Dialectical Confusion

 

Preface

 

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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago. [The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.]

 

Phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM) aren't meant to imply that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently, this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who either relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another helped run the system for the elite.

 

However, this will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

 

Quick Links

 

(1) Introduction

 

(2) Slim Sweezy

 

(3) Luis Henrique

 

(4) Luis Loses His Cool

 

(5) The 'debate' continues here.

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

Introduction

 

Up until April 2011 I was a member of RevLeft, a leading discussion forum for revolutionaries of almost every stripe. However, when the dialectical mystics there gained a majority on the moderating and admin teams, I was banned for being rather too good at demolishing Dialectical Materialism [DM].

 

Since then this philosophical weed has grown almost unabated at RevLeft, with comrades happy to rehearse hoary old DM-theses that had been consigned by yours truly (and several others) to the trash can of history, many times over.

 

In addition, one or two characters there, still apparently seething over the countless arguments they lost, have now managed to turn this around, and win many arguments against me in my absence, clearly finding it much easier to prevail in debate when there is no Rosa around to respond. With brave and fearless comrades like this, the future of socialism is well assured,-- providing the ruling-class and their hangers on withdraw completely from the field.

 

On this page (and here) I propose to answer some of the criticisms of my ideas advanced by these valiant dialectical warriors (who won't show their faces over at RevForum, where I now post, since they aren't quite so heroic when confronted by yours truly), along with anything new they have to say in defence of the indefensible. [This defence, should it ever materialise, will be brief indeed -- and we might have to take anti-blinking tablets for fear we might miss something -- since novelty in DM-circles is anathematised, branded as it is, 'Revisionism'.]

 

[Incidentally, I am only addressing the arguments of these critics because one or two of those who have shown interest in my ideas wanted me to respond to this material.]

 

 

Slim Pickings

 

One character -- who calls himself "Slim Sweezy", I will assume he is male -- has recently posted a few rather vague criticisms of some of the ideas presented at this site (in this case, apparently, concerning my Essay Why all philosophical theories are non-sensical), but managing to get them wrong into the bargain:

 

"I would like to preface my response by saying that I'm not a dogmatic 'dialectical materialist'. I don't posit a dialectic of nature, which seems to be what Rosa is critiquing. And as far as I know, no modern dialectical philosophers hold that either, although I can't speak for most people on the Left.

"First, the article's position simultaneously upholds logic and its own viewpoint unquestioningly/a priori and denounces every other a priori as illegitimate (sic). It is a typical preference of identity over difference, the problematic "this and no other!". Since the author can't believe her theories are true, what does she believe about them? Convenient fictions to convince others of her viewpoint? And why this logic -- why this a priori set of A=A and so on? [sic] Are the rules of logic a priori, or are they empirical." [Quoted from here. Minor typos corrected; italic emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. The same is true of the other quotations from RevLeft on this page.]
 

Alas, there are nearly as many errors in this passage as there are sentences.

 

(1) No, I am not just criticising the 'dialectic in nature', but any and all of the ideas our movement has inherited from boss-class theorists like Hegel (upside down, or 'the right way up').

 

(2) There are plenty of dialectical philosophers who hold that there is a dialectic in nature. [I have considered the ideas of some of them here -- to which list we can add Lukacs (in his later work, after he was forced to 'recant').]

 

However, it is certainly true that the vast majority of contemporary academic dialecticians appear to reject the dialectic in nature (I have called these characters "High Church Dialecticians"); but then again, there are many who don't -- Bertell Ollman being one, Philip Gasper being another.

 

Even so, the vast majority of revolutionaries accept the dialectic in nature, and since they are in a position to do real damage, I mainly concentrate on their ideas. The theories of academic Marxists have no noticeable impact on the class war (except perhaps negatively), which is why I largely ignore them. [More details can be found at the 'High Church' link, above.]

 

(3) I have nowhere "denounced every other a priori as illegitimate", and Slim here will be hard pressed to find anything in my work that even so much as suggests this. What I have argued is that the incoherent and non-sensical theses one finds in traditional metaphysics and dialectical philosophy condemns both to the trash heap.

 

(4) I nowhere "uphold logic" as a priori, certainly not in the article to which I think he is referring. Nor do I even uphold my own "viewpoint", since I have none -- or, rather, I have no philosophical viewpoint. I merely use Wittgenstein's method to show that traditional thought (and that includes dialectics) is just so much hot air.

 

(5) Where have I argued anything like this: "It is a typical preference of identity over difference, the problematic 'this and no other!'"?

 

What I have pointed out is that philosophical theses can't be true and they can't be false, hence they are non-sensical. In addition, I have argued, alongside Marx, that such theories are based on a distortion of language, which means they are incoherent non-sense.

 

Has Slim presented any arguments to show where I go wrong? No he hasn't, or at least none of any note. All he has done is advance a series of false and misleading allegations about what he thinks I have said. Since, I go out of my way to be clear, I can only assume this is deliberate.

 

As I pointed out on the opening page of my site (in relation to this page, also at my site):

 

This page contains links to forums on the web where I have 'debated' this creed with other comrades. [Added: most of these links are to RevLeft itself.]

 

For anyone interested, check out the desperate 'debating' tactics used by Dialectical Mystics in their attempt to respond to my ideas.

 

You will no doubt notice that the vast majority all say the same sorts of things, and most of them pepper their remarks with scatological and abusive language. They all like to make things up, too, about me and my beliefs.

 

25+ years (!!) of this stuff from Dialectical Mystics has meant I now take an aggressive stance with them every time -- I soon learnt back in the 1980s that being pleasant with them (my initial tactic) did not alter their abusive tone, their propensity to fabricate, nor reduce the amount of scatological language they used.

 

So, these days, I generally go for the jugular from the get-go.

 

Apparently, they expect me to take their abuse lying down, and regularly complain about my "bullying" tactics.

 

So, these mystics can dish it out, but they cannot take it.

 

Given the damage their theory has done to Marxism, and the abuse they all dole out, they are lucky this is all I can do to them.

 

So, true-to-form, Slim proceeded to make stuff up.

 

(6) But what about this?

 

"Since the author can't believe her theories are true, what does she believe about them? Convenient fictions to convince others of her viewpoint? And why this logic -- why this a priori set of A=A and so on? [sic] Are the rules of logic a priori, or are they empirical."

 

[In fact, I have already answered this clichéd criticism, and at RevLeft, too, back in 2010!]

 

(a) I don't have a (philosophical) theory (nor do I want one, and nor do we need one). I pointedly reject them all as non-sensical and incoherent (and say so many times). Slim seems to have missed this.

 

(b) Had he read further, he'd have seen my response to the aforementioned hackneyed objection. Here it is again:

 

It could be objected that the propositions advanced in this thread are self-refuting since they aren't empirical and yet they are also supposed to be true. If so, they, too, can't be false, but must be non-sensical themselves.

 

This objection is based on the idea that there are only two uses of the indicative mood: fact-stating and philosophical thesis-mongering. So, either I am stating facts -- which could thus be false --, or I am advancing a (true) philosophical thesis of my own. If the latter, then what I have to say is equally non-sensical. In which case, I have only succeeded in refuting myself!

But, there are other uses of the indicative mood, one of which features in the formulation of scientific theories, which, in general, do not state facts, but express rules we use to make sense of the world. [And rules aren't the sort of thing that can be true or false, only useful or useless, effective or ineffective, practical or impractical, etc.]

So, when Newton, for example, tells us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the applied force, he is not stating a fact (otherwise it could be false, but then its falsehood would change the meaning of 'force', and it would thus be about something other than the subject of Newton's Second Law!), but proposing/establishing a rule that can be used to study acceleration, among other things.

 

[He might not have seen this Law that way, but that doesn't affect the point. Recall the comments made at the top of this page: This Essay "tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history...." I will say more about why such 'Laws' are in effect rules in Essay Thirteen Part Two. (Incidentally, this approach to scientific 'Laws' helps account for the odd fact that they all appear to tell lies about nature (this links to a PDF). Why that is so will also be examined in the aforementioned Essay.) ]

I use the indicative mood in the same way -- to express interpretative and/or elucidatory rules --, except in this case I do so only to show that philosophical theses themselves are non-sensical.

 

Someone might refer us to Wittgenstein's notorious statement:

 

"6.54: My propositions [Sätze -- sentences, RL] serve as elucidations in the following way: Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical [unsinnig], when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

"He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright." [Wittgenstein (1972), p.151.]

 

And then claim (as many have) that he succeeded in refuting himself.

 

As I explained earlier, in place of "nonsense" I prefer "non-sense", and that is clearly what Wittgenstein also intended; that is, he was referring to propositions which are incapable of expressing a sense (Sinn). [He pointedly contrasts Unsinnig (non-sense) with Sinnloss (senseless) sentences.]

So, Wittgenstein's Unsinnig sentences [Sätze] express rules ("elucidations") in propositional (sentential) form (that is, they use the indicative mood, by-and-large), which he employed in an endeavour make it clear how our actual sentences express a sense (Sinn), or fail to express a sense (Sinnloss) --, or worse, can't express a sense (Unsinnig). Once that has been done, or once we see what Wittgenstein was trying to do, we no longer need these rules and can "throw them away".

Now rules, as I pointed out earlier, can't express a sense (so they are Unsinnig), but that does not stop us understanding them (which we plainly do once we see they aren't like empirical propositions or metaphysical pseudo-propositions, but are "elucidations", rules -- hence, they aren't incoherent non-sense). In that case, Wittgenstein was outlining, or proposing a set of interpretative rules that sought to make his analysis of language clear.

 

Again, when Newton, for example, informs us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the impressed force, he is telling us how he intends to use certain words, and how he proposes to make sense of nature by means of them. His laws elucidate his physics, and as such are rules.

 

But, why "throw them away"? Well, consider someone who is trying to teach someone else chess, how the pieces move, how they can capture other pieces, etc. In doing this, he/she will explain the rules of chess in the indicative mood: "The queen moves like this, or this...". Of course, these can also be expressed in the imperative mood, too: "Move your rook like this...", but this isn't absolutely essential. In addition, the rules can be taught by practical demonstration, by simply playing the game! Novices can even learn by just watching others play, asking the odd question or two.

The rules of chess are Unsinnig, too, since they can't be false. "The bishop does not move diagonally", is not an alternative rule for the bishop in chess, since the way that piece moves defines what the word "bishop" means. The rules elucidate how that word is used and how that piece behaves.

 

Some might want to argue that "The bishop moves like this..." is in fact true, but if that were the case, "The bishop moves like this..." would be descriptive not prescriptive. Anyone who now claimed that such rules are descriptive would have no answer to someone who retorted "Well, I move it any way I like!" -- other than an appeal to tradition. In order to proscribe the antics of such maverick chess players, "The bishop moves like this..." and sentences like it, would have to be viewed prescriptively, and thus as rules. Of course, "The bishop moves like this..." is a correct (or true) description of a rule in chess, in the sense that anyone who used it would be speaking truly (about the rules themselves), but the prescriptive nature of this rule does not depend on such true reports, but on its application in defining how a certain piece must move. 

Once we have grasped these rules we can in effect "throw them away" (unless, of course, we have to explain them to someone else, or appeal to them to settle a dispute, etc.). How many times do you have to say to yourself once you have mastered the rules of chess: "The castle moves like this, the pawns like that..."?


Every single Wittgenstein commentator has missed these simple points, and they then struggle to comprehend the Tractatus!

 

(c) Where did Slim's odd reference to "A=A" come from? I can only assume -- and I apologise if I have misconstrued him! -- that he thinks I accept the 'Law of Identity' [LOI], and that he imagines that this 'law' is a cornerstone of Formal Logic [FL]. In this, Slim is following in a long and sorry tradition. DM-fans from yesteryear (Engels, Plekhanov, Trotsky...) made stuff up about FL all the time (often these errors were appropriated uncritically from Hegel), and their 'philosophical descendants' then copied these fantasies off one another, from generation to generation, seldom bothering to check their veracity. Had Slim read more widely in my work before rushing to post another set of falsehoods, he'd have been able to ascertain what I do in fact think about the LOI, and about Hegel's confused musings about it.

 

[Of course, no one has to read my work, but if they are going to pass an opinion about it, that seems to be a minimum requirement.]

 

(d) The rules of logic are neither a priori nor empirical; they are what that word says: rules. As rules they can't be true and they can't be false; once more, they are either practical or impractical, useful or otherwise.

 

[To be sure there are logicians who disagree with this, but Slim is discussing my ideas, not theirs!]

 

Slim continues:

 

"Second, the truth-statuses of M1-type propositions are said to depend only on all or some of three things:


"(1) The meaning of the words contained therein


"(2) certain definitions


"(3) A series of supporting arguments or 'thought experiments'


"In contrast, M2-type propositions' truth-statuses are said to depend on their 'experimental or factual confirmation', or on 'the way the world happens to be'.

"'The way the world happens to be' is exactly what we're trying to decide, so opting into that is problematic. I don't see why there can't be contingent 'a priori' truths, in the sense that 'a priori' is a problematic concept. Thought doesn't sit still, outside the world and think about it and make propositions that don't affect it. Rather, things I think and don't go [and?] 'verify' may still refer to the way the world is, outside a narrowly scientific context." [
Ibid.]

 

It would be helpful if I reminded readers what Slim is referring to here. He is referring to a short Essay I wrote for absolute novices (and he seems to think it contains my most considered thoughts!): Why all philosophical theories are non-sensical.

 

Here are M1 and M2 (as well as M4 and M5 from that Essay -- more about those two sentences presently):

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M4: Tony Blair does not own a copy of Das Kapital.

 

M5: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

I pointed out that the truth of M1 lies on its face, as it were. Anyone who claims to understand it will automatically consider it true, and they wouldn't need any evidence to arrive at or justify that conclusion. This isn't the case with M2. Understanding factual statements like M2 doesn't go hand-in-hand with knowing they are true or knowing they are false. Evidence is required in such cases. You can't decide whether or not M2-type sentences are true by just thinking about them. You can with M1-type sentences.

 

As I pointed out in the aforementioned Essay:

 

As we have seen, the alleged truth-status of M1 is derived from the meaning of the words it contains. But, unlike M2 and M4, the truth of M1 can't be denied by the use of M5, since that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".

 

That is because sentences like M1 define what a given philosopher means by, in this case, "time".

 

But, if time isn't a relation between events (as M5 tells us), then the word "time" plainly has a different meaning in M1 and M5. And, if that is so, M1 and M5 can't relate to the same supposed state of affairs.

 

So, despite appearances to the contrary, M5 isn't the negation of M1.

 

And that is because the subject of each sentence is different.

 

[Of course, readers will need to consult the aforementioned Essay to know why I am making this point!]

 

Ok, so what counter-arguments does Slim wield against me?

 

"'The way the world happens to be' is exactly what we're trying to decide, so opting into that is problematic. I don't see why there can't be contingent 'a priori' truths, in the sense that 'a priori' is a problematic concept. Thought doesn't sit still, outside the world and think about it and make propositions that don't affect it. Rather, things I think and don't go [and?] 'verify' may still refer to the way the world is, outside a narrowly scientific context."

 

(1) Well, 'the way the world happens to be' is only problematic for philosophers (unless we are dealing with complex or technical issues found in the sciences; but I chose everyday examples to make my point clear), so I fail to see the force of this point. Is Slim saying that it would be impossible for anyone to check the veracity, or otherwise, of M2? [But see my reply to Luis, below.]

 

(2) I'd need to see a contingent a priori truth to be able to decide whether or not Slim's point is valid. Alas, he failed to provide one; so not much can be done with this point of his.

 

[In fact, I have already considered this topic in the Essay for which the one mentioned above is a very short summary. Once again, Slim would be well-advised to check what I actually believe before jumping in again with hob-nail boots on.]

 

(3) And sure, our thoughts don't "sit still", but how that affects the points I made is somewhat unclear. At the very least, this will merely re-distribute the truth-values among some of our empirical propositions; at most it will either (a) change some empirical propositions into what Wittgenstein called "hinge propositions" (on that, follow the last link above), or (b) remove some of the latter "from the archives", to use another of his phrases.

 

Either way, none of this affects the clear distinction drawn above between metaphysical (M1) and factual propositions (M2). Or, if it does, Slim failed to make it clear how it manages to do this.

 

Slim continues:

 

"Third, to understand any proposition relies on its truth or falsity, not just M1-type propositions. Only the generic, outside-the-world, 'purely logical' self can believe otherwise. It is further clear that this supposition is untrue and also unprovable." [Ibid.]

 

(1) I fear Slim has missed the point. Is he really prepared to argue that he will fail to understand M2 unless he knows whether it is true, or whether it is false? But, how could he possibly go about ascertaining either of these if he doesn't already understand the proposition in question?

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

In that case, we might want to see how he proposes to ascertain the truth (or the falsehood) of the following sentence so that he can then understand it:

 

S1: London is between Manchester.

 

[No misprint!]

 

It would be no use arguing that S1 is impossible to understand since, according to Slim, we have to determine its truth (or its falsehood) before we can grasp what it has to say!

 

(2) On the other hand, Slim might merely be advancing the uncontroversial claim that truth and falsehood are ('properties' that are logically?) connected with all propositions. I agree (even if I'd put this point rather differently; I'd argue that true-false polarity is constitutive of what we mean by a factual proposition), but what has this got to do with the very clear distinction between those sentences that carry their supposed truth on their faces (like M1) and those that don't (like M2)? Nothing at all.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

(3) Now, I have read this passage many, many times, but I still can't make head-or-tail of it:

 

"Only the generic, outside-the-world, 'purely logical' self can believe otherwise. It is further clear that this supposition is untrue and also unprovable."

 

If someone can assist me here, I'd be grateful.

 

Alas, Slim has more to say:

 

"Fourth, basically the only thing that you can point to is science as your model, meaning it becomes a purely utilitarian argument. Without anything you say about this theory being true or false, and furthermore confronting it from a non-dialectical standpoint, how can it ever be convincing? You take anti-dialectics as your framework (yes it's a framework, just like any other, admit it or not) and attempt to refute dialectics from outside (at least in the article). [Ibid.]

 

Sure, I began (back in the late 1970s) from an anti-dialectical stance (or "framework", as Slim puts it -- my reasons for beginning with this "framework" can be found here), but I nowhere try to refute dialectics (in the sense of trying to prove it false).

 

What I do manage to do is show that it is far too vague and confused for anyone to be able to say whether or not it is true.

 

"I hope we can keep this discussion more civil than the tone of these articles."

 

The reasons for my unremittingly hostile tone can be found here.

 

Having said that, I am more than happy to be comradely toward anyone who doesn't try to make stuff up about my ideas -- or verbally abuse me.

 

 

Luis Cannon

 

Another long-standing critic of mine at RevLeft has attempted to respond to several points I have made about Wittgenstein and his relation to the left. I have summarised the evidence (of which there is much) here. [I have in fact reproduced some of it below.]

 

In addition I have made the point (in an introductory Essay, again) that several leading Analytic Philosophers, who were leftists (or even Marxists), were responsible for the emphasis that has been placed on language (and particularly ordinary language) in Analytic Philosophy a few generations ago:

 

Finally, it is also argued that the emphasis placed on ordinary language by certain Analytic Philosophers (up until a few generations ago, at least) was not unconnected with the rise of the working class as a political force in history. The latter-day demise of this tradition in Analytic Philosophy (and the resurgence of Metaphysics, and particularly Hegelianism) is also linked to the change in the balance of class forces that has taken place over the last forty years or so, leading once again to the ascendancy of Idealism.

 

In fact, the modern home of 'monetarist' economic theory (the USA) was also the source of the most determined attacks on Ordinary Language Philosophy (OLP). Over the same period, we have witnessed a resurgence of a plethora of right-wing ideas in science (for example, the rise of Sociobiology in the 1970s, which later transmogrified into 'Evolutionary Psychology' in the 1990s). No coincidences these.

 

This is not to suggest that those working in OLP were revolutionaries, or even that they saw things this way. It is to assert, however, that their emphasis on ordinary language had material roots, and that this did not just emerge out of thin air. In fact, many of these thinkers were socialists of one sort or another (Russell, Ayer, Schlick, Neurath, Ryle, Hampshire, Davidson, to name but a few). Indeed, the vast majority of Wittgenstein's friends were Communists or were sympathetic to Trotskyism. Wittgenstein is reported to have said he was a "communist at heart"; he also supported the gains of the October revolution. In addition, he wanted to move to the USSR in the mid-1930s, and was offered the professorship at Kazan University (Lenin's old College) -- which tenure the Stalinists of the day would hardly offer to a non-red!

 

This, of course, makes the work of the most important philosopher of Ordinary Language (i.e., Wittgenstein) crucially important for the defence of working-class politics. [Although it is not maintained here that he saw things this way!]

 

The working class in previous centuries was far too small and weak to provide a materialist counter-weight to the Idealism found in all forms of ruling-class thought. This is no longer the case.

 

However, this aforementioned long-standing critic of mine (at RevLeft), Luis Henrique, has responded to the above argument as follows (albeit in reply to a supporter of my site who also posts at RevLeft):

 

"But this is because we use outrageously different standards for those people than we use for Marxists. All those guys were 'leftists' more or less in the sense that Kautsky or Bernstein were leftists. They certainly had no coherent critique of capitalism, did not understand the ideas of capital or value, and had no scientific theory of exploitation.

"All things that would get us all screaming in unison, 'reformism! reformism!' if they were the case with Marxists." [Quoted from
here.]

 

Indeed, and I agree, but this response is irrelevant to the point being made, which isn't that these left-leaning philosophers were quasi-Marxists (although Neurath was a full-blooded Marxist), or that their politics is of much interest to us. It was that in their re-orientation toward language, and particularly ordinary language, they were far clearer than any Marxist has been since Marx himself, who, it is worth recalling, famously argued:

 

"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 alone added.]

 

So, Luis's argument is completely beside the point.

 

What does he say next?

 

Well, Philo (a supporter of my site), had argued as follows:

 

"There are other strains that make up so-called 'analytic' philosophy besides the dominant post-positivist one, as well. American-style pragmatism has produced a notable number of socialists and fostered engagement with socialist or left-leaning thinkers, with Sidney Hook coming most immediately to mind as an actual Marxist, though there is also Cornel West (who is left-leaning, though not a radical by my standards). And of course there was so-called 'ordinary language philosophy' in the UK, among whom some of the leading figures were socialists; J. L. Austin and Gilbert Ryle, most prominently. And that's leaving aside Wittgenstein himself (whom I like to distinguish from his OLP 'offspring'), who spoke favourably of Lenin's politics, supported the communist student organizations at Cambridge, was friends with prominent socialists (like...Piero Sraffa), and was invited to teach at Kazan University in the USSR, Lenin's old university. That a Cambridge philosopher would be invited to the early USSR speaks volumes." [Quoted from here.]

 

To which Luis replied:

 

"But it wasn't the 'early' USSR. It was 1935 USSR, at the height of Stalinist persecution of communists, and at a time when 'Diamat' was the official philosophy of the State.

"Now that I think about it, I don't remember Wittgenstein ever making any criticism of 'Diamat'. Perhaps he wasn't so much anti-dialectical as you fantasise...

"...or, more probably, nothing of this 'speaks volumes', except to say that Wittgenstein was an odd guy who did odd things more out of psychological instability than out of politico-philosophical coherence." [Quoted from here.]

 

Unfortunately, this opinion has not been blessed with much support from the facts, interesting though its flights-of-fancy are in themselves (about, for instance, Wittgenstein's character).

 

Here are the facts (the references can be found here -- incidentally, these facts have been completely updated and greatly augmented, here):

 

In fact, not only were many of Wittgenstein's friends and pupils prominent Marxists -- e.g., Piero Sraffa, Maurice Dobb, Nicholas Bakhtin, George Thomson, Maurice Cornforth, David Hayden-Guest, and Roy Pascal (cf., Monk (1990), pp.343, 348; Rhees (1984), pp.x, 48; and Sheehan (1993), pp.303, 343) --, but one of his foremost 'disciples' (Rush Rhees) at one point contemplated joining the RCP (i.e., the 1940s Trotskyist version, not that recent right-wing joke of the same name, now happily defunct), and sought Wittgenstein's advice on this. [Cf., Rhees (1984), pp.200-09.]

 

Rhees and Monk record the many sympathetic remarks Wittgenstein made about Marxism, about workers and about revolutionary activity in general. While these are not in themselves models of 'orthodoxy', they reveal how close Wittgenstein came to adopting a very weak form of class politics in the 1930s -- certainly closer than any other major philosopher since Marx himself; cf., Rhees (1984), pp.205-09. [Cf., also Norman Malcolm's Introduction to Rhees's book, pp.xvii-xviii, Monk (1990), pp.343-54, and Monk (2007).]

 

In fact, Monk reports a comment made by George Thomson on Wittgenstein's attitude to Marxism: "He was opposed to it in theory, but supported it in practice", and notes another friend who remembers Wittgenstein saying that he was "a communist, at heart" (Monk (1990), p.343). He concludes:

 

"There is no doubt that during the political upheavals of the mid-1930s Wittgenstein's sympathies were with the working class and the unemployed, and that his allegiance, broadly speaking, was with the left….

 

"Despite the fact that Wittgenstein was never at any time a Marxist, he was perceived as a sympathetic figure by the students who formed the core of the Cambridge Communist Party, many of whom ([David] Hayden-Guest, [John] Cornford, Maurice Cornforth, etc.) attended his lectures." [Monk (1990), pp.343, 348.]

 

And, T P Uschanov adds this comment:

 

"In November 1940 Wittgenstein made his only public political statement when he supported a communist Students' Convention held in Cambridge." [Quoted from here, referencing Flowers (1999), pp.142-43, a source I haven't yet been able to check.]

 

Which would be rather an odd thing for an alleged conservative (small "c" or capital "C") to have done, especially given the political line coming out of Moscow throughout 1940.

 

In Rhees's book, Fania Pascal -- another Marxist friend of Wittgenstein's, married to Communist Party intellectual Roy Pascal, translator of The German Ideology into English --, reports that Wittgenstein had actually read Marx (cf., Rhees (1984), p.44), but, the source of this information appears to be John Moran [Cf., Moran (1972)]. Garth Hallett's otherwise comprehensive survey omits reference to this alleged fact. [Cf., Hallett (1977), pp.759-75.] But if, as we will see, he had read Lenin, and all his close friends were Marxists, it is a reasonably safe bet that he had read Marx, too.

 

Rhees and Monk also note that when Wittgenstein visited Russia he met Sophia Yanovskaya, who was Professor of Mathematical Logic at Moscow University and one of the co-editors of Marx's Mathematical Manuscripts. [Cf., Yanovskaya (1983), in Marx (1983).] She apparently advised him to "read more Hegel" (which implies he had already read some). [Monk (1990), p.351, and Rhees (1984), p.209.] In fact, Yanovskaya even went as far as to recommend Wittgenstein for the chair at Kazan University (Lenin's old college) and for a teaching post at Moscow University (Monk (1990), p.351). These are hardly posts one would have offered to just anyone in Stalin's Russia in the mid-1930s, least of all to someone unsympathetic toward Communism.

 

Monk suggests that Yanovskaya formed the (false) impression that Wittgenstein was interested in Dialectical Materialism (ibid.), but Drury (another of Wittgenstein's pupils) informs us that Wittgenstein had a low opinion of Lenin's philosophical work (but, exactly which part this refers to we don't know; but it does indicate that Wittgenstein had at least read Lenin since he never passed comments on second-hand reports of other writers' work), but the opposite view of his practical endeavours:

 

"Lenin's writings about philosophy are of course absurd, but at least he did want to get something done." [Drury, quoting Wittgenstein from recollection, in Rhees (1984), p.126.]

 

Fania Pascal also records Wittgenstein's friendship with Nicholas Bakhtin (ibid., p.14), and notes that at one time he expressed a desire to go and live in Russia, as we have just seen (ibid., pp.26, 29, 44, 125-26, 198-200). In fact he actually visited Russia in September 1935 (cf., Monk (1990), pp.347-53), which is when he met Professor Yanovskaya. Like many other Cambridge intellectuals at the time his desire to live in the USSR was motivated by his false belief that under Stalin it was a Workers' State. In this regard, of course, his intentions are more significant than his mistaken views. One only has to contrast Wittgenstein's opinion of Russia with that of, say, Bertrand Russell -- his former teacher -- to see how sympathetic in comparison Wittgenstein was toward revolutionary Marxism, even if, like many others, he finally mistook the latter for Stalinism. [Cf., Drury's memoir in Rhees (1984), p.144, and Russell (1962).]

 

John Maynard Keynes (another of Wittgenstein's friends) wrote the following comment in a letter to the Russian ambassador Maisky (who had in fact once been a Menshevik) about Wittgenstein's desire to live in Russia:

 

"I must leave it to him to tell you his reasons for wanting to go to Russia. He is not a member of the Communist Party, but has strong sympathies with the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for." [John Maynard Keynes to Maisky, quoted in Rhees (1984), p.199. Also quoted more fully in Monk (1990), p.349.]

 

In his biography of Wittgenstein, Ray Monk plays down Wittgenstein's proposed move, and, relying on Fania Pascal's view of Wittgenstein's motives, interprets it as a reflection of his attachment to a Tolstoyian view of the Russian peasantry and the 'dignity of manual labour'. While this clearly was a factor, it can't explain Wittgenstein's positive remarks about the gains he believed workers had made because of the revolution -- and, given what happened to the Russian peasantry in Stalin's Russia in the 1930s, this is surely the least likely explanation! On this, Rhees is clearly a more reliable guide; he knew Wittgenstein better than almost anyone else. Moreover, it sits rather awkwardly with Keynes's comments above; there Keynes notes that Wittgenstein was sympathetic to "the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for" -- notice the comment about the regime, and not just the way of life.

 

[The full details of Wittgenstein's desire to live in Russia, and his visit, can be found in Monk (1990), pp.340-54.]

 

Moreover, his closest friend before he met Rhees was Francis Skinner, who had wanted to volunteer to fight in Spain as part of the International Brigade (he was finally rejected on health grounds).

 

In addition, Wittgenstein thought that Alan Turing (who was also one of his 'part time' pupils for a brief period in the 1930s) believed that he (Wittgenstein) was trying to introduce "Bolshevism" into Mathematics, because of his criticisms of the irrational fear of contradictions among mathematicians. [Cf., Monk (1990), pp.419-20; see also Hodges (1983), pp.152-54.]

 

  As Wittgenstein himself said:

 

"Turing does not object to anything I say. He agrees with every word. He objects to the idea he thinks underlies it. He thinks we're undermining mathematics, introducing Bolshevism into mathematics. But not at all." [Wittgenstein (1976), p.76.]

 

On this, and Wittgenstein's 'radical Bolshevism', see Ray Monk's on-line essay, here.

 

"The changes Wittgenstein wished to see are...I believe, so radical that the name 'full-blooded Bolshevism' suggests itself as a natural way to describe the militant tendency of his remarks." [Monk (1995).]
 

See also Monk (2007).

 

Finally, but perhaps most importantly, Wittgenstein himself declared that his later Philosophy had been inspired by his regular conversations with Piero Sraffa (Gramsci's friend). The extent of Sraffa's influence is still unclear (however, see below), but Wittgenstein admitted to Rhees that it was from Sraffa that he had gained an "anthropological" view of philosophical problems. [Cf., Monk (1990), pp.260-61. Cf., also Malcolm (1958), p.58, von Wright (ND), pp.28, 213, and Wittgenstein (1998), p.16.]

 

In the Preface to what is his most important and influential work, Wittgenstein had this to say:

 

"Even more than this...criticism I am indebted to that which a teacher of this university, Mr P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly practiced on my thoughts. I am indebted to this stimulus for the most consequential ideas of this book." [Wittgenstein (1958), p.viii. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

The new translation renders this passage as follows:

 

"Even more than this...criticism, I am indebted to that which a teacher of this university, Mr P. Sraffa, for many years unceasingly applied to my thoughts. It is to this stimulus that I owe the most fruitful ideas of this book." [Wittgenstein (2009), p.4e.]

 

This is quite remarkable; the author of what many believe to be the most original and innovative philosophical work of the 20th century -- and one that, if correct, brings to an end 2500 years of traditional thought -- claims that his most "consequential" or "fruitful" ideas were derived from a man who was an avowed Marxist!

 

Of course, some may doubt Sraffa was a Marxist. However, here is what one researcher has noted about this:

 

"The Sraffa archives -- at the Wren Library, Trinity College, Cambridge, UK -- were opened for consultation in the 1990s, and I began some work there in the second half of that decade. The most widespread reading of the Marx-Sraffa relationship -- almost a vulgata [a commonplace -- RL], especially among the Sraffians -- was the one embodied in Steedman's Marx after Sraffa (Steedman 1977). What PoC [The Production of Commodities by Means of Commodities -- RL] showed, he argued, was that the labour theory of value was dispensable in a scientific analysis of capitalism. What was needed was just a set of objective data -- physical and material -- about the methods of production. In a Classical-Marxian approach this had to be complemented by the real wage as determined from outside. Labour-values themselves are derived from these 'givens'. Moreover, most of the conclusions derived from value theory (as the theory of relative prices based on labour-values) can be shown to be analytically useless. Marx's magnitudes of value are redundant relative to the task of determining (simultaneously, and not successively, as Marx pretended) the rate of profits and the prices of production. This irrelevance of value theory does not necessarily mean a criticism of the other parts of Marx's economic legacy, since most of it may be confirmed within the Sraffa-based 'surplus approach'.

 

"Once again, these bold conclusions -- whatever their merits -- met the silence of Sraffa. They were in contrast with the anecdotal evidence put forward by friends and colleagues. So, for example, Joan Robinson (1977: 56) wrote: 'Piero has always stuck close to pure unadulterated Marx and regards my amendments with suspicion.' Similar recollections were written by Antonio Giolitti (1992: 80), who met Sraffa several times between 1948 and 1952: Sraffa, he says, was always urging him not to have doubts about Marx's theory of surplus value and also on the feasibility of Soviet planning. Adopting a very different reading (and rightly so!) of the Marxian labour theory of value, Paul M. Sweezy, one of the most important figures in what I’ve called Traditional Marxism, commented in 1987:

 

'[Sraffa] always was a loyal Marxist, in the sense of himself adhering to the labour theory of value. But he didn't write about that. Now that was Sraffa's peculiarity [...] Thinking that it is possible to get along without a value theory (using the term in a broad sense to include accumulation theory and so on) seems to me to be almost total bankruptcy. It's no good at all. And I don't think anything has come of it. It was good to show the limitations, the fallacies, the internal inconsistencies of neoclassical theory, that was fine, that was important. But to think that on that basis a theory with anything like the scope and purposes of Marxism can be developed is quite wrong.' (Sweezy 1987: 13-14.)" [Riccardo Bellofiore, quoted from here, where the above references can be found. Accessed 24/05/2012. Spelling adapted to agree with UK English; formatting and quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added; typos corrected.]

 

[This agrees with a radio interview I heard (just before Sraffa died), in which he emphatically underlined his commitment to Marxism.]

 

Readers are encouraged to consult the rest of the above article for further proof of Sraffa's (albeit, non-standard) Marxism.

 

Attempts to reconstruct Sraffa's influence on Wittgenstein are in their early stages, and they are not likely to progress much further unless some hard evidence turns up; to date, these attempts are based largely on supposition and inference. On this, see Sharpe (2002), Davis (2002) and Rossi-Landi (2002), pp.200-04. However, Peter Ives, I think, gets things about right when he says:

 

"During his captivity, Sraffa was one of Gramsci's most important correspondents after his sister-in-law, Tatiana Schucht, especially since Sraffa had helped Gramsci have access to books while in prison. Unless someone finds the notes that Wittgenstein is reported to have taken after each of his weekly discussions with Sraffa, we are unlikely ever to know if there was any clear influence between Gramsci and Wittgenstein." [Ives (2004), pp.28-29.]

 

[Alas, Ives also goes on to assert that Wittgenstein showed no interest in politics, but as we have seen in Essay Thirteen Part Three, this is the exact opposite of the truth.]

 

Now, it isn't being maintained here that Wittgenstein was a closet revolutionary, only that he has been rather badly misrepresented; a demonstrably erroneous view of his political leanings was encouraged by some of his 'disciples', who have (or have had) their own political agenda in mind.

 

However, a somewhat controversial book published a few years ago -- i.e., Cornish (1999) -- assembles all the available evidence (and there is a considerable amount, even if some of it is circumstantial) indicative of Wittgenstein's attitude toward revolutionary politics; cf., Cornish (1999), pp.40-87. [I will pass no comment on Cornish's other views since they are not relevant to the aims of this Essay.]

 

[OLP = Ordinary Language Philosophy.]

 

In addition to conservative misrepresentations of Wittgenstein's views, there is an equally spurious idea that his work is of a piece with the Oxford OLP of Ryle, Austin, Warnock, Strawson, Urmson and Hampshire. Beyond a few superficial similarities, Wittgenstein's work bears little or no resemblance to "Oxford Philosophy". On this, see Cavell (1971a) and Dummett (1960). [For a detailed example of one difference between Wittgenstein's method and Oxford OLP, see here.]

 

With the above in mind, let us look again at Luis's claims:

 

"But it wasn't the 'early' USSR. It was 1935 USSR, at the height of Stalinist persecution of communists, and at a time when 'Diamat' was the official philosophy of the State.

"Now that I think about it, I don't remember Wittgenstein ever making any criticism of 'Diamat'. Perhaps he wasn't so much anti-dialectical as you fantasise...

"...or, more probably, nothing of this 'speaks volumes', except to say that Wittgenstein was an odd guy who did odd things more out of psychological instability than out of politico-philosophical coherence." [Ibid.]

 

(1) In comparison with the rest of Soviet history, 1935 (approximately 18 years after the revolution) is indeed part of its early history. The Soviet state lasted until 1991 -- approximately 74 years. 18 years represents approximately 24.3% of its history -- less than a quarter. If this isn't part of its early history, what is?

 

(2) To be sure, in 1935, the former Soviet Union [fSU] was in thrall to Stalinism and the official philosophy of the state (Diamat), but as we have seen, Wittgenstein did make disparaging remarks about this theory -- or, at least, about Lenin's philosophy. [We also know he wanted to go and live in the USSR in 1922, when the civil war there was coming to a close. Hardly the actions of a non-red.]

 

In addition, he had this to say about the traditional confusion of the "is" of identity with the "is" of predication (a logical dodge invented by Roman Catholic Theologians in the Middle Ages, which both Hegel and Lenin, among many others, accepted uncritically):

 

"In no branch of learning can an author disregard the results of honest research with so much impunity as he can in Philosophy and Logic. To this circumstance we owe the publication of such a book as Mr Coffey's Science of Logic: and only as a typical example of the work of many logicians of to-day does this book deserve consideration. The author's Logic is that of the scholastic philosophers, and he makes all their mistakes -- of course with the usual references to Aristotle. (Aristotle, whose name is taken so much in vain by our logicians, would turn in his grave if he knew that so many Logicians know no more about Logic to-day than he did 2,000 years ago). The author has not taken the slightest notice of the great work of the modern mathematical logicians -- work which has brought about an advance in Logic comparable only to that which made Astronomy out of Astrology, and Chemistry out of Alchemy....

 

"[Summarising Coffey's errors -- RL]:

 

"[1] The author believes that all propositions are of the subject predicate form....

 

"[3] He confounds the copula 'is' with the word 'is' expressing identity....

 

 "The worst of such books is that they prejudice sensible people against the study of Logic...." [Wittgenstein (1913), pp.2-3.]

 

[References can be found here. For more on Hegel, Marx and Engels's influence on Wittgenstein, see here.]

 

As I have shown, these two observations alone ([1] and [3], above, if correct) cut the heart right out of DM.

 

It is inconceivable, therefore, that Wittgenstein would have had any truck with DM, and this is quite apart from the many negative things he had to say about philosophical theories in general (in both his earlier and later work; on that, see here).

 

[Added on edit: This isn't strictly true, as I have had to acknowledge here. Having said that, the method of the Investigations undermines DM spectacularly effectively, as I also point out at the above link.]

 

If Luis thinks otherwise, let's see his evidence.

 

Just as it would be interesting to see the detailed psychological/psychiatric report upon which I am sure the following comment is based:

 

"Wittgenstein was an odd guy who did odd things more out of psychological instability than out of politico-philosophical coherence." [Ibid.]

 

Certainly Wittgenstein was odd, but "psychologically unstable"? To be sure, there were times in his life when he behaved eccentrically, but how does this count as "psychologically unstable" (a rather vague term in itself -- it can vary in meaning from the merely indecisive at one end of the spectrum to the positively manic at the other)?

 

[It is now quite clear that Wittgenstein's 'odd' behaviour and his brief dalliance with mysticism were a direct result of the post traumatic stress he suffered because of his experiences in the First World War. On that, see here.]

 

Again, if Luis has evidence (as opposed to supposition) that in 1935 Wittgenstein was "psychologically unstable", let's see it.

 

Compare this with what John Maynard Keynes said:

 

"I must leave it to him to tell you his reasons for wanting to go to Russia. He is not a member of the Communist Party, but has strong sympathies with the way of life which he believes the new regime in Russia stands for." [John Maynard Keynes to Maisky, quoted in Rhees (1984), p.199. Also quoted more fully in Monk (1990), p.349.]

 

Keynes wouldn't have given this recommendation for someone who was unstable, especially in relation to his proposed move to the USSR. And, we have already seen that Wittgenstein made such an impression on Professor Yanovskaya that she offered him the chair at Kazan University (Lenin's Alma Mater), which hardly suggests he was politically naive, or psychologically unstable.

 

Of course, the idea that Wittgenstein was politically inactive, a political quietist, or was bereft of political opinions of any note, was a canard put about in the late 1950s by Ernest Gellner -- foolishly echoed by Herbert Marcuse. This myth has been well-and-truly laid to rest by T P Uschanov. [Readers are referred to his essay -- The Strange Death of Ordinary Language Philosophy -- for more details.]

 

Finally, until Luis can post a few coherent philosophical ideas of his own (however, based on what we are about to see below, the prospects of that coming to pass any day soon aren't entirely reassuring), we can take this comment of his with a lorry load of salt:

 

"Wittgenstein was an odd guy who did odd things more out of psychological instability than out of politico-philosophical coherence." [Ibid.]

 

We now come to Luis's more 'substantive' points:

 

"But, if the rules of logic are a priori -- then how are they not the M1 kind of proposition, i.e., metaphysic propositions?" [Quoted from here.]

 

Recall, M1 and M2 from earlier were:

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

What Luis omitted, of course, was a proof that the rules of logic are a priori. [Naturally, this depends on the force of the "if" he uses. If it is an hypothetical "if", then no proof is required, but if it is a material implication "if", then one would have expected some attempt to show the antecedent was true.]

 

Let us suppose, however, that it can be shown that these rules are a priori, how does that affect the status of M1?

 

The answer is; it doesn't.

 

The point I had in fact made (in the short Essay to which this criticism was addressed) was that in Traditional Philosophy, theses like M1 are taken to be 'necessarily true' (or 'metaphysically true'), but, as it turns out, they can neither be true nor false. Just like the rules of logic (whether or not the latter are a priori), they lack a sense, and are thus non-sensical. The difference between such theses and the rules of logic is that the former are incoherent non-sense, while the rules of logic aren't. [Why the former are incoherent is explained in detail in Essay Twelve Part One. (See also my response to Slim, above.) Had Luis read that Essay (for which this shorter Essay is just a précis), he'd have seen that for himself. But he prefers to remain ignorant. Who am I to deny him his wish?]

 

But, what does Luis do with this 'philosophical gem'?

 

"The only way out of this conundrum is to declare that they are not propositions at all -- but this hardly saves the day, for, even if they are not propositions, propositions can be made about them:

"L1: The law of non-contradiction is self-evident.

"And we are back with the problem of deciding whether L1. is a metaphysical proposition or an empiric one. Further, we can easily see that 'empiric propositions' about the rules of logic don't tell us anything about such rules:

"L2: Aristotle made ample use of the principle of non-contradiction.

"It is, unhappily, only the metaphysical propositions, like L1, that actually say anything about such rules." [
Ibid. Lettering added to Luis's propositions to make them easier to refer to.]

 

(1) "Proposition", like many other words, is what Wittgenstein called a "family resemblance" term. So, there is no problem if we want to apply that word to the theorems of logic -- provided we recognise that a new use of this word brings with it a new meaning, for the truth of an empirical  proposition and the 'truth' of a logical proposition are established in totally different ways. The former has to face the facts; the latter depends on the proof structure of the logical system to which it belongs. [Luis should know this since Wittgenstein made this point over 60 years ago!]

 

In short, there is no "conundrum", here.

 

(2) What about propositions like L1? Plainly, this is an indicative sentence expressing a putative truth about a rule of logic. It could be false, or it could be true. In which case, it isn't metaphysical. Its truth (or falsehood) would be decided on the basis of facts we would have to ascertain about what certain control groups of individuals thought about this rule, and the results of such experiments might very well change (depending on the choice of subjects, and when or where they were asked).

 

So Group One (consisting of, say, 250 subjects, stratified randomly), questioned in, say, 1970, might deliver the result that 87% thought this rule was "self-evident", while 10% didn't, with 3% don't knows. On that basis, we might conclude that the majority of people think this rule self-evident. [L1*]

 

Meanwhile, Group Two (which might comprise a larger sample, of, say, 1000 subjects), questioned in, say, 2003, could return the following results: 14% thought it was, 81% thought it wasn't, and 5% didn't know.

 

On the basis of the later results, we might change the truth-value of L1* from "true* to "false".

 

Had Luis devoted a little more thought to this (than he is used to doing), he might have had second thoughts about choosing an epistemological predicable (i.e., "ξ is self-evident"), since the truth-value of sentences using this schematic clause (except in first person contexts) can only be established by means of a controlled psychological experiment.

 

Hence, L1 is a scientific/factual proposition, and isn't the least bit metaphysical.

 

[A predicable is an expression that can serve as a predicate even if it isn't actually so used. Compare it with "flammable" or "edible".]

 

In which case, it isn't too clear what Luis was trying to say here, since the distinction between empirical propositions and metaphysical theses is still abundantly clear.

 

Even so, Luis was quite happy to assert that L1 is metaphysical. On what basis he arrived at that conclusion he unwisely kept to himself.        

 

Luis then went on the argue as follows:

 

"And this is trivialised to the extreme. The archetypal 'empiric proposition', 'Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital' -- from now on referred to as M2 -- can be, it is claimed, understood it [sic] even though one hasn't a clue whether or not it is true. Indeed, as long as one knows the English language, it is possible to understand it without knowing its truth value. But knowing the English language is far from trivial. One does not know what 'own' or 'copy' mean, except by knowing, in a looser or firmer way, how those words relate to the whole system of the English language. It implies the knowledge and understanding of ownership relations and of the complex idea of "copy". [Ibid. Bold emphases in the original.]

 

This was in response to Slim's earlier comment:

 

"In contrast, M2-type propositions' truth-statuses are said to depend on their 'experimental or factual confirmation', or on 'the way the world happens to be'."

 

As if to illustrate yet again the truth of my earlier adverse judgement (i.e., "Had Luis devoted a little more thought to this (than he is used to doing), he might have had second thoughts about choosing an epistemological predicable..."), Luis once again showed how superficial is his grasp of the logical and philosophical principles involved.

 

[Indeed, he could have saved himself public embarrassment had he read Essay Twelve Part One, where I cover this very point, and in extensive detail. Recall, this short précis Essay was meant for novices, and couldn't possibly cover every nuance or complication. To be sure, no one has to read my work, but only a fool will pass judgement on it without first reading it.]

 

Luis is right, however; unless an individual understands the words Luis says they should, they would be in no position to decide whether or not M2 was true. The point is that just as soon as they gain an understanding of these terms, the truth (or falsehood) of M2 doesn't follow automatically. Evidence would still be needed. That isn't the case with M1-type propositions. As soon as its terms are understood (or as soon as the argument (leading up to M1 as its conclusion) is grasped), its supposed truth (or its supposed falsehood) automatically follows.

 

Of course, it might be that a given individual could fail to understand the specialised use of language found in metaphysics. In which case, they'd be in no position to decide whether or not M1 was true. But, should anyone succeed understanding these terms, the truth (or the falsehood) of M1 would automatically follow. No evidence would be needed. Its truth follows from 'thought' alone.

 

M1: Time is a relation between events.

 

M2: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

[Of course, if, as I maintain in my Essays, M1-type propositions are both non-sensical and incoherent, then it might well be wondered how anyone could understand them. My point is however, that as soon as they claim to understand, or think they understand such theses, their truth (or their falsehood) follows. The veracity of such theses can be read off from the words they contain. No evidential ceremony of any sort is required.]

 

So, the distinction between metaphysical theses and empirical propositions still stands.

 

In response to this comment of Slim's (examined earlier):

 

"Third, to understand any proposition relies on its truth or falsity, not just M1-type propositions. Only the generic, outside-the-world, 'purely logical' self can believe otherwise. It is further clear that this supposition is untrue and also unprovable." [Ibid.]

 

Luis argued as follows:

 

"It depends, of course, of what we mean by 'understand'. Concerning M2, we figure that either Mr. Blair has a copy of Das Kapital that belongs to him (i.e., it wasn't lent to him by Mr. Cameron, nor it belongs to Mrs. Blair), or that he doesn't. We don't necessarily understand what such ownership entails (for instance, Ms. Lichtenstein makes a great deal of a comment by Marx that he had fortuitously acquired a copy of Hegel's works, as a gift from Freiligrath -- which would indicate that Marx was so uninterested in Hegel that he wouldn't even own a copy if not for Freiligrath's kindness).

 

"And consequently, we see that a very ordinary empiric proposition such as

"3: Karl Marx owned a copy of Hegel's works

"can be 'understood' in several different ways and levels, varying from a simple confirmation that the books were effectively in his shelves to an in-depth discussion of what kind of influence they had in Marx's thought.)" [
Ibid.]

 

In fact I also covered this in Essay Twelve Part One (except I used a different book to illustrate the point -- references (cited below) can be found here):

 

An empirical proposition derives its sense from the truth possibilities it appears to hold open (which options can be decided upon one way or the other by a confrontation with the evidence). That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M6 (or its contradictory, M6a) doesn't need to be known before it is understood, but it is also why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value as "true" -- or establishing it as "false".

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution..

 

M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution..

 

All that is required here is some grasp of the same possibility that both of these hold open. M6 and M6a both have the same content, and are both made true or false by the same situation obtaining or not....

 

This is the bi-polarity requirement mentioned in the Preface to this Essay, which protocol constitutes one of the fundamental insights of Wittgenstein's Tractatus [Wittgenstein (1972)]. On this see White (1974, 2006) and Palmer (1988, 1996, 2011).

 

For a proposition and its negation to picture or concern the same state of affairs, they must have the same content. If this weren't so, they wouldn't be contradictories. The one has to be capable of being used to deny what the other one can be used to assert; if they fail to 'overlap' in this way, they couldn't be used to contradict one another. So, if a given proposition is true, the state of affairs it expresses will obtain; if it is false, the same state of affairs won't. [Of course, what constitutes a specific state of affairs will be given by the propositions concerned.] That enables us, for example, to know what to look for, or what to expect in order to ascertain whether the proposition in question is true or, indeed, ascertain whether it is false (if we are so minded). This is just another way of saying that negation does not alter the content of an empirical proposition. If negation did in fact alter content, then the proposition concerned can't have been empirical. [The significance of that observation will become more apparent as this Essay unfolds.]

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

So, the same situation obtaining or not -- i.e., Tony Blair's owning a copy of TAR [The Algebra of Revolution] -- will make one of M6 or M6a true, and one of them false. If someone didn't know this (or they couldn't tell anyone what to look for or to expect if they wanted to ascertain their truth-value, for example), that would be prima facie evidence they did not understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two stand or fall together.

 

This might seem an obvious point, but its ramifications are all too easily missed, and have been missed by the vast majority of Philosophers. More on that in the above references, and the rest of this Essay (especially Note 45a).

 

It could be argued that (1) Owning or not owning a book is a complex social fact, and that (2) Owning something is a rather vague term....

 

This helps us answer objection (1), above. Owning a book can be rather vague and convoluted, in which case M6 could be deemed true under a host of varying circumstances (i.e., the criteria could be varied and complex, and they can also vary between cultures and between historical periods -- or, indeed, between different social groups) -- for example: (a) If Blair bought the book himself, (b) It was bought for him as a present, (c) It was a gift from the publisher and/or the author, (d) He won it in a raffle, or some other competition, or (e) He inherited it, and so on.

 

[As should seem obvious owning a book is not the same as having that book in one's possession. One can own a book and not have it in one's possession (for example, if has been loaned, confiscated, lost, stolen or destroyed (etc.)), and one can have a book in one's possession without owning it (for instance, if it has been borrowed, stolen, found, planted, or if it is being held for safe-keeping (etc.)). This has now been complicated by the arrival of e-books.]

 

Let us suppose that there are several situations the obtaining of which allow us to count (or which allow some other group/culture to count) an individual (like Blair) as owning a book (naturally, as noted above, these criteria can change over time), say: S1, S2, S3,..., Sn. Call this set, "S".

 

Hence, M6 would be true if one element of S were the case, false if none were -- i.e., if some proposition, "Pi", expressing element "Si", were true. [But see also here.]

 

Of course, this puts much pressure of what a "situation" is, but that would merely lengthen or shorten this list, not eradicate it.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

In that case, these two would still be contradictories, since M6 would be true if at least one (i.e., some) of S obtained, and M6a would be true if none did.

 

[It is worth recalling that the quantifiers, "At least one...", and "None..." are contradictory operators.]

 

It could be objected that M6 and M6a could both be false (in which case they are merely contraries, not contradictories). For instance, (i) The book in question might never have been written, or (ii) Tony Blair might never have existed (if we also assume that no one else is, or has been, or ever will be called by that name).

 

If the second of these were the case, then M6 and M6a would both lack a truth value, and they'd cease to be propositions. On the other hand, if the first were the case, then M6 might be deemed false and M6a true (but see my response to (b), below). [In such circumstances we'd say something like "Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution, whatever that is!"]

 

Further consideration of this alternative would bring us to the second objection, which was that the claim that someone owns something is itself rather vague. For example, if it were unclear what (a) The Algebra of Revolution is or (b) What owning something amounted to. [Of course, there are other possibilities here, but my answer will take care of the lot.]

 

If (b) were the case, then M6 and M6a would cease to be propositions, let alone empirical (since it would not then be clear what was being proposed or put forward for consideration), and so they couldn't contradict one another (except, perhaps in some sort of figurative or fictional sense). However, as soon as these ambiguities (and any others that anyone could think of or invent) had been cleared up (by whatever means), then M6 and M6a would be contradictories, once more. If they can't be cleared up (in practice or in principle), then the concept of ownership would itself be thrown into question (which would mean that M6 and M6a would cease to be propositions again), and I'd have to invent two new examples -- maybe these:

 

M6b: The Nile is longer than the Thames.

 

M6c: The Nile isn't longer than the Thames.

 

If anyone wants to question these two, good luck to you -- you can e-mail me with your best shot.

 

Finally, if (a) were the case, we'd be back where we were earlier: M6 might be deemed false and M6a true (but my answer to option (b) might apply here, too).

 

It could be argued that the above falls foul of the redundancy objection:

 

If "M6 is true if at least one (i.e., some) of S obtain[s]...", it is also true if one of S obtains along with some other unrelated truth, say, T1.

 

For example, let us assume that S1 is the following:

 

"Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves."

 

[This, of course, makes S1 a compound situation.] 

 

P1 would now be:

 

"Blair purchased the book legally and it is now sat on his shelves."

 

And T1:

 

"Paris is the capital of France."

 

That would make this account far too generous, for M6 would be true if:

 

"Blair purchased the book legally and it is now sat on his shelves and Paris is the capital of France."

 

This is mistaken. The above 'difficulty' might be a problem for logicians (something that can be left to them to sort out), but it certainly isn't one for ordinary language. It is difficult to imagine anyone in command on their senses accepting the truth of M6 on the basis of both S1 obtaining and T1 being true.

 

[Of course, in that T1 is itself a proposition, we'd be faced with an infinite regress here as we tried to specify the situations that made it true, and if in addition any other randomly-selected truth could be tacked on to that set, as well.]

 

It is important to note, however, that the way the above has been presented seems to depend on the nominalisation of indicative sentences -- so that "Blair legally purchased the book and it is now sat on his shelves" has been turned into the compound noun/verb phrase "Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves". This niggling detail will be tackled in Essay Ten Part Two. For present purposes, all we need say is that the obtaining of the following: "Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves" can also be expressed by an indicative sentence, namely "Blair legally purchased the book and it is currently on his shelves", or indeed the one used above -- P1!

 

[This might make this account appear to be identical to that expressed by the Redundancy/Deflationary Theory of Truth; it might, except I am not propounding a theory, since my account can't possibly cater for every eventuality. It is a defeasible Form of Representation. Moreover the elucidatory rules I have summarised could prove to be unworkable in some cases.]

 

Finally, the above account has nothing to do with the Correspondence Theory of Truth, either. That will also be tackled in Essay Ten Part Two, also.

 

[On vagueness, see here.]

 

And, sure, there can be a deeper understanding of "understanding", but the deeper sense of this word doesn't affect the truth (or falsehood) of M1.

 

So, and once again, if Luis widened his reading to take in more than the back of bus tickets, he'd have been able to see this answer for himself.

 

But there is more:

 

"Further, there is a problem with meta-propositions. Consider:

"M2*: M2 is an empirical proposition.

"Is M2* an empirical proposition? If so, what kind of experimental or factual confirmation would show us that it is so? Or what about,

"M2**: M2* is an empirical proposition.

"Or,

"M2***: M2** is an empirical proposition.

"Or M2 followed by n [asterisks], stating that M2 followed by n-1 [asterisks] is an empirical proposition?" [
Ibid. I have altered Luis's symbolism to save confusion with single quotation marks.]

 

The simple answer is: Is the truth of these 'meta-propositions' to be established by the facts? If so, they are empirical. If not, they' aren't.

 

But, Luis wonders what sort of fact would/could confirm/confute, say, M2*?

 

That would depend in whether or not M2* is a linguistic rule. If it is, it would need no fact to confirm it. And, whether or not M2* is a rule of this sort would depend on how it is meant to be used. [Compare this with my chess examples from earlier.]

 

The same goes for M2**, and all the rest.

 

Now, why couldn't Luis have worked that out for himself?

 

[Spoiler: I blame dialectical confusion.]

 

 

Luis The Irascible

 

I asserted the following earlier:

 

In addition, one or two characters there [at RevLeft], still apparently seething over the countless arguments they lost, have now managed to turn this around, and win many arguments against me in my absence, clearly finding it much easier to prevail in debate when there is no Rosa around to respond. With brave comrades like this, the future of socialism is well assured, providing the ruling class and their hangers on withdraw completely from the field.

 

And it looks like the mystics are still seething, since, in response to the above arguments, Luis Henrique found that all he could post was abuse (well, not quite 'all'):

 

"Reading Ms. Lichtenstein's drivel isn't one of my predilect (sic) ways of wasting time, but I can't help but noticing this glaring sophism...." [Quoted from here.]

 

Which is a pity, since there was some evidence a few years ago that Luis used to have a working brain.

 

But, what 'substantive' point did he deign to share with the good folk over at RevLeft? Well, in response to this passage of mine (concerning what was in fact a rather minor point, but its microscopic nature seems to have suited his tiny brain):

 

"In comparison with the rest of Soviet history, 1935 (not 18 years after the revolution) is indeed part of its early history. The Soviet state lasted until 1991 -- approximately 74 years. 18 years represents approximately 24.3% of its history; less than a quarter. If this isn't part of its early history, what is?" [Ibid.]

 

Luis had this gem of wisdom to communicate to his ever dwindling audience:

 

"So, according to Ms. Lichtenstein, history divides itself mathematically. The sheer fact that the Soviet Union had gone from a dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship against the proletariat means nothing: if an event is in the first half (or perhaps the first third, perhaps we have an 'early', a 'middle' and a 'later' Soviet Union...) it belongs to 'early Soviet Union'. We see how mistaken are the pre-historians who divide pre-history into 'Paleolithic' (sic), 'Mesolithic', and 'Neolithic', where the former lasted hundreds of thousand years, and the latter barely ten thousands." [Ibid.] 
 

While it was good of Luis to refer us back to a happier time when he might just have been the intellectual equal of his contemporaries (but I apologise if I praise him too highly) the original reference to the "early soviet union" wasn't made by me, but by Philo. However, it seemed to me that the mid-1930s could very well be described as part of the "early soviet union", but what argument and/or proof does this fine specimen from the Palaeolithic have to offer in response?

 

"The sheer fact that the Soviet Union had gone from a dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship against the proletariat means nothing: if an event is in the first half (or perhaps the first third, perhaps we have an 'early', a 'middle' and a 'later' Soviet Union...) it belongs to 'early Soviet Union'." [Ibid.]

 

You might well wonder, dear reader, what this has got to do with the point that the first 18 years of the Soviet Union could rightly be described using the word "early". Well, perhaps us modern humans can't quite get our heads around the Stone Age Logic of this Dialectical Neanderthal. If someone can enlighten me, I'd be very grateful.

 

Maybe, though, it has something to do with this 'argument'?

 

"We see how mistaken are the pre-historians who divide pre-history into 'Paleolithic' (sic), 'Mesolithic', and 'Neolithic', where the former lasted hundreds of thousand years, and the latter barely ten thousands." [Ibid.]

 

Perhaps, then, Luis thinks that if he is woken up at, say, 05:50am (approximately 24.3% of the way through the day) that this isn't "early in the morning" -- and he might be prompted into drawing that odd conclusion on the basis of the fact that the Palaeolithic, the Mesolithic and the Neolithic were of unequal length.

 

If so, we can only marvel at the profundity of his awe inspiring intellect, and hope that one day evolution goes into reverse so that we, too, might match the superior brain power of this rather sad throw-back.

 

~~~~~~oOo~~~~~~

 

A rather confused, irrational and emotional character (who calls himself 'Caught by the fuzz') has posted an abusive 'reply' to me over at the RevForum -- clearly keen on maintaining the time-honoured tradition beloved of Dialectical Mystics: 'Abuse Rosa, but don't under any circumstances try to argue with her!'

 

I have responded to this brave but disturbed soul, here.

 

[I still blame dialectical confusion.]

 

Latest Update: 03/04/14

 

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