arguing that the opposite of the 'plant-inside-the-gain' is in fact the grain itself, for if this were the case, the 'plant-inside-the-grain' would turn onto the grain, if all things turn into their opposites. For the 'plant-inside-the-gain' to develop into a plant it has to be in some sort of internal struggle with its opposite, that is, with what it has to yet to become (i.e., a plant), which in turn has to be internal to that 'plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism. Moreover, this 'plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism is not itself changeless. Hence, if it is to change into its opposite (which I have surmised to be a 'grain-inside-plant-inside-the-plant-inside-the-grain' sort of organism -- but, that is just my guess), that opposite must already exist for it to change into, or this would be a change with no DM-cause behind it. The rest follows.
Now, this must be so if all things are UO's as Hegel and Lenin said they were. In that case, Engels's NON (at least as far as barley is concerned) seems to imply the actual existence of an infinite set of organic plant-and-seed 'boxes within boxes', as it were, which is about as believable as that painted by 18th century preformationist/ovist biologists. This is because it would mean that every grain that ever there was must contain, and must be contained by, every subsequent plant that ever there grew, with each of these organic mega-Russian Doll type organisms complete with its own grains and plants within grains and plants…, etc, to infinity.
Of course, dialecticians (perhaps, however, mostly those of the Low Church tendency) who accept Engels's seed analogy will reject the above analysis. According to them, the UO is what we see as barley seed (with all its inner processes) changing that seed into a plant which somehow reveals the aforementioned 'negation' -- the latter of which does not destroy the grain as such, but "sublates" the original negation/seed (it is not too clear which) to produce a plant from it. So, the original seed does not contain the subsequent plant in any way, just whatever opposites this natural process requires for it make that plant grow from that seed. [It is worth pointing out that this get-out of a metaphysical-hole-free-card is withdrawn from circulation here.]
But what exactly are these "opposites"? And why do these dialectical worthies say that things change into their opposites, because of an internal struggle between those very opposites, which must already exist for this to happen?
"The law of the interpenetration of opposites.... [M]utual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes...." [Engels (1954), pp.17, 62.]
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other [into its opposite?]…. The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58. Emphases in the original.]
"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77.]
This can only mean that barley grains contain the plants they subsequently become; so they are like Russian dolls. There does it seem to be any other way of reading this 'Law'.
Ignoring this difficulty for the present, what NON-sense can be made of the claim that a plant is the negation of a seed? This idea seems to depend on the ancient belief that all words, including the negative particle, are names.
Since no DM-theorists has actually given this 'Law' much thought, it is not easy to follow the 'reasoning' here. Perhaps it goes something like this?
If we have a negative particle in language, and it corresponds to something in reality, then it must name that something. So, since negativity appears in language it reflects real negativity in nature. [I have yet to see anything more sophisticated than that in DM-writings. Lenin's feeble attempt in this regard will be examined in Essay Thirteen.]
But if this is so, it would become rather difficult to rectify incorrect naming and/or identification (something that is easy to do in the vernacular).
Thus, if "not" were incorrectly identified as the name of something else -- say, it was taken to be the name of "or" --, then it would be impossible to point this out. One could hardly say: "Not is not or", which, if the DM-Identity Theory of Predication were true, would mean that "Not = not or", and the first "not" would now name something other than not, namely "not or" with which it is newly identical.
Moreover, negation in language typically attaches to propositions (or clauses; however, see here), and if they too are names (in that they allegedly name the true, or the false, or facts, or whatever), then it seems that any named thing can be negated. This certainly accounts for the nominalisation of the word "negation" in DM-circles, where the word slides imperceptibly between its nominal and verbal form (one minute it is the name of negativity, or of a subsequently sublated opposite, next minute it is a process that creates novelty). Of course, it is this slide that causes the problem. Negation is something we do in language; treating it as the name of something in the physical word would therefore amount to its fetishisation. [More on this in Essay Twelve (summary here).]
Well, even if this slide represented a sound piece of Stone Age Logic, negation would still only apply to words, not things. Or, to put this another way, if negation applies to objects and processes in the world, DM-theorists have been remarkably coy about how this claim could be substantiated. [Further ruminations along these lines are explored here. More details will be given in Essays Twelve and Thirteen.]
Engels just assumed that things themselves can be negated, but his only 'proof' seems to have been the fact that it is possible to negate sentences and clauses. To be sure, in Hegel's system it makes some sort of crazy sense to suppose things can be negated (since the line between reality and language in his scheme-of-things is even thinner than George W's stated excuse for invading Iraq), but in a materialist theory no physical meaning can be given to this odd idea. On a similar basis, one might just as well think that conjunctions can attach to objects in reality just because we can speak about cats and dogs (which thus allows us to claim that reality contains objects called "cats-and-dogs" that the natural process of "conjunction" can turn them into -- no doubt under the operation of the Fourth 'Law' of dialectics, the 'Conjunction of the Conjunction' -- just as we might think DM-style that it contains "negated-seeds"). Or that nature contains "and"'s, or that things are glued together by 'andivity'.
Of course, the motivation for thinking that reality contains negation (and that it does not contain conjunctions) was purely 'logical'; it derived from Hegel's defective 'analysis' of the LOI, and from his odd belief that the negation of this 'Law' implied a contradiction. This 'argument' has been picked apart here.
However, this 'secondary argument' (that the world must contain negativity if we have a word for it in language) fails too, for as we have seen, if this were a sound argument, then reality would contain adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions and expletives (among other linguistic things).
We saw in Essay Three Part One (and will see in more detail in Essay Twelve (summary here), that the idea that inferences like this (from language to the establishment of fundamental principles that govern reality) is a dodge that ancient mystics invented to account for the link between 'God's' word and 'His' creation --, and, ipso facto, to rationalise the 'legitimate' rule of the State (in that it supposedly reflected the divine/logical order).
Moreover, if the structure of language allowed us to infer a priori truths about reality then we might just as well openly accept the Ideal nature of the world, and be done with it. In that case, the material flip Hegel's system was supposed to have undergone will in fact have been through 360 degrees, and not the claimed 180.
However, the main objection to the idea that the negative particle finds a counterpart in reality is based on the nature of empirical propositions, and will be aired in Essay Twelve, too (summary here).
Terminator -- The Rise Of Monsanto
Engels argued that as things stand in nature, the development of grain into barley is a natural process, and so the plant that subsequently grows from each seed is its natural negation. But, many things can 'naturally' happen to seeds. For example, they can be eaten and thus subsequently be turned into flesh of some sort, or be burnt as energy. But they can also rot, ferment, burn, dry out and be thrown at weddings. In fact, since anything that happens in nature must be natural (it is surely not supernatural), all such processes must, it seems, be governed by these and other DM-'Laws' (if they are laws, that is).
Nor can it be agued that the "natural" development of objects and process is whatever would happen to them if they were 'left alone' to develop naturally; this is because nothing in the DM-universe is ever 'left alone', everything is part of the allegedly interconnected DM-Totality. Whatever happens in nature must have been 'mediated' to do so by some DM-'Law' or other, if DM-theorists are to be believed.
It could be argued that if seed are left to develop according their own 'internal contradictions' the NON will assert itself. In that case, the above examples (of seed being crushed, or eaten, etc.) are not relevant to this 'Law'. However, quite apart from the fact that the phrase "internal contradiction" is itself as clear as mud (and has yet to be explicated by a single DM-theorist, as Essay Eight Part One and Two show), dialecticians themselves appeal to 'external contradictions' to account for change (since, without these, their theory would imply that everything in nature is either self-moving, or is hermetically sealed-off from the rest of the universe; on this see Essay Eight Part One, again). Anyway, several of the above examples involve 'internal change': rotting and fermenting grain, for instance. And once inside an animal, its 'internal' regime will take over, and the grain will 'naturally' develop into food. Moreover, 'internal' to a wedding celebration, the 'contradictions' inherent in the bourgeois institution of marriage will surely prompt someone to throw grain at the luckless couple.
So, exactly where the boundaries of this 'Law' are is somewhat unclear too, DM-theorists not having given the fine detail of their own theory much thought.
Unfortunately however, the advancement of science and technology often confronts older theories with unexpected problems, so Engels was not to know that one day a company like Monsanto would develop its so-called "Terminator Gene". This is a gene that can by all accounts can stop certain plants from producing seeds (and which thus seems capable of halting the NON in its tracks), forcing farmers to buy all their grain from Monsanto, etc.20 Is, therefore, the NON so weak and ineffectual that a large corporation can countermand its inevitability? Or, is the NON still at work somewhere in all this, 'negating' the rights of Third World farmers behind their backs, as it were, so that they will no longer be able to produce their own seed --, if, that is, Monsanto change their minds, ignore public pressure, and go ahead with this gene? Are Monsanto potential negators of the NON? Or have they learnt how to control it?
In this case, therefore, have we now got a sort of 'seed-plant-non-seed-non-plant' type of NON-development here? Should we now rename Monsanto, "NONsanto"?
But, we needn't wait until Monsanto change their minds and produce this NON-starter; anyone who buys fruit these days knows about seedless grapes. In fact most fruit nowadays does not come from seeds; it is produced by propagation from grafts and cuttings.
The question now arises: how come the NON is so easy to by-pass? Countless processes in nature seem to be non-NON-events of this sort as human beings 'upset' the 'natural' order.
And what are to say about genetic engineering in general? Is this an interference in the operation of the NON, and an infringement of the 'dialectical law' that all change is internally generated? Or is it a natural process, in view of the fact that none of the scientists or Capitalists involved are supernatural beings (so we are led to believe), and are eminently natural objects themselves?
In that case, if all the above are natural processes then it can truly be said that no grain is an island. Anything that happens to grain inside the universe must be natural.
Hence, even if barley is dropped into the sea, crushed by a falling tree, genetically modified, or hit by American 'friendly fire', all these (and many more) are natural events (and are supposedly governed by DM-'Laws'). In that case, there doesn't seem to be a single thing that could be or could act as the natural negation of a grain of barley. So, does it have one? Clearly, given the supposed universal dominion of the 'Laws' of dialectics (DM-fans tell us that these govern everything in reality, and that they are the most general laws there are), there must be countless "natural" negations of anything and everything.
It now seems that anything and everything could be the natural opposite of grain -- especially, if according to Lenin "every determination, quality, feature, side, property [changes] into every other…." If so, and we apply this overly-generously open-ended 'Law' to Capitalism once again, it should be possible for the latter, too, to change into a grain of barley, and vice versa. And it is no use saying that this sort of change has never been observed, since, according to the above, anything could be the opposite of grain and/or of Capitalism.
So, since barley is "not-Capitalism", and Capitalism can only change into what it "is not", profligate 'logic' of this sort means that revolutionaries will need to revise their plans. Instead of the struggle for socialism, they should perhaps struggle for…, well, er, sowing. Clearly this suggests that our slogans will need to be revised somewhat --, perhaps to: "Capitalism digs its own herb garden", or "You have nothing to lose but your daisy chains", or "There is a tractor haunting Europe", or maybe even "From each according to his ability, to each according to his seed".
Now, those who object to the above off-the-wall conclusions should direct their ire at that 'Law' and at those Hermetic 'Law'-givers, not at this piss-taker.
Either that, or they should say clearly, and for the first time ever, what NON-sense there is to this 'Law'.
Socialism Brought From Without -- Perhaps By Aliens
Nevertheless, and despite the above, as far as the descendants of barley plants are concerned, little development seems to take place; barley stays barley for countless generations -- unless change is externally induced (on this, see below).
More interesting, however, is the fact that based on this sort of botanical stasis --, and if the NON is to be used as the DM-model for social change (as dialecticians often so enlist it) --, Marxists should all now become staunch conservatives, since, in the majority of cases, the NON is itself impressively conservative. So, the NON as applied to barley (and everything else, it seems, in the living world), implies universal stasis (unless, once again, change is introduced from the outside). Hence, anyone foolish enough to use this 'Law' as a metaphor for social change should be committed to the idea that society must develop peaceably, naturally, slowly -- possibly cyclically -- with no overall change at the end (unless, again, this is induced from the outside).
However, since organisms develop as a result of mutations (mostly in response to violent, externally-induced interruptions to the 'natural' order of growth and reproduction) this process cannot it seems be reconciled with the above NON-inspired, but staid view of change (or lack of it). If, on the other hand, the superior, 'externalist' model of change is adopted (wherein the facts of nature are allowed to speak to us for a change, and speciation is recognised as being largely externally motivated), and used as such a model (not that I am recommending this!), then the revolution, if and when it does occur, should result from the intervention of Aliens, or other NON-humans (as external causes) -- if, that is, we insist on using the NON as a metaphor for revolutionary change. It thus looks like its 'internal contradictions' are not enough to rid the world of Capitalism -- since they are far too conservative -- if Engels's analogy drawn against barley seeds is to be believed.
It could be argued that some mutations are internally-generated. Perhaps so, but they are errors of replication and can in no way be seen as negations (they are more like random spelling mistakes). Moreover, the random nature of these internal copying errors is difficult to square with a law-governed process. Not only are most mutations highly lethal (whether they are internally-, or externally-caused), they are not the least bit directional. So, at one particular point in history a particular mutation might be of no use to an organism, or population (in terms of natural selection); at another, it could be a species-saver. There does not, therefore, appear to be much here that can be squeezed even into this NON-boot.
In addition, it is not easy to see how this NON-theory is applicable to other natural life-cycles. What for instance are we to make of the development of moths and butterflies? These insects go through the following stages: adult→egg→pupa→chrysalis→adult. Which is the negation of which here? And which is the NON? And what about organisms that reproduce by splitting, such as amoebae and bacteria? In any such spit, which half is the negation and which the NON?
Are such "splitters" enemies of dialectics -- or just natural sectarians?
Indeed, there appear to be countless processes in nature that are NON-defying: for example, how does the NON apply to such things as the periodic extinction of life on earth (by meteorites, or other ambient causes)? When a comet hits the earth (if it does), which is the negation and which the NON? And where is the development here? Do meteorites develop into anything new after they slam into the Earth? Is the resulting crater creative?
Furthermore, when a planet orbits a star, is there even a tiny sliver of space for the NON to gain a toe-hold? That planet may continue to orbit for hundreds of thousands of years with little significant change (in mass, speed, inclination to the ecliptic, etc.). Again, where is the development?
All this shows that this 'Law' is not just the scrag-end of a poor theory, as an account of the natural world (and much else besides) it is a definite NON-starter.
Same Tune, Different Words
Finally, with respect to each of these three 'Laws', it is worth pointing out yet again that DM-theorists have been quite happy to derive acres of Superscience from a few square millimetres of obscure terminology -- only this time these Supertruths have been obtained from badly garbled, less than half-formed musings and seriously botched 'thought experiments'.
Summary Of Essay Fourteen -- Dialectical Mysticism
In this Essay (when it is published sometime in 2007/8), the Hegelian/DM-view of reality will be traced back to its real roots: these are not to be found in the ordinary lives of working people, nor yet in the everyday experience of the revolutionary party. This pedigree leads us back to mystical Hermetic thought, to doctrines that expressed ancient ruling-class beliefs about nature and their own 'rightful' divinely ordained place in it. Although others have made somewhat similar points, these connections are pushed much further in this Essay, backed by an entirely new approach, and far more evidence.
Indeed, it is shown here for the first time: (1) Just how and why this ancient mystical perspective actually developed; (2) Exactly how it was linked to wider ruling-class priorities; and (3) Precisely how this alien thought-form was (inadvertently) smuggled into Marxism.
In support of these claims, texts from ancient Mesopotamia, Persia, China, Egypt, India, Greece and Rome are quoted at length. In addition to the relevant (surviving) works of pre-Socratic thinkers (such as, Anaximenes, Anaximander, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Xenophanes, Zeno, and Parmenides) -- as well as those of Plato and Aristotle -- are introduced as main exhibits for the prosecution.
Moreover, the ideas of NeoPlatonic, Stoic and Hermetic writers (like Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Iamblichus, Cicero, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and the shadowy figure Hermes Trismegistus 'himself') are then linked to the theories of late medieval/early modern thinkers -- such as, John Scotus Eriugena, Albertus Magnus (St Thomas Aquinas's teacher), Meister Eckhart, Raymond Lull, Nicholas of Cusa, Giovanni Pico Della Mirandola, Marsilio Ficino, Henri Cornelius Agrippa of Nettesheim, Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd, John Dee, Johannes Reuchlin, Paracelsus, Sebastian Franck, Valentin Weigel, Jacob Böhme, William Law, Emanuel Swedenborg, Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin, and Friedrich Christoph Oetinger. A summary of these influences on Hegel can be found here.
Finally, the views of these assorted mystics are then linked to the works of authors who directly influenced Hegel (i.e., Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Hölderlin, Goethe, Schelling and Novalis). The impact on DM of this mystical hotchpotch is considered in detail.
Of course, these are no mere speculations; Hegel admits them himself, and acknowledges his debt to many of the above mystery-mongers. Here are his odes to NeoPlatonism, Gnosticism and the Kabbalah, to the Y-Ching -- and here to Boehme.
[More details will be given in the published Essay.]
Indeed, Hermeticism was highly influential on German Pietism (through Boehme and his followers) -- which was itself a version of Lutheran Protestantism beloved of later German Kings; not only was Hegel brought up in the Pietist tradition, Engels's father was a Pietist, and he too was raised in its traditions. In fact, we find Engels himself speaking positively about Pietism in an early work: Reports From Bremen. A copy is posted here.
In that case, Engels's later trajectory back into Hermeticism (under the guise of Hegelianism) is not the least bit surprising.
In fact, anyone who thinks that dialectical materialism lies at the cutting edge of modern thought/science should read the Kybalion, the third most important book of Hermetic Philosophy, so we are told. Even though it was first published in 1912 (it had three authors who were all Masons), it summarises the core beliefs of this mystic creed. In many places it is not easy to tell the difference between DM and the ideas Hermetic Philosophy espouses. Doubters are encouraged to check, here, but more specifically here, here and here. Subtract the overtly mystical language, and you have the covert mysticism of DM.
Similar boss-class bona fides can be found in Chinese, Indian, Tibetan and Japanese thought. Many of these are also outlined. Indeed, in many respects, Daoism is virtually identical to DM -- which fact Maoists have used to 'good effect'. The same can be said for parts of Buddhism.
All this helps refute the claim (found in TAR -- for example, on p.6) that although DM shares with mysticism a belief in Totality, mystics do not try to account for change by appealing to 'internal contradictions', nor do they see the Totality as a process. The opposite is in fact the case; rarely does a mystic fail to appeal to opposites (and unities of opposites, too) -- or to terms that are analogous to contradictions and contraries (and they speak about "conflicts" in nature, as well), almost exactly as they are understood in DM -- to account for reality and change. Not only that, many mystical systems (such as Hermeticism ancient Chinese Daoism, again) do in fact see reality as a process.
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution.]
Some comrades acknowledge this, and regard it as supportive of their own ideas (i.e., that the 'dialectic' appears in a 'mystical' form in practically all ancient religions simply because it is true). This, of course, merely underlines the fact that the continuity between ruling-class mysticism and DM places them both in the same tradition of anti-materialist, anti-democratic thought. With that kind of mentality, one might as well boast about being ideologically related to Nazism, and appeal to the mystical aspects of National Socialism (Aryosophy) for like support.
Mystical ideas like these were originally found in ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian creation stories -- and they pervade Chinese and Indian thought (as they do other ancient theologies, and Theogonies). Doctrines of this sort have cast a long shadow (in one way or another) across all forms of ruling-class thought. They reappear today in the most surprising places, which is no surprise really to anyone who takes Marx's claim seriously that ruling ideas are always those of the class that rules. [More details on this in the full Essay.]
Given this unsavoury background, the numerous similarities between Hermetic (and/or) NeoPlatonic doctrines and DM-theses are more than merely coincidental.
DM is thus exposed as a modern-day Deistic Myth.
These links with ruling-class thought help explain why Dialectical Marxism is so spectacularly unsuccessful: its core theory merely reproduces the thought-forms of those classes who, up until now, have been vastly more successful at preserving their own power than we have been ending it. The adoption of such mysticism thus solves the mystery of our own impotence: if we think like them, we end up acting like them.
As should seem obvious: it is not a good idea to try to end class rule by emulating its most tried and tested ideologies -- and then bury your head in the sand when a comrade points this out.
Arthur, C. (1996) (ed,), Engels Today (Macmillan).
Baker, G., and Hacker, P. (1988), Wittgenstein. Rules, Grammar And Necessity Volume 2 (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).
Dietzgen, J. (1906a), Some Of The Philosophical Essays On Socialism And Science, Religion, Ethics, Critique-Of-Reason And The World At Large (Charles Kerr).
--------, (1906b), The Positive Outcome Of Philosophy (Charles Kerr).
Engels, F. (1888), Ludwig Feuerbach And The End Of Classical German Philosophy, reprinted in Marx and Engels (1968), pp.584-622.
--------, (1954), Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers).
--------, (1976), Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).
Healy, G. (1990), Materialist Dialectics And The Political Revolution (Marxist Publishing Collective).
Hegel, G. (1975), Logic, trans. W Wallace (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.).
--------, (1999), Science Of Logic (Humanity Books).
--------, (2005), Philosophy Of Right (Dover Books).
Jackson, T. (1936), Dialectics (Lawrence & Wishart).
Lenin, V. (1961), Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works Volume 38 (Progress Publishers). Most of this work can be found here.
--------, (1921), 'Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation And The Mistakes Of Comrades Trotsky And Bukharin', reprinted in Lenin (1980), pp.70-106.
--------, (1972), Materialism And Empirio-Criticism (Foreign Languages Press).
--------, (1980), On The Question Of Dialectics (Progress Publishers).
Levins, R., and Lewontin, R. (1985), The Dialectical Biologist (Harvard University Press).
Marx, K, and Engels, F. (1968), Selected Works In One Volume (Lawrence & Wishart).
--------, (1975), Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 3rd ed.).
Novack, G. (1971), An Introduction To The Logic Of Marxism (Pathfinder Press, 5th ed.).
--------, (1978), Polemics In Marxist Philosophy (Monad Press).
Plekhanov, G. (1908), Fundamental Problems Of Marxism (Lawrence & Wishart).
--------, (1940), The Materialist Conception Of History (Lawrence & Wishart).
--------, (1956), The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers).
Rees, J. (1998), The Algebra of Revolution (Routledge).
Sayers, S. (1996), 'Engels And Materialism', in Arthur (1996), pp.153-72.
Trotsky, L. (1971), In Defense Of Marxism (New Park Publications).
--------, (1973), Problems Of Everyday Life (Monad Press).
--------, (1986), Notebooks, 1933-35 (Columbia University Press).
Woods, A., and Grant, T. (1995), Reason In Revolt. Marxism And Modern Science (Wellred Publications).
Return To The Main Index
Word Count 71,100
© Rosa Lichtenstein 2008