Essay Thirteen Part One
Lenin And The Disappearing Definition Of Matter
Readers should make note of the fact that this Essay does not represent my final views on any of the issues raised. It is merely 'work in progress'.
Indeed, much of this particular Essay still exits only in note form; what you see here are those parts I deem fit to publish. At a later stage, when other Essays have been published, I will re-post this Essay with these notes written up for publication.
If you are viewing this with Mozilla Firefox you might not be able to read all the symbols I have used.
This Essay is over 54,500 words long; a summary of its main ideas will be published at a later date.
The aim of this Essay is to examine in greater detail the responses that Lenin (and to a lesser extent other comrades) have made to the problem of the nature of matter. In addition, several other issues arising from Lenin's much-maligned book (MEC) will also be tackled.
[MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism; i.e., Lenin (1972).]
Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections:
(1) What Is Matter Exactly?
(a) Lenin And 'Vanishing' Matter
(2) Lenin And Externalism
(a) Is Matter Dependent On Mind?
(b) Hasty Repairs
(3) Some Things Are Not Material
(a) Externalism And Its Discontents
(c) Other Contentious Examples
(d) Lenin And The Ether
(e) Out Of Your Mind?
(4) Image And Reality
(a) At Last -- Lenin Constructs An Argument!
(b) Bluster Central
(c) Image Conscious
(d) Shock! Lenin Believes In Santa Claus!
(e) Images Fail To Make The Grade
(a) WTF Is It?
(b) 'Subjective' No Less Defective
(c) Surplus To Requirements
(d) Lenin, Objectivity And Existence
(6) What Exactly Is Dialectical Materialism?
(a) Unity In Diversity
(b) Is Matter Just An Abstraction?
(c) Cherry Picking
(d) Prevarication -- One Thing Dialecticians Do Well
(e) Lenin 'Advances' By Going Backwards
(f) Dialectical Pick-And-Mix
(g) Is Truth Always Concrete?
Abbreviations Used At This Site
What Is Matter, Exactly?
Lenin And 'Vanishing Matter'
In MEC, Lenin attempted to confront and then refute contemporary physical theories that appeared to question the reality of matter. Time and again, he asserted things like the following:
"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin (1972), p.311.]
"Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., p.312.]
"[I]t is the sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature's existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Ibid., p.314.]
"The fundamental characteristic of materialism is that it starts from the objectivity of science, from the recognition of objective reality reflected by science." [Ibid., pp.354-55.]1
Lenin insisted on maintaining this view in the face of the revolutionary new concepts that were being introduced into the Physics of his day, which seemed to indicate that matter did not exist -- at least, not as it had previously been understood. Lenin was fully aware of these changes; however he argued that those who think this refutes materialism ignore:
"…[the] basis of philosophical materialism and the distinction between metaphysical materialism and dialectical materialism. The recognition of immutable elements…and so forth, is not materialism, but metaphysical, i.e., anti-dialectical, materialism…. Dialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another." [Ibid., p.312.]
Again, about those who claimed that these new developments made the idea of matter redundant he had this to say:
"[T]he expression 'matter disappears', 'matter is reduced to electricity', etc., is only an epistemologically helpless expression of the truth that science is able to discover new forms of matter, new forms of material motion, to reduce the old forms to the new forms, and so on." [Ibid., p.378.]
In addition, Lenin would have nothing to do with the idea that matter was just energy:
"If energy is motion, you have only shifted the difficulty from the subject to the predicate, you have only changed the question, does matter move? into the question is energy material? Does the transformation of energy take place outside the mind, independently of man…or are these only ideas?… Energeticist physics is a source of new idealist attempts to conceive motion without matter." [Ibid., pp.324, 328.]
In these passages, Lenin's views were consistent with those he expressed elsewhere (even if his ideas developed considerably over the next ten to fifteen years). It is also worth noting that Lenin clearly saw no problem with running together epistemological and ontological issues, just as it is equally obvious that he failed to appreciate the extent to which this undermined his entire view of the world, destroying several core DM-ideas along the way.2
[Why that is so will form one of the main topics of this Essay.]
In fact, despite repeated protestations to the contrary, what Lenin wrote in MEC amounted to the abandonment of belief in anything recognizably material. Small wonder then that he later went on to take detailed philosophical advice from that notorious Idealist, Hegel.
As any reader of MEC can easily confirm, Lenin did not actually tell us what he thought matter was; indeed he refused to do so.4 In common with other DM-theorists, he confined his comments about the nature of matter to a few vague statements, ones which fatally compromised its ontological status, and thus the status of DM as a materialist theory.
Turning to what Lenin did in fact say, he appeared to believe that it was a necessary and sufficient condition for something to be material that it should exist "outside the mind" as an "objective reality". Remarkably, apart from a few comments about matter and physical reality, that is all he had to say about this supposedly core DM-concept! While he pointedly brushed aside familiar, traditional definitions of matter -- i.e., its impenetrability, composition, inertia, location in space and time, causal interaction, extension, etc. (cf., p.311) --, he continually referred to it as that which exists as an "objective" reality "external" to, and "independent" of human consciousness.
As already noted, he clearly considered this criterion to be both a necessary and sufficient condition for something to count as material. This can be seen from the way he posed the following question:
"If energy is motion, you have only shifted the difficulty from the subject to the predicate, you have only changed the question, does matter move? into the question is energy material? Does the transformation take place outside the mind…?" [Ibid., p.324.]
Presumably, the background reasoning here was the following:
L1: Any transformation that takes place (objectively) outside the mind is material.
L2: This particular transformation takes place (objectively) outside the mind.
L3: Therefore, it is material.
Hence, any affirmative answers to the following questions:
"...does matter move? into the question is energy material? Does the transformation take place outside the mind…?" [Ibid., p.324.]
would provide sufficient grounds for the conclusion to follow (i.e., L3). If Lenin's criterion had merely been a necessary condition, his question would have been pointless, since the conclusion (L3) would not have followed (this is because a necessary condition on its own is not sufficient).
Moreover, if Lenin's strictures had merely been sufficient (but not necessary), they would not have ruled out the possibility that material and mental entities/processes were coterminous. Indeed, if it was not essential (i.e., necessary) that material processes take place extra-mentally, his criterion would have been useless.
Hence, Lenin's criterion was both necessary and sufficient. I propose to call this requirement (when augmented with additional DM-theses outlined below), "Externalism".
Externalism appears to be committed to one or more of the following theses:
T1: There exists a world that is both external to and independent of the human mind. Material objects and processes pre-date any and all minds. Mind depends on matter, not vice versa.
T2: This world exists objectively -- which means that it pre-existed human evolution --, and is independent of all cognitive capacities.
T3: The world is composed of objects, processes, relations and events in continual change.
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
T5: Scientific knowledge of the world (coupled with practice) is our most reliable guide to its nature and laws.
T6: Our knowledge of the world is continually changing as our understanding grows and develops.
T7: There are no a priori limits to what we can know about the world, and our knowledge is subject to continual revision.
T8: Knowledge is historically-conditioned, but is not reducible to such conditioning (otherwise T1 and T2 would be compromised).5
Earlier on (in Essay Three Parts One to Six), the tensions that exist between this view of the world and those aspects of DM-epistemology that underpin it were examined in detail. It was argued there that DM-theses -- like those above --, when coupled with DM-epistemology, collapse into Idealism.
Notwithstanding that, it might be possible to challenge this conclusion if, say, theses T1 and T2 above were in fact correct, and could be shown to be correct.
Despite this, there are serious problems with all of the above theses -- not least with T1, T2 and T4:
T1: There exists a world that is both external to and independent of the human mind. Material objects and processes pre-date any and all minds. Mind depends on matter, not vice versa.
T2: This world exists objectively -- which means that it pre-existed human evolution --, and is independent of all cognitive capacities.
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
If certain parts of nature are independent of each other (as T1 and T2 assert) then not all of reality is interconnected, contrary to T4. T1 and T2 claim that while matter is not dependent on mind, mind is dependent on matter. In that case, clearly, matter and mind cannot be interdependent. Although they might be connected, they cannot be interconnected (in this sense).
Is Matter Dependent On Mind?
Even if we grant for the present that the human mind is dependent on all the matter in the universe (i.e., on the "Totality", full-blown -- if, that is, the universe is the "Totality"; on that, see here), it is a pretty safe bet that no 'Materialist Dialectician' would want to argue that the converse is true: that all matter in the universe is dependent on mind. Naturally, that idea would not have bothered Hegel too much, but DM-theorists themselves can only accept it as true if they are prepared to abandon materialism.
Nevertheless, it is surely an empirical matter whether or not any of the above conditions obtain (including the alleged fact that certain parts of reality are dependent on each other). [Or rather, it is to those who declare that they won't impose DM on nature -- as dialecticians constantly tell us.]
Despite this, we have seen that DM-theorists appear to regard T4 as an a priori truth of some sort, since they believe that everything in reality is interconnected, and they do this in advance of there being an adequate body of supporting evidence to that effect. In that case, and to be consistent, they should perhaps acknowledge that their belief in universal interconnectedness commits them to the equally a priori view that every atom in the universe does in fact depend on the human mind. Either that, or they should jettison the idea that everything in reality is interconnected.
Well, perhaps this is too hasty. Maybe the above difficulty has been created by the emphasis DM-theorists place both on the unity of knowledge and the identity (in difference) of knowledge and 'Being'. Admittedly, these ideas are often qualified with the extra claim that this identity does not deny the primacy of matter over mind, nor does it imply that knowledge is not relative and approximate. Indeed (or so the idea goes), that the 'knower' and the 'known' are not the same; they are merely dialectically inter-related.6
Could this help solve the problem raised above and show how mind can be dependent on matter, but not the other way round?
Unfortunately, even if all of the above is either relevant or true, the status of T1 and T2 would still fatally compromise T4. This is because if T1 and T2 were true, it would mean that while our knowledge of nature (at least) was in fact dependent on the physical universe (mediated perhaps by social development and practice, etc.), the opposite would not be the case -- that is, it would not be true that the world as a whole is dependent on our knowledge of it. Plainly, this would imply that there is something in existence (i.e., the 'content' of our minds) which, while it is connected with, it is not interconnected with, the rest of the universe. In that case, the alleged link would be one-way, not two-way, undermining T4.
T1: There exists a world that is both external to and independent of the human mind. Material objects and processes pre-date any and all minds. Mind depends on matter, not vice versa.
T2: This world exists objectively -- which means that it pre-existed human evolution --, and is independent of all cognitive capacities.
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
On this view then, even if human activity had a (limited and local) affect on nature, this would still mean most of the universe was unaffected by what is known about it, or with what humanity is capable of thinking and of manipulating in practice. Hence, given this slant on DM, while the configuration of matter inside our heads might very well be causally linked to nature in one direction -- which configuration is supposedly responsible for our 'consciousness' of the world --, it would not be back-related, as it were, to most of the universe.6a
There would thus be a connection here, but not an interconnection.
The introduction of practice into the picture at this point would not diminish the difficulties the above comments present: most of the world is too far away for human beings to affect it in any way. So, while distant parts of the universe might influence our knowledge both of them and our practical affairs, the human mind has no return effect on the vast bulk of nature on the reverse journey, as it were. And, even if a 'sort of link' could be shown to exist (in that it involves human 'consciousness' to arrive at such conclusions), remote parts of nature would clearly not be dependent on our mental activity. In short, most of reality, past, present and future is unaffected by, or is not dependent on, our thoughts about it.
Now, that is sufficient to remove the "inter" from "inter-related", fragmenting the Totality by making T4 false.7
Some might be tempted to think this is no big deal, and that the DM-Totality is unaffected by such quibbles. However, as we will soon see, this fall-back position merely postpones the evil day.
[Of course, the DM-Totality faces far more serious problems than these; on this, see Essay Eleven Parts One and Two.]
One way to avoid this untoward conclusion would be to re-write T4 in the following manner:
T4a: Some elements of reality are independent of each other; others are interconnected.8
However, given the size and longevity of the universe, that just means that T4a needs to be replaced with this far more honest alternative:
T4b: Some elements of reality are independent of each other; some are not interconnected with most of the rest of the universe.
Indeed, since the present is entirely ephemeral (while the past is either finite and extensive, or infinite) most events are, or have taken place, in the past, not the present. Now, unless we subscribe to the view that past events are influenced by present events (i.e., unless we are prepared to admit that past events are not just connected, they are interconnected with events in the present) --, T4b must be correct. But, T4b completely undermines T4, turning an important DM-thesis into a rather bland statement -- and one over which few would want to get their metaphysical knickers in a twist.9
On the other hand, if T4 is still held to be true (and thus if T4b is rejected), a potentially fatal defect emerges right at the heart of DM-epistemology. That is because this would imply that all of reality (past, present (and future?)) depends on our knowledge of it --, since T4 declares that everything is interconnected within the "Totality".
Now, it would seem that the only way this Idealist conclusion could be avoided is if T4 is replaced with T4b. Unfortunately, as already noted, such a theoretical retreat would turn this DM-thesis (T4) into an uninteresting platitude (T4b).
Moreover, T1 and T2 emphasise the fact that the link between the world and our knowledge of it -- or the connection between the human mind and reality itself -- is (largely) unidirectional. That is, they underline the fact that while our knowledge of the world is dependent on the material universe, the latter is not dependent on our knowledge of it. But, that is precisely what sinks T4. Hence, it looks like the only way to rescue these core DM theses (i.e., T1 and T2) is to abandon T4 altogether and replace it with the rather innocuous T4b.10
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
On the other hand, if T4 is still held true, as we have seen, that would plainly imply that matter is dependent on mind.
Clearly, while it might seem appealing to some to try to avoid this Idealist impasse by abandoning T4 along the lines suggested above, the thesis that the "Totality" conditions everything by means of universal inter-relationships would collapse as a result. Along with this would go the doctrine that the entire nature of the part is determined by its relation to the whole, and thus that "truth is the whole". Hence, if some parts of the Totality are not interconnected, then their individual natures cannot be determined either by the whole or by each and every other part. As seems obvious, if one small hole is drilled into this Whole, it would soon make a colander look rather leak-proof in comparison.10a
Alternatively, we could acknowledge the implicit Idealism in DM and admit that the world (including the past) is in fact conditioned by our knowledge of it, and that matter depends on mind --, holding on to T4 but abandoning T1 and T2.
This would at least have the advantage of bringing DM-closet Idealists out, loud and proud, into the open.11
Some Things Are Not Material
Externalism And Its Discontents
Ignoring the above problems for the present, and returning to Lenin's thoughts, he certainly regarded 'externality' as a criterion that distinguished rival Idealist theories from DM itself. This is obvious from the way he repeatedly castigated any opponent who denied, half-denied, or only half-heartedly accepted this condition.12
However, this raises another awkward question: if 'externality' is Lenin's sole criterion for materiality -- and a necessary and sufficient condition for it, too --, what are we to say of the many non-material things there are that also seem to possess 'externality'? What about colours, smells, tastes, sounds, shapes, shadows, holes, surfaces, 'empty' space, relations, the Centre of Mass of the Galaxy (henceforth, CMG), averages (such as the average lager drinker), the past, the present and the future?
Now, some readers might consider most (if not all) of the above examples highly contentious. For example, it could be pointed out that colours are certainly material. However, such a response would be a mistake. Colour perception may have causal/material concomitants, but colours cannot be material. This is because if they were, it would make sense to ask of what they are composed. Of course, colour is not made out of anything not already coloured, and it has no constituent parts (which aren't already coloured). So such a question would have no answer that wasn't viciously circular (i.e., it would be a bit like saying matter is made of matter).13
Again, it could be objected that colour is actually made out of photons of different energies, or of light of different wavelengths. However, this response simply confuses the causal agent responsible for our colour perception with colour itself.
Once more, it might be objected that colour is caused by the interplay between light rays and the microstructure of atoms, or that colour is a dispositional property of material objects/perceivers. Whether these claims are true (or not) will not be entered into here; but, once again, these responses confuse the causal agents responsible for colour perception with colour itself.14
At this point, some might claim that colours are 'mental' phenomena and exist only in conscious minds, not in the external world. But, this too is an ancient mistake. Colours do not exist merely in the mind since (plainly!) they exist in the outside world; any theory that located colours exclusively in the minds of perceivers would clearly have misidentified them. So, when, for instance, a scientist describes Copper Sulphate as blue, she is referring neither to the contents, nor to the state of her mind/central nervous system. Anyone who thought otherwise would simply advertise their own a serious incapacity with language.15
Of course, Lenin would have been the first to point out that scientific materialism must incorporate into its view of the world all the properties of matter that scientists determine for it, including colour. But, this policy of waiting for scientists to tell us what reality contains is not without its problems (as we have already seen in Essay Eleven Part One).
Hence, if scientists tell us that matter is little more than a convenient shorthand for the effect of scalar and vector fields (or Superstrings -- or anything else, for that matter -- no pun intended) on measuring instruments, or on perceivers, it might well be wondered what there is left of the material world that could possibly act as the bearer of any properties at all. Indeed, given such an austere view of the world -- which pictures it as nothing more than a complex array of vectors, tensors, scalars, geodesics, differential equations, and the like --, the relationship between 'nature' and the 'mind' would amount to nothing more than a set of complex 'interactions' between one set of scalar/vector/tensor fields (i.e., "the world") and another (the "brain/mind", now of dubious constitution). Not only would matter more than appear to disappear (on this account), so would perceptions, thoughts and properties. In that case, both matter and 'mind' would seem to vanish; the entire universe would thus become sets of…, well, what?16
To be sure, the serious problems DM-theorists face began much earlier than this; by contracting-out to scientists the right to tell us what matter is, or what the world contains, Lenin and other dialecticians should feign no surprise when everything disintegrates in front of them, and the Idealism implicit in every aspect of class society (including that which influences certain areas of modern science) forces itself upon them.17
Nevertheless, we all already know what colour is (or, at least, competent speakers of the language already know) -- we learnt what it is when we were taught how to speak about it and how to interact with coloured objects. In fact, we must already understand what colour terms mean if we are to be informed by scientists what its physical concomitants and properties are. We certainly could not be educated about the physical nature of colour if no one understood what "colour" meant.
This non-negotiable logical constraint applies with equal force to scientists themselves; they too must grasp what these ordinary terms mean (and they must do so in the same that the rest of us do) if they are to study the physical properties of the correct natural phenomenon successfully. Scientists can only undermine the ordinary use of the word "colour" (if that is what they do) at the cost of making all they say about 'it' entirely vacuous. If colour is not what we/they suppose it to be when we/they use ordinary language, then we/they must surely lose the solid ground upon which we/they sought to build a scientific explanation of 'it'.18
This means that the claim that colour is a (dispositional) property of material objects cannot be the whole truth about it, in that it's not all that colour is. And this "all" cannot be accommodated to any theory without recourse to the ordinary language of colour. And, this has nothing to do with Lenin's "externalism", either, since, plainly, our perception of colour is not independent of the existence of sensate life -- in this case, our own.19
Of course, it could be objected that the nature of colour is a scientific not a linguistic issue --, but this response would be equally misguided. As we saw earlier (in relation to the word "change"), it is not up to scientists, philosophers or dialecticians to tell us what our colour words mean. Any endeavour to do so would undermine the language used in that very attempt by those endeavouring to do just that.20
Again, it could be objected that this is not something that can be settled by (or, indeed, brushed aside with) an appeal to the ordinary meaning of words. This is a scientific and/or philosophical issue.
However, scientists, Philosophers and/or dialecticians will have to use language in order to tell us what they take colour to be (i.e., if they are to address the right subject of study), and, plainly, in order to make a correct start they themselves will have to begin with terms drawn from the vernacular (otherwise they would be addressing their comments at some other target, and not colour).
Now, it is precisely here that any attempt to revise (or even tinker with) the colour vocabulary that we already have will back-fire. Since the details underlying this observation have been worked-out in detail elsewhere, and since further discussion will take us too far away from the main theme of this Essay, I will leave the reader to re-familiarise herself with that discussion (in the course of which, she will have to replace the word "change" with the colour terminology of her choice).
Other Contentious Examples
Naturally, this is a contentious topic, and not one around which I want this Essay to revolve. So, let us consider some of the other items mentioned above. Lenin's criteria would categorise holes and shadows, for instance, as 'material' -- but they are in no way material. Not, that is, unless the word "material" is re-defined to make them so -- in which case this part of Lenin's theory would become true simply because of yet another piece of terminological tinkering. It would also mean that this area of DM will have been imposed nature, not 'read from it'.21
And what is so material about the relations between bodies and/or processes? But such relations are external to the mind. In that case, given Lenin's criteria, the distance between you and the planet Jupiter, say, is material! And so is the fact that you are smaller than Jupiter (if you are).
Indeed, several of the other items in the above list of allegedly non-material entities appear to be equally if not more problematic than the nature of colour, relations, holes and shadows. What, for example, are we to make of the CMG? It is clearly not material (in fact it does not physically exist in any meaningful sense -- it occupies a zero volume interval in space), and yet it exercises a decisive causal influence on the movement of every particle in the entire Galaxy. But, the CMG is manifestly 'external to the mind', so it must be 'objective'. But is there anything actually in reality that 'corresponds' with it?
Should a hard-nosed supporter of Lenin be tempted to argue that the CMG is material just because it is external to the mind, then we would be owed an explanation as to how something like this could possibly be material which has no physical correlate. This requirement would, of course, be accompanied by yet another annoying reminder that a brave 'dialectical' conclusion such as this could only have been imposed on nature.22
Again, it could be objected that the CMG is surely a consequence of all the matter in the Galaxy. But, the CMG is actually part of a mathematical model that we use to explain motion. Nothing actually exists in the outside world that answers to 'it', and yet 'it' is certainly not located inside our skulls (any more than the Prime Meridian is).
Moreover, the CMG cannot be a property of matter since it does not exist in the same way that material bodies and their properties do (it does not share any of the features of the properties of tables and chairs, atoms and galaxies, for example). In fact, the claim that the CMG is a property of all the matter in the Galaxy is about as accurate as the idea that the average lager drinker is a property of all lager drinkers. Of course, in this case, if 'he/she' -- i.e., the average lager drinker -- were a property, 'he/she' could not then be a 'he' or a 'she', and hence not be an average person to begin with.23
It is becoming obvious that Lenin's "externality" thesis permits (or could permit) the existence of several non-material things -- such as lines of force, mirages, optical illusions, the perspectival properties of bodies, vectors, tensors, scalars, co-ordinate systems, and so on -- all the while ruling out-of-court other seemingly material things (like, 'the mind' itself).24 In addition, the past, present and future seem to pose problems for Lenin in that these appear to possess "externality", but neither is obviously material -- nor are they the consequence of the properties of material objects.25
Lenin And The Ether
Worse still, empty space does not appear to be material, either.26 In fact, Lenin himself believed in the existence of the Ether:
"That is why Engels gave the example of the discovery of alizarin in coal tar and criticised mechanical materialism. In order to present the question in the only correct way, that is, from the dialectical materialist standpoint, we must ask: Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not? The scientists will also have to answer this question unhesitatingly; and they do invariably answer it in the affirmative, just as they unhesitatingly recognise that nature existed prior to man and prior to organic matter. Thus, the question is decided in favour of materialism, for the concept matter, as we already stated, epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Lenin (1972), p.312. Bold emphases added.]27
And, Lenin was still referring to the Ether several years later, in PN! [Cf., Lenin (1961), p.250.]
Unfortunately, the Ether does not exist, and never did -- even though Lenin here describes it as an "objective" feature of reality, simply because it passed his "externality" test. Unfortunately, if the existence of the Ether had ever in fact been "objective", that would clearly suggest that something could be "objective" even though it did not exist, and never did. In this particular case, this would in turn mean that although there is nothing in reality answering to it, the Ether would nonetheless be material. "Objectivity" would, of course, then become synonymous with "completely fictional in some cases". Naturally, that would totally undermine Lenin's already shaky attempt to refute the ideas of the other fictionalists and Idealists he was criticising in MEC.
As we saw earlier, Lenin seriously over-used the word "objective"; if the latter term now allows for the 'objectivity' of fictional entities, it would make Lenin's arguments about as convincing as Tony Blair's 'case' for the invasion of Iraq.28
At any rate, and despite what he thought, Lenin's 'imaginability'/'image-ability' criterion is neither necessary nor sufficient for something to count as 'objective'. This is because, as we have seen, there are countless things that exist outside the mind that are not 'objective' in any clear sense of that word (e.g., mirages, the perspectival properties of bodies, surfaces, rainbows, corners, images in actual mirrors -- as well as statistically constructed entities, like the average worker), and there are 'objective' things that are not external to the 'mind' (for example, the human 'mind' itself -- the word "mind" has been put in 'scare' quotes here for reasons that will be explained in Essay Thirteen Part Three) -- just as there are 'objective' material entities that are dependent on the human mind, and which are constituted in and by social activity (such as money, theatre tickets and revolutionary newspapers).
And, as if to complicate matters further, there are non-existent things (such as the Ether), that Lenin imagined were "objective"!
Indeed, what are we to make of the Ether? Was Lenin (or, has anyone ever been) able to form an image of this allegedly universal substance? If he (they) could, then according to the above passage it must exist. On the other hand, if he (they) couldn't form an image of it, why did Lenin think that it existed and was 'objective'?
More to the point, does the ability to form an image really matter? Who can form an image of four dimensional Spacetime? Or of a black hole? Or of a Superstring? Or of the CMG?
In fact, if imaginability/imagability implied existence, science would be pointless; in such an eventuality we would surely rely on Hans Christian Andersen and Enid Blyton to inform us of the contents of reality, and abandon scientific research.
As is well-known, scientists were forced to conclude that the Ether did not exist, even though had it done so it would have satisfied Lenin's criterion of 'externality' (and it would have been 'objective' in that it would have existed independently of the mind). [Annoyingly, some scientists still believe it exists.]29
Nevertheless, whatever else might be true of Lenin's thoughts about material existence, it looks like scientists themselves require there be more to something than the mere possibility of its external existence (and/or its imaginability/imagability) for it to be 'objective'.
Out Of Your Mind?
Unfortunately, Lenin himself failed to inform his readers exactly why his 'criterion' should be adopted as a definition of materiality (that is, if it was indeed a definition; see Note 4) -- he just left it as a bald assertion that anything outside the mind must be material -- even when this clearly isn't a condition that only material objects satisfy. For Lenin, it seems that just because something is not inside the mind it must be material, otherwise it cannot be. On that basis, as noted above, that would mean that the mind itself is neither 'objective' nor material! Lenin's criterion, therefore, appears to commit him to the existence of a non-material mind, since it plainly cannot exist outside itself.
Paradoxically, therefore, it looks like Lenin's materialism is committed to the existence of non-material/immaterial minds!
If Lenin's 'criterion' is now watered-down, so that it allows the mind to enjoy some sort of 'objective' existence (as part of the activity of the brain, or an "emergent" property matter, perhaps), then clearly 'externality' will have to be abandoned -- otherwise, there would be no point to Lenin's question (quoted earlier):
"If energy is motion, you have only shifted the difficulty from the subject to the predicate, you have only changed the question, does matter move? into the question is energy material? Does the transformation of energy take place outside the mind, independently of man…or are these only ideas?...." [Ibid., p.324. Bold emphasis added.]
As we have seen, this passage indicates that material objectivity is definitionally connected to externality in Lenin's own mind (i.e., as a necessary and sufficient condition).
However, and even worse, this quotation seems to imply that the mind uses no energy, that it has no 'objective' existence, or that it does not move. But, plainly, any particular mind is 'external' to all other minds, which must mean that while every other mind is 'objective' in relation to any given mind (being external to each), it is not 'objective' with respect to itself, since it is not external to itself. Hence, when generalised, this indicates that for Lenin all minds must be both 'objective' and non-'objective' all at once, depending on where they are viewed from. And that seems to imply that from certain viewpoints, the mind does not use energy, while from others it does, if from some directions it is material, but from others it isn't!
It might be thought that the above difficulties could be avoided if all minds were lumped together and classified as non-objective (or non-material), as a sort of job lot. But, in that case, as a group mind, the human mind plainly could not be external to itself -- if Lenin's 'criterion' is applied literally. This brave conclusion would then mean that this 'collective mind' would not be 'objective', but would be non-material, and psychologists, for example, should abandon their claim to study 'objective' features of reality embodied in the skulls of their subjects (now "clients"). If all human minds are 'non-objective', then it seems that their study cannot fail be tarred with the same 'subjectivist' brush; psychology would thus cease to be an 'objective' science -- or, at the very least, its concerns and results could only ever be 'subjective'.30
Far worse still, Lenin's thoughts about externalism, which surely once existed inside his own mind, can't have been 'objective', either, by his own 'definition' (since they could not exist outside themselves), and neither could any other DM-thought (about anything whatsoever) be 'objective'. In fact, given Lenin's 'definition', in the entire history of Dialectical Marxism, not one of its theorists has ever (or could ever have) had an 'objective' thought!
And if Lenin is right about this, he would be non-objectively right -- which blessed mental state might be of interest to his biographers, but would be of no concern to 'objective' science (or, indeed, the rest of us) -- since his 'rightness' would, of course, be 'subjective' by its own 'definition', in that he thought it at all.
Moreover, as soon as such thoughts entered the world as materially spoken or written tokens, in the air, in books or in newspapers (etc.), they would plainly become "external" to the mind, and would therefore become 'objective' (given Lenin's 'definition').
Unfortunately, that means that while DM-thoughts cannot be, DM-sentences (etc.), when spoken or written, can be and are 'objective' -- including the false ones. Indeed, false sentences are just as external to the mind as those that are true. Furthermore, and by the same token, the negation of any and all DM-theses (when written down or spoken) must be 'objective', too!
This in turn means that just as soon as anyone reads or hears these formerly 'objective' sentences (etc.), they would become non-objective again, since they would now be part of the content of someone's mind (and hence no longer "external" to any such). But, that would mean that no one could read, interpret or regard a single DM-thesis as 'objective' unless they succeeded in keeping it 'out of their minds'. [This might be one contradiction that not even ultra-orthodox dialecticians will want to "grasp".] Hence, if anyone were to conclude that such an 'external' sentence was 'objective', they could only do so by means of a 'non-objective' thought to that effect -- or, indeed, by not thinking it! In that case, they could conclude nothing about the meaning of any physical embodiment of a DM-sentence without compromising its 'objectivity' -- that is, as Lenin conceived things.
At this point, it would surely tax the patience of any reader who has made it this far if the above 'objective' sentences -- in that what they say is 'objective' just in case they are not read or understood by anyone, if Lenin is to be believed -- were dwelt upon any longer. However, odd as it might seem, the content of the above words will be 'objective' only for those who have not made it this far, who have never read them, or did not understand them -- if Lenin is correct. And the same goes for anything written in MEC and other DM-works; their content is 'objective' only if no one, including the original author, ever reads it.
It is perhaps unnecessary to underline the confusion that would be introduced into epistemology if Lenin's non-objective thoughts about 'objectivity' were ever taken seriously. Fortunately, only those already "suffering from dialectics" (to quote Max Eastman) would seem foolish enough to do so.
However, Lenin's 'criterion' faces far more serious problems than those that have already been outlined above.
Image And Reality
An Argument At Last!
Despite the damaging conclusions that follow from the things Lenin unwisely put into print, he had other things to say about our knowledge of reality (incidentally, in, for example, one of the few detectable arguments in the entire book!):
"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it. Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]
And this shorter passage is even clearer:
"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. Bold emphasis added.]
Both of these appear to commit Lenin to the idea that if it is possible to form an "image" of something it must exist, since "an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and the latter must exist independently of that which imagines it", and an "image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images'".
Unfortunately, once more, Lenin forgot to say how he knew this to be the case.
In Lenin's defence, it could be argued that this fact (if fact it be) is tautological: "an image cannot exist without the thing imagined" -- if by this he meant that "the thing imagined" exists in the mind of the one doing the imagining/imaging. In that case, Lenin would be pointing out the obvious but uninspiring fact that if an image exists (in the mind of the one doing the imaging) then manifestly it exists in that mind.
Even if this were what Lenin meant, the rest of what he says cannot be right. It certainly isn't tautological that whatever is imagined "exists independently of that which imagines it", that is, that such things exist in 'extra-mental reality'. It may or may not be true that imagined things actually exist 'outside the mind', but it certainly isn't the obvious truth that Lenin seems to think it is (that is, if we go along with this traditional way of depicting things for the moment), and it certainly does not follow that images imply the independent existence of the objects we take them to reflect (if we do).
It could be argued that the word "image" implies that an image is an image of something, which is all that Lenin needs. However, whether or not the word "image" does in fact imply this we will leave to one side for now, but one thing it does not imply is the independent existence of whatever that image is an image of. If that were so, scientists could abandon research and engage in day-dreaming. Plainly, just because Lenin imagined what he said was true, that does not make it true.
In fact, Lenin's claim is far from true; as will be demonstrated presently (here and here); there are many things which actually exist that we can imagine not to exist -- indeed, we can even form images of such things being destroyed. And, it is also true that there are many things that we can imagine (or form images of) that do not and never have existed, as well as those that could not in fact exist.
As is well-known, one of Lenin's conclusions in MEC was that scientific knowledge is based on a reflection of the 'objective' world in the minds of observers/inter-actors, suitably revised over time. However, as is equally well-known, representative theories of perception and knowledge (like Lenin's) have only (1) Given birth to the suspicion that what humans take to be 'objective' features of the world are no more than 'subjective', inner shadows, of dubious provenance, or (2) or they have fostered the idea that 'reality' itself is just the play of "impressions", "sensations", or "qualia" in the 'mind'. Indeed, it could be argued that Lenin's "externalism" actually invites such untoward conclusions -- even though he declared himself an implacable enemy of ideas like these.
In the present case, this worry is not helped by the realisation that despite Lenin's confidence in scientific theory, practically every one that has ever been constructed has been wrong -- in many cases wildly wrong. [This claim will be substantiated in a later Essay; in the meantime, see here.] In fact, in traditional Philosophy, considerations like these have always stood in the way of the formation of a convincing epistemological theory of our knowledge of the world, at least one that hasn't been buttressed by a sufficiently robust ontology.
In view of the fact that MEC has been -- and still is -- widely regarded by revolutionaries as the definitive response to Phenomenalism (etc.) -- if, that is, it is beefed up with material from PN --, the naïve reader would be forgiven for thinking that it contained a series of devastating arguments, which severally or collectively consign every other rival theory to the philosophical dustbin. [Lenin's attempt to prevent DM sliding into Phenomenalism will be examined below.]
However, as it turns out, MEC is largely an argument-free zone. Having picked through the endless pages of bombast, repetition and bluster that fill most of MEC, I have been able to locate and identify only a handful of clearly recognisable philosophical arguments which Lenin marshalled in order to substantiate his claims and present some sort of credible challenge to Phenomenalism, etc. But, as already noted, in place of a considered, critical response to alternative theories, Lenin almost invariably resorted to invention, invective, ridicule, sarcasm, and abuse. Elsewhere, in order to settle issues where even his own wafer-thin arguments could be stretched no further, Lenin clearly thought it enough to quote DM-classicists (notably, Engels) as authorities in epistemology. In other places, Lenin limited himself to asking rhetorical questions -- many of which he would have been better directed at his own theory --, all the while constantly repeating the "externalist" mantra as if it were a magic spell.
Now, for those already convinced on other grounds that MEC is first-rate polemic, this is all good fun. However, for those not so easily amused (or fooled), a more pressing question suggests itself: Why have generations revolutionaries been so easily taken in by hundreds of pages of Lenin's repetitious and ignorant bluster? By any standards, MEC is easily one of the worst books ever to have been written on epistemology --, certainly by a revolutionary.
Fortunately, there is more to the above attempted refutation of Lenin than a series of impertinent allegations.
As noted earlier, one of the few recognisably philosophical arguments to be found in MEC (aimed at countering the views of Phenomenalists, etc.) is the following:
"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it. Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]
"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. Bold emphasis added.]
That's it! On the basis of this half-formed, quasi-argument Lenin hoped to counter philosophical theses some still regard as definitive (especially when these are set against the half-baked, naïve realism Lenin initially defended in the above book).
Before we examine whether Lenin's argument is successful in its own right, it is worth pointing out to the many dialecticians who question the deliverances of 'commonsense' (which I take to be the same as "naïve realism", referred to by Lenin), and who also regale us with the 'appearance/reality' distinction, that 'commonsense' cannot in fact be called into question if it is to act as a basis for the Lenin's theory of knowledge.
[Those who think this an unfair criticism should read on before they finally make up their minds.]
Despite this, and given the other complexities that DM introduces, Lenin's alleged foundation stone soon starts to look much less substantial. According to DM-epistemology, knowledge depends on the completion of an infinite process (the precise nature of which still awaits clear exposition) before the very first thing can be known about a single item in the DM-"Totality" with anything other than infinite uncertainty.
We have already seen that this approach to knowledge means that nobody could or would be in a position to say what even a simple tumbler is before everything about everything was known.
In response, it could be argued that the above picture is just another unfair caricature of dialectical epistemology. In reply to that, it is worth emphasising that any objector who raises this point would similarly be in no position to assert it successfully -- unless and until we are given a clear account of DM-epistemology. After over 150 years, we are still waiting...
Even so, it is worth reflecting on the sort of response that, say, a Phenomenalist might make to Lenin's claim that his theory begins with "naïve" beliefs of ordinary folk, and builds from there. She might wonder what, for instance, the word "image" is doing in such prosaic surroundings. Indeed, she might even suggest that if we were to ask the average man/woman about what he/she knows of the world, the word "image" would appear nowhere in the reply.
Hence, not only is the aforementioned dialectical meander through infinite epistemological space counter-productive (since it implies permanent and infinite ignorance of everything and anything), it begins in the wrong place! 'Commonsense' -- whatever it is -- neither starts nor ends with images. [To be sure, certain forms of phenomenalist psychology might do this, but 'commonsense' does not.]
It is worth pressing this point home: there is no evidence that the "naïve" beliefs of anyone -- not even those of DM-fans -- are based on imagery of any sort; but there is much to suggest that they are not. Hence, there is no evidence that either ordinary people or sophisticated socialists believe the following:
"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world…." [Lenin (1972), p.69.]
"The gist of his theoretical mistake in this case is substitution of eclecticism for the dialectical interplay of politics and economics (which we find in Marxism). His theoretical attitude is: 'on the one hand, and on the other', 'the one and the other'. That is eclecticism. Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development but not a patchwork of bits and pieces. I have shown this to be so on the example of politics and economics....
"A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there are more than these two properties, qualities or facets to it; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world....
"Formal logic, which is as far as schools go (and should go, with suitable abridgements for the lower forms), deals with formal definitions, draws on what is most common, or glaring, and stops there. When two or more different definitions are taken and combined at random (a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel), the result is an eclectic definition which is indicative of different facets of the object, and nothing more.
"Dialectical logic demands that we should go further. Firstly, if we are to have a true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity. Secondly, dialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world. Thirdly, a full 'definition' of an object must include the whole of human experience, both as a criterion of truth and a practical indicator of its connection with human wants. Fourthly, dialectical logic holds that 'truth is always concrete, never abstract', as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel...." [Lenin (1921), p.90-93. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
In order to see this, consider the following example; suppose worker NN asserted the following:
L1: "That policeman hit me over the head with a truncheon."
Now, only a rather desperate defender of the Police would respond with:
L2: "You are mistaken. What you experienced was in fact only the image of a policeman clubbing you."
We can be reasonably sure that this worker does not need to wait for the 'asymptotic-train-of-knowledge' to hit the 'absolute-buffers-of-eternal-certainty' before he/she can claim to know what happened on the picket line when the Police attacked it. Indeed, such a worker would be right to feel angry if told that his/her knowledge of the uniformed assailant was only relative and partial. In fact, we can be quite certain now (without the presence of an accompanying image -- and even before the epistemological train leaves the dialectical sidings on its endless meander to nowhere-in-particular) that this worker knows he/she was hit on the head and who was responsible for it.
Indeed, this would be the line Socialist Worker and other revolutionary papers would take if one of its correspondents witnessed Police violence -- in cases like the Police riot in Chicago in 1968, or in Red Lion Square London in 1974, or in relation to the death of Blair Peach in Southall 1979, the Miners' Strike, the picketing at Wapping, the march against the Nazis at Welling, the Police riots in Trafalgar Square in 1990, those in London in April 2009, those in Genoa in 2001 and 2003, or even those in New York and San Francisco in 2003, etc., etc. In fact, their readers would know precisely when they could stop trusting Socialist Worker and other Marxist papers: just as soon as they began reporting events in the way that Lenin characterised "objectivity", or if they ever started referring to the "images" in people's heads as evidence supporting claims made about Police violence, as opposed to the incidents themselves, video footage, witness reports and medical data (etc.) --, or if they were foolish enough to insist that every "mediacy" had to be taken into consideration before anyone could decide what had happened on the picket line or demonstration, and what to do about it.
Not surprisingly then, in the Miner's Strike (etc.) the actual incidents were reported in Socialist Worker and other Marxist papers; they wisely omitted all reference to "images", and to "partial" or "relative knowledge", let alone to any obvious "asymptotes" that might otherwise be of genuine interest only to sundry Idealists.
In practice, not one single revolutionary paper begins with "images" (nor do they bang on about concepts converging on reality, to eternity) -- not even the very worst Union bureaucrat would come out with these sorts of excuses for further prevarication!
In fact, it is a little surprising that die-hard supporters of Lenin's theory never point out to the editors of Socialist Worker and other Marxist papers where they are going wrong in reporting events in the real world. Why hasn't a single admirer of MEC written to these papers to insist that reports of, say, BNP violence be replaced with descriptions of images in victim's heads? Whatever one thinks of the letters in Marxist papers, unless they are heavily censored, not a single one ever points out that these papers' reports are defective because they record the actual events in the world, recklessly ignoring images inside the skulls of observers and victims alike.
Anyway, despite what he said, Lenin himself did not actually begin with the "naïve" beliefs of mankind. In fact, he did quite the opposite: he undermined them from the start -- indeed he began with the theories of previous ruling-class hacks. This he did by reducing such ordinary beliefs to images. And the same could be said of any socialist (reporter or otherwise) who thought to do likewise, by writing about the images of Police brutality inflicted on the images of miners, which occurred in their image of Orgreave, in an image of 1984, in any paper (or image of one).
In such circumstances, less confused Marxists would be sorely tempted to call such a crass 'defence' of workers, "class treachery".
In fact, Lenin's starting point here is consistent with what was highlighted earlier as the open denigration of the vernacular (and the experiences of ordinary people) by DM-theorists --, which tactic dialecticians have copied from the aforementioned ruling-class hacks. [More on this in Essay Twelve (summary here).]
Clearly this is the real "copy theory of knowledge": reproduce the ideas and modes of thought of alien-class thinkers -- make sure your ideas are an exact image of theirs!
Hold The Front Page! Did Lenin Believe In Santa Claus?
Nevertheless, whether or not ordinary humans see the world in the way Lenin supposed, his argument naturally stands or falls on its own merits.
As we will now see, it stands about as well as does the average drunk.
"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it. Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]
Later on in MEC, he is even clearer:
"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. Bold emphasis added. In both of these, the quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
There are several serious problems with this way of viewing things:
(1) Contrary to what Lenin imagined, images not only can, but do exist without there being anything 'objective' corresponding to them in reality. It is easy to conjure an image of Santa, for instance, but apparently only children and foolish parents believe he exists.
However, if we take Lenin at his word -- "The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images'" --, this must mean that we are forced to add Lenin to the list of those who believe in Santa Claus!30a
The following comments show that this awkward example is not at all unique:
(a) The existence of mirages does not commit us to their 'objectivity'.
(b) It is possible to form images in the mind's eye of people who no longer exist, which fact plainly does not imply they do exist.
(c) It is easy to induce vivid but formless coloured images 'inside' the eyeball by gently pressing one or other of them with a finger. Clearly, this does not mean that these artificial images relate to anything in the outside world.
(d) Again, by re-focussing, or by pressing one eye, it is possible to form two images of the same object (which our system of sight normally merge). But, no one believes that there are in fact two identical copies of the same object in reality answering to these two pre-merged images. By a similar trick, it is also possible to see a three-dimensional image in two-dimensional "magic eye" pictures. That does not mean that such an image corresponds with anything in the 'external' world.
(e) We see stars every night (or are they merely the images of stars?), which stars scientists tell us no longer exist. Does this mean that these scientists are mistaken, and those stars nonetheless do exist?
(f) A scientist photographs a bent stick in a bucket of water. Does this image of the bent stick prove that there really are bent sticks in buckets of water?
(g) Someone claims to see an image of Christ in the clouds. Should we all become Christians? [Maybe not.]
(h) Those who have lost limbs claim that they can still feel them long after they were amputated; does this sensation (or is it an image?) prove that the surgeon who performed the operation was incompetent?
Examples like this can be multiplied almost indefinitely. Any book (or website) on optical illusions will provide numerous examples of such. Indeed, many of us are already familiar with most of these.
But, if this is so, why did Lenin claim that DM begins with the "naïve belief" of humankind if the latter includes "images" of things that only the severely disturbed actually believe picture things in 'objective' reality? Few ordinary people (not in the grip of superstition, drugs, or mental illness) would be fooled into believing that phantom limbs, mirages, dragons and bent sticks actually exist.
Lenin can't have been unaware of this. In that case, it is difficult to see why he concluded that anyone (not so afflicted) begins with "images" --, rather than with a distrust of them. Or, even better: why anyone should mention "images" in this connection if only the mentally ill, the terminally naïve, the superstitious or those high on LSD would base their knowledge of the world on them.
Of course, the above examples merely confirm that images do not have to correspond with things in the real world -- otherwise science would be unnecessary (as Marx noted).30b
(2) There are many things that exist -- to which we can easily refer -- but of which we can form no images. For example, who among us can imagine (or 'image') a light ray, a π-meson, a gene, 10100 elementary particles (or even one elementary particle) --, or the universe itself? This indicates that "objectivity" has nothing to do with 'imaginability' (or even 'image-ability').
Naturally, this does not prove Lenin wrong, but it does show he launched his argument from its weakest possible starting point.
Images Fail To Make The Grade
(3) Worst of all, images are invariably completely different from the objects they supposedly depict. This observation, if anything, is even more true of the sort of objects and processes studied in the sciences.
To be sure, Lenin did argue as follows:
"It is beyond doubt that an image cannot wholly resemble the model, but an image is one thing, a symbol, a conventional sign, another. The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Lenin (1972), p.279.]
"A reflection may be an approximately true copy of the reflected, but to speak of identity is absurd. Consciousness in general reflects being—that is a general principle of all materialism. It is impossible not to see its direct and inseparable connection with the principle of historical materialism: social consciousness reflects social being." [Ibid., p.391. Bold emphases added.]
How Lenin also knew this to be so is somewhat unclear. Indeed, and quite the opposite, Lenin could not possibly have known that an image is an "approximate" copy of the "thing reflected", unless he had independent access to the "thing reflected" with which he could compare it.
[And we have already seen that an appeal to practice cannot bail him out here.]
Moreover, an image does not even approximately resemble that of which it is allegedly the image; in fact it does even remotely correspond to its intended target.
In order to see this, consider an observer's view of, say, one of Scotland's greatest mountains, Liathach (in Torridon in Wester Ross).
[Pronounced, "Lee-ah-Gach"; hardened "ch", like someone clearing their throat.]
Let us assume Lenin is correct about observers and their "images" and let an observer stand/hover n metres away from the base of this mountain, at a height of k metres. Clearly, the view this person would now have of that mountain will alter as he/she circles round it. Let us say that for every degree circled around the base (in one plane), each take on the mountain will change sufficiently enough for it to be recognisably different ("image") for an average observer. Now, each such sighting of Liathach in fact represents 1/360th (or approximately 0.3%) of the entire set of such perimeter views of this mountain in that plane at that height.
If the viewing plane is now rotated, an entirely new observational circuit can be generated for this one mountain. If each plane is also inclined at one degree to the next, then there will be 180 of these. Of course, this assumes that Liathach can be viewed from below ground level --, which would clearly be ridiculous -- but if Liathach is now replaced by the Moon, the same point can be made just as easily. Anyway, an 'objective view' (that is, an observer-less view) of anything cannot surely be embarrassed by the limitations of human perceptual modalities -- or by the presence of other objects in the line of sight.
I have included here several photographs of Liathach, taken from different points of the compass, at different heights and seasons, in varying light conditions, so that the reader may better appreciate the point being made in this part of the Essay. Alternatively, readers might like to 'fly around' Liathach using Google Earth.
Figures One And Two: Liathach From Loch Claire (From The East South East)
Figure Three: Liathach From The West North West (From Beinn Alligin)
Figure Four: Close-Up Of Liathach From The East (From Above The A896)
Figure Five: Liathach From The East (From Glen Torridon And The A896)
Figure Six: Liathach In The Distance, From The North North West (Probably From The B8056, Or The A832 Near Gairloch)
Figure Seven: Liathach From The North West (From The Flowerdale Forest)
Figure Eight: Liathach From The South South East (From The Summit of Maol Cheann-Dearg -- Pronounced Mole Khin Gerrig)
Figure Nine: Liathach From The South West (From Creag An Eirich, On The Shores Of Loch Torridon)
Figure Ten: Liathach From The West South West (Near Shieldaig)
Figure Eleven: From Spidean A' Choire Leith (The Main Summit Of Liathach, 1055 Metres/3456 Feet -- Pronounced Spidee-an a Corrie Lee-ach), Looking West Toward The Second Summit (Mullach An Rathain,1023 Metres/3133 Feet -- Pronounced Mullach an Raan))
Figure Twelve: From Mullach An Rathain Looking East To Spidean A' Choire Leith
Figure Thirteen: Landsat Of Liathach
Figure Fourteen: The Rough Location Of Liathach
And here are a few of my own pictures taken in May 2008:
Figure Fifteen: Liathach From the East
Figure Sixteen: Spidean A' Choire Leith From The East North East And A Lower Top
Figure Seventeen: Looking West Toward The Second Summit, Mullach An Rathain
Figure Eighteen: The Northern Pinnacles Of Mullach An Rathain From The East And A Lower Top
Figure Nineteen: The Northern Pinnacles Of Mullach An Rathain From The North North East, At Approximately 250 Metres
Figure Twenty: Close-Up Of The Northern Pinnacles Of Mullach An Rathain From The North North East
This means that there are 360 x 180 possible views of this mountain (minus the 180 common overlapping points -- i.e., 64,620), each one representing approximately 0.0015% of the total available for this mountain at this height and distance.
Keeping the height constant, we can now vary the distance. Assume that this mountain is clearly visible for up to 25km (16 miles), and that for every extra metre further away a distinct view may be had. If, for each of these metres 64,620 circuit views are also possible, that would mean that there are, for this one object at this height, 64,620 x 25 x 1000 (or 1,615,500,000) possible views. Each of these sightings will therefore represent approximately 6 x 10-8% (or approximately 0.000000062%) of those possible for this one mountain.
Of course, a finer-grained division of the possible viewing angles would make even this small percentage look rather large in comparison, as would adjusting the distance from which this mountain can be viewed. [So, assuming the base of the mountain is approx 3km (2 miles) from its geometric centre, a one-degree turn about Liathach represents approximately a 50m arc at the base; at 25km (16 miles), one degree represents roughly 420m.] In addition, if the lighting and weather conditions are varied, even this figure would itself become large in comparison.
Assume that for each 'view' there corresponds one 'image' (or 'potential image') in the mind of an observer. That would mean that even if each image was a perfect copy, it would not even remotely correspond with the 'objective' mountain (which is, of course, a perspectiveless 'object' situated in at least three dimensions, possibly four, 'condensed' out of the vector and scalar field that scientists assure us is, like 'God', everywhere).
Now, it could be argued in response to this that each of these images does in fact correspond with, and is a copy of, an 'objective' view of Liathach from whatever position the latter is experienced, which is all that Lenin needs. But, this reply is unavailable to anyone who agrees with Lenin; he requires objective reality to correspond to each image. He said nothing about images corresponding to 'views' of objective reality. In an 'objective' universe, there are no viewers (or even hypothetical viewers), nor are there any 'views' to which images might correspond. This means that each image of Liathach cannot correspond to an 'objective view' of anything, since there is no such thing as an 'objective' view (if, that is, we leave 'God' and the mythical 'Ideal Observer' out of the picture). Anyway, a hasty appeal to 'views' of 'objective reality' would immediately concede dangerous ground to the Phenomenalist by admitting that 'objects' in reality amount to nothing more than actual or possible perceptions (or 'views') of them.
Hence, given Lenin's theory, no object in reality would (or could) even remotely resemble any 'image' of it.
The above difficulties apply to all objects and processes, not just magnificent mountains in Scotland. However, with regard to the sort of things we cannot see (such as theoretical objects in Physics, like, say, electrons -- or worse, centres of mass), we can't even begin to form an image of them for these to correspond, or fail to correspond with any 'view' there might be of such things.
And, in the case of the Centre of Mass of the Galaxy [CMG], there is in fact nothing there for anyone to form an image of, and yet the CMG exercises a decisive causal influence on the movement of the entire Galaxy.
We might try to circumvent these difficulties by arguing that since both images and objects are part of 'objective' reality, the contrast outlined above is spurious. If both object and image are 'objective' (since, presumably, they both really exist), then the universe must contain 'objective' images as well as 'objective' objects. However, this reply would completely scupper Lenin's distinction between "objective reality" and the "subjective" contents of the mind. If "objectivity" is now equated with "externality", then mental images (even of items in "objective reality") could not be "objective" unless they were external to the mind. A fortiori, an "objective" image would thus have to be external to any and all minds -- that is, it would have to be external to itself!
Naturally, this means that not only could no mind be "objective", no image would be either.
However, should the example of the Scottish mountain seem out of place in a scientific context, consider the image of, say, a hand. Presumably, such an image will be produced either by looking at it (which is what Lenin appears to think an image of a hand is -- he seems to think images result from direct perception), or by forming one in the mind's eye (from memory perhaps). But the real 'objective hand' -- as 'revealed' by science -- 'looks' nothing like this or any 'imaged' hand. The 'scientific hand' is a complex ensemble of elementary particles (and/or tensor, vector and/or scalar fields), spruced up with a few probability density distributions, residing in a three-, or four-dimensional manifold. It is unlikely that this is how anyone actually imagines (or 'images') his or her own hand to be. Worse still, it is unlikely that anyone could form an image of a 'scientific hand' -- and that includes scientists themselves!
In that case, if it is possible for images to be radically different from the reality they supposedly depict, and if we can form images of things that do not exist, and if we cannot form images of many things that do exist, and if it is impossible to form an image of most 'objective' scientific entities and processes, and if no image corresponds with anything other than a "subjective view" of anything -- if that --, then Lenin's rock solid start looks about as firm as a jellyfish in a liquidiser.
[At this point, it is worth emphasising that the 'thought experiments' outlined above do not contradict what was said earlier (in Essay Three Part Two, form example) about the idea that common sense has been undermined (or otherwise) by science, since it is clear that the given contrast is meant to apply to images and realities as scientists themselves supposedly experience them -- but, only if we accept the Lenin's account of the origin of knowledge. As such, the above observations were specifically meant to undermine Lenin's version of naïve realism. Indeed, they were intended to show that images (so conceived) can be (and mostly are) totally different from their supposed 'referents' (that is, should they have any referents, or should we have any 'images' of them, or should we be able to say with what such 'images' correspond by any means available to us that weren't themselves 'subjectively' compromised/biased), and thus totally different from their hypothetical causes. In addition, they were meant to counter Lenin's claim that knowledge begins with an extrapolation from images. Since ordinary folk plainly do not do this (and neither do scientists, nor DM-theorists -- and neither did Lenin), the above considerations do not affect common sense, nor do they challenge ordinary language.]
In contrast, as we all seem to be aware, knowledge-that claims are typically expressed as part of the content of indicative empirical propositions, which manifest themselves in patently linguistic form.30c Now, the latter are not an item of any particular individual's mental universe; unlike images, they are publicly- and socially-sanctioned expressions, which appear on paper in very material books, articles and reports, or they are conveyed by equally material sound waves. Hence, when Darwin, for example, attempted to revolutionise evolutionary theory, he did not even once refer to his or anyone else's mental imagery. And he did not start from there, either. Lenin cannot have been unaware of this.
(4) Finally, it is worth asking whether or not it is possible for images to be just that -- i.e., images simpliciter, and not of 'objective' realities? After all, some of the images we do in fact form we take to be of mythical (non-existent) creatures. Clearly, these do not relate to anything 'objective'. And if they don't, Lenin's argument backfires once more: the images he took to be of things and processes in the real world could similarly turn out to be just like these. In that case, for all we know -- and, with little more than Lenin's insubstantial claims suggesting the contrary, for all he knew -- our knowledge of the world could be no more secure than belief in Gryphons and Harpies.30d
Of course, this is not to suggest that this is in fact so, or that it is sensible to suppose that it is so (or even that the present author thinks it is so); it is only to point out that Lenin's timorous defence of knowledge simply invites Phenomenalist suspicions such as these.
Nevertheless, it is clear that with respect to images at least, Lenin did not actually mean what his comments above might appear to suggest. According to him, all knowledge of the world is based on -- or at least starts from -- images derived from sense impression. Admittedly, he went on to argue that the 'objectivity' of such images had to be confirmed by science (and/or practice, refined over the centuries, subject to possible future revision, etc., etc.), later re-configured with a few obscure phrases from Hegel's Logic thrown in for good measure. But, because of this avowedly infinitary process, it turns out that objects and events in reality (which supposedly answer to our images of them) often turn out to be less like the original images that actually initiated this wild goose chase in motion than those that had been prompted by these allegedly naïve beliefs. Indeed, the "naïve beliefs" of the ordinary man or woman correspond with little that modern science finds in nature. This being so, it is worth asking with what (if anything) do these ordinary naïve 'images' actually correspond? On Lenin's account they must in fact relate to nothing at all; scientific knowledge (allegedly) shows that they are largely (if not entirely) illusory.
For example, while the average person might claim to see the Sun rise each morning, their 'image' of it corresponds with nothing (or with no process remotely like it) in the 'objective' world, given this way of viewing things. Not only does the Sun not rise, what the common man or woman 'sees' is not even the Sun, but an 'image' of it created by the perception of light delayed by over eight minutes; in short they 'see' a retarded image (again on this view).
Indeed, this 'image' of the Sun is itself doubly misleading, for not only is the 'real', 'objective' Sun not coloured yellow, it is neither flat and circular, nor 'objectively' hot (since heat is a 'subjective response' to phenomena that in no way 'resemble' it -- that is, the cause of heat does not even remotely resemble the experience of heat), again, on this view.
Nor is the 'objective' Sun made of anything substantial; it is largely empty space, etc. In fact, the 'objective/scientific' Sun is just a complex set of processes best pictured by sophisticated vector and tensor operators in an abstract space, or perhaps in Spacetime (etc., etc.). Who on earth -- or anywhere else for that matter -- could possibly see something like that? Given this approach, each ordinary 'view' of the Sun is no view at all. And what goes for the Sun goes for all that lies under it.
Of course, there are fatal weaknesses associated with this 'scientific' view of reality: this way of looking at things would make the identification of the 'real', 'objective' scientific Sun problematic in itself. If all our ordinary descriptions of the Sun are wrong, and the 'Sun' really is nothing but a complex set of processes in four-dimensional Spacetime, then it would be impossible for anyone to comprehend the supposed subject of the scientific study of the Sun. No one would know what the 'it' was that was said to exist in this four-dimensional world, to which all this complicated mathematical or scientific language supposedly 'refers. If enough of our beliefs about the ordinary Sun are wrong and/or misleading, it would be impossible to say what the ordinary word "Sun" in fact referred to, or even if it referred at all.
Hence, it seems that not only can scientists not undermine the solidity of things like tables and chairs (more on this in a later Essay), they cannot bury the Sun in four-dimensional Spacetime either, that is, not without losing the right to call it "the Sun" in the first place, At which point, of course, this alleged 'object', residing in four dimensions, would eclipse any theory in which it so featured, casting one or both into eternal darkness -- for no one would know what the hell was being spoken about.
[The above line of reasoning is a continuation of that found in Essay Three Part Two, where it is more fully motivated --, and in Essay Four Part One.]
This means that if Lenin were correct (in believing that our images of the world relate to external realities, when confirmed by scientific practice), then, paradoxically, he would have been wrong on that score, for nothing about our 'images' (of anything) would actually correspond with the "objective" entity to which they supposedly related, according to such 'scientific practice'. This is, of course, because "objective" objects are perspectiveless, mathematical entities or processes residing in three or four dimensions -- about which we are incapable of forming any images. [Plainly, we can only form perspectival images in three dimensions (or non-perspectival ones in two, or less).]
Lest the reader is confused at this point, it needs emphasising that the above comments are not aimed at attacking ordinary language and common sense, only Lenin's naïve realism and his inconsistent reliance on science. Just as an inappropriate interpretation of the alleged deliverances of modern science suggest that we can form no images of external reality that correspond with their supposed referents, so Lenin's 'theory' suggests that none of our images correspond with anything at all in 'objective' reality.
And with that, much of MEC disintegrates.
Now, apart from baldly extrapolating from thoughts about images to truths about the world, Lenin offered his readers no proof -- nor even a weak argument to show -- that images are not all that would ever emerge at the end of this process. There is no clue in MEC as to how images can be grounded in "objective reality". On the contrary, Lenin's theory suggests that all we will ever have are images piled up on top of yet more images.
And the same conclusion emerges if practice is factored-in, DM-style: hence, human beings will only ever have images of human practice (which likewise do not correspond with the scientific view of this part of 'objective reality'), as images are piled on top of more images of people trying to put their own images into practice (or images of practice), crowned by yet more images of them succeeding (or failing) to form still more images of the successful testing (or otherwise) of their image of a theory...
Worse still, as was argued in detail here, given DM-epistemology, humanity will only ever attain to knowledge that is based on images that are individuated in socially-isolated minds. Hence, on this view, the best that a member of the human race can ever hope to achieve in this regard is the formation of relatively less and less untrue images of 'something-he/she-knows-not-what' -- possibly even of nothing at all --, and confined to his/her mind. Given this picture, the object of knowledge will always remain infinitely obscure, since, ex hypothesi, 'objects' can only be 'identified' at the end of an infinite asymptotic meander -- assuming, of course, that there are such 'objects' to begin with (and there is such a meander). And even that seems unlikely, since no image we could ever form could conceivably correspond to an "objective" object or process in reality, let alone an infinitary one, and for reasons outlined above.
[It could be argued at this point that Lenin is interested in relative truth, and the above comments would abolish this, turning 'knowledge' into some form of relativism, postmodernism, or subjectivism.
In answer, it is worth pointing out that DM-epistemology (as outlined by Engels and Lenin) itself implies that knowledge will always be infinitely far from the truth. So, far from Lenin being interested in 'relative truth', his own comments show he is actually talking about almost total error.
Moreover, I am neither a relativist nor a postmodernist; philosophically, as I pointed out in Essay One, I am a nothing-at-all-ist -- and that should not be confused with nihilism. In fact, this represents a total rejection of traditional philosophy in its entirety as self-important hot air.]
To resume: given Lenin's theory, what each individual human being now possesses are in fact only images of an infinite wild-image chase. Worse still, on this view, no single 'knower' will ever know whether he/she has the 'same' image as anyone else has (of anything); each 'knower' must remain forever trapped in their private 'inner cinema', sat alone contemplating the images 'reality' throws his/her way, 'testing' them with images of practice projected in this same internal chamber -- as, indeed, must be the case with other individuals (or, with our images of them) and their imputed images of practice, the existence of which no one could confirm without yet more images getting in the way. Inter-subjective practical confirmation is thus locked forever in a privatised and ghostly world of images, on this view.
[Of course, given other DM-strictures, we already know that no one can have the same image as anyone else has (of anything), since nothing is identical with anything else in this crazy DM-universe, including images! Worse still, no one can have the same image of 'approximately the same image' of anything!]
Now, Lenin might have firmly believed that there exists a 'we-know-not-what' in 'objective reality' (i.e., a Noumenon by any other name…), which is the true cause of our images of 'it', and that this 'it' is indeed the object of our knowledge claims about 'it'. But if we begin with, and always remain inside the parameters set by Lenin, an image is all that we will ever possess at any imaged point along this infinite image of a dialectical journey.
It now turns out that the naïve belief Lenin championed (which held that there is something 'objective' corresponding to our images of 'it') is little different from the "fideism" he rightly castigated elsewhere in MEC. This means that the key ideas of MEC are based on nothing more substantial than an act of faith! Paradoxically then, while Lenin wished to destroy faith to make room for knowledge, all he seems to have done is demolish knowledge, leaving himself with nothing but faith -- and a faith in graven 'images', too!
Fortunately enough for the common man or woman, knowledge of the world is not based on anything remotely like Lenin's caricature -- and neither is scientific knowledge.
And, truth be told, neither was Lenin's.31
WTF Is It?
One obvious objection to all this could run along the following lines: if Marxism is neither objective nor approaches the truth asymptotically, then it must be an Idealist or subjectivist theory, but, since it is neither of these (indeed, it has been tested in practice over many generations), it must be objective, etc., etc.
In response, it is worth recalling that even Hegel regarded his theory as 'objective' (in his sense of the word), so 'objectivity' itself provides no guarantee that a theory is either materialist or correct.
Moreover, we have already seen that standard accounts of DM are thoroughly Idealist, and that practice (even if it could discriminate truth from error) has been very unkind to DIMs.
[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist, according to context.]
Unfortunately, for those who like to use the word "objective" theoretically, it seems to work as some sort of talisman, capable of turning base metaphysics in epistemological gold.
Furthermore, the meaning of the word "objective" is as unclear as it is unhelpful; indeed, it seems to mean different things to different theorists.32 To some, it appears to be synonymous with the word "true" -- which is a misleading equation in itself. This is because falsehoods can be 'objective' (if by "objective" we mean "independent of the mind", or "invariant under all descriptions", etc.). For example, the claim that there is life on the moon is 'objective', but false. If it weren't 'objective' -- if it were 'subjective' --, not only would we not be able to investigate it to see if it is true or false, no one would bother. In fact, it might be an important discovery to find out whether or not something is false. In this case, the falsehood of the claim that there is life on the Moon is as 'objective' as the truth of the claim that there is life on Earth. This means, of course, that 'objectivity' is not synonymous with truth.33
Moreover, while a similar claim that there is no life on Mars is in fact true, it does not actually refer to life on Mars, since there is none there for it to be about.34 It is, of course, the contradictory of the claim that there is life on Mars, and because the latter is false, the former is true. But, odd as it sounds, there is nothing in reality to which either of these 'corresponds'. Hence, in one sense both are 'non-objective' (since they 'refer' to no 'objects', but only to a lack of certain sorts of objects and processes on the said planet) -- and yet, in another sense they are 'objective', because they presume to tell us about a world that is independent of any and all observers.34a
All this shows that something can be 'objective' whether or not it is true, and 'objective' whether or not it corresponds with anything in reality -- and it can be both 'objective' and 'non-objective' all at once!35
That should be enough to tell us this word, when employed philosophically, is totally useless.
Still others appear to mean by "objective" something like "independent of all thought/observers", "a view of reality outside of space and time", or "invariant under all descriptions".36
However, despite what they might say, people who talk this way often manage to inform us of these startling truths this side of the 'observerless' divide, while clearly resident in space and time. They also generally succeed in using some thought in the process.
Unfortunately for us humans, successful reference to the 'objective' world outside of space and time (and possibly even independent of any categories whatsoever), without recourse to language, is still quite beyond us. Presumably, given the "view from nowhere" definition, 'objectivity' could only ever be achieved by a non-sentient, thoughtless, languageless, mindless dead alien -- who exists (or not) everywhere and nowhere all at once -- or, perhaps even by an impersonal, category-free, thoughtless set of 'forces' from the 'fifth dimension', or beyond...
These are not just cheap debating points; they serve as a reminder that while it is true that the world is not dependent on the application of human linguistic categories, any reference made to it, and any attempt to state truths or falsehood about it (of necessity) require their use. The 'problem' (if such it be called) is that 'objectivists' tend to think that the achievement of the latter -- aimed at providing an 'objective' account of the former -- can succeed while avoiding the projection of linguistic categories onto both. They seldom even consider the possibility that the representational forms they are forced to use in order to depict reality colour the picture they hope to paint. In fact, they simply ignore the most important factor here: the forms of representation used in the process.37 This then encourages the idea that an 'objective' view of nature is a picture of a world independent of the words that have just been used to achieve it --, such as: "object", "entity", "thing", "scalar", "vector", "tensor", "field", "manifold", "matrix", "geodesic", "dimension" (etc.).
In truth, of course, all that finally emerges at the end of such an exercise is a cartoon sort of world sketched in metaphorical ink. And, as is the case with genuinely fictional cartoon superheroes, bogus Superscience of this sort is quite at home in a comic-strip-of-a-world of its own, and is no less insubstantial for all that. [There is more on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
Naturally, the above comments do not imply that modern science fails to provide us truths about nature, only that the word "objective" obscures the view, and is thus totally out of place.
Another problem with several of the above 'definitions' of the word "objective" is that they imply that no social/historical fact, event or process could ever be 'objective'. Clearly, this is because these are not "independent of human cognition". This fact alone should give socialists pause for thought, since it would plainly indicate that no revolution, for example, could ever have an 'objective' outcome (i.e., one that is "independent of the mind", etc.), unless it had been brought about by robots (and ones not made by anything with a mind).
Now, any modification made to the already shaky 'definition' of the word "objective" (in order to by-pass the above difficulties) would stand in real danger of allowing patently 'non-objective' features of social reality (such as the claims made by clairvoyants) to be counted as 'objective'. This is because, if 'objective reality' is now allowed to include aspects of the world that are mind-dependent (such as socialist newspapers and revolutions), then, and on that basis, mystical practices could easily turn out to be no less 'objective'. Once again, this shows how useless a metaphysical word "objective" really is.
There is an almost universal tendency among 'objectivist' thinkers to 'bang the metaphysical table' (as it were) whenever 'objectivity' is so much as questioned; this involves them re-asserting emphatically (almost mantra-like) the unquestionably real nature and existence of objects/processes in nature -- something we have seen Lenin do literally dozens of times in MEC. This neurotic approach to Metaphysics is not helped by those who employ the equally empty phrase "objectively true" -- an unhappy couplet in itself, which contains an implicit admission that there could be objective falsehoods --, either that, or the affix "true" here is merely ornamental.38
Indeed, the whole point of using an 'industrial strength' phrase such as "objectively true" is less than clear; if something is true, it is presumably 'objectively true' (that is, it will not have been made up). On the other hand, if it is untrue, then the word "objective" contributes nothing to the phrase. No matter how impressive a word combination this might seem to some to be, the phrase "objectively true" itself cannot work magic and turn something into a truth that wasn't one already (any more than repetition or shouting can transform a falsehood into its opposite, as Lenin seems to have thought). Hence, the only apparent reason for gluing the word "objective" onto the word "true" seems to be to lend weight to the former by hijacking the kudos of the latter.
'Subjective' Equally Defective
Apparently, the opposite of "objective" is "subjective", but this term-of-art is no less vague. Truths can be subjective -- for example, when somebody reports truthfully that they like Mozart's music. Worse still, statements can be objective and subjective all at once; for instance, a scientist could truthfully report that she is disappointed that there is no life on the Moon. Not only that, but the 'subjective' part could be true while the 'objective' part is false. For example, the aforementioned scientist could be genuinely glad that there is life on Mars, while no less genuinely mistaken about it -- and she could even be shown to be in error by an appeal to the available evidence. Clearly, few would bother to modify, or even confirm/refute a purely 'subjective' (presumably 'idiosyncratic', or made-up) belief or affectation. And no one would (normally) try to test (i.e., verify) someone's avowed preference for milk chocolate or the music of B.B. King, even though some 'subjective' beliefs can be verified.39
Returning to the couplet, "objectively true"; it could be argued that this phrase invites contrast with "subjectively true", and because of that it has a clear sense. But, "subjectively true" -- if it implies anything -- perhaps means "believed by X, Y or Z to be true", or "true for A, B or C" (or some such). To be sure, in the previous paragraph it was noted that something could be subjective and true; however, the couplet "subjectively true" was deliberately avoided. This is because the combination of the two terms would have the same effect on each other as would conjoining, say, the words "near" and "dead" or "death", to yield "nearly dead" or "near to death". While something could be near (to a speaker) and dead all at once, anything nearly dead (or near to death) need neither be dead nor near -- indeed, it might not subsequently die for some time. Hence, the use of "subjectively true" seems to be a polite way of saying that a certain belief or claim is not true, or even that the holder of that belief is either deluded or lives in a world all of their own.
Surplus To Requirements
All this is unnecessary. We already have far better (and more reliable, and materially-based) words in ordinary language with which to express our claims about the world, and ones that are neither problematic nor vague: for example, mundane terms like "true", "false", "valid", "accurate", "precise", "correct", "incorrect", and so on. Our ability to form complex, but readily understandable sentences about familiar situations (and about events that occurred long before human beings evolved), without the use of these metaphysical terms (i.e., "subjective" and "objective"), is as unremarkable as is our ability to breathe. This fact alone should have alerted those who feel compelled to use "subjective" and "objective" in such surroundings, that their presence in scientific contexts is about as useful as a chocolate fire door.
Finally, with respect to the asymptotic metaphor mentioned at the beginning of this section: this has already been examined in detail and shown to have sceptical implications all of its own. Its appearance here in connection with 'objectivity' is, therefore, doubly unfortunate.
Lenin, 'Objectivity' And Existence
Earlier, we examined several theses connected with 'externalism', among which were the following:
T3: The world is composed of objects, processes, relations and events in continual change.
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
T7: There are no a priori limits to what we can know about the world, and our knowledge is subject to continual revision.
However, the status of T1 and T2 -- while apparently inconsistent with T3, T4 and T7 (as we saw earlier) -- has not been examined in any detail. We have already had occasion to question the temporal constraints on Lenin's ideas (that is, whether they are only applicable to the present), but these sentences themselves require closer scrutiny.40
Clearly, theses T1 and T2 cannot relate to the nature of the world as it will be in the future, for that does not yet exist.41 Obviously, similar difficulties arise in relation to the past.42
The problems confronting Lenin's view of 'objective' existence become clearer if consideration is given to the following sentences, which concern 'mere existence', as it were. In what follows, four different senses of "exist" are distinguished:43
R1: Paris exists. ["Exist", sense E1.]
R2: Carthage once existed. ["Exist", sense E2.]
R3: Atlantis once existed. ["Exist", sense E3.]
R4: Vulcan exists. ["Exist", sense E4.]44
Naturally, several of the above might need to be re-written in a more stilted form to bring out the particular sense of "exist" each tries to express. For instance, R2 might have to become:
R2a: Carthage exits at t1, where t1 is earlier than the present.
Such technicalities will be ignored here (as will legitimate questions raised by philosophers like Bertrand Russell whether sentences like R1 and R4 are ill-formed or not.].
For the sole purposes of this discussion, let us say that E1 relates to objects, events and processes extant at present (that is, it concerns objects, events and processes that are unambiguously 'objective' in Lenin's sense); E2 to those that are no longer such (but were once 'objective' in his sense); E3 to those whose existential status, while somewhat dubious, is such that they might once have existed ('objectively'). E4-existence then relates to objects, events and processes that have never been actual (and thus never were 'objective').45
Given the above, it is a unclear to which one of E1 to E4, T1 and T2 commit DM/Lenin. If it's E1, then T1 and T2 as they stand are going to be of little use to dialecticians, unless the meaning of the phrase "the present" is widened to include objects, events and processes that no longer exist (but which once did). Clearly, this is because it would be difficult to give an 'objective' account of history in terms of 'Materialist Dialectics' if E1-existence were all that these two theses implied.
In that case, T1 and T2 must involve E1- and E2-existence. However, such a concession presents "externalism" with serious problems since this broader sense of "exist" implies that the overwhelming majority of "objective" processes and things do not in fact exist, since they took place in the past, and thus are longer extant. In that case, such entities could not be classified as external to the mind since they do not exist to be external to anything. Indeed, if they are still to be counted as external to the mind (even though they do not exist), they would be about as 'objective' as the Tooth Fairy, and for the same reason.
[Of course, it could be argued that the Tooth Fairy never existed, whereas events in the past clearly did, so they are not at all the same. However, as we will soon see, things are not quite that straight-forward.]
Alternatively, if it is maintained that such things do still exist then plainly they could only do so 'in the mind' ('conceptually', perhaps), which would make them 'non-objective' once more. These objects and processes only 'exist' in the sense that we think and write about them; in that sense they are not independent of the mind.
Well, perhaps they 'exist' only metaphorically, 'in' the product of some mind or other (such as in, say, a book)? But, if there are such things that do not literally exist (or which do so only non-literally, in this sense), but which are nevertheless still to be counted as 'objective', then there seems to be no consistent way of denying 'objectivity' to other non-existents that have similar claims on our 'mental' space, such as mythical figures, goblins and the several hundred million deities that litter the world's religions --, to say nothing of the Tooth Fairy, once more. Clearly, an unwise concession like this would plainly blur the distinction between E2-, E3- and E4-existence. If so, Lenin's "externalism" might implicate 'materialist dialectics' in a commitment to the 'objectivity' of, say, Gryphons and Harpies.
We might now try to circumvent these difficulties by flatly denying that E1- or E2-existence permits the inclusion of these sorts of absurdities -- which tactic, at this stage, would be the equivalent of sticking one's fingers in one's ears, and singing "La, La, Lah!"
Nevertheless, it is worth recalling that we are endeavouring to ascertain what (if anything) Lenin and other DM-theorists could possibly mean by their use of the word "objective", or by their reference to "objective existence outside the mind". If existence (and hence, presumably, 'objectivity') is allowed to include things that don't now exist (i.e., in this case, things in the past), on the grounds that such things merely exist "external to the mind", then E1- and E2-existence clearly threaten to spill over quickly into E3- and perhaps E4-existence -- and thus into 'non-objectivity'.
Again, it could be argued that objects, events and processes supposedly enjoying E3- or E4-existence are to be distinguished from those possessing E1- or E2-existence by the fact that only the latter enjoy evidential support; the other two do not.
But are things quite so clear-cut? What if it should turn out that the actual ascription or denial of E3- or E4-existence to any object or process depends on evidence that might itself once have existed, but which is no longer extant?
Naturally, the latter situation would come about if the said evidence itself belongs in either the E2- or the E3-category. If, therefore, 'objectivity' is dependent on evidence, then we might never be in a position to say where its boundaries lie (especially given the DM-view that all knowledge is infinitely incomplete). If controversial entities are to be excluded as viable candidates for E2-existence, say, based on evidence (or the lack of it) which itself enjoys the same sort of existence (i.e., the evidence falls in the E2 category), then we are no further forward. After all, evidence that is not now extant could one day emerge to promote objects, events and processes from E3- to E2-existence.
For example, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that evidence (not now available) could one day emerge that proves Atlantis once existed (thus promoting it from E3- to E2-existence). And if that can happen to Atlantis, it could happen to Valhalla, Nirvana, the Garden of Eden and the Tooth Fairy --, especially if we admit that current knowledge is infinitely limited, as Lenin seems to have believed. Because the DM-notion of 'objectivity'/'externality' is so vague, and DM-epistemology so Noumenon-friendly (as we have seen), who is to say where such ontological boundaries might be drawn, if anywhere?46
On the other hand, if we rule out the existence of all of the above weird and wonderful 'objects' on grounds other than a failure to satisfy the requirements of 'externality', then Lenin's criterion cannot be a necessary and sufficient condition for 'objectivity' and/or materiality. But, what other DM-grounds are there?47
Failing that, we might have to acknowledge that a commitment to 'objectivity' permits the possible existence of all manner of strange beings -- and await evidence that demonstrates their actuality. While this might sound eminently reasonable and scientific, it is worth recalling that this strategy would unfortunately allow 'God's' existence to be 'objective', since evidence might turn up one day to prove that 'He' exists. And DM-theorists certainly can't rule that possibility out; once again, they openly admit that human knowledge is partial and incomplete -- indeed, infinitely so.
On the other hand, if the existence of 'God' is to be ruled out on grounds other than 'externality', then the word "objective" cannot mean what theorists like Lenin claim it does, since, manifestly, if 'God' exists 'He' exists external to the human mind.48
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
In that case, T1 and T2 are in need of urgent supplementation.
Once more, if DM-theorists wish to rule out (on non-evidential grounds) the existence of various ontological 'undesirables' (such as, Vishnu, Odin and the Archangel Gabriel) -- while permitting others (such as contradictory wave/particles, contradictory forces, UO-style magnets, negating cells and seeds, to say nothing of contradictory cats strolling about on assorted floor coverings) --, then 'externalism' would be working for them like any other "form of representation", or convention. That is, it would operate as a criterion that allowed dialecticians to delineate the conditions under which certain (in this case, existential) propositions were held true or false (or, in this case perhaps, both!), legitimating the inferences that their system of knowledge sanctions. [More on this in Essay Twelve Part One.]
However, this criterion would be a convention which had no materialist roots in social practice, even though it would be aimed at defending a theory inherited from the class enemy (using jargon and thought-forms drawn from ruling-class ideology). Operating in this way, the theory itself would then supply the criteria that enabled its theorists to decide what does and what does not exist (etc.).
As noted in Essay Eleven Part One, if this strategy were materially-grounded this would not be a problem, for this is precisely how scientific theories themselves work. Moreover, if adopted, this would mean that DM-theorists would have to modify their views of 'objectivity' (and hence of matter), since, of course, it would turn their theory into a form of conventionalism -- and a non-materialist version, to boot.49
If DM-theorists are to rescue T1 and T2 from oblivion, some way must be found of distinguishing E2- from E3-, and then from E4-existence.
This might be achieved in the following manner:
R5: Externalism requires only that scientific investigation confirms the existence of certain objects and processes.
However, as we have seen, R5 permits the (possible) existence of all manner of unwelcome 'objects' on the basis that one day scientists might be able to show they exist (E1- or E2-fashion). And how might this come about unless evidence turns up which is not now extant, and which thus itself currently exist E2-, or E3-style? Unfortunately, this brings us back to where we were only a few paragraphs back, since such researchers might have to appeal to what are now perhaps E3-, or even E4-, objects and processes in order to do this.
[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]
For example, one only has to look at the way scientists themselves have to appeal to all manner of weird and wonderful objects and processes in QM, to see this. Many of these might turn out to be card-carrying E4-existents. [Can particles really go backwards in time? Is there such a thing as the graviton? If these do not exist, or the processes in which they feature do not in fact take place, this won't be by accident (like missing a train could be accidental).]
Again, consider the change that took place a generation or so ago in the Earth Sciences when a process which many had regarded as ridiculous was dusted off and transformed into cutting-edge Geology: Plate Tectonics. Here, E3-, or even E4-, objects and processes were promoted into the E1- and E2-category.
Nevertheless, this latest difficulty might be circumvented if we change R5 into:
R6: Externalism requires only that scientific investigation has actually confirmed the existence of certain objects and processes.
But, this would still compromise Lenin's criterion since R6 would have allowed such things as the Ether, Caloric, Phlogiston, Mermaids, Piltdown Man, Sea Monsters, Wolf Men, N Rays, Subtle Fluids, Cold Fusion, and the like, to be "objective", at the time when they were accepted as such by the scientific community.
Again, we could adjust R6 in order to rule out such annoying exceptions (to the 'objectivity' of science), perhaps in the following manner:
R7: Externalism requires only that scientific investigation has actually confirmed the genuine or objective existence of certain objects and processes.
Unfortunately, given DM-theorists' commitment to the infinitely defective nature of human knowledge, we will never be in a position to say whether anything at all is genuinely genuine, as opposed to only 'temporarily genuine'. [A recent example of a soon-to-be 'non-genuine' genuine particle is the Higgs Boson, perhaps.]
Indeed, it's worth recalling that scientists were convinced for well over a thousand years that the heavenly bodies were 'glued' onto crystalline spheres and that the centre of the earth was the natural place toward which all bodies gravitated. Hence, a medieval Lenin would have declared that such aspects of the Aristotelian universe were as 'objective', just as his modern day counterpart declared the Ether to be.
On the other hand, if it is now argued that such a massive change of mind could not happen again, then the DM-commitment to the infinitely limited nature of knowledge will have to be abandoned.
Once more we see that this jellyfish-of-a-theory cannot stand to be squeezed anywhere without some of it slipping through our fingers somewhere else.50
There is no obvious way for DM-theorists to avoid being caught in this 'epistemological vice'. Whatever methods DM-theorists employ to confirm the existence (or otherwise) of any given object/process in reality must, of necessity, involve the use of human cognitive capacities, skills and resources, and therefore must depend on social and conventional criteria constraining each. As social beings, we have no other way of appropriating reality.
This being so, an entirely new account of the 'objectivity' of science is required -- along with a different account of matter.51
It could be objected here that even though social and linguistic factors must enter into the portrayal of reality, this does not imply that the world itself is dependent of such social conventions. Indeed, it could be maintained that externalism is still be viable, especially if suitably chosen concepts and/or conventions permit us to refer to an independently existing, material world to which we are connected via collective labour (etc.). On this modified view, the objective world could be said to exist because human beings interface with it in their practical activity. Now, this version of externalism is not affected by the above objections; the world can be said to be objective because of our practical relationship with it.
Or, so it could be maintained.
Apart from the fact that this revamp of 'externalism' makes the 'objectivity' of reality dependent on human action and intervention (thus changing the meaning of "objective" to something rather more like "subjective", or "inter-subjective"), this latest twist now puts those committed to 'externalism' in an impossible position. Even though DM-theorists wish to retain belief in the social nature of knowledge, they also want this to avoid compromising the 'independence' of the world to which this knowledge is supposedly 'dialectically' related. This fundamentally impossible trick is pulled off by the bluff insistence that our knowledge of the world, while relative and incomplete, is nonetheless about a world that is itself (i.e., is "in itself", to use the jargon) independent of the 'dialectical' process of cognition (in the sense that it existed before sentient life evolved, and would continue to exist if all such life ceased tomorrow). Hence, the world itself (or, "in-itself") is, on this view, unaffected by our knowledge of it (saving, of course, those parts with which we interact in our practical activity). The infeasibility of this position soon becomes apparent if we attempt to fill in the gaps DM-theorists conveniently ignore.
First of all, this approach suffers from all the weaknesses inherent in any attempt to account for knowledge in pragmatic terms. These were outlined in an earlier Essay and will not be rehearsed again here.52
Secondly, the serious defects in Lenin's attempt to delineate 'externalism' (exposed above) still remain, despite the above dismissal. For example, it was pointed out that T1 and T2 were seriously compromised by T4, and vice versa.
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
The requirement that everything in the Totality is interconnected (expressed by T4) is the rock upon which the parallel DM-view of the independence of the world must always founder --, for, if everything is inter-related, then not only must our thoughts about nature be dependent on the physical world, nature itself must be dependent on our thoughts about it (which means, obviously, that one or both of T1 and T2 will have to be rejected). On the other hand, if 'objective' material reality is genuinely independent of mind, then everything cannot be interconnected, and T4 itself will have to go.
This shows that DM-commitment to 'externalism' (even the re-vamped, watered-down version outlined a few paragraphs back) is little more than a gesture -- a statement of belief, or of faith. As soon as the details are filled in, the much-vaunted 'independence' of the world soon vanishes, and we discover that conventional aspects of language and science have to be employed (or must be appealed to) to secure the reliability of scientific knowledge.
This is no accident; as noted several times, all human knowledge depends on the practical and conventional aspects of our social existence.
The only oddity is that there were any Marxists who thought to question this.53
What Exactly Is Dialectical Materialism?
Unity Amidst The Diversity
As far as can be ascertained, there appears to be little agreement among dialecticians over the precise nature of DM (and thus of 'Materialist Dialectics', too) -- or even what its central tenets are. As we shall see, despite the fact that most DM-apologists seem to share a common set of (unchanging) core beliefs, each DM-author individually promotes one or other thesis into pole position, demoting others, which demoted theses, in contrast, still other theorists consider paramount. Either that, or the same theorist will declare thesis A to be the most important, and a few pages later swear it is really thesis B, or thesis C. So, for many, the fundamental insight here is the fluid nature of reality, for others it is universal interconnection. Others hold that this 'theory' is just a 'method', while still others consider Totality and change through internal contradiction paramount. [There are many other permutations, as we will see.]
In addition, while certain DM-theorists seem to regard DM itself as compatible with recent scientific theories -- which appear to analyse matter away -- others hold that DM is incompatible with these developments. The latter certainly was Lenin's view.
Is Matter Just An 'Abstraction'
However, in well over a hundred years, not one single DM-theorist has been able to tell us precisely what matter actually is! In fact, Engels simply said the following:
"It is the old story. First of all one makes sensuous things into abstractions and then one wants to know them through the senses, to see time and smell space. The empiricist becomes so steeped in the habit of empirical experience, that he believes that he is still in the field of sensuous experience when he is operating with abstractions.... The two forms of existence of matter are naturally nothing without matter, empty concepts, abstractions which exist only in our minds. But, of course, we are supposed not to know what matter and motion are! Of course not, for matter as such and motion as such have not yet been seen or otherwise experienced by anyone, only the various existing material things and forms of motions. Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted and motion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many different sensuous perceptible things according to their common properties. Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion, and by knowing these, we also pro tanto know matter and motion as such.... This is just like the difficulty mentioned by Hegel; we can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such." [Engels (1954), pp.235-36. Bold emphasis added.]
"N.B. Matter as such is a pure creation of thought and an abstraction. We leave out of account the qualitative differences of things in lumping them together as corporeally existing things under the concept matter. Hence matter as such, as distinct from definite existing pieces of matter, is not anything sensuously existing." [Ibid., p.255. Bold emphasis added.]
These are rather odd things for an avowed materialist to have to say.
Moreover, as we have seen in Essay Three Parts One and Two, an appeal to 'abstraction' to account for anything whatsoever would be the equivalent of trying to explain the plain-and-simple in terms of the terminally obscure.
Nevertheless, and independently of this, it is not too clear from the above what Engels imagined the process of abstraction was supposed to work on, or to be applied to. What is/are the common features of all material objects, which distinguish them from the non-material? Lenin seemed to think it was 'objective' existence outside the mind (but we have seen that this is no use at all). In contrast, Engels appealed to motion and unspecified "common properties" to explain matter:
"Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted and motion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many different sensuous perceptible things according to their common properties.... Subject-matter -- matter in motion. The different forms and varieties of matter itself can likewise a only In known through motion [The on-line text appears to be corrupted, here; I have advised the editors -- RL], only in this are the properties of bodies exhibited; of a body that does not move there is nothing to be said. Hence the nature of bodies in motion results from the forms of motion." [Ibid., pp.236, 248.]
However, not everything that moves is material (on that, see Essays Five and Twelve Part One) -- but even if it were, it really is little help being given a circular 'definition' of matter and motion:
"Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted and motion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of motion...." [Ibid.]
What we still do not understand (philosophically) are the words "matter", "material", and "motion" (however, on the latter, and Engels rather odd views about it, see Essay Five again). The appearance of these words here in their own alleged definition is about as useful as this would be:
"Schmatter is nothing but the totality of schmaterial things from which this concept is abstracted and schmotion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of schmotion...."
And there is little point appealing to the everyday words we have for material and moving objects, for they are far too varied to be corralled so restrictively. [Once more, that was demonstrated in Essays Five and Twelve Part One.] The language we have for such things is indeed our best guide here, but that language is incredibly rich, and does not favour the mystical spin Engels (or Hegel, or Lenin) wished to impose upon it.54
Furthermore, Engels's rather odd observation about cherries is no less defective. Paul McGarr had this to say about the above passage:
"Engels…attacks those who fail to see [that scientific] concepts are abstractions from real experience, and [who] ask about what is 'matter as such' or 'motion as such'.
"'Matter as such and motion as such have not yet been seen or experienced by anyone, but only the various, actually existing material things and forms of motion. Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted, and motion as such nothing but the totality of sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many differently sensuously perceptible things according to their common properties. Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion'.
"Engels gives us an analogy, 'We can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such.'" [McGarr (1994), pp.152-53; quoting Engels (1954), pp.235-36.]54a
But, exactly how McGarr knows that matter and motion are an abstract terms he failed to say -- Engels's word on this, apparently, is enough for him. But, since we can "eat..., etc." matter, it must be concrete, surely? We do not eat 'abstractions'.
Nevertheless, and in view of what he goes on to say, McGarr could object that his reason for saying what he does is that "matter as such" cannot be "eaten…, etc." except as it manifests itself as various sorts of matter. But again, he failed to say what the word "matter" means here. If it means "abstract matter" then the rest of his argument is circular. If it doesn't, then his argument is far too vague to comprehend.
It is worth noting here that Engels and McGarr's arguments are reminiscent of a point made by Hegel, in his 'Logic':
"When the universal is made a mere form and co-ordinated with the particular, as if it were on the same level, it sinks into the particular itself. Even common sense in everyday matters is above the absurdity of setting a universal beside the particulars. Would anyone, who wished for fruit, reject cherries, pears, and grapes, on the ground that they were cherries, pears or grapes, and not fruit?" [Hegel (1975), p.19, §13, quoted from here.]
To be sure, it is not at all clear whether or not Hegel was making the same point as the above two comrades, but even if he were, what sense can be made of these claims? Certainly, those eating "cherries and plums" consume fruit. In which case, people do indeed eat fruit. Even Hegel seems to admit that much.
Naturally, too, Engels and McGarr would not deny this; what they appear to be saying is similar to something Rees pointed out in TAR: no one can eat an abstraction:
"[A]ll science generalizes and abstracts from 'empirically verifiable facts.' Indeed, the very concept of 'fact' is itself an abstraction, because no one has ever eaten, tasted, smelt, seen or heard a 'fact,' which is a mental generalization that distinguishes actually existing phenomena from imaginary conceptions. Similarly, all science 'deductively anticipates' developments -- what else is an hypothesis tested by experimentation? The dialectic is, among other things, a way of investigating and understanding the relationship between abstractions and reality. And the 'danger of arbitrary construction' is far greater using an empirical method which thinks that it is dealing with facts when it is actually dealing with abstractions than it is with a method that properly distinguishes between the two and then seeks to explain the relationship between them." [Rees (1998), p.131. Bold emphasis added.]
As we will see in Essay Three Part Four (when it is published), Rees is not alone among dialecticians in arguing that abstractions cannot be "eaten, etc." [In that Essay, however, it will be shown that it is surprisingly easy to eat 'abstractions'.]
Be this as it may, this still fails to resolve the problem of the existence of abstractions. If abstractions cannot be "eaten…, etc.", what on earth (or in heaven) are they? Are they figments of the imagination which relate to nothing whatsoever in the material world? On the other hand, are they more than just a simple play on words? Indeed, are they more than convenient classificatory symbols we use for our own idiosyncratic purposes (i.e., "abbreviations" as Engels calls them), like "fruit", and thus more than merely "useful fictions"? If so, what form do they take in nature?
Unfortunately, readers will look long and hard (and to no avail) for any answers to such questions in DM-texts. [This is discussed in more detail in Essay Three Part One.]
Putting this awkward quandary to one side for now, does the Hegelian/Engelsian/McGarrian argument work even in its own terms? Is it legitimate to claim that even though we eat "cherries and plums", we don't eat "fruit as such" (since it is an abstraction)?
Well, to turn this around: what are cherries themselves? Has anyone ever eaten 'cherries as such'? Have they not only ever eaten cherries of a particular variety, or samples selected from a certain tree/shop/bowl/punnet? Cherries come in a host of varieties; today we have the following sort: Montmorency, Morello, Marasca, Balaton, Napoleon, Lambert, Tartarian, Ranier, Hartland, Summit, Emperor Francis, Kristin, Ulster, Schmidt's Bigarreau, Black Gold, Lapins, Hedelfingen, Sweetheart, Hudson, Regina, Somerset, Danube, Gean, Jubileum, Surefire, Kentish Early Richmond, Stockton, Vladimir and North Star, among many others. In fact, as one expert points out, there are several distinct species of cherry:
"Cherries occupy the Cerasus subgenus within Prunus, being fairly distinct from plums, apricots, peaches, and almonds. They are members of the Rosaceae family, subfamily Prunoideae. Prunus avium L. is the Sweet Cherry, and Prunus cerasus L. the Sour Cherry.
"As a group, cherries are relatively diverse and broadly distributed around the world, being found in Asia, Europe, and North America. In addition to the main species above, P. fruticosa (ground cherry) and P. pseudocerasus (Chinese cherry) are minor fruit species in the former USSR and China. While sweet cherries are virtually all P. avium, the term sour cherry may include hybrids between P. avium and P. cerasus (referred to as 'Duke cherries'), ground cherry, and hybrids of ground cherry with P. cerasus.
"Many sweet cherries were introduced from Europe, although several breeding programs worldwide have produced cultivars of regional importance. When Romans dispersed cherries throughout Europe, cultivars of local importance were selected; contemporary sweet cherries are genetically very similar to these initial selections.
"Cultivars are sometimes categorized into 'heart' (syn. Guigne in French, Gean in England) and 'Bigarreau' groups; the former are heart-shaped, softer fruits, while the latter are round, firm, crisp fruits. 'Bing', 'Napoleon' (syn. 'Royal Ann'), and 'Lambert' are the most important cultivars in North America. 'Ranier' is rapidly increasing in importance, having unique light-red blush over yellowish skin color…." [Mark Rieger, Professor of Horticulture at the University of Georgia, USA. Downloaded from here; accessed 09/03/04. Unfortunately this particular page is no longer available. However, a similar page, written by the same author, can be accessed here. Quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]
In view of this, the word "cherry" surely refers to an 'abstraction' just as much as "fruit" does. And what should we make of each variety of cherry? According to evolutionary biology, and not just dialectics, no two individuals from the same variety are identical. In that case, each variety is just as much an 'abstraction' as fruit is. And, as we saw in Essay Ten Part One, according to the DM-worthies, only when a particular (such as an individual cherry) has been put into interconnection with all its "mediacies" will it be 'concrete'. In that case, each individual cherry (this side of Epistemological Judgement Day, when it will have been so 'interconnected') must be 'abstract'.
[It is in this sense that we can eat 'dialectical abstractions' --, unless, that is, we all go on a rather lengthy fast, which lasts way beyond the cooling of the Sun, and only ends on Epistemological Judgement Day. More on that in Essay Three Part Four. The counter-objection that Lenin was here referring to 'subjective dialectics' won't wash, either, since we cannot say that 'real cherries' (as opposed to our 'concept' of cherries) are 'concrete' until Epistemological Judgement Day, too.]
What possible justification could there be then for the view that while human beings can eat 'cherries as such' they can't consume "fruit as such"?
Perhaps the answer is that the word "cherry" refers to a natural kind? Whether that is correct or not, surely the word "fruit" does, too? But, even assuming cherries formed a natural kind and fruit doesn't, the above argument would still flounder. This is because natural kinds, as far as can be ascertained, are no less 'abstract' than other types of material beings. You can't "eat..., etc." a natural kind. So, if the 'eating' criterion works for "fruit", as it does for "facts", we are forced to conclude that no one has ever eaten 'cherries as such' (or even 'a cherry as such'). Just as there are different varieties of cherry, there are different kinds of fruit. Why our two authors decided we could do one thing to different sorts of the former and not to the various types of the latter is, therefore, difficult to comprehend.
Perhaps, here as elsewhere, they uncritically accepted Hegel's word and abandoned their materialist good sense rather too hastily?
Maybe, Paul McGarr would now like to eat his own words "as such"?
Prevarication -- The One Thing Dialecticians Do Particularly Well
DM-theorists are generally aware of this prevarication (i.e., the failure to tell us what matter is); indeed, they regard it as one of the strengths of their approach. This is because it allows them to argue that DM is compatible with any future (genuine) development in the physical sciences. A fixed definition of matter, they seem to think, would compromise their desire to tail-end Physicists. Unfortunately, such a strategy is a hostage to fortune; in fact, as is reasonably plain, it has backfired on them, especially now that many Physicists have declared that matter "has vanished" -- i.e., that it is now just a "field", or it is merely a 'subjective' aspect of how 'conscious beings' experience their existence in a four-dimensional manifold, etc., etc.
DM-theorists have so far failed to address this gaping hole in their version of 'materialism'. In fact, far too many have been content to bury their vanishing heads in these disappearing sands. Others have re-defined materialism in such a loose way that makes it compatible with practically anything at all (including, for example, belief in angels, divinities and mythical monsters, as we saw above).
Unless a satisfactory resolution of this critical problem can be found, DM itself might just as well stand for Disappearing Matter.
Lenin 'Advances' By Going Backwards
As is well-known, Lenin's ideas matured and developed considerably between writing MEC and PN, largely as a result of studying Hegel's Logic (but not because of any obvious intervention in the class struggle, nor on any relevant advances in science).55
In that case, dialectics is perhaps the only area of human endeavour where, in order to advance knowledge, its acolytes have to delve into ancient forms of mysticism (albeit, versions with a superficially applied 'enlightenment' veneer, courtesy of Hegel). [More on this in Essay Fourteen Parts One and Two (summary of the former here).]
However, this major change of emphasis did not stop Lenin speaking about the "objective" nature of reality -- something, of course, that even Hegel did not wish to deny.56
Nevertheless, Lenin began to maintain that other elements of DM should take primacy over his former criterion of 'externality'. For example, the following:
"The splitting of a single whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal characteristics or features) of dialectics." [Lenin (1961), p.357. Bold emphasis added.]
"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics, but it requires explanations and development." [Ibid., p.222. Bold emphasis added.]56a
To be sure, the second of these passages appears at the end of a long list of other important features of dialectics, but few (if any) of the latter featured in MEC, and the former sine qua non of "objectivity" (i.e., "externalism") has been dropped. As is detailed in Note 1, Lenin constantly repeated (almost neurotically) his "externalist" mantra in MEC; in PN, as far as can be ascertained, it is completely absent.
The problem is that this has left DM with no definition of matter.57
The Dialectical Menu -- Pick-And-Mix
[This is one of the most incomplete sections of this Essay; more details and examples will be added at a later date.]
This peculiar fact is not just a quirk of Lenin's theoretical progress. Admittedly, scientific knowledge develops and grows, and theorists find they have to revise, modify or eliminate certain aspects of their earlier work, or even abandon former beliefs in their entirety. However, those working within a particular tradition often agree on certain core ideas. By way of contrast, what we find in DM is a situation where its theorists list its essential features in widely varying ways, emphasising different theses as its most important precepts (which vary from book to book, article to article, page to page -- even when they have been written by the same author!).
Naturally, this raises a serious question: What is the real nature of DM? For example, TAR itself defines DM quite differently from Lenin. First of all, Rees downplays the so-called 'three laws of dialectics', which other DM-theorists regard as centrally important:
"The three laws [of DM] are not…the only way in which dialectical development can take place. They cannot be understood without the broader definition of the dialectic discussed above…. [T]hey are useful developments in dialectical understanding." [Rees (1998), pp.8-9.]
In fact, it is TAR's own definition of DM (in terms of Totality, change through contradiction and mediation)58 that is non-standard; not even Trotsky depicted DM in this way:
"These terms -- totality, change, contradiction and mediation -- are the key terms of the dialectic." [Ibid, p.8.]
The three so-called 'laws of dialectics' (discussed in detail in Essay Seven) -- UO, Q↔Q, and NON -- do not appear to be all that important for Rees. Indeed, they assume only a minor and derivative role in his book, which is something that Alex Callinicos pointed out in his review:
"One of Trotsky's most intriguing suggestions is that 'the fundamental law of dialectics is the conversion of quantity in to quality, for it gives [us] the general formula of all evolutionary processes -- of nature as well as of society'. He goes on to argue, 'The principle of the transition of quantity into quality has universal significance, in so far as we view the entire universe -- without any exception -- as a product of formation and transformation and not as the fruit of conscious creation.' This claim has much to be said for it." [Callinicos (1998), pp.99-100. Emphasis in the original.]59
And, in a more recent work, Callinicos went further, back-tracking on his earlier stance of opposing the idea that there is a dialectic in nature:
"It was this experience [i.e., the use of dialectics in the Lysenko affair -- RL] that first motivated many Marxists to conclude that Engels was wrong, and that real contradictions are unique to the social world. This used to be my own view, but two reasons have led me to change my mind. The first is the refinement of the dialectic of nature offered by Trotsky...[in Trotsky (1986) -- RL]. Trotsky reduces the three 'laws of the dialectic to one: the transformation of quantity into quality...." [Callinicos (2006), p.212.]
I will be saying more about this Callinicos's book in other Essays (but see Note 16). However, once again, we have yet another (in this case, half-hearted) 'natural dialectician' offer up his own 'sanitised' version of Engels's mystical 'theory' (just as theologians are constantly 'sanitising' the Bible, to make it compatible with modern science). The unfortunate thing is that Callinicos's reasons for accepting a 'sort of dialectic' in nature have already been exposed as entirely bogus (in Essay Seven Part One). Moreover, his application of 'the dialectic' to social development (made at length in the above book) -- in, it has to be said, an almost totally unreadable chapter -- has also been shown to be based solely on a series of spurious verbal tricks and sub-logical moves carried out by Hegel in his badly misnamed 'Logic' (here, here, here, and here).
Indeed, Callinicos's book is yet another example of the deleterious effect on the minds of alert comrades of reading far too much Hegelian, compounded by even more post-Heideggerian, Continental Philosophy. We see once again a prominent Marxist, who can write with enviable clarity and exemplary skill on matters economic, political and historical when he wants to (for example, in Socialist Worker), reduced to stringing together incomprehensible, jargon-festooned sentences when it comes to re-packaging ideas drawn from this Hermetic wing of philosophical confusion (and ruling-class ideology).
In a similar fashion, other DM-classicists (and more recent DM-apologists) seem to be equally divided over the fundamentals of their own theory. Engels himself appeared to have been content with his "three laws" forming a basis for DM both in his reply to Dühring and in his notebooks.60 In DN, even though he defined DM by means of his usual reference to these 'laws', they appear in a slightly augmented form:
"Dialectics [is] the science of universal inter-connection. Min[imum] laws: transformation of quantity into quality -- mutual penetration of polar opposites and transformation into each other when carried to extremes -- development through contradiction or negation of the negation -- spiral form of development." [Engels (1954), p.17.]
Later on in DN, these 'laws' were re-iterated in a more orthodox, concise fashion:
"[The laws of dialectics] can be reduced in the main to three; The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa; The law of the interpenetration of opposites; The law of the negation of the negation." [Ibid., p.62.]
Engels also makes an attempt to link both the UO and the IO as consequences of his criticism of the LOI, another defective idea he simply copied from Hegel. [Cf. ibid., pp.214-15.] Anyway, "Totality", "mediation" and interconnection, while clearly present in his writings (albeit in a somewhat watered-down form) do not seem to be as important to Engels as they were for, say, Lukacs (or for Rees); indeed, for much of DN, Engels largely ignores his other two 'Laws' (i.e., UO and NON).
Even so, as already noted, Lenin's earlier sine qua non of materialism (i.e., the "externalism" of MEC) does not appear in Engels's account at all -- and neither is it prominent in (and, in most cases, it is absent from) the writings of many others; it assumes no significant role in TAR, as far as can be ascertained.
Admittedly, complex theories have many sides to them, but each DM-author appears to possess his/her own list of fundamental tenets that others relegate more-or-less to the sidelines. In addition, these lists seem to change over time, even if the set of elements common to the entire list remains largely fixed -- so that the overall package can serve as a creed which the orthodox regularly recite to the recalcitrant, and for reason exposed in Essay Nine Part Two. [A recent example of this can be found here.]
Apart from this 'pick-and-mix' approach to basics, there appears to be very little development in DM-concepts (so that 140 years after Engels began toying with these alien-class ideas, DM has changed very little at all).61
We have already seen that Trotsky regarded:
"…the law of the transition of quantity into quality [as the]…fundamental law of dialectics." [Trotsky (1986), p.87; repeated on p.88.]
But, he also noted that:
"Dialectics is the logic of development. It examines the world…as a result of motion, of transformation. Everything that is became the way it is as a result of lawlike development.
"In this, its fundamental and most general sense, the dialectical view of nature and humanity coincides with the so-called 'evolutionary' view of nature…" [Ibid., p.96. Bold emphasis added.]
Here we find yet another "fundamental" element -- but still no development (and Trotsky seems to be totally uninterested in change through 'internal contradiction', and he never once mentions the NON). Indeed, for many DM-theorists, evolution is the central plank of their theory.62
The comments of more recent dialecticians, however, merely add to the DM-confusion. For George Novack, the Heraclitean Flux seems, at one point, to be basic:
"The dialectical method seeks to accommodate itself to these fundamental features of reality. It must take them as the starting point and basis of its own procedure…. Dialectical thought too must be concrete, changeable, ever fresh and flowing…. Dialecticians recognize that all formulas must be provisional, limited, approximate…. Dialectics itself grows and changes, often in a contradictory fashion…." [Novack (1971), pp.70-71.]63
But, even though dialecticians predict change everywhere else, the set of theses to which all or most DM-theorists assent remains rigidly fixed (despite what Novack says about DM growing). All we ever find in DM-texts is the constant repetition of the same handful of 'fundamentals', rotated a little here and there (over time and between authors, as already noted). At best, the only change apparent in this "fresh and flowing" theory is confined to the items each author idiosyncratically picks from the same dialectical Midden.
In the work quoted above, Novack did go on to re-affirm the familiar DM-trinity:
"The real truth about things is that they not only exist, persist, but they also develop and pass away. This passing away of things…is expressed in logical terminology by the term 'negation'. The whole truth about things can be expressed only if we take into account this opposite and negative aspect." [Ibid., pp.84-85.]
"Just as affirmation transforms itself of necessity into negation, so in turn negation exhibits its positive character, as the negation of the negation…. This is the dialectic of development, the necessary transformation of processes into other processes." [Ibid., p.89.]
"A thing is not only itself but another. A is not merely equal to A; it is also more profoundly equal to non-A." [Ibid., pp.91-92.]64
"The dialectical process of development does not end with the transformation of quantity into quality…. The process continues in the opposite direction and converts new quality into new quantity." [Ibid., p.92.]65
For Cornforth, on the other hand, DM is to be characterised as follows:
"Materialism is not a dogmatic system. It is rather a way of interpreting, conceiving of and explaining every question." [Cornforth (1976), p.17.]
This appears to mean that DM is a method. To be sure, Cornforth later goes on to emphasise more orthodox aspects of DM:
"Materialism teaches that the world is by its very nature material…. [T]hat matter is objective reality existing outside and independent of the mind…. [T]hat the world and its laws are knowable and that…there is no unknowable sphere of reality which lies outside the material world." [Ibid., p.25.]
But, despite Cornforth's claim to the contrary (in the first of the two passages quoted above), this latest assertion looks pretty dogmatic; he certainly provided no detectable (or, rather, adequate) evidence or argument to substantiate it. Hence, it is not surprising that he went on to maintain that DM is able to explain everything -- he simply neglected to add that it does so in a thoroughly doctrinaire manner.66
On the other hand, Cameron (an otherwise enthusiastic advocate of DM) manages to find fault with the NON, something Stalin and Mao also appear to have neglected, or perhaps even to have rejected.67 After quoting Engels's illustration of this 'Law' (with reference to a grain of barley), Cameron points out that:
"Engels seems to argue…that the sequence seed-plant-seed is itself a negation of the negation. But, if so, where is the higher level of development? There appears to be none, only a change from one quantity to another, from one seed of barley to many…. Accumulated repetition will not produce evolutionary change….
"Engels, in short, does not demonstrate that the negation of the negation is a developmental phenomenon, a 'law' bringing about a 'higher' form of the original entity. In fact, the more he talks about it, the clearer it becomes that it is essentially an idealist concept -- as it is in Hegel. It should simply be dropped." [Cameron (1995), pp.69-70.]
This means, of course, that Cameron is left with only two 'Laws' of dialectics to be getting on with. In fact, the rather flimsy reason he gives for his objection to the NON (which sits in stark contrast to his rather naïve acceptance of the other two 'Laws') is, in the event, somewhat puzzling.68
More to follow...
1. Of course, for Lenin, the writing of MEC had a specific purpose: it was aimed at countering what he regarded as serious theoretical errors (which were not merely academic quibbles); they had what he regarded as dangerous political implications. As John Rees notes:
"[T]he defeat of the 1905 revolution, like all such defeats, carried confusion and demoralisation into the ranks of the revolutionaries…. The forward rush of the revolution had helped unite the leadership…on strategic questions and so…intellectual differences could be left to private disagreement. But when defeat magnifies every tactical disagreement, forcing revolutionaries to derive fresh strategies from a re-examination of the fundamentals of Marxism, theoretical differences were bound to become important. As Tony Cliff explains:
"'With politics apparently failing to overcome the horrors of the Tsarist regime, escape into the realm of philosophical speculation became the fashion….'
"Philosophical fashion took a subjectivist, personal, and sometimes religious turn…. Bogdanov drew inspiration from the theories of physicist Ernst Mach and philosopher Richard Avenarius…. [Mach retreated] from Kant's ambiguous idealism to the pure idealism of Berkeley and Hume….
"It was indeed Mach and Bogdanov's 'ignorance of dialectics' that allowed them to 'slip into idealism.' Lenin was right to highlight the link between Bogdanov's adoption of idealism and his failure to react correctly to the downturn in the level of the struggle in Russia." [Rees (1998), pp.173-79, quoting Cliff (1975), p.290. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Perhaps this helps explain the tone set in MEC. Lenin's wording at times resembles that of a desperate man vainly trying to hold back the tide of modern Physics and contemporary thought, rather like a dialectical version of King Canute.
For example, there are numerous places in MEC where Lenin seems almost compelled to say the same thing over and over again: materialism is committed to the 'objective' nature of reality, to objects and process that exist independently of the mind. Cf., Lenin (1972), pp.1-2, 50, 58, 61, 63, 69, 86, 111, 123, 136-37, 165, 177, 191, 197, 200, 202-03, 211, 212, 215, 216-18, 221-22, 259, 270, 287-88, 306, 311-14, 320, 322, 324, 326, 354-55, 364, 366, 373, 377, 394, 407, 418, 420 (twice), 422, 425, and 426. This is an incomplete list!
Admittedly, Lenin was trying to re-assert what he took to be the real DM-tradition; he wanted to neutralise the political influence of ideas of various contemporary Phenomenalists, Idealists, Immanentists, Conventionalists, and Subjectivists (some of whom claimed to be Marxists). Again, this might help explain his almost obsessive need to repeat the same theme time and again. In spite of this, it is not easy to see how the relatively sophisticated theorists (at whom MEC was aimed) would be all that impressed by the mere repetition of the same phrase -- no matter how much better it made Lenin (and/or his supporters) feel. Did Lenin honestly think that people like Mach, Poincaré, Avenarius and Bogdanov (or their supporters) needed to be reminded yet again of the naïve realist view of 'objectivity' -- several dozen times?! Did he honestly think that if he said the same thing fifty-nine times they would continue to disagree with him, but on the sixtieth reminder they'd fold?
Whenever Lenin turned to discuss a rival theory he almost invariably thought it sufficient simply to bat it out of the park with the constant refrain that the 'objective' world existed before human beings (or minds) had evolved. On other occasions, he simply confined himself to lampooning the views of his opponents -- which, as is now obvious, he barely understood. He clearly thought it unnecessary to produce any arguments to substantiate his own position or to buttress his criticisms of rival theories. His tirade was plainly aimed at exposing what seemed to him to be the obvious absurdity of ideas that undermined belief in matter defined in his own rather idiosyncratic way (and, ironically, which collapses into a naïve version of the very views Lenin was attacking -- as we will soon see).
In MEC, Lenin relied on a combination of constant repetition, unwavering ridicule and misrepresentation -- tactics he obviously learnt from Engels, and tactics that subsequent DM-theorists have not only taken to heart, they have perfected into an art-form. Because of this, it is not difficult to see why MEC has won so many admirers amongst revolutionary traditionalists: it provided simple answers to complex questions, which is always a crowd pleaser.
[The few arguments that Lenin attempted to string-together will be examined below, and in the main body of this Essay.]
2. Many of these difficulties will be examined at length in the course of this Essay.
3. This term is not to be confused with the title of a metaphysical theory of the same name currently fashionable in Philosophy.
4. Notice that the phrasing in the text avoids the use of the contentious word "definition"; in fact Lenin's refusal to say what he thought matter was presents DM with more serious problems than does his merely not defining it. More on this later and in Note 54.
5. Here are a few quotations from Lenin that support this interpretation:
"We have already seen that this question is particularly repugnant to the philosophy of Mach and Avenarius. Natural science positively asserts that the earth once existed in such a state that no man or any other creature existed or could have existed on it. Organic matter is a later phenomenon, the fruit of a long evolution. It follows that there was no sentient matter, no 'complexes of sensations,' no self that was supposedly 'indissolubly' connected with the environment in accordance with Avenarius' doctrine. Matter is primary, and thought, consciousness, sensation are products of a very high development. Such is the materialist theory of knowledge, to which natural science instinctively subscribes....
"...only one solution is possible, viz., the recognition that the external world reflected by our mind exists independently of our mind. This materialist solution alone is really compatible with natural science..." [Lenin (1972), pp.75-76, 82. Bold emphasis added.]
"Things exist independently of our consciousness, independently of our perceptions, outside of us, for it is beyond doubt that alizarin existed in coal tar yesterday and it is equally beyond doubt that yesterday we knew nothing of the existence of this alizarin and received no sensations from it....
"There is definitely no difference in principle between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself, and there can be no such difference. The only difference is between what is known and what is not yet known. And philosophical inventions of specific boundaries between the one and the other, inventions to the effect that the thing-in-itself is 'beyond' phenomena (Kant), or that we can and must fence ourselves off by some philosophical partition from the problem of a world which in one part or another is still unknown but which exists outside us (Hume) -- all this is the sheerest nonsense, Schrulle (whim), crotchet, invention.
"In the theory of knowledge, as in every other branch of science, we must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as ready-made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more exact.
"Once we accept the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance, we shall find millions of examples of it just as simple as the discovery of alizarin in coal tar, millions of observations not only in the history of science and technology but in the everyday life of each and every one of us that illustrate the transformation of 'things-in-themselves' into 'things-for-us,' the appearance of 'phenomena' when our sense-organs experience an impact from external objects, the disappearance of 'phenomena' when some obstacle prevents the action upon our sense-organs of an object which we know to exist. The sole and unavoidable deduction to be made from this -- a deduction which all of us make in everyday practice and which materialism deliberately places at the foundation of its epistemology -- is that outside us, and independently of us, there exist objects, things, bodies and that our perceptions are images of the external world.... [Ibid., pp.110-11. Bold emphasis added.]
"The example given by Engels is elementary, and anybody without the slightest difficulty can think of scores of similar truths that are eternal and absolute and that only insane people can doubt (as Engels says, citing another example: 'Paris is in France'). Why does Engels speak here of 'platitudes'? Because he refutes and ridicules the dogmatic, metaphysical materialist Dühring, who was incapable of applying dialectics to the relation between absolute and relative truth. To be a materialist is to acknowledge objective truth, which is revealed to us by our sense-organs. To acknowledge objective truth, i.e., truth not dependent upon man and mankind, is, in one way or another, to recognise absolute truth. And it is this 'one way or another' which distinguishes the metaphysical materialist Dühring from the dialectical materialist Engels. On the most complex questions of science in general, and of historical science in particular, Dühring scattered words right and left: ultimate, final and eternal truth. Engels jeered at him. Of course there are eternal truths, Engels said, but it is unwise to use high-sounding words...in connection with simple things. If we want to advance materialism, we must drop this trite play with the words 'eternal truth'; we must learn to put, and answer, the question of the relation between absolute and relative truth dialectically. It was on this issue that the fight between Dühring and Engels was waged thirty years ago. And Bogdanov, who managed 'not to notice' Engels' explanation of the problem of absolute and relative truth given in this very same chapter, and who managed to accuse Engels of 'eclecticism' for his admission of a proposition which is a truism for all forms of materialism, only once again betrays his utter ignorance of both materialism and dialectics....
"'Here once again we find the same contradiction as we found above, between the character of human thought, necessarily conceived as absolute, and its reality in individual human beings with their extremely limited thought. This is a contradiction which can only be solved in the infinite progression, or what is for us, at least from a practical standpoint, the endless succession, of generations of mankind. In this sense human thought is just as much sovereign as not sovereign, and its capacity for knowledge just as much unlimited as limited. It is sovereign and unlimited in its disposition..., its vocation, its possibilities and its historical ultimate goal; it is not sovereign and it is limited in its individual expression and in its realisation at each particular moment.' [Quoting Engels (1976), p.108 -- RL.]
"This argument is extremely important for the question of relativism, i.e., the principle of the relativity of our knowledge, which is stressed by all Machians.... For Engels absolute truth is compounded from relative truths. Bogdanov is a relativist; Engels is a dialectician. Here is another, no less important, argument of Engels from the chapter of Anti-Dühring already quoted:
"'Truth and error, like all thought-concepts which move in polar opposites, have absolute validity only in an extremely limited field, as we have just seen, and as even Herr Dühring would realise if he had any acquaintance with the first elements of dialectics, which deal precisely with the inadequacy of all polar opposites. As soon as we apply the antithesis between truth and error outside of that narrow field which has been referred to above it becomes relative and therefore unserviceable for exact scientific modes of expression; and if we attempt to apply it as absolutely valid outside that field we really find ourselves altogether beaten: both poles of the antithesis become transformed into their opposites, truth becomes error and error truth' [Quoting Engels (1976), p.114 -- RL]. Here follows the example of Boyle's law (the volume of a gas is inversely proportional to its pressure). The 'grain of truth' contained in this law is only absolute truth within certain limits. The law, it appears, is a truth 'only approximately.'
"Human thought then by its nature is capable of giving, and does give, absolute truth, which is compounded of a sum-total of relative truths. Each step in the development of science adds new grains to the sum of absolute truth, but the limits of the truth of each scientific proposition are relative, now expanding, now shrinking with the growth of knowledge...." [Ibid., pp.148-51. Bold emphasis added.]
"…[the] basis of philosophical materialism and the distinction between metaphysical materialism and dialectical materialism. The recognition of immutable elements…and so forth, is not materialism, but metaphysical, i.e., anti-dialectical, materialism…. Dialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties; it insists on the absence of absolute boundaries in nature, on the transformation of moving matter from one state into another." [Ibid., p.312. Bold emphasis added; in all the above, italic emphases are in the original. Quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted here. ]
But, there are scores of other passages in MEC where Lenin constantly repeats the same sort of stuff.
However, how Lenin knew this is somewhat unclear:
"There is definitely no difference in principle between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself, and there can be no such difference. The only difference is between what is known and what is not yet known. And philosophical inventions of specific boundaries between the one and the other, inventions to the effect that the thing-in-itself is 'beyond' phenomena (Kant), or that we can and must fence ourselves off by some philosophical partition from the problem of a world which in one part or another is still unknown but which exists outside us (Hume) -- all this is the sheerest nonsense, Schrulle (whim), crotchet, invention. [Ibid., p.110.]
Did Lenin have independent access to 'things-in-themselves' so that he could deliver the good news to the ret of us (who are not quite so epistemologically blessed) that there is no (important) difference between these 'things-in-themselves' and our perception of them? If so, he annoyingly kept the details to himself. [But, as we will see later, Lenin is not even remotely correct here.]
Lenin's commitment to universal interconnectedness has already been examined. Here is a reminder:
"[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….
"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...." [Lenin (1961), pp.221, 359-60.]
"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others." [Lenin (1961), pp.196-97. Emphases in the original.]
Sure, these passages come from a later work, but in view of the fact that Lenin was a stout defender of Engels, who also accepted this Hermetic idea, it is not credible to suppose that Lenin only adopted this doctrine after he finished MEC.
6. On this, see Note 5; add to which the following:
"...Avenarius designates the physical or matter by the terms absolute and metaphysics, for, according to his theory of the principal co-ordination (or, in the new way, 'complete experience'), the counter-term is inseparable from the central term, the environment from the self; the non-self is inseparable from the self (as J. G. Fichte said). That this theory is disguised subjective idealism we have already shown, and the nature of Avenarius' attacks on 'matter' is quite obvious: the idealist denies physical being that is independent of the mind and therefore rejects the concept elaborated by philosophy for such being. That matter is 'physical' (i.e.., that which is most familiar and immediately given to man, and the existence of which no one save an inmate of a lunatic asylum can doubt) is not denied by Avenarius; he only insists on the acceptance of 'his' theory of the indissoluble connection between the environment and the self....
"As the reader sees, all these arguments of the founders of empirio-criticism entirely and exclusively revolve around the old epistemological question of the relation of thinking to being, of sensation to the physical. It required the extreme naïveté of the Russian Machians to discern anything here that is even remotely related to 'recent science,' or 'recent positivism.' All the philosophers mentioned by us, some frankly, others guardedly, replace the fundamental philosophical line of materialism (from being to thinking, from matter to sensation) by the reverse line of idealism. Their denial of matter is the old answer to epistemological problems, which consists in denying the existence of an external, objective source of our sensations, of an objective reality corresponding to our sensations. On the other hand, the recognition of the philosophical line denied by the idealists and agnostics is expressed in the definitions: matter is that which, acting upon our sense-organs, produces sensation; matter is the objective reality given to us in sensation, and so forth." [Lenin (1974), pp.164-65. Emphases in the original; quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
6a. Of course it could be argued that knowledge is not the sort of thing that could be interconnected with matter. On that, see Note 7, below.
7. This line of argument may be brought out more clearly in the following way:
A1: Let M1 represent that configuration of matter (in someone's brain) from which dialectically 'emerges' thought T1: "The Sun is approximately 93 million miles from Earth."
A2: While the thought T1 itself (based on configuration M1) depends on the fact that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth, the fact that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from Earth does not dependent on the thought that T1.
A3: Now, let the configuration of matter that results in the Sun being approximately 93 million miles from Earth be M2.
A4: Assume that everything in the Totality is inter-related, and that any state of matter S1 is dependent on at least some other state of matter S2, and vice versa. [Such states could be defined as generously as is required by other DM-principles, involving change through contradiction, mediation and development, etc., etc.]
A5: Let M1 be in state S1, and M2 be in state S2.
A6: By A4, S1 of M1 is dependent on S2 of M2, and vice versa, and therefore, M1 is dependent on M2, and vice versa.
A7: Hence, the material configuration that results in the fact that the Sun is 93 million miles from Earth is dependent on the material configuration from which emerges thought T1, and vice versa.
A8: Again, in the Totality, all items are inter-related, and mediate one another.
A9: Hence, T1 is related to and mediated by M1, and vice versa.
A10: So, (by A6-A9) T1 is related to and mediated by M2, and vice versa.
A11: Consequently, the material configuration that results in the fact that the Sun is approximately 93 million miles from earth is related to and mediated by T1, and vice versa.
A12: Anything that mediates something else exercises a causal influence of some sort on it so that the one is dependent on the other.
A13: Since T1 is mediated by and mediates M1, T1 is both caused by and causes M1, and hence is both caused by and causes M2.
A13: Hence, T1 has a causal influence on the configuration of matter that results in the Sun being approximately 93 million miles from Earth.
A14: Therefore, at least one thought exercises a causal influence upon at least one material state in nature.
A15: Hence, matter is not entirely independent of mind.
Naturally, there are several vague aspects of this argument; in fact it only succeeds because of them. But that just means it can only be defused if DM-theorists clarify (for the first time ever!) what they mean by T1, T2 and T4 (or their preferred DM-equivalents):
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
To be sure, the above conclusions could be challenged by questioning the equation of causation with "mediation", but that would only postpone the evil day, for it is surely the case that if matter is independent of mind, it is not "mediated" by mind either.
Anyway, it is difficult to see how "mediation" is not a form of causation (at least in the sense that it is a formal, and also perhaps structural cause). That is after all the point behind all that dialectical talk about "internal relations", "bad infinities" and the many and varied errors of "mechanical materialism". [More on this in Essay Three Part Three and Essay Four Part Two (when they are published).]
Moreover, we have already seen in Essay Eight Part One that the distinction dialecticians draw between 'external' and 'internal' causation ("mediation") cannot be sustained. In that case, if "mediation" and causation are to be distinguished from each other, then yet another central plank of DM will have to be abandoned.
The only other conceivable way this argument could be challenged would seem to be based on the claim that the remoteness of the vast bulk of the universe means that distant parts of nature can be ignored (because their effects will be vanishingly small and thus insignificant). Unfortunately, that response has already been laid to rest in Essay Eleven Part Two. Anyway, the 'remoteness response' cannot work on local bodies of matter, for it is sufficient to show that DM implies interconnection between thought and matter in, say, the solar system, and more proximately right here on earth. In that case, the above argument means that DM implies, for instance, that Mount Everest (i.e., the physical mountain, not its 'concept') is interconnected with your thoughts about it.
That would, of course, make this mountain Ideal -- or it would mean that you are a minor divinity of some sort.
And this should not surprise us, since this is precisely how Hegel argued (minus the jargon).
No wonder then that Hegel also asserted:
"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle…." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55.]
8. In addition, it would have to be maintained that knowledge of the world is not dependent on events that took place before human beings evolved -- otherwise T8 must be rejected:
T8: Knowledge is historically-conditioned, but is not reducible to such conditioning (otherwise T1 and T2 would be compromised).
This is because if knowledge were connected to events that took place before we evolved, it would not be historically-conditioned (except in anything other than a trivial sense), taking "historically-conditioned" to mean "constrained by human development".
But, that conclusion itself is problematic, for it seems to suggest that human beings are unrelated to events that preceded their origin! On this, see Note 10, below.
9. Of course, some might want to object to the idea that the past should be counted as part of 'reality', but until we are told what DM-theorists regard 'reality' to be (the mysterious "Totality", perhaps?) it is not easy to make much of this complaint. Certainly as far as important strands in modern Physics are concerned the past is just a 'real' as both the present and the future, frozen as all three are in a four-dimensional manifold. Such objectors should, therefore, take issue with Einstein (etc.), not the present author.
10. These comments are not meant to deny the active role of practice in the formation of knowledge (even if the precise details of how this is supposed to work have yet to be worked out by dialecticians). They are on the contrary directed against the view that DM-theorists require the vast bulk of the 'objective' world to be independent of our knowledge of it, and they are being aired here in order to show that the DM case against Idealism self-destructs once more, and precisely at this point.
To reiterate, this is because: (1) As we have seen, the doctrine of universal interconnectedness implies that material reality is dependent on our thoughts about it; and because (2) DM is predicated on the idea that cognitive states underlying knowledge are materially-grounded (even if they somehow mysteriously "emerge" from such material states). If this is so (and as argued in Note 7, above), the material foundations of thought -- which are also interconnected with every particle in the Totality -- must be back-related to every other item in the Totality. This is because no element in the Totality is independent of any other, which includes thoughts about the material contents of the Totality, and vice versa. That is why interconnectivity implies Idealism, for, on this view, every state of matter is mind-dependent.
Alternatively, if this conclusion is to be rejected (for whatever reason), the 'dialectical' integrity of the Totality will be thrown into doubt (since some processes -- namely thoughts -- will not be interconnected with material processes in reality).
This point can be generalised by means of the following argument:
T4: None of these are independent of each other; all are interconnected.
W1: Let W stand for the set of objects and processes that comprise the world which exists independently of our knowledge of it.
W2: Let K stand for any set of truths or partial truths about W, relativised to a time.
W3: Let R stand for a set of dependency relations between W and K. Furthermore, let R1 be any sub-set of R at time t1.
W4: Let R, W and elements of K be subject to change and development according to the dialectic in nature and human history.
W5: Hence, after the development of human consciousness, the relation between W and K will have altered; practice, intervention and activity change both the world and humanity's understanding of it.
W6: Let R1 be the dependency relation between K and that part of W (i.e., W*) that existed before humanity became cognitively aware of it. Hence, if t1 is taken to be the present, KR1W* represents the relation that holds between, say, current knowledge and events that occurred before we evolved.
W7: By T1 and T2, KR1W* must be non-symmetric. That is, while it is the case that KR1W* it is not the case that W*R1K.
W8: In other words, current knowledge of the world that existed prior to our having evolved is dependent on that world, not the other way round.
W9: But, by T4 everything is inter-related.
W10: Let S be the set of relations (of any sort) between elements or sub-sets of T (the Totality), and let W* be a sub-set of T; further let S1 be any sub set of S at t1.
W11: Let e1, e2 and e3 be any three elements of both T and W* related to each other by S1, at least.
W12: But, by T4, e1S1e1, and if e1S1e2 then e2S1e1, and if e1S1e3 then e3S1e1, and if e2S1e3 then e3S1e2, and if e1S1e2 and e2S1e3, then e1S1e3.
[That is, e1 is related to itself (and is thus reflexive), and the relation S1 between any two eis is symmetrical; in addition the relation S1 is transitive between these three elements.]
W13: This makes S1 an equivalence relation -- call it E. By an induction clause (here omitted), it is possible to show that every element in S is closed under just such an equivalence relation (if T4 is true).
W14: Now either R1 is an S-relation or it is not.
W15: If it is, then W7 is false, since in that case R1 is symmetric, after all. On the other hand, if R1 is not an S-relation then there is at least one counterexample (namely R1) to the claim that every member of S is closed under equivalence relation E, implying that T4 is false.
Admittedly, W14 depends on the LEM, but if the latter 'law' is rejected then R1 would be both symmetric and non-symmetric. The final result would be no different -- except, we would then end up with two inconsistent conclusions. In that case, we should find that T4 was both true and false, and I rather think DM-apologists would want to hold onto the truth of T4 -- or, perhaps, modify it to T4a (given in the main body of the Essay, repeated below). They would not, I think, want to claim that T4 is both true and false.
Of course, a few die-hard DM-fans might want to 'grasp' this 'contradiction' (that T4 is both true and false -- thus 'Nixoning' it), maintaining that this is yet more proof of the fundamentally contradictory nature of reality. But, the problem in this case is with the theory, not reality, and dialecticians certainly reject other theories because they are defective in this way (on that, see here). They certainly do not argue that any and all contradictory theories are true -- which 'fact' lends weight to their view that nature is fundamentally contradictory -- except when it suits them.
However, it could be pointed out that Essays Three Part One and Four Part One (here and here) argued that relations are not objects, and so they cannot feature in sets. In which case, the present author is confused. Which is it to be: are relations objects or not?
In answer, I am quite happy to concede that relations are not objects and thus cannot be put into sets (however, we should be able to circumvent this difficulty, as they do in mathematics, and re-define relations as "sets of objects related to other objects", functionally) if DM-fans will admit the same. In that event, another central tenet of dialectics will bite the dust: abstraction.
Finally, but more desperately, it could be objected that the argument (outlined in W1-W15 above) is both convoluted and contrived.
All I can say to any desperate soul who might want to argue along those lines: "Welcome to the world of careful logic and attention to detail, Hermetic bumbler!"
Nevertheless, the basic point is reasonably clear: if the world exists independently of our knowledge of it, then not everything is inter-related (hence the need to revise T4 as T4a or T4b, below). This would mean that some things, while connected, are only one-way connected --, and thus are not interconnected.
[For ease of reference, T4a and T4b were:
T4a: Some elements of reality are independent of each other, while others are interconnected.
T4b: Most elements of reality are independent of one another other; some are not interconnected with most of the rest of the universe.]
10a. It could be argued once more that this minor problem does not affect the fact that the vast bulk of nature is interconnected. However, as Essay Eleven Parts One and Two show, there are far more serious problems facing the DM-Totality than this.
11. Of course, the argument given in the main body of this Essay (and above, in Note 10) only works because the said inter-relationships had been construed as equivalence relations. This is unlikely to be the case with objects and processes in the real world (in that the reflexive relation might be, and should be, challenged), compared with situations that might or might not obtain, say, in formal systems. However, the argument at least has the merit of focussing attention on the extremely vague notion of the universal inter-relationships upon which DM-theorists have hitherto relied.
Finally, the argument set-out in W1-W15 above does not in fact depend on certain relations being equivalence relations; the key is the closure clause.
At any rate, it is not easy to see how DM-theorists can extricate themselves from even an informal version of this dilemma: thus, if everything in the Totality is inter-related, then the material world must be a function of our knowledge of it -- meaning that T1 and T2 are false.
However, since DM-theorists do not seem to know what the boundaries of their Totality are, or where they lie (i.e., whether the Totality includes the past, the future or the present, for instance), or anything about the nature of the relations within it, or what it contains, or what it is made of. or what it is (!) (on this, see Essay Eleven Parts One and Two), it is not easy to say whether or not even this informal dilemma is fatal to their theory. In fact, not even DM-theorists will be able to come to a decision here without considerably clarifying their ideas --, and thus, of course, risk being accused of "Revisionism!"
12. This was documented in Note 1, above.
13. In that case, it is little use being told that a certain colour is F or G (where "F" and "G" go proxy for suitable reductive phrases or (compound) clauses, such as "energy of a certain wavelength", or "a disposition to excite in us certain perceptions"), for unless F and G were connected to terms drawn from the vocabulary of colour, we would be no further forward. Manifestly, "energy of a certain wavelength" has only been identified as causing the perception of colour because of the fact that we already perceive it, and have a vocabulary to match.
On the other hand, if F and G contained terms drawn from the vocabulary of colour, any such reductive definition would be circular.
[Which is just another way of saying that we cannot get behind the vocabulary of colour without already presupposing a mastery of it.]
C1: The colour red is a neural event E whereby a subject sees red.
C2: The colour red is a neural event E whereby a subject reports seeing red.
C3: The colour violet is caused by light of wavelength of approximately 400nm hitting the retina creating a perception of violet.
Here, as seems clear, a prior understanding of the use of "red" or "violet" would inform the imputed scientific facts (for both subject and researcher), not the other way round. [The significance of that particular observation is explored in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
14. These and other related topics are discussed at length in Wittgenstein (1980). Cf., Glock (1996), pp.81-84, Hacker (1987), Hanfling (2000), Harrison (1972, 1973), and McGinn (1991).
Cf., also Hardin (1993), and Westphal (1991). However, the approach adopted by the latter two authors is incompatible with the method employed here. They are offering a theory of colour, I am not -- nor will I (for reasons outlined in Essay One). Nevertheless, both works contain much that is inimical to the idea that colour is in any way material.
Even so, on this topic, the reader should consult a minor modern classic in this area: Stroud (2000). I cannot recommend this book too highly.
15. On this see Note 13.
16. Anyone committed to this austere view of reality needs to explain in physical terms (or in any other, for that matter) how differential equations, vectors, scalars and tensors, and the like, can possibly exercise a causal influence on anything in the material world. But, if in reality there are only differential equations, vectors, scalars and tensors (with a few geodesics and probability distributions thrown in for good measure), etc., what is there in nature for anything to causally interact with, or be acted upon by?
Admittedly, it is not easy to find anyone who openly admits to this austere view of reality, but the way that many modern physicists speak, one would be forgiven for thinking they did -- or for thinking that many of them believe that there exists an invisible mathematical world lying behind material appearances which somehow runs nature behind its back, 'mathematically'. [This seems to be the view motivating Greene (1999, 2004) and Penrose (1989, 1995, 2004), to name but two; this also appears to be partially exercising Smolin (2006) and Woit (2006). More on this in a later Essay.]
It could be objected here that the argument in this part of the Essay ignores the fact that mental phenomena supervene upon -- or 'emerge' from -- material complexity. Because of this they cannot be reduced to the vector, scalar or differential fields (etc.) from whence they came. This objection might appear to gain strong support from one of Engels's three 'laws' -- namely: Q«Q. However, as we have seen in Essay Seven, all three of his 'laws' (and not just Q«Q) are far too feeble to lend support to anything heavier than a quark on a crash diet.
Moreover -- and quite apart from this --, if everything in nature is indeed 'insubstantial' (that is, if all there is to reality are differential, vector, scalar and tensor fields, etc.) then it is difficult to see how anything at all could 'emerge' from such a mathematical broth. Clearly, with no metal, wood, nails, glue, bricks, tiles, mortar, cement, water or sand it is not easy to build a house (or even an image of one).
[This is, of course, part of the classical problem of interaction, discussed in more detail in Essay Eight Part One. Mathematical objects, it would seem, are only able to interact, and thus make things happen, if they are surreptitiously interpreted as material bodies -- which, naturally, just postpones the problem to the next stage. On this, see also Note 17, below.]
Moreover, as we have also seen in Essay Seven Part One, Q«Q cannot sustain 'emergentism' (i.e., the idea that as the level of investigation rises, the phenomena under study undergo a qualitative change, where new features of reality 'emerge' from the underlying strata) --, as, for example, Alex Callinicos seems to believe:
"The transformation of quantity into quality does by contrast seem genuinely universal in so far as it highlights two crucial features of the world -- first the phenomenon of emergence and stratification -- the existence of qualitatively different levels of physical being each governed by specific laws, including the human species, with its peculiar capacities and distinctive history, and second, qualitative transformations from one state of being to another." [Callinicos (2006), p.212.]
It was pointed out in Essay Seven Part One (here and here) that even if some sense could be made of "emergence", it would still not be governed by Engels's Q«Q 'law'. There seems to be no way of subsuming a difference of "levels" to any sort of "quantitative" change of the sort Engels had in mind. As he noted:
"...[T]he 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. Bold emphasis added.]
But, what new energy or matter has been added to the body or process concerned as we pass between these "levels"? The increase or decrease in magnification to which some might point that takes us between levels is not the sort of quantitative change (that is, if it is one) that Engels was speaking about. He pointedly says:
"...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." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]
Magnification is something we bring to the phenomena, it is not something already there, nor do we add energy to, or subtract it from the system under examination when we magnify things.
Of course, it could be objected that we do indeed add energy when we observe nature (be it in the form of light or electron beams, etc.), but energy has no effect on these allegedly 'emergent' properties. No one imagines, it is to be hoped(!), that the supposedly 'emergent' properties of the 'mind', say, depend on them being viewed under a microscope. Or, that the 'emergent' properties of water (e.g., its ability to flow) depend on human observers and what they choose to magnify.
In fact, this underlines how vague Engels's 'law' actually is, for as was pointed out in Essay Seven Part One, it is not too clear what does or what does not constitute an "addition" of energy/matter to any system under review, or, indeed, what constitutes a "system" to begin with. [On that, see here and here.] This is, of course, one of the reasons why I labelled dialectics "Mickey Mouse Science".
So, if there are new laws/emergent properties (as we ascend or descend between levels of complexity and stratification in nature and society), Engels's Q«Q will have nothing to do with them -- unless that 'law' is itself altered to accommodate such phenomena. And if that happens, the link between matter, energy and change will be broken, since such changes would take place independently of the addition or subtraction of matter and/or motion. That is quite apart from the fact that such a re-write of Engels's 'law' just to cater for these awkward facts would introduce an element of subjectivity into what is supposed to be an 'objective' law.
Again, it could be argued that it is not a question of seeing how mental phenomena could emerge from material complexity; the fact is that they do.
But, if matter does not really exist (or if it is just another DM-abstraction) -- if everything is a field of some sort (the physical nature of which is somewhat obscure, anyway) --, then neither mind nor matter could be emergent properties of anything physical. Hence, the fact that we can and do think (etc.) cannot be used to support a theory that sees mental phenomena arising out of something that dialecticians call an 'abstraction', and which many scientists now claim is a myth (i.e., matter itself) -- anymore than others can use such phenomena in order to prove that thought is the product of a non-material mind, or the 'soul' -- a là Descartes -- as many philosophers and theologians have maintained, and which some scientists still seem to believe.
On this austere view of the world, it now seems that matter is just a misperception of the mysterious 'field'. But should that turn us all into Christians or Buddhists?
17. It should not be news to Marxists that the tendency in class society is for theory to drift into Idealist back-waters -- as, even Hegel himself warned:
"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle…." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55.]
And so did Marx:
"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.
"We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]
"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.'" [Ibid., pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]
Hence, if DM-theorists have bought into ruling-class forms-of-thought (by their acceptance of Hegelian jargon/'logic'), it should not surprise us if they wind up as Idealists. [More on this in Essay Twelve Part One.]
However, on a positive note, and as was argued earlier (in relation to attempts to revise our views of "solidity" and of "change"), anyone who claims that matter does not exist owes us a clear account of exactly what it is they are ruling out. Just what is it that does not exist? If no one knows, then no one will be able to say precisely what is being denied existence. If we are all mistaken about 'it', then when we use the word "matter" (or "material", and other related terms) we must either be referring to a misperception or we are using an empty word. If the latter is the case, then those who seek to correct us must also be using a similarly empty word in the very act of attempting to re-educate the rest of us. That would, of course, render what they had to say equally vacuous, thus neutralising that attempt.
[The rest of this argument (if expressed in full) would imitate a similar one detailed in Essay Four Part One, here. The reader is directed there for more details. Somewhat similar comments on the use of "solidity" will appear in a later Essay.]
On the other hand, if our belief in matter (or material constitution) is caused by a misperception of the field, for example, we would require a convincing account of the nature of this field, and one that was not itself couched in terms that used vocabulary associated with material substance, once again -- such as a clear explanation of what "the field" was made of. But, "the field" is actually made of nothing. In what way then would it be different from nothing? On the other hand, if it is made out of something, how is this "something" different from material substance -- which, plainly, cannot now be a further misperceived field.
Of course, the problem began much earlier; if we allow scientists and/or mathematicians to tell us that matter 'really' is a misperception of a mathematical object (i.e., "the field"), then we have only ourselves to blame when materialism collapses into incoherence.
It might be wondered how the present author defines materialism, or what she thinks matter to be. The beginnings of a historical materialist (but non-theoretical) account of the constitution of things, can be found in Hacker (1979, 1982a, 1982b, 1987, 2004, 2007) -- although it must be added that Hacker would not describe his work in such Marxist terms. [The 2004 link above is to a PDF.] I will be adding to Hacker's comments in a later Essay.
18. We saw a similar quandary arise over attempts to 'revise' ordinary language terms such as "change", here; cf., Note 17 above, with respect to "matter"/"material".
19. In fact Lenin connects colour with vibrations in the Ether!
"If colour is a sensation only depending upon the retina (as natural science compels you to admit), then light rays, falling upon the retina, produce the sensation of colour. This means that outside us, independently of us and of our minds, there exists a movement of matter, let us say of ether waves of a definite length and of a definite velocity, which, acting upon the retina, produce in man the sensation of a particular colour. This is precisely how natural science regards it. It explains the sensations of various colours by the various lengths of light-waves existing outside the human retina, outside man and independently of him. This is materialism: matter acting upon our sense-organs produces sensation." [Lenin (1972), p.50. Bold emphasis added.]
How 'objective' does this seem to us now? And, of course, while we may sense warmth and cold (and the like), we do not sense colour. When was the last time you had a 'feeling' of colour? Or detected a 'sensation' of colour, as you might have a warm sensation, or a sensation of pain? [On this, see Hacker (1987).]
But, even if we did, that would still not tell us what colour is. [On this, see Stroud (2000).]
20. Cf., Note 17 and Note 18 above.
21. But, this is all so unnecessary; in ordinary language we already have the wherewithal to describe the constitution of things in seemingly limitless detail. On that, see Hacker (1979, 1982a, 1982b, 1987, 2004, 2007). [Once again, the 2004 link is to a PDF.]
22. Naturally, such a tactic would confirm the earlier allegation that for Lenin "externality" is not just a necessary condition for materiality, it is a sufficient condition, too.
23. It could be claimed that the CMG is in fact a property of Spacetime, and that its geometrical centre (i.e., the location where certain geodesics might be said to converge) is actually material in this sense. Unfortunately, this view rests on a mistake. Geodesics are theoretical entities that form part of a mathematical model (a "form of representation") of the Galaxy, and the rest of the Universe. While the CMG lies at the apparent convergence of geodesic 'curves', only the most fanciful of thinkers would imagine that such 'curves' have a physical nature, and hence physically intersect anywhere. Even though geodesics delineate how Spacetime is supposed to be 'warped' by matter, their reification (alongside equally confused interpretations of space and time) -- which reification would itself be based on a referential interpretation of the meaning of theoretical terms -- would amount to yet another example of LIE (that is, that what we say and how we make sense of nature is part of nature, implying that the universe is constituted by linguistic forms). This special sort of fancy seems to derive from the belief that just because we are able to construct formal systems that help us explain the world, the world must either have such a structure, or these formal systems must have physical correlates themselves. The formulae made flesh, as it were. This is about as sensible as arguing that, say, the solar system must be a graph (or possess axes) because we use graphs to explain it.
Moreover, the success of science no more proves geodesics 'exist' in nature than it proves graphs do.
[I will examine this error in a little more detail in an Additional Essay to be published in 2010.]
It could also be objected that the comparison drawn in the text between the average lager drinker and the CMG is defective because the former is a mathematical construct which exercises no causal influence on the world, whereas the latter does. Perhaps so, but Lenin's "externalist" criterion is no help at all in distinguishing between the two, since both are manifestly 'external to the mind'. No one supposes that the average lager drinker resides in the mind -- manifestly, 'he/she/it' resides nowhere at all -- or, that the CMG does, either. Hence, as far as Lenin's "externalist" criterion is concerned, not only must both be material (when clearly neither is), they must both have causal relations with other items in the 'objective' world (when only the latter does).
Anyway, Lenin himself did not add such a 'causal codicil' to his criterion; it is far from clear whether one would have been of much help, anyway. [It might perhaps have allowed him to rule out magic!]
To be sure, Lenin spent a whole chapter in MEC on causality and necessity, but he failed to link either of these with his criterion; in fact he pointedly asserted:
"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin (1972), p.311.]
"Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., p.312.]
"[I]t is the sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature's existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Ibid., p.314. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphases added.]
No mention here of causality in this "sole" and "nothing but" criterion. [For a more balanced account of causation, see Hacker (2007), pp.57-89.]
Once more, it could be objected that the average lager drinker is not a mind-independent concept because it depends on human minds to invent and comprehend it. Maybe so, but then that would rule out as 'non-objective' things like motor cars, bus tickets, revolutionary newspapers and money, since they too are not mind-independent. It would also mean that the Prime Meridian, lines of longitude and latitude aren't 'objective' either. In fact, this would underline once again how useless the word "objective" is in philosophical contexts. [On that, see here.]
Of course, the point being made in the main body of this Essay is simply that the CMG is no more a property of matter than the average larger drinker is a property of all lager drinkers (or the average price of Socialist Worker over the last twenty years is a property of Socialist Worker) -- or, that it is a property of anything (or even that it is a property). [On properties and powers, see Hacker (2007), pp.29-56, 90-122.]
Furthermore, the CMG itself is not causally related to all the matter in the Galaxy (in any intelligible sense) -- not unless we were to imagine that nature is implicated in a complex and ongoing series of calculations, re-evaluating the CMG every zillionth of a second, re-positioning it in its new location under the influence of all the causal inputs operating on it -- and all acting in concert -- while the CMG dutifully 'obeys orders' and moves to its newly designated location, perfectly and instantaneously (or, perhaps, with subluminary velocity --, i.e., at less than the speed of light), without a Sat Nav or star map to guide it. The fact that all matter averages out its influence so that the aggregate moves as if there were a CMG causing that motion is not the result of a calculation -- any more than the average rate of profit at any point in the development of Capitalism is a result of a series of calculations performed by commodities, currency tokens, or even Capitalists themselves (even though the majority of Marxist economists appear to talk as if Capitalists do in fact do this, or are aware of it) --, despite the fact that it likewise appears to have a significant causal effect on the economy.
24. I do not propose to defend -- or justify the presence of -- each and every item in this list. Several of them have already put in an appearance in the suggested 'definition' of the "Totality" considered in detail in Essay Eleven Part One. Lenin's optimistic belief that the development of science will sort out the final inventory of nature is not entirely reassuring, since, even on his account, humanity will never attain to anything remotely like such a state; in fact they will always remain infinitely far from 'it'.
It is worth recalling at this point that Lenin's criterion for materiality was expressed in the following question:
"Does the transformation of energy take place outside the mind, independently of man…or are these only ideas?" [Lenin (1972), p.324.]
For Lenin, as already noted, the 'objective' existence of something outside the mind seems to be a necessary and sufficient condition for its materiality. Of course, if this were the case, we would have to regard such things as lines of latitude and longitude, hours of the day, days of the week, the values of commodities, and so on, as material.
It might be thought that the phrase "independently of man" would be sufficient to deny each of the items in the previous paragraph its material status, but that can't be right. If it were, motor cars, buses, aeroplanes, bridges, canals, railway lines, ships, and buildings would not be material! Indeed, if this were so (if, objects that were not independent of man were counted as non-material), the next time a Leninist was hit by a 'non-material' bus, he/she should suffer no damage. And the 'immaterial' bullet that nearly killed Lenin would in fact have 'inflicted' on him only a psychosomatic injury!
That alone shows what a useless 'definition' this is!
25. It might be thought that such temporal zones (i.e., past, present and future) are arguably properties of material bodies (or, "modes" of their existence) -- but, if anything, we employ the latter concepts to help decide what counts as material, not the other way round. Thus, if something had no causal past, or contemporary effects -- and it had no effect on how the future developed in any way at all -- we (materialists) would perhaps be inclined to say say that such an 'entity' or 'process' was immaterial, or that it did not exist. If, on the other hand, matter explained time, the above reasoning would be circular.
Anyway, it is bizarre to describe temporal zones as "properties". Two of them at least do not appear to exist (the Past and the Future), and the third (the Present) is of decidedly limited duration.
In fact, Lenin's comments on space and time are rather odd themselves:
"Recognising the existence of objective reality, i.e., matter in motion, independently of our mind, materialism must also inevitably recognise the objective reality of time and space, in contrast above all to Kantianism, which in this question sides with idealism and regards time and space not as objective realities but as forms of human understanding. The basic difference between the two fundamental philosophical lines on this question is also quite clearly recognised by writers of the most diverse trends who are in any way consistent thinkers." [Lenin (1972), pp.202-03. Bold emphasis added.]
Apart from quoting Engels as an authority, Lenin does not tell us how he knew that space and time are "objective". To be sure, he asserts all manner of things (quoting others who agree, or half-agree with him), such as the alleged fact that we "perceive" space:
"It is one thing, how, with the help of various sense organs, man perceives space, and how, in the course of a long historical development, abstract ideas of space are derived from these perceptions; it is an entirely different thing whether there is an objective reality independent of mankind which corresponds to these perceptions and conceptions of mankind...." [Ibid., p.217.]
But, this set of assertions in no way refutes Kant (or even Leibniz), and only those who think that pounding the table, constantly repeating the same point time and again, and attempting to discredit opponents by name-calling, will think otherwise.
And yet, even if Lenin were right, the fact that he thinks space and time are "objective" must mean they are material, for his criterion of materiality implies they are. But, what is so material about space and time? In fact, Lenin also inconsistently believed that both of these were "forms" of the existence of matter; quoting Engels (approvingly):
"'The basic forms of all being,' Engels admonishes Dühring, 'are space and time, and existence out of time is just as gross an absurdity as existence out of space.'" [Ibid., p.205; quoting Engels (1976), p.64. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
Of course, for Lenin, to quote Engels is as if to quote God as an authority on anything and everything. However, none of this makes sense even from Lenin's perspective. For if space and time are "forms" of the existence of matter, they could hardly be material, or they would be forms of their own existence! In that case, Lenin must either (1) abandon the idea that space and time are "objective", or (2) relinquish his claim that it is sufficient for something to be material that it is "objective" and outside the human mind, or even (3) reject the Engelsian dogma that space and time are "forms" of the existence of matter.
Anyway, the many and varied creations of the human mind are no less "objective" than natural events and processes are (as we saw in Note 24). Who doubts that the Prime Meridian is "objective", or that revolutionary newspapers are "objective", or that money is "objective"? But, would any of these exist without human intervention? Are not our concepts of space and time somewhat similar?
It could be objected that space and time would still exist whether or not there were human beings or sentient life, unlike the other items just mentioned. But, it is not too clear what it means to say that space and time "exist"; surely, even for Lenin, they are the preconditions for anything material to exist. In that case, they are preconditions for us to comprehend the existence of matter, too. But, that just takes us back to the question at the end of the last paragraph.
Well, I won't attempt to answer such Kantian questions here; suffice it to say that Lenin failed to establish that space and time are 'objective' and thus material. Indeed, if we stick to the letter of Lenin's 'definition', and if space and time are viewed as the forms of the existence of matter, they cannot be material and thus cannot be 'objective'.
On this, see Hacker (1982a) and Read (2007), pp.79-115. [Some of Read's work can be found here; more specifically here.] See also Westfall (1996, 2002), and Suter (1989b).
26. Cf., for example, Lenin (1972), pp.202-18. However, in a recent article Paul McGarr (who has a PhD in Physics) argued that empty space may not be "empty" after all:
"Even the very notion of 'empty space', the vacuum, will no longer do. Quantum mechanics predicts, and this has been confirmed, that particles can spontaneously come into existence out of the vacuum which itself is bubbling with energy." [McGarr (1994), p.150. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
But, McGarr does not seem to appreciate the absurdity of what he is saying, for if the very notion of "empty space" (indeed, "the vacuum") has to go, it would be impossible for him to specify what the said "particles" had emerged from -- or even what was being denied of what. If the concept (not the fact) of empty space (and the vacuum) is no longer applicable, then clearly he may not use that term to inform us in the next breath that it is still there, producing things. If, on the other hand, McGarr still wants to employ the phrase "empty space", or "the vacuum" -- and wishes to mean something by one or both -- then it is patently not the case that either notion is defunct, since he at least will have found a role for one or both in producing things.
McGarr's predicament underlines once again the problem that scientists face when they endeavour to translate theoretical terms into "prose" (to use Wittgenstein's term) -- that is, when they attempt to explain their ideas to one another, or to the rest of us, in ordinary language. What they say invariably turns out to be incomprehensible, self-defeating or absurd.
Oddly enough, some physicists are perhaps beginning to see this. According to David Peat, writing in the New Scientist:
"It hasn't been a great couple of years for theoretical physics. Books such as Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics and Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong embody the frustration felt across the field that string theory, the brightest hope for formulating a theory that would explain the universe in one beautiful equation, has been getting nowhere. It's quite a comedown from the late 1980s and 1990s, when a grand unified theory seemed just around the corner and physicists believed they would soon, to use Stephen Hawking's words, 'know the mind of God'. New Scientist even ran an article called 'The end of physics'.
"So what went wrong? Why are physicists finding it so hard to make that final step? I believe part of the answer was hinted at by the great physicist Niels Bohr, when he wrote: 'It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out about nature. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.'
"At first sight that seems strange. What has language got to do with it? After all, we see physics as about solving equations relating to facts about the world -- predicting a comet's path, or working out how fast heat flows along an iron bar. The language we choose to convey question or answer is not supposed to fundamentally affect the nature of the result.
"Nonetheless, that assumption started to unravel one night in the spring of 1925, when the young Werner Heisenberg worked out the basic equations of what became known as quantum mechanics. One of the immediate consequences of these equations was that they did not permit us to know with total accuracy both the position and the velocity of an electron: there would always be a degree of irreducible uncertainty in these two values.
"Heisenberg needed an explanation for this. He reasoned thus: suppose a very delicate (hypothetical) microscope is used to observe the electron, one so refined that it uses only a single photon of energy to make its measurement. First it measures the electron's position, then it uses a second photon to measure the speed, or velocity. But in making this latter observation, the second photon has imparted a little kick to the electron and in the process has shifted its position. Try to measure the position again and we disturb the velocity. Uncertainty arises, Heisenberg argued, because every time we observe the universe we disturb its intrinsic properties.
"However, when Heisenberg showed his results to Bohr, his mentor, he had the ground cut from under his feet. Bohr argued that Heisenberg had made the unwarranted assumption that an electron is like a billiard ball in that it has a 'position' and possesses a 'speed'. These are classical notions, said Bohr, and do not make sense at the quantum level. The electron does not necessarily have an intrinsic position or speed, or even a particular path. Rather, when we try to make measurements, quantum nature replies in a way we interpret using these familiar concepts.
"This is where language comes in. While Heisenberg argued that 'the meaning of quantum theory is in the equations', Bohr pointed out that physicists still have to stand around the blackboard and discuss them in German, French or English. Whatever the language, it contains deep assumptions about space, time and causality -- assumptions that do not apply to the quantum world. Hence, wrote Bohr, 'we are suspended in language such that we don't know what is up and what is down'. Trying to talk about quantum reality generates only confusion and paradox.
"Unfortunately Bohr's arguments are often put aside today as some physicists discuss ever more elaborate mathematics, believing their theories to truly reflect subatomic reality. I remember a conversation with string theorist Michael Green a few years after he and John Schwartz published a paper in 1984 that was instrumental in making string theory mainstream. Green remarked that when Einstein was formulating the theory of relativity he had thought deeply about the philosophical problems involved, such as the nature of the categories of space and time. Many of the great physicists of Einstein's generation read deeply in philosophy.
"In contrast, Green felt, string theorists had come up with a mathematical formulation that did not have the same deep underpinning and philosophical inevitability. Although superstrings were for a time an exciting new approach, they did not break conceptual boundaries in the way that the findings of Bohr, Heisenberg and Einstein had done.
"The American quantum theorist David Bohm embraced Bohr's views on language, believing that at the root of Green's problem is the structure of the languages we speak. European languages, he noted, perfectly mirror the classical world of Newtonian physics. When we say 'the cat chases the mouse' we are dealing with well-defined objects (nouns), which are connected via verbs. Likewise, classical physics deals with objects that are well located in space and time, which interact via forces and fields. But if the world doesn't work the way our language does, advances are inevitably hindered.
"Bohm pointed out that quantum effects are much more process-based, so to describe them accurately requires a process-based language rich in verbs, and in which nouns play only a secondary role....
"Physics as we know it is about equations and quantitative measurement. But what these numbers and symbols really mean is a different, more subtle matter. In interpreting the equations we must remember the limitations language places on how we can think about the world...." [Peat (2008), pp.41-43. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
And, as far as the Ether is concerned, perhaps the idea is not as dead as it once seemed. On that, see here.
27. Lenin seems compelled to perseverate about many things in MEC, but one he particularly likes is Alizarin.
"What is the kernel of Engels' objections? Yesterday we did not know that coal tar contained alizarin. Today we learned that it does. The question is, did coal tar contain alizarin yesterday?
"Of course it did. To doubt it would be to make a mockery of modern science.
"And if that is so, three important epistemological conclusions follow:
"1) Things exist independently of our consciousness, independently of our perceptions, outside of us, for it is beyond doubt that alizarin existed in coal tar yesterday and it is equally beyond doubt that yesterday we knew nothing of the existence of this alizarin and received no sensations from it.
"2) There is definitely no difference in principle between the phenomenon and the thing-in-itself, and there can be no such difference. The only difference is between what is known and what is not yet known. And philosophical inventions of specific boundaries between the one and the other, inventions to the effect that the thing-in-itself is 'beyond' phenomena (Kant), or that we can and must fence ourselves off by some philosophical partition from the problem of a world which in one part or another is still unknown but which exists outside us (Hume) -- all this is the sheerest nonsense, Schrulle, crotchet, invention.
"3) In the theory of knowledge, as in every other branch of science, we must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as ready-made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more exact.
"Once we accept the point of view that human knowledge develops from ignorance, we shall find millions of examples of it just as simple as the discovery of alizarin in coal tar, millions of observations not only in the history of science and technology but in the everyday life of each and every one of us that illustrate the transformation of 'things-in-themselves' into 'things-for-us,' the appearance of 'phenomena' when our sense-organs experience an impact from external objects, the disappearance of 'phenomena' when some obstacle prevents the action upon our sense-organs of an object which we know to exist. The sole and unavoidable deduction to be made from this -- a deduction which all of us make in everyday practice and which materialism deliberately places at the foundation of its epistemology -- is that outside us, and independently of us, there exist objects, things, bodies and that our perceptions are images of the external world...." [Lenin (1972), pp.110-11. Cf., also: p.108, p.127, p.153, and p.312. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here. Bold emphases added.]
However, all the reader has to do here is substitute the word "Ether" for "Alizarin" in the above to see Lenin's bluster for what it is. We have already noted that Lenin declared the Ether to be "objective", but since it is now regarded as fictional, this rather makes a mess of the three "epistemological conclusions" he said followed from this.
[Of course, this does not mean that the present author rejects scientific truth, but relying on Lenin to defend scientific knowledge would be like relying on Laurel and Hardy to mend your car. There are better ways to do this than employ the rather weak, quasi-phenomenalist and naïve realist 'arguments' Lenin advanced.]
Despite this, there is a half-hearted defence of Lenin's ideas in Ruben (1979) -- especially on pp.165-221. Unfortunately, the account of materialism on offer there is little more than a dilute, rather watery sort of materialism, one that Rubin adopted for reasons even Lenin would have considered mealy-mouthed.
On page 5, for example, Ruben identifies materialism with "scientific realism" (despite Lenin's disapproval of the term; cf., Lenin (1972) pp.57, 403, 410-12, 426), and on pp.107-09, Reuben even denies that there might be any sort of a posteriori justification for materialism. Not only that, Ruben describes the deductive support materialism enjoys as "circular"; this appears to be based on the disdain Ruben has for "transcendental arguments" (henceforth, TAs).
Even so, several important issues arise from this:
(1) Ruben attributes the use of TAs to something he calls "the Wittgensteinian tradition". Now, while it might be true that certain Wittgensteinians have employed TAs (i.e., those who have perhaps confused Wittgenstein's method with Kant's), Wittgenstein himself neither used the term nor employed any TAs in his own work.
On pp.109, 141 (note 23), 206-07, 219, Ruben attempts to argue that the conclusion to Wittgenstein's "private language argument" (henceforth, PLA) actually depends on a TA. This is a serious mistake. Not only is there no actual conclusion to the PLA, TAs are themselves based on the tactic of arguing 'backwards', as it were, inferring (or 'positing') the existence of specific conditions that must obtain for certain other propositions to be true. In contrast, Wittgenstein's method is primarily aimed at demonstrating that traditional philosophical theses are disguised non-sense, not at establishing what must be the case for something else to be true.
In fact, if anything, the PLA is analogous to a reductio.
(2) Even if he were right about the PLA, Ruben's objection to TAs is itself based on a faulty piece of traditional logic (an error which many others have made, and still make). In his discussion of Roy Bhaskar's use of TAs, Ruben argues as follows:
"[N]o argument from the sole premiss that science or experimental activity exists to the conclusion that the world is structured into essences and appearances can be valid unless the premisses give us some reason to discount…[the] alternatives…. [I]n a valid deductive argument nothing can appear in the conclusion that is not already in the premisses." [Ruben (1979), pp.132-33. Bold emphasis added.]
And, in relation to the PLA itself, Ruben adds:
"I do not subscribe to any form of the private language argument since it is a transcendental form of argument. I claim that no deductive argument could be valid whose conclusion is that there is a public language and none of whose premisses assume that there is a public language." [Ibid., p.141, note 23. Bold emphasis added.]
However, these claims are based on a defective understanding of logic and of the relation between the premisses and conclusions of valid arguments. Contrary to what Ruben asserts, there are countless deductively valid arguments whose conclusions "contain" more than their premisses. Consider, for example, the following:
R1: Anyone who lives in London lives in Europe.
R2: Therefore, the public language of anyone who lives in London is the public language of someone who lives in Europe.
Here we have a deductively valid argument with only one premiss that does not "assume" that there is a public language. Not only that, the conclusion does not "assume" it either. The argument would be valid even if there were no public languages!
Consider this further example:
R3: If there are no public languages then New York is in Canada.
R4: New York is not in Canada.
R5: Therefore, there is at least one public language.
The conditional premiss [R3] "assumes" nothing. At best, it expresses an hypothesis to the effect that there are no public languages.
[True, there are logicians who reject material implications like this on "relevance" grounds, but it is doubtful whether Ruben is one of them.]
In a similar manner, reductios themselves are aimed at deriving conclusions from premisses not all of which are asserted.
In addition, Ruben's defence of Lenin adds little to the debate between metaphysical realists and anti-realists, and it fails to address the sorts of points raised above. Small wonder then that TAR's only clear reference to Ruben's book is rather dismissive.
Nevertheless, TAR's own rejection of Ruben's defence of Lenin is instructive in itself. Even though Rees notes that Ruben concedes too much ground to Lenin's critics, he concurs with Ruben that in MEC Lenin conflates his theory of reflection with an erroneous correspondence theory of perception. But, far from actually answering the many fatal charges that have been levelled against Lenin's embattled work over the years (some of which are outlined in this Essay), TAR just adds the following rather bald comment:
"Because a dialectical approach handles the relationship between theory and reality in a manner which neither requires that we abandon the correspondence of the two, nor reduces the former to the latter, it has an inherent claim to superiority over more mechanical approaches." [Rees (1998), p.183.]
But, this will not do. The fundamental philosophical weaknesses in Lenin's theory cannot be brushed aside in such a disarming manner, with a hackneyed reference to "dialectics", as if it were some sort of a talisman. As we have seen here (and earlier), the "dialectical approach" completely undermines knowledge. "Mechanical approaches" to theory, therefore, would have little to fear if DM were the only game in town.
28. Exception may be taken to this comparison, but, to speak plainly, those who dine with pigs should not expect to rise unsullied. Hence, Lenin's logical and epistemological problems began when he used the class-compromised ideas he found in Hegel's 'Logic' (and in the work of other traditional philosophers) to construct an indefensible theory --, just as Blair abandoned even his earlier pale pink socialism by buying into analogous ruling-class economic, political and social nostrums.
If, in stark contrast, Marxists displayed the same circumspection in philosophy as they rightly do in economic and political theory, DM would have entered the world still-born.
29. On this, see Note 26, above.
30. This problem might be a direct consequence of DM-theorists inheriting Hegel's view of Mind as a sort of collective 'process'. More on that in Essay Three Part Two.
30a. This particular argument did not go down too well with the revolutionaries I tried it on at RevLeft, and elsewhere:
Did Lenin Believe in
Santa Claus? Apparently so, since he argued as follows:
"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it." [Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, p.69. Bold emphasis added. Cf., also p.279.]
This can only mean that if
you can form an image of something in your mind, it must exist in reality!
So, not only are there unicorns and hob-goblins in Lenin's universe, it is graced with Big Foot and dear old Santa (and Hitler, and Mussolini, and...).
Almost to a dialectical clone, they all reacted emotively and irrationally to it. [On that, see here and here.] Why they all almost invariably do this is explained in Essay Nine Part Two.
Anyway, as I pointed out in those debates, the fact that Lenin did not actually believe in Santa Claus means that his claim (that images imply the objective existence of whatever they are the image of) is defective, leaving him in no better position than Mach or Bogdanov, since he now has to depend on faith alone to prove the existence of the outside world.
However, in the above debate, one of the most common attempts to defend Lenin ran along the following lines: We have images of things like colour and shape because of our interaction with the world. So, even if we have an image of Santa Claus, that does not imply that Lenin believed he existed. This is because Lenin was merely committed to the view that the (coloured) parts we imagine belonging to Santa (etc.) have been derived from experience. Out of such parts, and as a result of various cultural influences, we construct images (on paper, in the mind, in film, etc.) of certain things, some of which do, and some of which do not exist, even though their parts manifestly do exist. In that case, Lenin is not claiming that just because we have images of Big Foot or the Tooth Fairy that the latter exist. All that Lenin is arguing is that the images we have of those parts imply that those parts must exist in reality, since we could not have derived them from anywhere else.
This brave attempt to defend Lenin fails in several places. First of all Lenin argued as follows:
"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. Bold emphasis added. In both of these, the quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
No mention here of "parts".
Secondly, those whom Lenin was criticising in MEC could easily have responded: "And how, comrade Lenin, do you know that the images you have (whether they are of parts or of wholes) represent objects, or even the properties of objects, in the real world, and are not just figments of your own imagination?"
Now, Lenin plainly had no answer to this in MEC (and none in PN, either), and, as far as can be ascertained, no DIM who argues along these lines has produced one since (mainly because they are content merely to regurgitate Lenin's defective non-arguments, or copy his bluster and invective -- more on that in Essay Three). Naturally, this leaves Lenin (and his followers) in the same predicament as the subjective Idealists he criticised in MEC: that is, he has no proof that the external world exists or that our "images" are of objects/properties in extra-mental reality. [See also Essay Five, here.]
When faced with this, DIMs tend to retreat to the fall-back position of saying that only madmen, sceptics and Idealists would think to doubt the existence of the outside world -- and then they rely on the reader's 'commonsense' to reject this view of reality.
However, this reply merely labels the problem, it does not solve it. Those whom Lenin was criticising in MEC are unlikely to have been persuaded by such a cop-out, and would no doubt have wanted to know how Lenin could possibly know/prove that his 'image' of what he takes ordinary folk to believe itself represents anything in reality, and is not just another figment of his over-active imagination. Or even that there are "ordinary folk" in reality. Hence, it is little use trying to take on the sophisticated arguments of Phenomenalists if in the end all one can do is appeal to what one imagines madmen, sceptics and Idealists believe, when the existence of these individuals (as opposed to their images) has yet to be proved too!
Hence, dialecticians who adopt traditional representational theories of knowledge must inevitably become trapped in a solipsistic 'world'. Indeed, those who appropriate the methods and concepts handed down to them from previous generations of ruling-class hacks should learn perhaps to accept this self-inflicted and dire predicament with fortitude. They are the ones who dropped themselves into this phenomenalist hole --, and, in the vast majority of cases, they are also the ones who refuse even to consider effective ways of avoiding such pitfalls in the future (for instance, the anti-metaphysical method adopted at this site) -- nor do they seem inclined even to consider Marx's comments on the source of such 'problems':
"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis added.]
Indeed, the idea that such problems are a direct result of the distortion of ordinary language is laughed out of court. [Here is a recent example. There are many more of these at RevLeft.]
Finally, as noted elsewhere in this Essay, it is a bit rich of those who spare no effort telling us of the limitations of 'commonsense' to turn around now and inform us that it underpins their theory of knowledge!
[This is discussed in more detail in Essay Three, especially Part Two, here, where it is then connected with the 'appearance/reality' dichotomy -- another bogus distinction DIMs have unwisely inherited from ruling-class thought. In addition, other attempts to escape from this solipsistic hole -- for example those found in "Critical Realism" --, will likewise be taken apart (when the rest of essay Three is published).]
30b. There is an interesting defence of Lenin in Goldstick (1980); I will comment on this article at a later date.
Some might think that modern science has shown that the brain processes information that the senses send its way (as images, and the like). This topic will be discussed in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. In the meantime, the reader is directed to Bennett and Hacker (2003), Bennett et al (2007), Hacker (1987), and Hyman (1989, 2006).
30c. The linguistic means we have available to us to express our knowledge are in fact much more varied than this. For example we have: "NN knows that p", "NN knows how to φ", "NN knows MM", "NN knows where to φ", "NN knows when to ψ", and so on. More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three. See also here.
[In the above, "NN" and "MM" go proxy for name variables (such as "Tony Blair" or "Leon Trotsky"), "p" is a propositional variable (such as "The Nile is longer than the Thames" or "There are no WMD in Iraq"), "φ" and "ψ" are verb phrase variables (such as "score a goal" or "organise a paper sale").]
30d. Of course, some might want to argue that as follows:
We have images of things like colour and shape because of our interaction with the world. So, even if we have an image of Santa Claus, that does not imply that Lenin believed he existed. This is because Lenin was merely committed to the view that the parts we imagine belonging to Santa (etc.) have been derived from experience. Out of such parts, and as a result of various cultural influences, we construct images (on paper, in the mind, in film, etc.) of certain things, some of which do, and some of which do not exist, even though their parts manifestly do.
This argument was in fact neutralised earlier.
31. More on this here, here, and here.
32. The words "objective" and "subjective", used by Roman Catholic theorists in the late Middle Ages, meant almost exactly the opposite of what they seem to mean today. As Daston and Galison point out in their exhaustive study:
"The word 'objectivity' has a summersault history. Its cognates in European languages derive from the Latin adverbial or adjectival form obiectivus/obiective, introduced by fourteenth century scholastic philosophers such as Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. (The substantive term does not emerge until much later, around the turn of the nineteenth century.) From the very beginning, it was always paired with subiectivus/subiective, but the terms originally meant almost precisely the opposite of what they mean today. 'Objective' referred to things as they are presented to consciousness, whereas 'subjective' referred to things in themselves....
"The words objective and subjective fell into disuse during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and were invoked only occasionally, as technical terms. It was Immanuel Kant who dusted off the musty scholastic terminology of 'objective' and 'subjective' and breathed new life and new meanings into it.... Kant's 'objective validity'...referred not to external objects...but to the 'forms of sensibility' (time, space, causality) that are preconditions of experience. And his habit of using 'subjective' as a rough synonym for 'merely empirical sensations' shares with later usage only the sneer with which the word is intoned. For Kant, the line between the objective and the subjective generally runs between universal and particular, not between world and mind." [Daston and Galison (2007), pp.29-30. Italic emphases in the original; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
As these authors argue, the significant change occurred in the nineteenth century as scientists replaced their older endeavour to be "true to nature" with a depersonalised "objectivity", where all traces of the observer were allegedly removed. [See also Megill (1994b).]
Inwood makes a similar point:
"From their first occurrence in Duns Scotus until the eighteenth century, 'subject' and 'object' were used in a sense that is the reverse of their modern sense: the 'subject' was the underlying subject of discourse (or object), while the 'object' was thrown against or towards it, viz. the subjective conception or predicate." [Inwood (1992), p.203).]
Inwood goes on the point out that the German language has two words for "objective"/"object": Gegenstand ("what stands over against") and Objekt. He adds:
"In Hegel Objekt differs from Gegenstand in three respects: (1)...A Gegenstand is an intentional object, while an Objekt is a real object. (2) When the Objekt is the object of something, it is usually the object of a Subjekt, while a Gegenstand is the object of knowledge (Wissen), consciousness, the I.... (3) A form of consciousness and its object are, on Hegel's view, interdependent and have a comparable richness and complexity. Thus since the Objekt is correlative to the Subjekt, and (in the Logic) the subject involves the concept, the judgment and the inference, the Objekt must be a complex system of objects (such as the solar system) related by the forms of inference. A Gegenstand, by contrast, may be the object of a simple form of consciousness, such as a sensory certainty, which is not yet a fully fledged subject." [ibid., p.204. Italic emphases in the original.]
I will not enter into whether these Hegelian distinctions hold, or even if they make any sense, I will merely note that the roots of Lenin's confusion of epistemological with logical issues clearly originates from woolly thought such as this (in Hegel, that is, not commentators like Inwood!). For an Idealist of Hegel's ilk, running together issues in this way is Moses and the Prophets.
However, it is important to note here that in these comments, I am not questioning the ordinary uses of "objective" and "subjective", merely their metaphysical deployment.
33. It could be objected that the falsehood of the claim that there is life on the Moon implies the truth of the claim that there is no life on the Moon. If so, 'objectivity' must be connected with scientific truth, after all.
However, this riposte only gains plausibility if we ignore the fact that such allegedly 'objective' facts turn out to be consonant with what are in effect falsehoods, just as much as they are with truths. Hence, the truth that there is no life on the moon implies the falsehood of the claim that there is life there (i.e., if we argue thus: ~(p & ~p), p; ergo ~p); but, this implication is, alas, two-way (viz.: ~(p & ~p), ~p; ergo p). Until we have an independent argument ruling the one out in favour of the other, the unique identification of truth with objectivity remains unsupported.
[Some might object to the use of the LOC here, but it was included to make the inference more syntactically obvious. The truth of either p or ~p could be obtained from the falsehood of each taken singly; but that would be based on the PB.]
34. It could be argued that the claim that there is no life on Mars is in fact about life on Mars --, and in a sense it is (that is, in so far as this is the 'topic of conversation', as it were); but it is not about any life actually on Mars, for there is none -- just as the claim that there is no truth in a certain rumour is not about the truth actually in that rumour, for there is none.
34a. It could be objected that the sentence "There is no life on Mars" in fact corresponds to the absence of life on Mars. However, this alleged correspondence relation is not unique, for this sentence also 'corresponds' with the absence of life on Jupiter. Again, exception might be taken to this response on the lines that these two sentences are true or false under different conditions, and so cannot be logically equivalent. Indeed, that is so, but until we are given some sort of proof that "corresponds" means the same as "true/false under the same conditions", that objection itself cannot succeed.
Once more, all this depends on what is meant by "corresponds"; this topic will be explored at more length in a later Essay on theories of truth. However, see Note 39, below.
35. These observations, of course, depend for their validity on the entire argument being presented in this Essay, and at this site.
36. For example, Price (1996), pp.3-21.
Several comments on recent attempts to define these terms more carefully will be added at a future date. Until then, the reader is directed here, and to Daston and Galison's monumental work, Daston and Galison (2007).
37. This might seem to ignore much of post-Kantian Philosophy, but that is not so. On this, see Note 36 above (when it is completed). Forms of representation will be explained in more detail in a later Essay; in the meantime, see here.
38. And the metaphysical table has been well-and-truly thumped in recent punch-ups between scientific realists and anyone who has the temerity, for example, to question the 'objectivity' of science.
A slightly more substantial (but vastly more sinister) example of this sort of thing can be found in Gross and Levitt (1998). These two authors inflict on the reader 300 pages of indignant prose largely devoted to establishing the implausible thesis that only scientists can informatively criticise science. On the way to reaching this novel conclusion they manage to forget that many social constructivist authors (one of their pet hate groups) are highly qualified scientists themselves (Harry Collins, Andrew Pickering and Steven Shapin, for example). Also omitted from their account is the far more revealing fact that most scientists are often as ignorant of other specialist areas of science as well-informed (non-scientist) lay-critics of science are.
Moreover, in terms of a systematic understanding of science, Imre Lakatos once wrote:
"This…bears out my pet thesis that most scientists tend to understand little more about science than fish about hydrodynamics." [Lakatos (1978), p.62, Note 2. I owe this reference to Dupré (2001), p.113.]
Gross and Levitt completely ignore this relevant detail: practically all scientists are philosophically illiterate (as Lenin himself pointed out -- cf., Lenin (1972), pp.189, 322).
In this regard unfortunately, the arguments and half-baked metaphysics found in Gross and Levitt's book provide ample evidence for the prosecution -- enough, in fact, to secure a conviction. Indeed, the high level of philosophical naivety found in popular accounts of science (written by scientists (etc.)), and the amateurish philosophy found in their more technical works, is now as universal as it is legendary. Even great scientists are not beyond reproach on this score (as Einstein himself pointed out -- although I have temporarily lost the reference for this).
Gross and Levitt's main argument appears to be that no one ignorant of science should criticise it. This seems reasonable enough if we restrict our attention to technical aspects of science. But, science is not a hermetically-sealed discipline. It has historical and ideological roots, as well as metaphysical, social and environmental consequences -- and it can be (and has been) used to legitimate notoriously reactionary ideas and right-wing political doctrines. Furthermore, both its prestige and the limelight it casts upon its more prominent practitioners often mean that any old rubbish that scientists spout receives inordinate respect and attention (again, a fact confirmed by the lionisation of the popular work of any scientist who defends the 'objectivity' of science, regardless of its quality -- another fact amply confirmed by the reception given to Richard Dawkins' recent book).
The same observation applies to many modern philosophers, who, it seems, are rather too easily seduced by the ephemeral ideas and transient theories of scientists. Hence, with respect to these concerns alone (never mind any other motivating factors), non-scientists (and especially Marxists) have a legitimate interest in helping to deflate such windy pretension.
Furthermore, Gross and Levitt are not averse to offering the reader their own philosophical observations, which opinions themselves were already beginning to look somewhat shop-worn when Aristotle was a lad. Indeed, they rehash several rather hackneyed and superficial epistemological 'insights' in the defence of Realism, as if no one had ever asserted them before (countless times). In the event they end up stringing together a raft of their own reactionary (and by now trendy) ideas, all the while pretending to be friends of the Left. The low point of the book was reached when they resurrected their own version of the "HIV-is-a-Gay-Plague" theory. [Gross and Levitt, p.182ff.] With friends like this, who needs friends?
Gross and Levitt's book is subjected to a sharp critique by Richard Lewontin, in Lewontin (1995), and to another in Dupré (2001), pp.113-16. See also Gieryn (1999), and Ross (1996). Gross and Levitt attempted to respond to the latter work in their second edition. Levitt (1999) contains more of the same, as does Weinberg (2002). I will be saying much more about this topic in a later Essay.
Another recent example is provided by that custodian of 'objectivity', Raymond Tallis. In a book review (that had itself been about thinkers such as Michel Foucault) he argued as follows:
"Foucault, as every schoolchild knows, denied that there were such things as objective truths. So-called true statements are not about how things really are but about who is in charge…. [With respect to the death of Foucault], [t]he consequences of denying the truth of objective truths are rarely so attributable, immediate and brutal." [Times Literary Supplement, 5151, 21/12/01, p.3. In the ensuing exchange, my contribution was not published; the substance of it is reproduced below.]
However, I rather doubt that many schoolchildren have ever heard of Foucault (and it is equally likely that few adults have). One can only suppose that this particular hyperbole was deliberately chosen to conjure up an opening aporia over the 'objectively true' status of this patent falsehood -- ironically enough appearing in a review of a book itself about falsehood.
Nevertheless, Tallis has only two responses to make to those whom he thinks undermine faith in 'objective truth'. One of these involves a predictable use of the self-refutation argument:
"All attempts to demonstrate that the truth about truth is that it is not really true fall foul of the Cretan Paradox…. [If a] critique of truth were true, then it would be false." [Ibid., p.3.]
But, Tallis failed to notice that his own hastily constructed 'truth' is itself highly dubious. Indeed, so far as the Paradox of the Liar is concerned (if this is what he was referring to), the whole point was to show that naïve beliefs about 'truth' are misguided -- and this, of course, includes Tallis's own rather amateurish version. In fact, it is worth asking what the Cretan Paradox --, which was ostensively about what liars (or at least what Cretans) are capable of consistently asserting about their own semantic bona fides -- has to do with the refutation of beliefs about something as obscure as the "truth about truth". It looks, however, like his own fondness for hastily cobbled-together, 'knockdown' arguments has led Tallis astray once again. With such friends, 'objective truth' -- whatever it is -- might yet prefer to remain friendless.
Tallis's other line of attack is to appeal to the 'objective truths' sceptics are themselves forced to accept in order to support their objections to this misbegotten concept. Naturally, in his eagerness to defend his own version of slightly-less-naïve-realism, Tallis failed to notice that the problem lies not so much with the notion of truth, as it does with his attempt to support it by saddling it with the ill-defined term "objective". Tallis happily goose steps here where others fear to tiptoe: in the same article (p.4) he turns this otherwise bland notion into something even grander still, calling it "objective, deindexicalized truth". Clearly, this is meant to transform the ordinary, rather weakling word "truth" into an Industrial Strength Super-Word. However, only those hoodwinked by what can only be described as the linguistic equivalent of Clark Kent's glasses will be fooled here: the Cretan Liar paradox undermines Tallis's own position far more effectively than anything a relativist might range against it, for it throws into question the PB, the LEM and the LOC -- principles usually counted among the cornerstones of Scientific Realism.
Thus, after enduring the Tallis Treatment, truth is transformed into "objectively demolished truth". It seems, therefore, that Tallis is to truth what Kryptonite is to Superman.
39. The only way to block this line of reasoning would involve the denial that anything 'objective' could be false. But, as noted in the main body of this Essay, if presumed falsehoods weren't 'objective', there would be little incentive to demonstrate they were false, and knowledge would cease to advance. Several of the classic experiments in the history of science would not have gone ahead; if such (presumed) falsehoods had merely been 'subjective' they would have been ignored. In fact, before an investigation actually began, no one would be in a position to say whether falsehoods like this were in fact false.
It could be argued in response to this that falsehoods are neither 'objective' nor 'subjective' (they lie perhaps in the epistemological 'pending' tray). But, if that were so, the following proposition:
F1: The Moon is in the Earth's shadow
would be now true, now false, now 'objective', now… (well what?) as the Moon went on its way. However, it is surely a 'mind independent' truth that the Moon either is or is not in the Earth's shadow (or even both) at different times, and if that is true, then F1 is 'objective', for on that basis it would be 'mind independent', whether true or false. Naturally, those enamoured of the word "objective" might baulk at such a conclusion, but that's their subjective problem.
The point is, of course, that our (ordinary) use of the words "true" and "false" undermines any application of mongrel words like "objective" and "subjective" (in philosophy). Once again, material practice makes perfect (non-sense of Metaphysics).
Again, it could be objected that falsehoods relate to things that do not exist (or that do not obtain) in the material world, and in that sense they are not 'mind independent', since only minds can think them. But, if falsehoods do not exist, then with what do their true negations 'correspond'? If the latter correspond to nothing at all, then where does that put the CTT?
For example, consider the following falsehood:
F2: Tony Blair is over eight feet tall.
If F2 is false then this is true:
F3: Tony Blair is not over eight feet tall.
But with what does F3 correspond? Plainly, it cannot correspond to anything in reality, for there is no relevant object that is "not over eight feet tall" for it to relate to. And it is little use pointing to the supposed class of things that are less than or equal to eight feet tall (to which Blair belongs), for not only does that not solve the problem just posed, there is nothing in reality answering to this (set) for Blair to belong to, either. No one supposes, it is to be hoped(!) that there is a sort of metaphysical membrane surrounding classes of things like this in reality. And if that is so, then we still have here an 'objective truth' (F3) to which nothing in reality corresponds.
And while we are at it, it is not easy to make a convincing case for the view that F2 is 'mind independent', either. But, if F2 is "objective, but not mind independent", then it can't be denied that F1 is "objective because it is false", even if it, too, is "mind dependent".
Should anyone take exception to the use of F2, then consider the following falsehood:
F4: Cambrian rocks are younger than Silurian rocks.
But, the falsehood of F4 implies that the following is true:
F5: Cambrian rocks are not younger than Silurian rocks.
The question is, with what does the 'mind independent' truth expressed by F5 correspond? It cannot be the fact that Cambrian rocks are older than Silurian rocks, for F5 allows for the fact that they might be the same age! So, if anything, it relates to the 'fact' that Cambrian rocks are older than or the same age as Silurian rocks. And yet, where in reality is that 'fact'? Even so, F5 is true for all that. But, once again that just means that its truth does not arise from any correspondence relations.
[The CTT will be discussed in more detail in Essay Ten Part Two.]
Hence, we have here yet another 'mind independent truth' that relates to nothing at all in reality, but which is nonetheless 'objective'. And if that is allowed, it would seem to suggest that the 'objective' status of falsehoods cannot be called into question either.
It could be argued against this that the couplet "objective truth" relates to items that are known to be true (or, perhaps known to be irrevocably true -- such as the fact that Copper conducts electricity). In that case, presumably -- if we now wish to give this phrase an epistemological spin -- the couplet "objectively false" should refer to things known to be false (such as: "Mars has canals on its surface"). But if we insist on that, then we surely know that F5, for example, is irrevocably true. If so, all the problems that F5-type propositions pose for 'objectivity' must now reappear, for nothing in the universe corresponds to it. Hence, this irrevocably true, 'objective truth' has nothing in reality answering to it! In that case, and in terms of 'objectivity' and what it is supposed to imply, this would not distinguish such 'truths' from irrevocable falsehoods, which also have nothing in reality corresponding to them, either.
F5: Cambrian rocks are not younger than Silurian rocks.
Anyway, there is something decidedly fishy about an understanding of 'objectivity' that makes it dependent on irrevocability. What has 'mind independence' got to do with irrevocability? We may come to recognise that something is irrevocable, but anything that is allegedly 'mind independent' has got to be above such mundane concerns, surely?
Anyway, Copper only conducts electricity under certain circumstances -- introduce enough impurities, for example, and this 'objective truth' becomes 'objectively false'. As with other alleged 'scientific truths', 'objective truths' fall foul of the potentially infinite ceteris paribus clauses attached (or attachable) to them. Now, this 'objective truth' about 'objective truth' (i.e., that which states that the latter notion only applies in an Ideal World, one free of ceteris paribus clauses -- and one, fortunately, inhabited by an Ideal Observer, etc. -- if it is linked to "irrevocability") is invariably omitted from accounts of truth written by those Metaphysical Realists more concerned to defend 'objective truth' with 'subjective' make-belief than they are with any semblance of objectivity (in that word's ordinary sense). [On this, see Cartwright (1983).]
[However, there is a forceful rebuttal to this way of seeing things here. Naturally, it would be out of place to pursue this topic in this particular Essay. See also, Earman et al (2002), and this paper by Marc Lange (this links to a PDF). More on this in a later Essay on the nature of science.]
40. Lenin's claims about space and time were examined in Note 25.
Modern, but still traditional accounts of time can be found, for instance, in the following: Dainton (2001), Grünbaum (1973), Lange (2002), Le Poidevin (1991, 1998, 2003, 2007), Le Poidevin and MacBeath (1993), Lockwood (2005), Mellor (1998), Newton-Smith (1980), Price (1996), Prior (1957, 1967, 2003), Savitt (1995), Sider (2001), Sklar (1976, 1985, 1992), Smart (1963, 1964), Smith (1993), Tooley (2000), Torretti (1999), Turetsky (1998), and Wang (1995).
Now, we have already seen that relativistic ideas involving Spacetime appear to be incompatible with DM. Thus, if objects and processes in the universe can be represented by world lines as part of a four-dimensional manifold then they do not change. On such a view, each 'event' would in effect be a proper part of an orthogonal three-dimensional 'slice' (i.e., a hyperplane) through this manifold as it 'exists' in 4-space. In that case, change would not be possible -- or, rather: at its very best, change would merely represent our 'subjective' view of things, there thus being no such process as 'objective', mind-independent change. Naturally, this might prompt a DM-redefinition of change so that it becomes an 'illusion' created by just such a 'subjective' view of our own ('diachronic'?) passage along our individual world lines, but, that would mean that change itself was part of the world of "appearances" (in that word's metaphysical sense) and not part of "objective reality". And that would further imply that 'objective four-dimensional reality' is as changeless as Plato's Forms. With that would go the idea that the world is essentially changeable, and DM would thus disintegrate (or, a least appear to do so in its own set of hyperplane slices).
Cf., Geach (1972a) and Simons (1987). On the incoherence of "time slices", see Read (2007), and his online article, here.
Incidentally, Lenin seems to have taken a dim view of the fourth dimension, linking it somehow with priestcraft (a prejudice he might have caught from Engels).
"In his Mechanik, Mach defends the mathematicians who are investigating the problem of conceivable spaces with n dimensions; he defends them against the charge of drawing 'preposterous' conclusions from their investigations. The defence is absolutely and undoubtedly just, but see the epistemological position Mach takes up in this defence. Recent mathematics, Mach says, has raised the very important and useful question of a space of n dimensions as a conceivable space; nevertheless, three-dimensional space remains the only 'real case' (ein wirklicher Fall) (3rd German ed., pp. 483-85). In vain, therefore, 'have many theologians, who experience difficulty in deciding where to place hell,' as well as the spiritualists, sought to derive advantage from the fourth dimension (ibid.).
"Very good! Mach refuses to join company with the theologians and the spiritualists. But how does he dissociate himself from them in his theory of knowledge? By stating that three-dimensional space alone is real! But what sort of defence is it against the theologians and their like when you deny objective reality to space and time? Why, it comes to this, that when you have to dissociate yourself from the spiritualists you resort to tacit borrowings from the materialists. For the materialists, by recognising the real world, the matter we perceive, as an objective reality, have the right to conclude therefrom that no human concept, whatever its purpose, is valid if it goes beyond the bounds of time and space. But you Machian gentlemen deny the objective validity of 'reality' when you combat materialism, yet secretly introduce it again when you have to combat an idealism that is consistent, fearless and frank throughout! If in the relative conception of time and space there is nothing but relativity, if there is no objective reality (i.e.., reality independent of man and mankind) reflected by these relative concepts, why should mankind, why should the majority of mankind, not be entitled to conceive of beings outside time and space? If Mach is entitled to seek atoms of electricity, or atoms in general, outside three-dimensional space, why should the majority of mankind not be entitled to seek the atoms, or the foundations of morals, outside three-dimensional space?" [Lenin (1972), pp.211-12. Bold emphasis alone added.]
Well, this might be being unfair to Lenin, for he also appears to separate the use of n-dimensional space from theology by his appeal to 'objectivity', but, if in fact there are more than four dimensions, then, manifestly, they will exist "external to the mind", and if 'gods' and 'ghosts' 'inhabit', say, the fifth dimension, then they will surely be as 'objective' as beings such as we (who by default also occupy such a dimension, if each n-1th dimension is embedded in a 'higher' n-dimensional manifold).
It is not easy to see how Lenin can escape from the Ideal trap he has just laid for himself. Anyway, this probably accounts for some of the suspicion with which Russian scientists and Philosophers greeted Einstein's ideas (until they had to be accepted as valid so that the 'Soviet' military could compete with US nuclear weapons development). On this see, Graham (1971, 1987, 1993), Joravsky (1961), Krementsov (1997), Pollock (2006), Vucinich (1980, 2001) and Wetter (1958).
Engels in fact took an even dimmer view of the fourth dimension; on this, see van Heijenoort (1948), a copy of which can be found here, and at this site, here.
41. Assuming for the moment that the future does not exist. See Note 40 and Note 42.
42. The comments recorded in Note 40 indicate why -- for those DM-theorists unconcerned with remaining consistent with Relativistic Physics -- the future cannot be said to exist. Of course, if the terminology used in physical theory is interpreted along lines suggested in the present work, such 'problems' would disappear. This is because, for example, whenever the word "time" appears in a theoretical context it cannot have the same meaning as the typographically similar word "time" used in ordinary language.
If, on the other hand, it is still insisted that the 'future' does exist (and that reality is indeed a 'four-dimensional object', with all time zones 'existing simultaneously', whatever that means), we should still have to employ the present tense (or one of its cognates) to refer to it. In which case, paradoxically, the future would cease to be the 'future' -- it would be part of the present -- and it would lose its distinctiveness. Naturally, that would mean that the hypothetical four-dimensional manifold supposedly containing the universe would collapse for want of its fourth dimension. On the other hand, if any other tense is used to talk about the future, it would cease to exist in the present. In that case, no one could truly assert that the future exists, since they would have to use the present tense to do it. And, if the future is now said to exist only 'in the future', that would be tantamount to saying that it does not exist now, and is therefore non-existent now (assuming, of course, that the phrase "does not exist" is synonymous with "non-existent"). Moreover, before agreement could be obtained that all times zones in fact exist 'simultaneously' (i.e., they now all exist), we should first require some indication as to what the word "simultaneous" could possibly mean in this context -- but, without appealing to some other measure of time that had not already been packed into this 'problem' at the start. This is because, if the word "simultaneous" means "at the same time as", then, clearly, there would have to be another time zone (which is neither past, present nor future) in which to situate these other three.
Some might object that some of the verbs used here are tenseless. Even so, it is still difficult to understand how the future can exist now and yet timelessly exist! If it does not now exist, then it does not exist now (plainly); on the other hand if it exists in another time zone, then the verbs used cannot be tenseless.
In order to avoid these difficulties, some might be tempted to try to alter the meaning of words like "exist" and "future"; in fact, this superficially appealing option is part of the reason why Relativity Theory is not incompatible with ordinary language. This is because (as noted above) these two words ("exist" and "future") would not mean the same as their ordinary, typographically identical counterparts in the vernacular after such a change. Whatever roles are served by words and phrases related to time in Relativity Theory -- ex hypothesi --, they cannot be adopted by typographically similar words found in ordinary language. Problems only occur if attempts are made to translate the one into the other (either way), while it is imagined that such typographically similar words (i.e., ordinary "time", and "time" as it features in modern Physics) have the same meaning (or the same reference). The failure to take account of these differences is what lies behind the spurious plausibility of the 'paradoxes' of 'time travel'. If time is an 'object' (or 'substance') like space (an extra ‘dimension, if you like) then it seems to make as much sense to travel in time as it does in space. We saw this in Note 25, above.
[On this in general, see Read (2007), and Westphal (1996). See also Rupert Read's papers on time here.]
I discuss this in more detail in Essay Eleven Part One.
43. Naturally, the logic of the word "exist" (and its cognates) is far more complex than this and subsequent passages in the main body of this Essay would seem to indicate. The four senses of this word have been distinguished merely to make a specific point. No permanent logical significance is attached to them by the present author. [On existence, see Williams (1981).]
44. On Vulcan, see Hanson (1962).
45. As is the case with so many other things, DM-theorists' depiction of the non-existence of 'God' is highly unsatisfactory (an allegation I will not attempt to substantiate, for reasons hinted at below). It should, however, be pointed out that this observation does not imply that the present author accepts 'God's' existence, either! Since I do not wish to become sidetracked by this topic, I will adopt the implicit DM-assumption that 'God' is an 'object', that 'He' does not exist, and that 'He' represents man's alienated view of 'Himself' (etc., etc.), a là Feuerbach. Naturally, this transforms 'God' into a 'non-existent' intentional object (whatever that means!). For more on this, see Note 47 and Note 49, below.
46. This was established Essay Eleven Part One.
It might be objected that the alleged existence of imaginary beings (like the Tooth Fairy, Gryphons and Harpies, etc.) does not merit serious attention, whereas objects and events in the past do. However, as will be argued at length in Essay Eleven Part One, the problem is that the DM-"Totality" is so contradiction-, and paradox-friendly, that it is in fact impossible to say what it contains and what it does not. The solution, therefore, is not to point out the absurdity of the supposition that Gryphons and Harpies might exist, but to abandon belief in that equally mythical object: the DM-"Totality" --, the alleged existence of which "does not (itself) merit serious attention".
See also Note 47 and Note 49, below.
47. For example, the usual attempt to exclude 'God' from this list -- that is, by treating 'Him' as a peculiar sort of object, with or without special properties -- somewhat like a distant planet or star, appealing to 'negative evidence' and argument to demonstrate 'His' non-existence, indicating that that belief in 'Him' is irrational, and false -- only encourages the opposite view that 'He' might exist after all (just as the planet Vulcan might have existed). This would clearly alter 'His' supposed actuality, changing it from E4- to E3- (and maybe even E2-) existence.
However, if something cannot exist (or if we do not know what certain words mean that allegedly refer to something that is said to exist), lack of evidence and proof plainly become irrelevant. In contrast, it certainly makes sense to consider the possible existence of E2-/E3-type 'objects'; evidence, or lack of it, only becomes relevant if it is possible for such objects to exist (that is, if we know about what we are speaking). This helps explain why, on the one hand, no one at all bothers to look for evidence for the existence of, say, the round square, or the Jabberwocky, while on the other, some seek evidential proof that extra-terrestrial life, for example, exists.
Incidentally, this equivocation (i.e., that between E2-, E3- and E4-objects) might also help explain why some comrades find they can believe in 'God' while remaining Marxists. Clearly, DM inadvertently encourages this because it treats 'God's' existence as a sub-species of E3-existence -- or, perhaps better, it blurs the distinction between E3- and E4-existence.
48. And 'God' might not turn out to be (or to have) a mind, after all. As the Bible says: "To whom or what can you compare the Lord?" If this is so, since 'He' is external to all minds -- and (on this assumption) 'He' would not possess, or be, a mind, anyway --, the existence of 'God' could turn out to be materially 'objective', in Lenin's sense!
49. Of course, if this conclusion is rejected (i.e., that science is conventional) that would slide DM back into the metaphysical fold. On this, see Essay Eleven Part One (here, here, here, here, and here).
If there are reasons for excluding the existence of, say, 'God' (and for claiming that ascriptions of existence to 'Him' are false, and always false), based on the meaning of certain theoretical terms found in DM (but not on any evidence), then that would indicate yet again that DM was a form of LIE. That is because, in this case, such a negative conclusion would involve an extrapolation from meaning to non-existence. Here, linguistic not empirical issues would determine what the world either contained or didn't contain; a terminological argument would have thus established the non-existence of 'God', the flip side of Anselm's famous Ontological Argument in favour of it.
On the other hand, if evidence were relevant to establishing 'God's' non-existence, then, as we saw above, DM-theorists would in effect be admitting they were closet theists. This is not just because it would concede the fact that it is relevant to seek evidence for 'His' non-existence (meaning that the obverse -- 'His' existence -- must be possible, too), but because, according to the DM-prophets (quoted once more below), human knowledge is only ever partial. In that case, it is entirely conceivable (given DM-epistemology) that one day the required evidence might turn up to prove 'God' actually does exist!
"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. Bold emphasis added. The online translation renders this passage slightly differently.]
"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute…. The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.234-35. Bold emphasis added.]
"Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object." [Lenin (1961), p.195.]
If so, DM-theorists must be prepared to countenance the possibility that such evidence might indeed turn up one day; it is something they cannot rule out on a priori grounds. Hence, asymptotic theism is consistent with DM!
This is no surprise since asymptotic theism was central to Hegelian Idealism.
This means that in this area dialecticians are in a permanent bind. A successful escape from this dilemma would involve them in having to reject several fundamental DM-theses: metaphysical 'objectivity', 'externalist' pseudo-materialism, the 'eternally partial' status of knowledge, the 'asymptotic approach' metaphor, along with the terminally mysterious "Totality" -- that is, should we ever be told what it is.
Alarmingly, we seem to 'know' more about 'God' than we do about the DM-Totality!
50. DM-theorists might want to dispute the constant assertion advanced here that they are committed to the infinitely limited nature of human knowledge, but they may only do so after having explained how Engels's 'infinite asymptotic approach' metaphor can be tamed (along with the similar sorts of things Lenin kept saying) in order to avoid just such a literal interpretation of the word "infinite" --, as Engels (or Lenin) plainly meant it. [On this, see Note 49.]
51. Detailed comments on this will be given in an Additional Essay to be published later in 2010.
52. On this, see Essay Ten Part One.
53. Naturally, the wording here does not suggest that any form of Relativism or Idealism is acceptable. Relativism itself will be considered in more detail in an Additional Essay to be posted later in 2010.
54. If Lenin (or anyone else) does not know what the words "material"/"matter" mean (or they refuse to tell us), then any sentence containing these words will be meaningless. And that includes sentences used in any proposed re-definition. [Unless, of course, this is a stipulative definition, in which case Lenin would merely be proposing new a terminological convention, one which he failed to justify, anyway.]
Hence, short of an explanation here as to what the word "matter" means in DM, should a DM-theorist now declare that "matter is thus and so", he/she will in effect be saying nothing at all. So, when Lenin declared that:
"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind", [Lenin (1972), p.311.]
if no one knows what "matter" is, he might just as well have used the word "schmatter" instead, for all the good his employment of "matter" achieved, along the following lines, perhaps:
"The sole 'property' of schmatter with whose recognition philosophical schmaterialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind."
As should see plain, it is impossible to say what exactly is being said to be an "objective reality existing outside the mind" if we do not understand the word "matter".
It could be countered here that the word "matter" and the phrase "objective reality existing outside the mind" in fact mean the same. But if they do, the above quotation would be an empty tautology, somewhat akin to:
"The sole 'property' of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind, with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind."
Lest anyone cry "Unfair!" to the above substitution, it is worth recalling that for anyone who knows that these phrases mean the same, Lenin's attempt to tell them that they mean the same would be pointless (as the above passage underlines). In contrast, anyone who did not know that they meant the same would still be in the dark, since they would not know what the word "matter" meant". Once more, if Lenin was simply re-defining this word (but his words do not even look like a definition, just a very short list of the alleged properties of "matter" -- a word, it is worth recalling, that is still not understood, given this view), then he has offered us no reason to accept this new 'definition'. On what basis, therefore, could Lenin reject the following alternative 'definition' of matter?
"The sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is being composed of elementary particles, existing outside and inside the mind."
Finally, it could be objected that Lenin was using a perfectly acceptable word, inherited from previous generations of materialists. Alas, Lenin torpedoed that response well below the water line when he rejected all previous 'definitions' of matter:
"'Matter is disappearing' means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter is vanishing and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are likewise disappearing which formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary (impenetrability, inertia, mass, etc.) and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin (1972), p.311. Bold emphasis alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
If 'objective existence' "outside the mind" is the "sole property" of 'matter', as Lenin seems to think, then he has plainly abandoned those earlier definitions/characterisations. In which case, he is no longer using the word "matter" in any of its previous senses, confirming the fact that he has simply altered its meaning.
Hence, the rest of the above comments now apply: Lenin might as well have been referring to "schmatter".
54a. The fact that DM-theorists (whether they are Stalinists, Maoists or Trotskyists) all copy examples off one another, or off Hegel, or Engels, or Lenin (and this is almost word-for-word. too), is amply confirmed by this quotation from Spirkin:
"One quite often hears people say 'all things consist of matter'. They do not consist of matter. They are the specific, concrete forms of its manifestation. Matter as such is an abstraction. Looking for a uniform matter as the principle of everything is like wanting to eat not cherries but fruit in general. But fruit is also an abstraction. Matter cannot be contrasted to separate things as something immutable to something mutable. Matter in general cannot be seen, touched or tasted. What people see, touch or taste is only a certain form of matter. Matter is not something that exists side by side with other things, inside them or at their basis. All existing formations are matter in its various forms, kinds, properties and relations. There is no such thing as 'unspecific' matter. Matter is not simply the real possibility of all material forms, it is their actual existence. The only property that is relatively separate from matter is consciousness as an ideal and not material phenomenon." [Spirkin (1983), p.67. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]]
So, instead of using another example, Spirkin chooses cherries again! Are there no other examples anywhere in the entire universe? The reader will note, too, that the substitution of "schmatter" and "schmaterial" for "matter" and "material" here will not substantially alter the content of the above quotation --, for until we know what Spirkin is talking about (i.e., what matter is), he might just as well be using these other 'words', for all the use this passage is. [See also Note 56a, below.]
55. To be sure, Lenin sought refuge in the mysticism found in Hegel because of his shock at the collapse of the Second International, and the capitulation of its leading figures (Kautsky and Plekhanov, to name but two) in the face of World War One. [On this, see for example, Anderson (1995).]
Hence, it is noteworthy that Lenin's views matured not as a result of any progress in scientific knowledge, or even in response to developments in the class struggle, but as a result of his studying an obscure book on 'Logic' written by a card carrying mystic, Hegel. This fact is never commented upon by dialecticians who still imagine that advances in DM are consequent on twists and turns in the class struggle, or follow upon the progress of science and the experience of the revolutionary party. Indeed, as noted earlier, it is difficult to think of a single DM-concept (not shared by HM) that has been modified as a result of the class struggle. This would, of course, mean that DM is independent of revolutionary practice, and consequently cannot have been derived from it.
It could be objected that the above is as untrue as it is unfair. Lenin sought to explain the criminal capitulation of the Second International in terms of its theoretical failings. Inter alia, this involved its leading figures in not understanding (or not fully accepting) the materialist dialectics of Marx and Engels. Hence, Lenin decided that a thorough study of Hegel's Logic was long overdue in order to counter such vulgar and one-sided Marxism.
Well, this is the comforting tale dialecticians tell one another on cold and stormy nights to allay their fears, but as Lenin himself was well aware, DIMs turn to mysticism as a source of consolation in times of crisis. The problem with Second International Marxism wasn't that its leading theorists half-rejected/half-accepted dialectics, but that they didn't reject it root and branch. This is because dialectics allows those whose brains it has colonised to argue for any conclusion they like and its opposite, sometimes in the very next breath. What better theory, therefore, to 'reconcile' these opposites -- internationalism and national chauvinism -- than dialectics, the theory that glories in 'contradiction'?
[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist; STD = Stalinist Dialectician; MIST = Maoist Theorist.]
Indeed, STDs and MISTs became experts in this dialectical art-form over the next few generations.
However, since this was one of the main topics of Essay Nine Parts One and Two, no more will be said about it here.
56. For example, Lenin (1961), pp.187-91. Of course, as we saw above, this means that Absolute Idealism [AIDS] is consistent both with "objectivity" and with "externalism"; the only apparent difference between AIDS and DM (given Lenin's account) is that the latter holds that mind is dependent on matter, not the other way round. But since matter is characterised by Lenin in terms of its relation to mind, that must mean that matter and mind are inseparably interconnected, even for Lenin!
To be sure, Lenin also argued that matter preceded mind, but he was only able to do that on the back of an appeal to evidence and argument that aren't themselves mind-independent.
Be this as it may, we have already seen (here, here and here) that core DM-theses imply that matter is indeed dependent on mind.
Incidentally, the comment in the main body of this Essay about Hegel's view of "objective" reality is not meant to suggest that (at the level of rhetoric at least) "objectivity" is understood by Hegel and DM-theorists in the 'same' way, only that despite using analogous words in order to depict "objectivity", neither in fact meant (or had ever meant) anything by this word (even if they thought that they did). That is, of course, because the (philosophical) word they used is meaningless. This was demonstrated earlier, and in Note 32.
56a. As noted above, those who look to Lenin for guidance here, simply echo his thoughts almost word for word. Here is Mitin:
"Consequently, the law of the unity and mutual penetration of opposites becomes the most fundamental, the most important law of dialectics, and the law of determinate significance.... In his Philosophical Notebooks Lenin described the unity of opposites as the kernel of dialectics.... The law of unity of opposites is the most universal law of the objective world and of cognition." [Dialectical and Historical Materialism, p.222; quoted in Knight (2005), pp.78-70.]
As we will see, Mao also obsessed on this as the only dialectical law.
57. This is not meant to suggest that Lenin totally abandoned "externalism", since he does refer to ideas consonant with it here and there in PN. However, it is clear that this (formerly) centrally important criterion has been demoted to a lesser role in this later work.
58. Found in TAR, pp.3-10.
59. Alex Callinicos, quoting Trotsky (1986), pp.88-89. [See also Callinicos (2006), pp.209-16.]
Admittedly, Callinicos outlined what he considered to be correct about this 'law', in contrast with what he found misleading. Nevertheless, he failed to mention that Lenin himself did not appear to think this particular 'law' all that significant -- he seldom refers to it. That is possibly because Hegel did not regard it as all that important, either. [On this, see Levine (1984), pp.111-26.]
Indeed, Trotsky himself admitted as much:
"Hegel himself undoubtedly did not give the law of the transformation of quantity into quality the paramount importance which it fully deserves." [Trotsky (1986), pp.88-89.]
More significantly, Callinicos only half recognises the fact that Trotsky himself seems to have viewed this 'law' as a sort of a priori truth, one with "universal significance" for the "entire universe without any exception" (p.88; emphasis added), There is no way that Trotsky could have known this other than as an a priori law of some sort.
Indeed, Trotsky offered no evidence in support of this bold claim. In fact, Trotsky derived this 'law' (as had both Engels and Hegel before him) from a consideration of very limited 'data' base (which is why I have called this and example of Mickey Mouse Science), and from the 'concepts' supposedly involved (that is, from the alleged meaning of words like "quality", which notion had in fact been inherited from Aristotle).
Of course, because this 'law' is based on no little terminological trickery, and not on a very wide evidential base (in fact, truth be told, the latter is a joke), that is why it seemed so certain to Engels and Trotsky, and could therefore be foisted on nature. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part One.]
However, one thing is clear, this type of generalisation cannot be obtained from:
"…a patient empirical examination of the facts, and not…imposed on them." [Rees (1998), p.271.]
[More on this in Essay Two and Essay Seven.]
Furthermore, Callinicos failed to notice something else which seems rather obvious: the reason Rees omitted a detailed discussion of this passage from Trotsky was probably because it might otherwise encourage the unhelpful (but accurate) idea that DM is not an a posteriori theory after all, but is as a priori and dogmatic as any other branch of Metaphysics is.
Callinicos also expressed the view that this 'law' is illustrated by certain developments in "chaos theory" -- but his comments are too fragmentary to make much of. He also referred his readers to Paul McGarr's article [McGarr (1994)], which was examined in Essay Seven.
The connections between this 'law' and "chaos theory" are much more fully developed in RIRE -- more on this, too, in Essay Seven Part One.
60. This is not strictly true; AD is a long rambling work that weaves its way across a wide range of subjects. In it, Engels defined dialectics as:
"[T]he general laws of motion and development of nature, human society and thought." [Engels (1976), p.180.]
Elsewhere, he added that:
"Dialectics...comprehends things and their representations, ideas, in their essential connection, concatenation, motion, origin, and ending. Such processes as those mentioned above are, therefore, so many corroborations of its own method of procedure." [Ibid., p.27.]
"The recognition that these antagonisms and distinctions, though to be found in nature, are only of relative validity, and that on the other hand their imagined rigidity and absolute validity have been introduced into nature only by our reflective minds -- this recognition is the kernel of the dialectical conception of nature." [Ibid., pp.15-16. I have used the on-line version here.]
In connection with this, it is worth wondering how Engels could possibly have known that reality is in fact different from the way that "thought" represents it. If he were right, then that very thought would be different from its intended object, too, which, because the original statement by Engels would now become false (as a consequence of its own content), implies that thought is not different from reality! A nice dialectical inversion, this!
Indeed, how could Engels have been so sure that thought is rigid on the one hand, while on the other nature is not? And, how could he "recognise" this truth without thinking rigidly while he attempted to do just that?
61. This will be substantiated in Essay Fourteen Part Two (when it is published).
62. More on that, too, in Essay Fourteen Part Two (when it is published). See also Essay Thirteen Part Three (here and here).
63. This is not meant to imply that Novack does not consider the usual 'definitions' others tend to give of DM, it is just that he adds yet another fundamental element to the list.
64. Novack illustrates the limitations of the LOI with some rather dubious 'logic' of his own:
"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, and yet different from, John." [Novack (1971), p.92.]
This 'argument' was examined in detail in Essay Three Part One, and in Essays Four and Six, but it serves as a salutary warning (to those eager to rid their brains of this Hermetic virus, as well as those who wish to keep this virus at bay) of the confusion that results when the "is" of predication is conflated with the "is" of identity --, and rank amateurs are let loose in logic. As Bertrand Russell observed of the original version of this Hegelian muddle:
"This illustrates an important truth, namely, that the worse your logic, the more interesting the consequences to which it gives rise." [Russell (1961), p.715.]
However, Novack's 'logic', if anything, deteriorates even further:
"Consider…the two propositions we have been analysing. The second, 'All that is rational is real', does assert the opposite of the first and, in fact, contradicts it: All that is real is rational. Hegel was not at all bothered by this contradiction. On the contrary, as a dialectician, he seized upon this contradiction as a clue to the essence or gist of reality. He understood that it was a genuine contradiction and accepted it and operated with it, because both opposition and contradiction are genuinely real and rational. This particular contradiction expresses the inherent nature of things and arises from the contradictory character of reality itself." [Novack (1971), p.93.]
Exactly why "All that is rational is real" and "All that is real is rational" are opposites, let alone contradictories, Novack annoyingly kept to himself -- as it seems did Hegel, too -- which fact appears to have bothered none of the latter's admirers. Worse still, these 'opposites' have not, nor will they turn into one another, as the dialectical prophets assure us they must.
[Can anyone see the above sentences changing in the required manner? Do not, dear reader, take your eyes off them for one second, for one day they will do just this -- the Dialectical Bible tells us so.]
Formally, however, the 'contradictory' of "All that is rational is real" is "There is something rational which is not real", and the 'contradictory' of "All that is real is rational" is similarly "There is something real which is not rational." Of course, if the real and the rational were identical, then these two counterfeit 'contradictions' would be more like tautologies -- as in "All that is false is untrue" and "All that is untrue is false". Now, it should have bothered Novack that he failed to take this simple fact into consideration: if the real and the rational are identical then, far from being contradictories, these prize examples would be the 'opposite' of this, they would be tautologious.
Had Novack spotted this it might have led him to conclude that harmony and consilience more closely reflect the tautologious "gist of reality". If the "is" of predication is indeed an "is" of identity (in, for example, "All that is real is rational"), it would surely reveal to us the remarkable truth that all of nature is essentially -- i.e., 'below the surface' -- a harmonious whole, and not the least bit riddled with strife and conflict (the latter being confined merely to 'appearances', perhaps). Hence, on the basis of loopy logic like this, an equally whacky 'harmonious view' of 'Being' arises. In that case, belief in 'dialectical contradictions' would simply be a consequence of our incapacity to see the universal accord that exists 'essentially' in nature, "below the surface" (which those with the right sort of 'eyes' to see, can see -- i.e., those who "understand" anti-dialectics).
This universal accord is in fact, on this 'harmonious view', built into our predications, and "divined" only by those with the right amount of 'tenderness for things'. On this theory then, feelings of love and sympathy are what move things about the place (with harmonious laws of attraction governing everything) --, not those nasty ruling-class, Hermetic conflicts.
Of course, there is absolutely no evidence for this crazy, anti-dialectical 'theory' --, that is, over and above the dotty 'logic' rehearsed in the last few paragraphs. But, why should we let that bother us? In the opposite direction, Hegel and Novack certainly didn't.
The sad fact is that Novack's shaky grasp of 'logic' (and ancient logic, too!) is not confined solely to him; it is shared by the majority of DM-fans who have ever pontificated on the subject (from atop the secure vantage point of their self-inflicted ignorance).
65. Novack attempts to illustrate these 'laws' with an idiosyncratic example of his own: he claims that the opposition between "appearance" and "essence" culminates in "essence" dominating "appearance" in ascending "grades of perfection", embodied naturally in that cosmically significant event -- the foundation of the Fourth International!
"Marxism, for instance, was relatively realised in each of the first three internationals, realised with ascending grades of perfection. It is being more thoroughly realised through the Fourth International…." [Novack (1971), p.115.]
Novack should have spotted his error; it was staring him in the face. This Dialectical Mystery works itself out only in threes, so there is no way that the Fourth International could have been the most perfect of the litter. Indeed, as things panned out, it was the runt. [Small wonder then that the Fifth International has stalled even before it made it onto the starting grid.]
Nevertheless, anyone familiar with Christian Theology, Neo-Platonism and/or Hermeticism will, I take it, recognise the provenance of Novack's own peculiar brand of Marxisante Millenarian Mysticism. [The reader can find an excellent example of this phenomenon among open mystics, here.]
66. Truth Set In Concrete
In one his books, Cornforth does at least attempt to supply some of the missing detail omitted by other DM-theorists. [Cornforth (1976).] [Anyway, much of Cornforth's Mickey Mouse Science is demolished in Essays Two to Eleven Part Two.]
However, having said that, it is nonetheless true that Cornforth's affirmation of the fundamental role that the "three laws" play in DM is seriously compromised by his subsequent attempt to enlist those very same laws in support of the orthodox Communist line on "socialism in one country" (etc.); cf., pp.71-120. [More on this in Essay Nine Part Two.] Indeed, he takes Trotsky to task for denying this obvious 'dialectical truth'. Even though this is hard to believe, according to Cornforth, Trotsky apparently rejected this Stalinist Shibboleth because he forgot that "truth is always concrete"! With such a poor memory, one suspects that Trotsky must have needed daily reminders about things like the colour of grass and the complex and intricate procedures necessary to open and close doors. How he successfully led the Red Army in the Civil War is therefore a complete mystery.
"Lenin and Stalin showed that this scheme [of Trotsky's]…was false. For if the revolution did not take place in the advanced capitalist countries, the alliance of workers and peasants in the Soviet Union had still the forces to build socialism….
"In [this example]…it will be seen that the acceptance of some ready-made scheme, some abstract formula, means passivity, support for capitalism, betrayal of the working class and of socialism. But the dialectical approach which understands things in their concrete interconnection and movement shows us how to forge ahead -- how to fight, what allies to draw in. This is the inestimable value of the Marxist dialectical method to the working class movement." [Cornforth (1976), pp.79-80. Bold emphasis added.]
Presumably, according to this, since the former USSR was (once) a concrete fact, any formula implying that socialism was impossible without an international revolution to secure it must be abstract.
Now, it is not easy to see how such a conclusion can be resisted successfully on DM-grounds alone. Adherence to the idea that "truth is always concrete" would seem to blunt completely any attempt to pose a theoretical challenge to anything whatsoever, and not just to Stalinism -- because, according to the DM-Holy Books, the concrete nature of anything will only in fact emerge as such on Epistemological Judgement Day, at the end of an infinite dialectical meander.
Be this as it may, there is little point arguing here that this knock-down DM-response to everyone else's pet theory (i.e., the mantra "truth is always concrete") is itself internally inconsistent -- in that it is an abstract formula asserting truth only of 'concrete facts' -- since the Hermetic Hydra we are wrestling here feeds off such lunacy, gaining strength from all such challenges. As each contradictory head is loped-off this monster, it grows yet another, indeed several --, for to contradict a dialectician is to confirm her theory; to show her theory is contradictory is in fact to praise it, and highly!
[But, even that dishonest tactic cannot work; on that see Essay Eleven Part One.]
In fact, as we saw in Essay Nine Part Two, DM-fans hurl this abstract accusation at each other all the time (along with many others). So, for any randomly-selected DM-fan, every one else (belonging to a different party) is under the malign influence of an 'abstract formula', a "ready-made scheme" of some sort. By way of contrast, the blessed soul sat in judgement on all the rest is, of course, guided by the purest of concrete thoughts, copied straight from the (er..., ready-made) tablets of dialectical truth originally found in that model textbook of concrete thought, Hegel's 'Logic'.
To spoil the fun, this mantra mischievously contradicts Lenin when he claimed that:
"Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract -- provided it is correct (NB)… -- does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, the law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely." [Lenin (1961), p.171.]
Now, the temptation to conclude from this abstract passage that this means Lenin did not "understand" dialectics should be resisted, that is, until it dawns on any such doubters that Lenin is in good company, since no one understands this 'theory'.
Naturally, some might be tempted to appeal to the dialectical interplay between the concrete and the abstract here (which, oddly enough, Cornforth seems to have forgotten about), but, once again, that particular riposte might not be enough to neutralise the nagging doubt that the idea that there is a 'dialectical interplay' between the concrete and the abstract is yet another abstraction (which, since 'truth is always concrete', cannot itself be true!) -- just as any attempt to refute this general point would be, too. This is one gaping hole in the Good Ship Dialectics it is impossible to plug, without, of course, punching several even larger ones in its already sieve-like Hermetic hull.
It might therefore be wise to give this abstract mantra a decent burial, and concrete over the grave.
Of course, as subsequent events have shown, "truth" is not "always concrete" -- in that the former USSR is now no more; it has returned to the abstract realm from whence it came. If so, this either means that Lenin's claim (that "truth is always concrete") must be rejected as false, or that revolutionaries ought to abandon their abstract belief in international revolution.
[Unless, of course, we go the whole DM-hog and reject the "either-or of understanding", admitting that truth is both concrete and abstract -- this abstract truth itself refuting the idea that truth is always concrete.]
To all appearances then, the concrete facts of history have seemingly refuted DIM -- but this must only be the case for those who have not swallowed such a woefully inadequate theory, compounded by an unwise reliance on the Stone Age 'Logic' Hegel inflicted on humanity.
So, the concrete facts seem to show that the 1917 revolution was finally unravelled in the early 1990s, even though a more theoretical (abstract) analysis demonstrates another option is more viable: the USSR became State Capitalist in and around 1928. Naturally, this highlights a genuine clash between the concrete and the abstract that most orthodox dialecticians are happy to reject. Even so, in this area, as noted above, such theoretical qualms are clearly abstract themselves (they certainly aren't concrete). Hence, according to this particular DM-mantra, both pro- and anti-State Capitalist theories cannot be true (in that they are one and all abstract).
Nevertheless, there is an obvious and easy escape from this dialectical dilemma: another quick appeal to 'dialectics'! It could be argued that an all-round consideration of every relevant concrete fact and interconnection proves that the USSR (since at least 1928) was indeed State Capitalist. However, those tempted to play this handy escape-from-jail-free card must first explain how yet another abstract formula (such as: "Any regime that has commandeered the means of production, controls the State undemocratically, slots itself into world capitalist military competition and subjects workers to exploitation (etc., etc.) is State Capitalist") is capable of rescuing a doctrine about the concrete nature of truth from the abstract jaws of error.
[These comments do not imply that the present author rejects the State Capitalist analysis of the former USSR -- far from it. However, they do imply that she repudiates the metaphysical DM-baggage that often accompanies it, and negates it (irony intended).]
Oddly enough, Cornforth did not actually get round to explaining how dialectics justified the alliance between Stalin and Hitler. This must presumably be because principled opposition to the Nazis is 'abstract', whereas an alliance with fascists is plainly 'concrete' -- as indeed are the tombs of those who at the time sought both to justify and to oppose this particular dialectical betrayal, as well as those the Nazi war machine slaughtered.
It gets worse: any 'dialectical revolutionaries' who find it impossible to resist the temptation to sneer at Stalinist opportunism and open class treachery, might like to explain how Trotsky's use of 'dialectics' was capable of justifying his (and other OT's) "revolutionary defence" of the former USSR -- which included Stalin's invasion of Finland. [Cf., Trotsky (1971), pp.68-76.] As noted elsewhere at this site, the obscure and contradictory nature of DM in fact (and in practice) 'allows' it to be used to defend anything whatsoever and its opposite, no matter how contradictory one or both might otherwise appear to be -- and perhaps just because they are contradictory.
As Stalin himself argued:
"It may be said that such a presentation of the question is 'contradictory.' But is there not the same 'contradictoriness' in our presentation of the question of the state? We stand for the withering away of the state. At the same time we stand for the strengthening of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which is the mightiest and strongest state power that has ever existed. The highest development of state power with the object of preparing the conditions for the withering away of state power -- such is the Marxist formula. Is this 'contradictory'? Yes, it is 'contradictory.' But this contradiction us bound up with life, and it fully reflects Marx's dialectics." [Political Report of the Central Committee to the Sixteenth Congress of the CPSU(B), June 27,1930. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
This facility, built into dialectics, allows DM-fans to justify any political line they like (and then its opposite, 24 hours later).
[Moreover, the rejection of 'abstractions' should rule out-of-court Marx's famous (but clearly 'abstract') maxim that the emancipation of the working class must be "an act of the working class".]
Naturally, with this sort of 'logic' anything may be 'justified', anything condemned, any revision or abandonment of basic principles accommodated, any class-compromise explained-away.
Hence, with regard to the complex dialectical choreography determining the theoretical footwork constantly practiced by DM-casuists, the question is not whether truth is concrete, but how many tons of the stuff they have buried it under.
Interestingly, Cornforth goes on to assert that dialectics shows that the principle of contradiction today is illustrated by the forces of "imperialism and national liberation movements", quoting Mao Tse-tung in support. [Cornforth (1976), p.113.] This is, one presumes, yet another example of a dialectician not imposing dialectics on reality, since the latter conclusion is surely based on a "patient examination of the evidence" -- coincidentally omitted once again by this 'non-dogmatic' comrade.
In the end, the crumbling concrete edifice of the former Communist Block finally caught up with Cornforth; in one of his last books (Cornforth (1980)), he systematically retracted most of the theses he had formerly declared were the cornerstone of the "world view of the proletariat".
Alas, he did not live to see it all turn to dialectical dust, nor did he survive to witness the working class help demolish it.
In that case:
Concrete Reality: 1 -- 'Materialist Dialectics': 0.
67. Indeed, Mao repudiated Engels's third 'law' (the NON) as well as the first (Q«Q) -- a "revisionist" fact that has somehow managed to escape otherwise alert Maoist heresy hunters worldwide:
"Engels talked about the three categories, but as for me I don't believe in two of those categories. (The unity of opposites is the most basic law, the transformation of quality and quantity into one another is the unity of the opposites quality and quantity, and the negation of the negation does not exist at all.) The juxtaposition, on the same level, of the transformation of quality and quantity into one another, the negation of the negation, and the law of the unity of opposites is 'triplism', not monism. The most basic thing is the unity of opposites. The transformation of quality and quantity into one another is the unity of the opposites quality and quantity. There is no such thing as the negation of the negation. Affirmation, negation, affirmation, negation...in the development of things, every link in the chain of events is both affirmation and negation. Slave-holding society negated primitive society, but with reference to feudal society it constituted, in turn, the affirmation. Feudal society constituted the negation in relation to slave-holding society but it was in turn the affirmation with reference to capitalist society. Capitalist society was the negation in relation to feudal society, but it is, in turn, the affirmation in relation to socialist society." [Mao (1964). Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]
"It used to be said that there were three great laws of dialectics, then Stalin said there were four. In my view there is only one basic law and that is the law of contradiction. Quantity and quality, positive and negative...content and form, necessity and freedom, possibility and reality, etc., are all cases of the unity of opposites. [Mao Unrehearsed, quoted from Schram (1989), p.141.]
On this, see Schram (1989), which should be read in the light of Tian (2005), pp.163-67, and Knight (1997).
It is clear that Stalin, too, was not interested in the NON; for example, it does not appear in his essay Dialectical And Historical Materialism [i.e., Stalin (1976b)].
And it is quite clear why these two rejected or 're-interpreted' the NON; it was obviously unacceptable to both that their own regimes would one day be 'negated'.
68. Cameron appears not to have seen Plekhanov's 'answer' to this criticism. [Cf., Plekhanov (1956), pp.92-95. This 'solution' is considered in more detail in Essay Seven Part One.]
Paul McGarr and Phil Gasper also endorse the main theses of DM. [McGarr (1994), pp.150-76, Gasper (1998), pp.143-52]. However, these two comrades clearly failed to appreciate the incongruity of accepting DM on the one hand and modern Physics on the other (which is rather odd, since McGarr has a PhD in Physics, and Gasper is definitely not a philosophical novice). On the contrary; they claim the two are entirely consistent -- though they both mischievously left the reader to guess their reasons.
In fact, it seems these two are content to base their opinions solely on Engels and Lenin's authority (in order to substantiate their claim that there is no conflict between DM and Physics). For example, McGarr argues as follows:
"[A]ll the known 'particles' and 'forces' of matter are simply different transient manifestations of the same underlying essence (which most scientists would today call energy). They are all capable of being transformed into one another…. Whatever the correct interpretation of quantum mechanics turns out to be, there is no doubting that it is not a challenge to materialism, but a step forward in a materialist understanding." [McGarr (1994), pp.166, 164.]
But, unless McGarr's claims are based on a commitment to Lenin's "externalism", they offer little in the way of justification. As both of these comrades know, scientists have as a matter of fact drawn anti-materialist conclusions from modern Physics. McGarr does not say why materialism is not threatened by these developments -- he just flatly denies it. His omission can clearly be traced back to the fact that DM provides its acolytes with no clear concept of matter, which means that it is not easy to for anyone to see if, or whether, it has 'evaporated'. In that case, whistling in the dark is perhaps all that such comrades can do; but that tactic will only ever reassure 'true believers', or those who unthinking swallow the deliverances of dialectical dogma, for whom the need for careful argument and adequate evidence went out of the materialist window generations ago.
If matter really is just energy, then belief that the world is basically material should surely be consigned to appearances; the "essence" of the world (McGarr's word) is not material in any recognisable sense of that word. Hence, just as some would no longer want to say that the earth is stationary -- because it 'moves', according to classical Physics --, or just as others would want to say the earth does not 'move' at all -- since it is a motionless 'object' in Spacetime -- we should no longer want to say the world is material -- since, really it isn't, it is just "energy" (whatever that is).
Of course, an attempt might be made to rescue this part of DM from the jaws of oblivion by changing the meaning of the word "matter" (as Lenin tried to do by turning it into an epistemological category, and by rejecting all previous definitions of it -- MEC p.311), but this would only work at the cost of transforming DM into some form of conventionalism, once more.
In addition, the fact that matter and energy are inter-changeable cannot be used to defend DM, either. If matter is energy, then whatever it was that was formerly called "matter" should now be viewed as shorthand for a scalar field (perhaps) -- and we should dispense with all talk of matter (except as a sort of "useful fiction"), just as we have done with other moribund concepts, such as "substantial form" and "luminiferous ether", for example.
The familiar DM-rejection of "reductionism" cannot help in its defence, either; if matter is in fact reducible to energy (something McGarr does not deny), then it really is energy (which is itself made out of what?), and any other descriptor applied to it fails to represent the 'objective' truth ("independent of human observers").
To be sure, DM-apologists might want to continue imposing their belief in the existence of matter (defined in 'externalist' terms) on the world -- but they can do this only in defiance of unwelcome 'facts' and in spite of their constant refrain that this is not what they do.
Again, these comments should not be read as in any way indicative of the present author's abandonment of materialism -- they are directed only at exposing the confused account of matter one finds in DM.
There are far better ways of defending Marxist materialism than this! [More on that in another Essay.]
Anderson, K. (1995), Lenin, Hegel, And Western Marxism (University Of Illinois Press).
Bennett, M, and Hacker, P. (2003), Philosophical Foundations Of Neuroscience (Blackwell).
Bennett, M., Dennett, D., Hacker, P., and Searle, J. (2007), Neuroscience And Philosophy. Brain, Mind And Language (Columbia University Press). Part of this can be found here (this is a PDF), and a .wav recording of this debate, here.
Callinicos, A. (1998), 'The Secret Of The Dialectic', International Socialism 78, pp.93-103.
--------, (2006), The Resources Of Critique (Polity Press).
Cameron, K. (1995), Dialectical Materialism And Modern Science (International Publishers).
Cartwright, N. (1983), How The Laws Of Physics Lie (Oxford University Press).
Cliff, T. (1975), Lenin, Volume One (Pluto Press).
Cornforth, M. (1976), Materialism And The Dialectical Method (Lawrence & Wishart, 5th ed.).
--------, (1980), Communism And Philosophy (Lawrence & Wishart).
Cook, J. (1979), 'A Reappraisal Of Leibniz's Views On Space, Time And Motion', Philosophical Investigations 2, 2, pp.22-63.
Dainton, B. (2001), Time And Space (Acumen).
Daston, L., and Galison, P. (2007), Objectivity (Zone Books).
Dirlik, A., Healy, P., and Knight, N. (1997) (eds.), Critical Perspectives On Mao Zedong's Thought (Humanity Books).
Dupré, J. (2001), Human Nature And The Limits Of Science (Oxford University Press).
Earman, J., Glymour, C., and Mitchell, S. (2002), (eds.), Ceteris Paribus Laws (Kluwer Academic Press).
Engels, F. (1954), Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers).
--------, (1976), Anti-Dühring (Foreign Languages Press).
French, P., Uehling, T., and Wettstein, H. (1979) (eds.), Studies In Metaphysics, Midwest Studies In Philosophy 4 (University of Minnesota Press).
Gasper, P. (1998), 'Bookwatch: Marxism And Science', International Socialism 79, pp.137-71.
Geach, P. (1972a), Logic Matters (Blackwell).
--------, (1972b), 'Some Problems About Time', in Geach (1972a), pp.302-18.
Gieryn, T. (1999), Cultural Boundaries Of Science (University of Chicago Press).
Glock, H-J. (1996), A Wittgenstein Dictionary (Blackwell).
Goldstick, D. (1980), 'The Leninist Theory Of Perception', Dialogue 19, 1, pp.1-19.
Graham, L. (1971), Science And Philosophy In The Soviet Union (Allen Lane).
--------, (1987), Science, Philosophy, And Human Behaviour In The Soviet Union (Columbia University Press).
--------, (1993), Science In Russia And The Soviet Union: A Short History (Cambridge University Press).
Greene, B. (1999), The Elegant Universe (Jonathan Cape).
--------, (2004), The Fabric Of The Cosmos. Space, Time And The Texture Of Reality (Allen Lane).
Gross, P., and Levitt. N. (1998), Higher Superstition (The John Hopkins University Press, 2nd ed.).
Grünbaum, A. (1973), Philosophical Problems Of Space And Time (Reidel, 2nd ed.).
Hacker, P. (1979), 'Substance: The Constitution Of Reality', in French, et al. (1979), pp.239-61.
--------, (1982a), 'Events And Objects In Space And Time', Mind 91, pp.1-19.
--------, (1982b), 'Events, Ontology And Grammar', Philosophy 57, pp.477-86.
--------, (1987), Appearance And Reality (Blackwell).
--------, (2004), 'Substance: Things And Stuffs', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 2004, pp. 41-63. [This links to a PDF.]
-------- (2007), Human Nature, The Categorial Framework (Blackwell).
Hanfling, O. (2000), Philosophy And Ordinary Language (Routledge).
Hanson, N. (1962), 'Leverrier: The Zenith And Nadir Of Newtonian Mechanics', Isis 53, pp.359-78; reprinted in Hanson (1971), pp.103-26.
--------, (1971), What I Do Not Believe, And Other Essays (Reidel).
Hardin, C. (1993), Color For Philosophers (Hackett Publishing Company, 2nd ed.).
Harrison, B. (1972), Meaning And Structure (Harper & Row).
--------, (1973), Form And Content (Blackwell).
Hegel, G. (1975), Logic, translated by William Wallace (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.).
--------, (1999), Science Of Logic (Humanity Books).
Hyman, J. (1989), The Imitation Of Nature (Blackwell).
--------, (2006), The Objective Eye. Colour, Form, And Reality In The Theory Of Art (University of Chicago Press).
Inwood, M. (1992), A Hegel Dictionary (Blackwell).
Joravsky, D. (1961), Soviet Marxism And Natural Science 1917-1932 (Routledge).
Knight, N. (1997), 'The Laws Of Dialectical Materialism In Mao Zedong's Thought: The Question Of "Orthodoxy"', in Dirlik, Healy and Knight (1997), pp.84-116.
--------, (2005), Marxist Philosophy In China From Qu Qiubai To Mao Zedong (Springer Verlag).
Krementsov, N. (1997), Stalinist Science (Princeton University Press).
Lakatos, I. (1978), The Methodology Of Scientific Research Programmes (Cambridge University Press).
Lenin, V. (1961), Philosophical Notebooks, Collected Works, Volume 38 (Progress Publishers).
--------, (1972), Materialism And Empirio-Criticism (Foreign Languages Press).
Le Poidevin, R. (1991), Change, Cause And Contradiction: A Defense Of The Tenseless Theory Of Time (St. Martin's Press).
--------, (1998) (ed.), Questions Of Time And Tense (Oxford University Press).
--------, (2003), Travels In Four Dimensions. The Enigmas Of Space And Time (Oxford University Press).
--------, (2007), The Images of Time: An Essay On Temporal Representation (Oxford University Press).
Le Poidevin, R., and MacBeath, M. (1993) (eds.), The Philosophy Of Time (Oxford University Press).
Levine, N. (1984), Dialogue Within The Dialectic (George Allen & Unwin).
Levitt, N. (1999), Prometheus Bedeviled. Science And The Contradictions Of Contemporary Culture (Rutgers University Press).
Lewontin, R. (1995), 'À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu', Configurations 3, pp.257-65; reprinted in Ross (1996), pp.293-301.
Lockwood, M. (2005), The Labyrinth Of Time. Introducing The Universe (Oxford University Press).
Mao Tse-Tung, (1964), 'Talk On Questions Of Philosophy', Selected Works, Volume IX.
Marx, K., and Engels, F. (1970), The German Ideology, Students Edition, edited by Chris Arthur (Lawrence & Wishart).
--------, (1975), Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 3rd ed.).
McGarr, P. (1994), 'Engels And Natural Science', International Socialism 65, pp.143-76.
McGinn, M. (1991), 'Wittgenstein's Remarks On Colour', Philosophy 66, pp.435-53.
Megill, A. (1994a) (ed.), Rethinking Objectivity (Duke University Press).
--------, (1994b), 'Introduction: Four Senses Of Objectivity', in Megill (1994a), pp.1-20.
Mellor, D. (1998), Real Time II (Routledge).
Newton-Smith, W. (1980), The Structure Of Time (Routledge).
Novack, G. (1971), An Introduction To The Logic Of Marxism (Pathfinder Press, 5th ed.).
Peat, D. (2008), 'Trapped In A World View?', New Scientist 197, 2637, pp.42-43. [The on-line version of this article has a different title.]
Penrose, R. (1989), The Emperor's New Mind. Concerning Computers, Minds, And The Laws Of Physics (Vintage).
---------, (1995), Shadows Of The Mind (Vintage).
--------, (2004), The Road To Reality. A Complete Guide To The Physical Universe (BCA Books).
Plekhanov, G. (1956), The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers).
Pollock, E. (2006), Stalin And The Soviet Science Wars (Princeton University Press).
Price, H. (1996), Time's Arrow And Archimedes' Point (Oxford University Press).
Prior, A. (1957), Time And Modality (Oxford University Press).
--------, (1967), Past Present And Future (Oxford University Press).
--------, (2003), Papers On Time And Tense (Oxford University Press, 2nd ed.).
Read, R. (2007), Applying Wittgenstein, edited by Laura Cook (Continuum Books).
Rees, J. (1998), The Algebra Of Revolution (Routledge).
Ross, A. (1996) (ed.), Science Wars (Duke University Press).
Ruben, D-H. (1979), Marxism And Materialism (Harvester Press, 2nd ed.).
Russell, B. (1961), History Of Western Philosophy (George Allen & Unwin).
Savitt, S. (1995), Time's Arrows Today. Recent Physical And Philosophical Work On The Direction Of Time (Cambridge University Press).
Schram, S. (1989), The Thought Of Mao Tse-Tung (Cambridge University Press).
Sider, T. (2001), Four Dimensionalism. An Ontology Of Persistence And Time (Oxford University Press).
Simons, P. (1987), Parts: A Study In Ontology (Oxford University Press).
Sklar, L. (1976), Space, Time And Spacetime (University of California Press).
--------, (1985), Philosophy And Spacetime Physics (University of California Press).
--------, (1992), Philosophy Of Physics (Oxford University Press).
Smart, J. (1963), Philosophy And Scientific Realism (Routledge).
--------, (1964) (ed.), Problems Of Space And Time (Macmillan).
Smith, Q. (1993), Language And Time (Oxford University Press).
Smolin, L. (2006), The Trouble With Physics. The Rise Of String Theory, The Fall Of Science, And What Comes Next (Houghton Mifflin).
Spirkin, A. (1983), Dialectical Materialism (Progress Publishers).
Stalin, J. (1976a), Problems Of Leninism (Foreign Languages Press).
-------- (1976b), 'Dialectical And Historical Materialism', in Stalin (1976a), pp.835-73.
Stroud, B. (2000), The Quest For Reality (Oxford University Press).
Suter, R. (1989a), Interpreting Wittgenstein. A Cloud of Philosophy, A Drop Of Grammar (Temple University Press).
--------, (1989b), 'Augustine On Time', in Suter (1989a), pp.157-70.
Tian, C. (2005), Chinese Dialectics. From Yijing To Marxism (Lexington Books).
Tooley, M. (2000), Time, Tense And Causation (Oxford University Press).
Torretti, R. (1999), The Philosophy Of Physics (Cambridge University Press).
Trotsky, L. (1986), Notebooks, 1933-35 (Columbia University Press).
Van Heijenoort, J. (1948), 'Friedrich Engels And Mathematics', in Van Heijenoort (1985), pp.123-51.
--------, (1985), Selected Essays (Bibliopolis).
Vucinich, A. (1980), 'Soviet Physicists And Philosophers In The 1930s: Dynamics Of A Conflict', Isis 71, pp.236-50.
--------, (2001), Einstein And Soviet Ideology (Stanford University Press).
Wang, H. (1995), 'Time In Philosophy And In Physics: From Kant And Einstein To Gödel', Synthèse 102, pp.215-34.
Weinberg, S. (2002), Facing Up. Science And Its Cultural Adversaries (Harvard University Press).
Westphal, J. (1991), Colour. A Philosophical Introduction (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).
--------, (1996) 'Sources Of Error In The Metaphysics Of Time', Philosophical Investigations 19, 2, pp.131-39.
--------, (2002), 'The Retrenchability Of "The Present"', Analysis 62, 1, pp.4-10.
Wetter, G. (1958), Dialectical Materialism (Routledge).
Williams, C. (1981), What Is Existence? (Oxford University Press).
Wittgenstein, L. (1980), Remarks On Colour (Blackwell).
Woit, P. (2006), Not Even Wrong. The Failure Of String Theory And The Continuing Challenge To Unify The Laws Of Physics (Vintage).
Word Count: 54,760
Latest Update: 18/06/09
Return To The Main Index
© Rosa Lichtenstein 2009
Hits Since 12/02/08: