Reply To A Fan Of 'Systematic Dialectics'

 

If you are using Internet Explorer 10 (or later), you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu); for IE11 select 'Compatibility View Settings' and then add this site (anti-dialectics.co.uk). Microsoft's new browser, Edge, automatically renders these links compatible; Windows 10 also automatically makes IE11 compatible with this site.

 

However, if you are using Windows 10, Microsoft's browsers, IE11 and Edge, unfortunately appear to colour these links somewhat erratically. They are meant to be dark blue, but those two browsers render them intermittently mid-blue, light blue, yellow, purple and red!

 

Firefox and Chrome reproduce them correctly.

 

Preface

 

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.

 

[I hasten to add that the comrade to whom I am responding, just like other HCDs (follow that link for an explanation of that abbreviation) -- if I understand him correctly -- rejects DM/'dialectics' applied to nature.]

 

It is also worth noting that 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 suggest 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. 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, that issue 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.

 

[**Exactly how this applies to 'dialectics' and DM has been explained in several other Essays published at this site (especially here, here, and here). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but in this case aimed at absolute beginners) here. With respect to this Essay, in place of DM and "dialectics" read "systematic dialectics", where applicable. That, too, represents an encroachment of ruling-class ideology into Marxism.]

 

Several readers have complained about the number of links I have added to these Essays because they say it makes them very difficult to read. Of course, DM-supporters can hardly lodge that complaint since they believe everything is interconnected, and that must surely apply even to Essays that attempt to debunk that very idea. However, to those who find these links do make these Essays difficult to read I say this: ignore them -- unless you want to access further supporting evidence and argument for a particular point, or a certain topic fires your interest.

 

Others wonder why I have added links to subjects or issues that are part of common knowledge (such as recent Presidents of the USA, UK Prime Ministers, the names of rivers and mountains, films, or certain words that are in common usage). I have done so for the following reason: my Essays are read all over the world and by people from all 'walks of life', so I can't assume that topics which are part of common knowledge in 'the west' are equally well-known across the planet -- or, indeed, by those who haven't had the benefit of the sort of education that is generally available in the 'advanced economies', or any at all. Many of my readers also struggle with English, so any help I can give them I will continue to provide.

 

As of July 2020, this Essay is just over 167,000 words long.

 

[Latest Update: 30/07/20.]

Quick Links

 

(1) Background

 

(2) The Debate So Far

 

(a)   Exchange #1

 

(b)  Exchange #2

 

(c)  Exchange #3

 

(d) Exchange #4

 

(e)  Exchange #5

 

(f)  Exchange #6

 

(g) Exchange #7

 

(h) Exchange #8

 

(i) Exchange #9

 

(j) Exchange #10

 

(k) Exchange #11

 

(l) Exchange #12

 

(3) Appendix A

 

(4) Appendix B

 

(5) Appendix C

 

(6) Appendix D

 

(7) Appendix E

Background

 

For the last few months I have been engaged in a rather abstruse debate over the viability of the process of abstraction and the nature of abstractions -- which soon moved on to the question whether Hegel was an important influence, or had any influence at all, on Marx when he published Volume One of Das Kapital -- with an excellent comrade I met on Quora (who also happens to be a fan of 'Systematic Dialectics', and, if he'll forgive me saying this, an HCD).

 

[HCD = High Church Dialectician -- that term has been explained here, which has now been reproduced below.]

 

However, it was clear pretty soon that we were getting nowhere. Philosophically, we were a million miles apart even though we are both Marxists! While I reject as incoherent and non-sensical the techniques and concepts of Traditional Philosophy, this comrade (whom I will call MS) accepts the validity of the 'process of abstraction' (taken apart here), the 'existence' of "abstractions" (although he qualifies what he means by both terms), among other things that will soon become clear.

 

[I have reformatted this material so that it conforms with the conventions adopted at this site, and that includes the use of quotation marks. I have also changed all the spelling to UK English and corrected a few typos.]

 

The Debate So Far

 

Exchange #1 -- 04/11/2019

 

I had sent MS a link to a rather lengthy Essay of mine that detailed my arguments against the 'process of abstraction' and the nature of 'abstractions' (99% of which MS clearly ignored -- it is a very long Essay, after all.).

 

Here is MS's first response, followed by my reply:

 

Okay, there's a lot material to work with here, almost an overwhelming amount. You've done a wonderful job of mining the relevant quotes and an equally wonderful job of analyzing and developing their content. Very impressive work, Rosa!

 

Let's start at the beginning (quoting from that Essay):

 

"To state the obvious, without minds to invent them there would be no abstractions.1 On the surface, therefore, it would seem that any theory committed to the 'objective' existence of 'abstractions' (or, 'real abstractions') must be Idealist, whatever protestations are made to the contrary. As we will see, even when we dig 'below the surface', Idealist implications like this are difficult to resist. In which case, that 'seem' turns out to be far too tentative, and by a wide margin.

 

"If 'abstractions' aren't 'objective' -- that is, if they aren't 'mind-independent', or if they fail to relate to anything that exists in 'mind-independent' reality --, then it is difficult to see how they could possibly assist anyone construct an accurate account of nature and society, or, indeed, any theory that is supposed to be 'objective'. Nor is it easy to see how scientific knowledge could advance by means of 'abstractions' if they are somehow fictional. How could fictional concepts help account for a... -- for want of a better phrase -- ...non-fictional world?"

 

Let me state the equally obvious, without a material world to produce them there would be no abstractions. The more fundamental question, at least to me, is not of the "what" variety but of the "where." That is, the question is not "what are abstractions?" Prima facie, they are obviously mental constructs. We would not be having this friendly debate without them. The questions is: Where do abstractions come from, given the obvious fact of their existence? Once we know the "where," then we can properly determine the exact nature of the obviously existing "what." Or do you maintain abstractions have no "ontological status" whatsoever? If that is the case, then the issue is with semantics. If mental constructs are not "abstractions", they are "something." We have them, rocks don't. They demand a rational explanation.

 

However, it appears that you do, in fact, believe abstractions exist. The problem: they do not exist objectively. They are merely mental constructs. There is a wall between subjective mind and objective matter. Abstractions exist in the mind; therefore, they cannot exist in reality. Concepts and Being are mutually exclusive. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that seems to be your position?

 

It was not Marx's position. Concept and Being, Subject and Object, Mind and Matter are not radically separated from one another, according to Marx's understanding of the world. He rejected what Patrick Murray has called "purist splits." Modern philosophy sheared the conceptual from the empirical and the subjective from the objective. We can see this cleaving in all the major philosophical camps of the modern period: modern rationalists (Descartes et al), modern empiricists (Locke et al), and critical philosophy (Kant et al). All three draw a definitive line between the conceptual, which is associated with the subjective, and the empirical, which is associated with the objective. Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx rejected this "purist split." Murray describes  their understanding of the world, particularly Marx's, as "redoubled empiricism." He fleshes out some of their similarities with the "post-dogmatic empiricists" (James, Quine, Davidson, et al). The essay is in his book/collection of essays, "The Mismeasure of Wealth." I highly recommend it and "Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge" by Murray. Both are excellent.

 

Pertinent here: You seem to assume that if something exists in the mind, then it must have come from the mind; and, if someone attributes objectivity to that thing, then that person must be an Idealist. Marx, simply put, does not play that philosophical game. Abstractions exist in the mind and come from material reality. There are such things as "bad abstractions," whose proponents, bad abstractors, could rightfully be labelled Idealists. That is, if they treat something that only exist in the mind as if it actually existed in reality. As rational beings, we are capable of making "distinctions in the mind" that have no material equivalent. We can separate out certain features of material objects, the whiteness and roundness from a white marble globe in Hume's example. But this is a function of the mind, not material reality. Whiteness (1) and globeness (2) are not material things that exist. White marble globes (3) are. If we treat (1), (2), and (3) equally as thought objects in the mind, i.e., as if all three were equally actually existing things, then we are abstracting badly.

 

In Marx's thought -- bringing it back to Murray -- this distinction becomes clear when we pay close attention to social form. This is the first act in the "redoubled empiricism." If you've read my answers on Quora, or Marx (which I know you have), you'll recognize this as recurrent theme. Please read the following answer in particular, if you haven't already. I draw out the salient features of the distinction I'm making here: 

 

The marginal revolution in economics was ongoing for a decade before Marx died. What did Marx think of the explanatory power of marginal utility?

 

There is a parallel between the classical school's conception of labour and the neoclassical school's conception of utility. Both are pseudo-concepts or bad abstractions. They attempt to hypostasize (or treat as real) something that only exists as an abstraction in the mind.

 

Marx's criticisms of the classical school are far more pronounced when compared to his sparse comments relating to the categories of the neoclassical school, but a critique of the neoclassical concept of "utility" as a bad abstraction can be culled from his works.

 

First, a caveat. Marx's criticism of the neo/classical schools' inability to properly abstract has led some to the conclusion that Marx was opposed to abstractions full-stop. This could not be further from the case. It is Marx's unparalleled method of abstraction that made his understanding of society truly scientific.

 

The crucial conceptual distinction found in Marx's writings is between general and determinate abstractions. An example of a general abstraction would be the concept of productive activity or production-in-general. This level of abstraction is usually given the qualifier "high" or "broad," denoting the range of its content. For instance, if we survey the landscape of human history, we have the ability to pick out certain common features that are applicable to all of the various human populations irregardless of their time or place. In terms of our example of productive activity, or production-in-general, the common features can be boiled down to three. First, there must be workers to exert their physical and mental productive abilities, i.e., labour (subject of labour). Second, there must be something for them to exert their productive abilities on, i.e., nature (object of labour). Third, there must be something for them to exert their productive abilities with, i.e., produced means of production (means of labour).

 

These three features are the necessary conditions for productive activity or production-in-general no matter the time or place. But, at this level of abstraction, these concepts are still indeterminate. They do not tell us anything specific about actual social formations, which would require a determinate concept operating at another level of abstraction. Simply stated, there is no such thing as a "subject of labour" or simply "labour as such" that actually exists in reality. It is merely a concept that we can use in order to differentiate a particular aspect of human activity over time. But, to be clear, "labour as such" is not in itself a bad abstraction. Only when it is treated as if it were an existent reality does the abstraction of "labour" turn bad.

 

This is exactly how the classical economists, such as Smith and Ricardo, treat labour in their theories of value. Unlike Marx, labour is for them a transhistorical source of value, which they conflate with wealth (another bad abstraction). Accordingly, the physiological exertion of effort to produce a desirable good is tantamount to value-producing-labour. They failed to give their concept of labour a proper level of socio-historical contextualization; that is, they never situated "labour" within a specific social form, the value-form of commodity production:

 

"It is one of the chief failings of classical economy that it has never succeeded, by means of its analysis of commodities, and, in particular, of their value, in discovering that form under which value becomes exchange value. Even Adam Smith and Ricardo, the best representatives of the school, treat the form of value as a thing of no importance, as having no connection with the inherent nature of commodities." [Footnote 33. Capital Vol. 1 Ch. 1]

In order for a thought object (an abstraction) to adequately express an aspect of material reality that it aims to recreate in the mind, the abstraction has to conceptualize the material reality to be explained at a certain level determinateness. Labour as such is not an adequate expression of material reality because there is no such thing as "labour as such" that exists in material reality for it to be a concept of. There is slave labour. There is serf labour. There is corvee labour. Etc. Etc. But there is no such thing as labour "pure and simple."

 

Thus, in order to explain the labour process (a general abstraction) as it actually exists in a society with a capitalist mode of production, one must concomitantly explain the valorisation process (a determinate abstraction). This is because the dominant form of wealth (a general abstraction) in a capitalist society takes on the social form of value (a determinate abstraction). In turn, to fully explain value and the valorisation process, one must have recourse to the constitutive elements of capitalist production, the value forms -- commodity, wage labour, money (exchange-value, price), value, surplus-value (profit, interest, rent), and capital. Treating "labour" as if were the source of the "wealth" (of nations) is a bad abstraction because neither labour nor wealth exists as pre-social and ahistorical entities. No material referents to the concepts of "labour" and "wealth" can be found in any actual nation. Labour and wealth always have a specific, historically grounded social form.

 

This insight, differentiating general from determinate abstractions and giving ontological priority to the latter, can be witnessed throughout Marx's writings. As early as his critique of the Left Hegelians in The Holy Family (1845) [this is a passage I quoted in the Essay in question, but which, I claim, has the opposite implication -- RL], we find:

 

"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then in the language of speculative philosophy -- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be a pear is not essential to the pear, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -- 'Fruit'. I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi, of 'Fruit' My finite understanding supported by my senses does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences inessential and irrelevant. It sees in the apple the same as in the pear, and in the pear the same as in the almond, namely 'Fruit'. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance" -- 'Fruit'." [The Holy Family by Marx and Engels (Chpt. 5 Abstract)]

 

What, then, is the "fruit" of neoclassical economists? Put (slightly) less weirdly, what is their bad abstraction from Marx's perspective? Utility. Again, this is not because the concept of utility is invalid in itself. Only when utility is treated as if it were an existent reality, capable of functioning in a particular way inside of an actual society, does the abstraction turn bad.

 

Marx uses the concept of utility during his exposition of the commodity form of wealth in the opening lines of Capital. A produced good might be desirable, have a use value, "from fancy" or "from the stomach." No matter the reasoning behind the subjectively determined consumer choice a person makes, the good itself has utility if it is capable of satisfying a want, need, or desire. "It is," precisely, "the utility of a thing that makes it a use-value." But use-values qua things with utility "do not dangle in mid-air." They do not exist in a purified form above society. Use-values are always of a definite quantity, x apples, y cars, z cell phones. Etc. And they always have a particular social form. Most commonly throughout history, use-values took the social form of directly produced and consumed means of subsistence. But, in capitalist societies, which neoclassical economists must explain, even if they prefer to talk of some fantasy land called "the economic," use-values are the "material bearers of exchange-value." That is, when goods are produced in a society with a capitalist mode of production, use-value and exchange-value are bound together in a single unified object -- a commodity.

 

This is not neoclassical economics' understanding of utility. Although the conception has changed over time within the neoclassical camp, on average, utility is conceptualized as a universal and subjective quality of the individual, one that makes disparate use-values commensurable. The value of a product is a function of the subjective utility experienced by the individual consumer. Thus it is not the objects that have utility. They, the objects, have value according to the subjective, human-centred experience of utility during consumption. The exact nature of this subjective attribute called "utility" by neoclassical economists has never been clear and consistent (and for good reason). All we can say is that the ultimate source of an object's value is the amount of subjective utility that it is capable of wresting away from the individual.

 

Utility, as conceived by neoclassical economics, has the appearance of a homogeneous metaphysical substance with the power to commensurate materially incommensurable use-values. Echoing Marx, one might even say that the value of apples (use-values) for neoclassical economics depends on the degree to which they reflect their true essence of "the fruit" (utility). The amount of this mystical substance -- the marginal utility that an individual will experience from consuming one more of X -- is supposedly a function of rational choice. Individuals decide what course of action has more or less utility for them personally. Life decisions are made based upon their utility concerns.

 

So, according to the neoclassical understanding, all use values are treated as if they were immediately commensurable because the concept of utility is posited as being usefulness as such. But, in the actually existing world, there is no way to commensurate qualitatively different material objects based on their useful attributes, the sweetness of an apple with the sharpness of a knife, for example. To overcome the problem of incommensurability, they conjured up this subjective substance with the power to equalize all of the disparate properties of physical objects; in other words, they treat utility as it were usefulness-in-general. But there is no such thing as usefulness-in-general. Material goods have usefulness, use value, because they possess specific qualities that serve a particular purposes.

 

Use values are always produced, distributed, and consumed under a specific social form, not in some transhistorical neoclassical realm of "the economic." When they are produced, distributed, and consumed inside of a capitalist mode of production, it is in the commodity form. That is, use values are produced for the purpose of exchange. They are commensurable not on the basis of the pseudo-concept and bad abstraction of utility, but on the basis of the a real abstraction that occurs when the products of private labour become socially validated -- actual bearers of value-producing-labour -- through monetary market exchange.

 

The second aspect of "redoubled empiricism" is formal causality (the ties to Aristotle should be obvious). For an abstraction to be real (no scare quote needed Rosa!), it must be determinate. That is, it must be operating within an actually existing social form of existence: this is the core of historical materialism. Once inside the parameters of a specific social form, say, the capitalist mode of production, then certain features of that social form are necessarily form-determined. Wealth necessarily takes on the value-form in societies with a capitalist mode of production, particularly the commodity-form.

 

Thus, abstractions emerge from an objectively existing, form-determined social form of existence that is under investigation. They are not purely existing in and do not purely originate from the subjective mind. Once in the mind, as thought objects, abstractions can be treated differently than how they immediately appear in the material reality from which they originated. Appearance does not determine the reality of an abstraction. Take the commodity. It is the source of an abstraction. It objectively exists in the material world. It, however, does not divulge its entire truth immediately. If we take the commodity as it presents itself empirically within a capitalist (or any) society, then we would be stuck in the realm of use-value, i.e., particularity. Marx dismisses this level of analysis, brute empiricism, in the first few lines of Capital, not because a commodity is not a use-value. It is. But it is also more than a use-value as it exists in a capitalist society. Only by abstracting from its particularity can we come know it as both a use-value and a value. What's more, Marx did not think this abstraction was purely of the mind. Reality itself makes the abstraction of value before we do. Commodities actually exist as embodiments of universal, abstract human labour. This is not because we humans attribute the quality of abstractness to material objects. No. When the products of private labour are mediated through monetary market exchange, they execute the abstraction in the object realm before our minds do so in the thought realm. It, a real abstraction, is an emergent property of the capitalist social form.

 

I can textually justify this claim. Just not right now. This is response grew larger than I intended. Running late already (forgive the typos). 

 

To which I replied:

 

Thank you for taking the trouble to write a detailed response.

 

MS: "Okay, there's a lot material to work with here, almost an overwhelming amount. You've done a wonderful job of mining the relevant quotes and an equally wonderful job of analyzing and developing their content. Very impressive work, Rosa!"

 

I did say it was rather long! You should have read the summaries!

 

MS: "Let me state the equally obvious, without a material world to produce them there would be no abstractions. The more fundamental question, at least to me, is not of the 'what' variety but of the 'where.' That is, the question is not 'what are abstractions?' Prima facie, they are obviously mental constructs. We would not be having this friendly debate without them. The questions is: Where do abstractions come from, given the obvious fact of their existence? Once we know the 'where,' then we can properly determine the exact nature of the obviously existing 'what.' Or do you maintain abstractions have no 'ontological status' whatsoever? If that is the case, then the issue is with semantics. If mental constructs are not "abstractions", they are "something." We have them, rocks don't. They demand a rational explanation."

 

(1) Your opening sentence assumes what was to be proved, that there are indeed any 'abstractions' (in the sense intended by Traditional Philosophers or even dialecticians). This is a dogmatic imposition onto nature (which dialecticians deny they do) -- I deal with the dogmatic nature of 'dialectics' in Essay Two.

 

(2) I also deal with the theory that 'abstractions' are "mental constructs" in Essay Three Part Twoand show that that is precisely what they can't be.

 

(3) "We would not be having this friendly debate without them."

 

Not so, we actually use common nouns in English. I tackle the question whether these common nouns are referring expressions in Essay Three Part One [Added on edit: by "referring expression", I mean that the abstractions that Traditional Philosophers and 'dialecticians' use function in a supposedly referring capacity in order to pick out something in 'reality' (or 'in the mind'), and I show that if, per impossible, they could do that the words they use would transform general terms (like "apple") into Proper Names. I spend much space in Essay Three Part One establishing this point -- RL.]. You must have missed it. Treating them as referring expressions in fact turns indicative sentences (of the 'subject-predicate' form) into lists, and lists say nothing. I must have spent fifty thousand words on that issue alone!

 

(4) "Or do you maintain abstractions have no 'ontological status' whatsoever?"

 

If we are talking about 'abstractions' as they have been conceived in Traditional Thought and in dialectics, then my argument is that any question that attempts to establish that they have any status at all is an empty question to which there is no answer that makes any sense. I adopt a Wittgensteinian approach to such issues; I have summarised my argument here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why_all_philosophical_theories_are_non-sensical.htm

 

(5) "If that is the case, then the issue is with semantics."

 

The original questions (raised in Ancient Greece) were in fact posed semantically, and the whole point of Essay Three Part One is to show that this entire topic (and subsequent attempts to address it by Traditional Philosophers (and dialecticians)) was originally and subsequently framed semantically. I think I have succeeded in showing that this entire approach fails, since it reduces any subject-predicate proposition/indicative sentence caught up in this to a list of names, hence destroying the capacity of language to say anything at all (by that means).

 

MS: (6) "If mental constructs are not 'abstractions', they are 'something.' We have them, rocks don't. They demand a rational explanation."

 

We certainly use common nouns; I fail to see anywhere in your answer (or in anything a dialectician or Traditional Philosopher has written) any attempt to show they are anything more than that. Indeed, any attempt to do so will turn each common noun concerned into a Proper Name that names an 'abstract particular' (perhaps as the Proper Name of a 'form', 'concept', 'idea', 'category', or, indeed an 'abstraction' -- so, replacing the common noun "man" with the abstraction "Manhood" turns it into the Proper Name of the 'abstract idea', 'Manhood', for instance), thus destroying the generality that had been claimed for these 'abstractions' (since Proper Names are singular terms -- common nouns are general), which in turn transforms every subject-predicate proposition/indicative sentence into a list of names, once more destroying the capacity of language to say anything at all (by that means). [You even do this below, with the word "Whiteness"!]

 

MS: "However, it appears that you do, in fact, believe abstractions exist. The problem: they do not exist objectively. They are merely mental constructs. There is a wall between subjective mind and objective matter. Abstractions exist in the mind; therefore, they cannot exist in reality. Concepts and Being are mutually exclusive. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that seems to be your position?"

 

(1) I have no idea where you got that from. Nothing I have said in my Essays even remotely suggests I am committed to that traditional idea. I am at a loss how you could read any of my Essays and draw that conclusion, MS!

 

(2) No, my position is that we have yet to be given a single argument by Traditional Philosophers, or indeed dialecticians, that is capable of showing that 'abstractions' exist in any form whatsoever, anywhere (in 'objective reality' or in the 'mind') that doesn't destroy subject-predicate propositions in the above manner. I struggle to see how you managed to conclude anything else by reading even half of Essay Three Part One, let alone all of it. Indeed, I say this in the Preface:

 

"Finally, rather like Essay Twelve Part One, this Essay is in places rather repetitive. It has been my experience that if the points I wish to make aren't repeated several times (maybe from different angles or in other terms) their significance is all too easily lost." [Bold added.]

 

Perhaps I didn't repeat myself enough!

 

MS: "It was not Marx's position. Concept and Being, Subject and Object, Mind and Matter are not radically separated from one  another, according to Marx's understanding of the world. He rejected what Patrick Murray has called 'purist splits.' Modern philosophy sheared the conceptual from the empirical and the subjective from the objective. We can see this cleaving in all the major philosophical camps of the modern period: modern rationalists (Descartes et al), modern empiricists (Locke et al), and critical philosophy (Kant et al). All three draw a definitive line between the conceptual, which is associated with the subjective, and the empirical, which is associated with the objective. Aristotle, Hegel, and Marx rejected this 'purist split.' Murray describes  their understanding of the world, particularly Marx's, as 'redoubled empiricism.' He fleshes out some of their similarities with the 'post-dogmatic empiricists' (James, Quine, Davidson, et al). The essay is in his book/collection of essays, 'The Mismeasure of Wealth.' I highly recommend it and 'Marx's Theory of Scientific Knowledge' by Murray. Both are excellent."

 

(1) I recognise Marx began to think the way you suggest in later life, but his earlier work, which I quote extensively (and in Part Two) tends to agree with me.

 

(2) I'm sorry to have to say that I have the exact opposite opinion of Murray's work. But this isn't the place to go into that.

 

MS: "Pertinent here: You seem to assume that if something exists in the mind, then it must have come from the mind; and, if someone attributes objectivity to that thing, then that person must be an Idealist. Marx, simply put, does not play that philosophical game. Abstractions exist in the mind and come from material reality. There are such things as 'bad abstractions,' whose proponents, bad abstractors, could rightfully be labelled Idealists. That is, if they treat something that only exist in the mind as if it actually existed in reality. As rational beings, we are capable of making 'distinctions in the mind' that have no material equivalent. We can separate out certain features of material objects, the whiteness and roundness from a white marble globe in Hume's example. But this is a function of the mind, not material reality. Whiteness (1) and globeness (2) are not material things that exist. White marble globes (3) are. If we treat (1), (2), and (3) equally as thought objects in the mind, i.e., as if all three were equally actually existing things, then we are abstracting badly."

 

(1) No, that isn't my argument. I cover this issue at length in Part One, in these sections "Linguistic Idealism" and "John and the Entire Universe -- Lenin's Word Magic" and may I suggest you read them again?

 

(2) The examples you give of 'abstraction's -- "Whiteness" for instance -- make my point for me. In order to speak about it you have to turn it into the Proper Name of 'something in the mind', and that is what turns subject-predicate propositions/indicative sentences into lists. I am not going to repeat the complex argument I have developed that shows how and why that is done, here. You can't in fact explain this theory without undermining the capacity we have in language to say anything at all, since it destroys the "unity of the proposition", as noted above. I went through this in painful detail in these sections:  "DM-Epistemology -- Set in Concrete?" and "John and the Entire Universe -- Lenin's Word Magic" [link above]. I can only think you skipped those sections -- which is understandable; they are at least 30,000 words long!

 

MS: "In Marx's thought -- bringing it back to Murray -- this distinction becomes clear when we pay close attention to social form. This is the first act in the 'redoubled empiricism.' If you've read my answers on Quora, or Marx (which I know you have), you'll recognize this as recurrent theme. Please read the following answer in particular, if you haven't already. I draw out the salient features of the distinction I'm making here..."

 

(1) I have read what you wrote, and that is why I sent you that message. I just think you skate past the fundamental mistakes bequeathed to 'western philosophy' by the Ancient Greeks, and in this case regurgitated and mystified by Hegel, which mistakes in fact cripple Traditional Thought and 'dialectics' in the manner described above.

 

Now, I'm afraid to have to say that much of the rest of your e-mail seems not to be relevant to anything I argued, or would argue. As I hope you are now aware, I have been a Marxist since the late 1970s, so I have read material like this more times than many people have had hot dinners. My work is designed to cut the feet from under this approach to 'abstraction', but the material in the rest of your e-mail just by-passes anything I have had to say in Essay Three Parts One and Two. We appear to be talking past one another.

 

So, and please forgive me for this, but from here on in I will only comment on what you have said in the later part of your e-mail where it deals with issues relevant to those essays. This isn't to minimise all the kind effort you have clearly put into that e-mail, but practically all of it misses the points I made -- and maybe suggests you only read a few sub-sections of Part One, and skipped the rest. I hope I don't do you a disservice by alleging that, MS. If that is indeed so, I don't in the least blame you for it; the length of my Essays is truly daunting. I am sure few have the time or patience to read them all (although I regularly receive e-mails from comrades who tell me they are doing, and have done, just that!). I began this project to clarify my own ideas, and then in 2005 a few Marxist friends suggested I post my work on the internet. You can read more in Essay One: Why I Began this Project (which is, mercifully, the shortest of my main Essays):

 

The length of my Essays is why I suggested you read the summaries, links to which are in the Prefaces of all of them bar Thirteen Part Three. They are a tiny fraction of the length of the main essays.

 

MS: "First, a caveat. Marx’s criticism of the neo/classical schools' inability to properly abstract has led some to the conclusion that Marx was opposed to abstractions full-stop. This could not be further from the case. It is Marx's unparalleled method of abstraction that made his understanding of society truly scientific."

 

I disagree; I think in his early work Marx's view was much closer to my own. As I noted earlier, I quote him and Engels extensively to that end, and deal with this in Part Two. The idea that there are such things as 'bad abstractions' would have been foreign to him in that early work.

 

MS: "In order for a thought object (an abstraction) to adequately express an aspect of material reality that it aims to recreate in the mind, the abstraction has to conceptualize the material reality to be explained at a certain level determinateness. Labour as such is not an adequate expression of material reality because there is no such thing as 'labour as such' that exists in material reality for it to be a concept of."

 

But that is precisely what I argue can't be done. I spent the whole of Part Two demonstrating that.

 

MS: "What, then, is the 'fruit' of neoclassical economists? Put (slightly) less weirdly, what is their bad abstraction from Marx’s perspective? Utility. Again, this is not because the concept of utility is invalid in itself. Only when utility is treated as if it were an existent reality, capable of functioning in a particular way inside of an actual society, does the abstraction turn bad."

 

But that isn't Marx's point; again, he criticises 'abstraction' tout court, not 'bad abstraction'. That is a term you have brought to the text. Again, I cover this in extensive detail in Part Two.

 

MS: "The second aspect of 'redoubled empiricism' is formal causality (the ties to Aristotle should be obvious).  For an abstraction to be real (no scare quote needed Rosa!), it must be determinate. That is, it must be operating within an actually existing social form of existence: this is the core of historical materialism. Once inside the parameters of a specific social form, say, the capitalist mode of production, then certain features of that social form are necessarily form-determined. Wealth necessarily takes on the value-form in societies with a capitalist mode of production, particularly the commodity-form."

 

(1) The term "determinate" I take to task in both Parts of Essay Three, and throughout my site. What actually happens when dialecticians use this term is that they cover the page with half-digested Hegel-speak. I reduce his ideas to absurdity here (demonstrating in turn that 'the dialectic' has no rational basis):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Outline_of_errors_Hegel_committed_01.htm

 

And in extensive detail here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2008_03.htm

 

I even criticised a recent attempt to rehabilitate Hegel (upside down or the 'right way up') in Part One, in Appendix D.

 

MS: "Thus, abstractions emerge from an objectively existing, form-determined social form of existence that is under investigation. They are not purely existing in and do not purely originate from the subjective mind. Once in the mind, as thought objects, abstractions can be treated differently than how they immediately appear in the material reality from which they originated. Appearance does not determine the reality of an abstraction. Take the commodity. It is the source of an abstraction. It objectively exists in the material world. It, however, does not divulge its entire truth immediately. If we take the commodity as it presents itself empirically within a capitalist (or any) society, then we would be stuck in the realm of use-value, i.e., particularity. Marx dismisses this level of analysis, brute empiricism, in the first few lines of Capital, not because a commodity is not a use-value. It is. But it is also more than a use-value as it exists in a capitalist society. Only by abstracting from its particularity can we come know it as both a use-value and a value. What's more, Marx did not think this abstraction was purely of the mind. Reality itself makes the abstraction of value before we do. Commodities actually exist as embodiments of universal, abstract human labour. This is not because we humans attribute the quality of abstractness to material objects. No. When the products of private labour are mediated through monetary market exchange, they execute the abstraction in the object realm before our minds do so in the thought realm. It, a real abstraction, is an emergent property of the capitalist social form."

 

(1) I deny they can 'emerge' from anywhere. Essay Three Parts One and Two were meant to explain how and why that is so. Forgive me for saying this, but you have ignored about 99% of my argument.

 

(2) I also tackle the spurious distinction, derived from ancient ruling-class thought (which denigrated the experience and language of working people), between 'appearance' and 'reality' -- in Part Two.

 

(3) In the end, you appear to be saying that these abstractions exist somehow in reality, after all. Where do they exist? I opened Part One asking that question, and others. You have yet to say where they exist and in what form.

 

MS: "I can textually justify this claim."

 

Well, I am sure you can, but that would still fail to address the points I raised in both Parts of Essay Three.

 

I have kept my reply to your e-mail as brief as I can; anything else would merely have reproduced tens of thousands of words from the said essays! If you didn't read them (which I am reasonably sure you did not -- again, I do not blame you for that!), then a very long reply from me would merely inflict more tedium on you!

 

Exchange #2 -- 05/11/2019

 

MS:

 

I think we both want to shake each other right about now, lovingly, of course. 


Being tight on time over the weekend, I read some and skimmed through some of one of the links that you sent through Quora. I was basically addressing the two paragraphs I quoted. The issue is that you're mainly grinding an axe with the "tradition of DM," not with systematic and/or historical dialectics found in Capital (at least from what I've read). So, yeah, we're talking past each other a little bit. 


There was a time in my life where the type of arguments you make concerned me. Not anymore. I'm interested in understanding the capitalist mode of production. If you can offer a better of reading of Capital than, say, Tony Smith in "The Logic of Marx's Capital" or Chris Arthur in "The New Dialectic and Marx's Capital," then I'm all for it. Point me in that direction. 


Your project seems to be of a different sort, though. You want to philosophically undermine the tradition of dialectical material[ism]. That's fine. But the vast majority of what I've read does not apply to what I'm talking about. 


There is zero talk of dialectics being sown into the fabric of Nature in thinkers like Murray, Tony Smith, Chris Arthur, Fred Moseley, or Michael Lebowitz. Rather, systematic dialectics is method of inquiry translated into mode of exposition, the rational reconstruction of an organic whole. Given the fact that the organic whole under investigation is reproduced over time, it is necessarily an interconnected whole. Every thing that is "posited is presupposed," as Marx says in the Grundrisse. Abstraction allows us to rationally reconstruction "the chaotic conception of the whole" that we confront in our immediate experience.

 

Telling me abstraction are figments of my imagination, or that they lack philosophical justification, has no purchase. The explanatory power of abstractions can only be replaced another explanation with greater purchase. 

 

Some comments on your comments:


"(1) Your opening sentence assumes what was to be proved, that there are indeed any 'abstractions' (in the sense intended by Traditional Philosophers or even dialecticians). Asserting they do it is a dogmatic imposition onto nature (which dialecticians deny they do) -- I deal with the dogmatic nature of DM in Essay Two."
 

"To state the obvious, without minds to invent them there would be no abstractions."
 

"Let me state the equally obvious, without a material world to produce them there would be no abstractions." [MS is quoting himself here.]
 

I was modifying your opening line. The only thing I assume in that statement is the material world. I do not attempt to "prove" anything. There is no claim about abstractions actually existing. I'm simply making the obvious and humble point that in order for us to think (i.e., abstract), there must be something to abstract from (i.e., the world). That's it. I don't assume abstractions. I assume their precondition, the material world. 


Rosa, if you want to have that debate [i.e., if there is or is not a material world], I will have to respectfully decline. I'm interested in what Marx was interested in, understanding the capitalist mode of production, not in playing philosophical games. Thankfully, I don't think you do ;) ... don't take my smartassery too seriously 


"(2) I also deal with the theory that 'abstractions' are "mental constructs" in Essay Three Part Two, and show that that is precisely what they can't be." [Quoting me.]
 

For Marx and myself, abstractions are the "way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces the concrete in the mind" (Marx on "Method of Political Economy" from the intro to the Grundrisse).


Not making a fantastical claim here. Simply saying there are concrete objects out there in the real world and, as thinking beings, we humans have ability to reproduce those objects (abstractly) in the mind. 


If you want to cut and paste the relevant sections or summarize your argument against this humble claim, then please do. I will try my best to respect it. However, if your conclusion is that we are incapable of "reproducing the concrete in the mind," then I'm sorry to say (once again), Marx and I are not playing your philosophical game. We are trying to understand the capitalist mode of production. There's a chaotic collection of commodities out there in the concrete world and they were produced under the social form of capital. We can reproduce the relevant aspects of those capitalistically produced commodity in our minds, as the abstraction "commodity." Once abstracted in the mind, we can theoretically develop its relevant aspects (e.g., that it is both a use-value and value) and we can disregard its irrelevant aspects (e.g., the material attributes that make it a desirable consumer good). Then we can better understand its nature and how it relates to other economic categories in the organic system under investigation, bourgeois society. That is exactly what Marx is doing in the first chapter of Capital. 


(3) "We would not be having this friendly debate without them." [MS quoting himself.]
 

"Not so, we actually use common nouns in English. I tackle the question whether these common nouns are 'referring expressions' in Essay Three Part One. You must have missed it. Treating them as referring expressions in fact turns indicative sentences (of the 'subject-predicate' form) into lists, and lists say nothing. I must have spent fifty thousand words on that issue alone!" [Quoting me.]


If abstractions are as Marx defines them -- reproductions of the concrete in thought -- then we are using both common nouns and abstractions.
 

(4) "Or do you maintain abstractions have no 'ontological status' whatsoever?" [MS quoting himself.]
 

"If we are talking about 'abstractions' as they have been conceived in Traditional Thought and in dialectics, then my argument is that any question that attempts to establish that they have any status at all is an empty question to which there is no answer that makes any sense. I adopt a Wittgensteinian approach to such issues; I have summarised my argument here...". [Quoting me.]

Marx sees a material object. Marx thinks about material object. Marx is abstracting. 

 

This is literally all the necessary justification we need to start thinking critically about "the reproduction of concrete in thought." The content of abstractions is what matters, not a justification of their ontological status.


Abstractions are functional concepts. They work because they advance our understanding of the world. Marx used them without ever feeling the need to philosophically justifying them. Reading Capital is the best justification you'll ever get.
 

(5) "If that is the case, then the issue is with semantics." [MS quoting himself.]


"The original questions (raised in Ancient Greece) were in fact posed semantically, and the whole point of Essay Three Part One was to show that this entire topic (and subsequent attempts to address it by Traditional Philosophers (and dialecticians)) was originally, and subsequently, framed semantically. I think I have succeeded in showing that this entire approach fails, since it reduces any subject-predicate proposition/indicative sentence caught up in this to a list of names, hence destroying the capacity of language to say anything at all (by such means)." [Quoting me.]

 

I'm familiar with the debate. I was merely saying IF you think thoughts are possible, then you think abstractions are too. And we are just calling them different names. You apparently think thoughts are possible but abstractions are not...because DMs have built them up into metaphysical monstrosities or something? 


This issue, and virtually all of your philosophizing with a hammer, is on a tradition of thought, not systematic or historical dialects as they are clearly found in Marx's writings.
 

(6) "If mental constructs are not 'abstractions', they are 'something.' We have them, rocks don't. They demand a rational explanation." [MS quoting himself.]

 

"We certainly use common nouns; I fail to see anywhere in your answer (or in anything a dialectician or Traditional Philosopher has written) any attempt to show they are anything more than that. Indeed, any attempt to do so will turn each common noun concerned into a Proper Name that supposedly names an 'abstract particular'; perhaps it is the Proper Name of a 'form', 'concept', 'idea',  'category', or, indeed an 'abstraction' -- hence, replacing the common noun 'man' with the abstraction 'Manhood' turns it into the name of the 'abstract idea' 'Manhood', for instance, thus destroying the generality that had been claimed for these 'abstractions' (since Proper Names are singular terms -- common nouns are general terms), which in turn transforms every subject-predicate proposition/indicative sentence in which they appear into a list of names, thus  destroying the capacity of language to say anything at all (by such means), once more. You even do this below, with the word 'Whiteness'!" [Quoting me.]


Let me quote Marx from TSV [Theories of Surplus Value -- RL]:

 

"Adam Smith, as we saw above, first correctly interprets value and the relation existing between profit, wages, etc. as component parts of this value, and then he proceeds the other way round, regards the prices of wages, profit and rent as antecedent factors and seeks to determine them independently, in order then to compose the price of the commodity out of them.  The meaning of this change of approach is that first he grasps the problem in its inner relationships, and then in the reverse form, as it appears in competition.  These two concepts of his run counter to one another in his work, naively, without his being aware of the contradiction.  Ricardo, on the other hand, consciously abstracts from the form of competition, from the appearance of competition, in order to comprehend the laws as such.  On the one hand he must be reproached for not going far enough, for not carrying his abstraction to completion, for instance, when he analyses the value of the commodity, he at once allows himself to be influenced by consideration of all kinds of concrete conditions.  On the other hand one must reproach him for regarding the phenomenal form as immediate and direct proof or exposition of the general laws, and for failing to interpret it.  In regard to the first, his abstraction is too incomplete; in regard to the second, it is formal abstraction which in itself is wrong." [Economic Manuscripts: Theories of Surplus-Value, Chapter 8.]

 

Marx clearly affirms the use of abstractions. In particular, the economic categories of classic political economy. 

 

The abstraction 'value' is the essence of price, value's necessary form of appearance. Competition is how value is 'transformed' into prices of production. But competition is a "concrete consideration." The systematic, step-by-step, development of the organic whole must proceed from the abstract to the concrete. Any new category that is introduced has to be derived from a deficiency (or contradiction) of the current category under consideration. Moving from value to competition violates the systematic dialectical reconstruction of the totality. Ricardo jumps the gun after the second of chapter of Principles: he did not "carry his abstraction to completion." He introduced competition too quickly. 


Compare Ricardo to Marx's dialectical method:


The commodity, as a unity of use-value and value, is first examined by Marx in circulation, where the simple-form logically develops to the expanded form and, then, to the universal form, money. But money in circulation is deficient. It does not adequately reconstruction the concrete whole in thought. Now, if the organic system being appropriated in thought was a society of merchants, then maybe we could stop here. But Marx is reconstructing the capitalist mode of production, where commodities and money exist as capital (i.e., self-expanding value not merchants' capital). 


In simple commodity circulation, money is only capable of being hoarded. In order for value to self-expand as capital, we must go into "the hidden abode of production," where value is actually produced. Hence, in chapter 4 we final make it to the production process and the concept of capital is introduced. But capital as a category, an abstraction, is inadequate to itself. Just as the concept of the commodity was deficient and was in need of an "other," money, so too is capital. Of course, capital's other is the category, or abstraction, wage-labour. 


Hence, the concept of wage-labour is developed from the concept of capital. Now, commodities are not simply brought to market (simple commodity circulation) as the bearers of value. They are impregnated with surplus-value in production by wage-labour. 


Hence, surplus-value is introduced directly after wage-labour. The remainder of Capital 1 develops the categories appropriate to surplus-value and accumulation, absolute and relative surplus-value. The concept of the commodity has been enriched by a step-by-step development of economic categories. It originally appeared as a simple commodity in circulation at the beginning of Vol 1. Now, at the beginning of Vol 2, after the production of surplus-value was explicated, we have commodity capital in circulation, a more concretely developed concept than at the beginning of Capital.  


This is how Marx uses abstractions or categories or concepts in his rational reconstruction of the capitalist mode of production. I fail to see how your Wittgensteinian objections come close to it, honestly. Marx is not worried of about the ontology of abstractions. They are simply assumed to be what they are: the concrete appropriated in thought. And that's good enough to get the ball rolling.

 

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


Last comment is on "whiteness." That was Hume's example in his Treatise. My point: we can make a "distinction of reason" between the whiteness and roundness of the white marble globe. But this is merely a mental distinction. Treating whiteness a as real concrete thing instead of a thought object is a bad abstraction. Whiteness cannot be separated from the white marble globe in reality. If you want to tell me that I can't make this distinction in my mind because I can't philosophically justify the concept of "whiteness," then my response is: okay, I'm doing it and I don't care to philosophically justify it to anyone; just as Marx did not feel the need to philosophically justify his use of abstractions in Capital -- he simply made abstractions and ran with them. What he didn't do is treat the commodity "in his mind" as if it were identical to the commodity as it would have been immediately encountered "on the shelf." Instead, he concretize the abstraction "commodity" step-by-step by bringing in more complex and concrete abstractions, until his reconstruction reflected the surface level consciousness of the economic agents in bourgeois society.....but now "as a rich totality of many determinations and relations." 

 

----


Please don't take my snark for aggression. I'm constitutionally incapable of not being a smart ass. I respect and admire you. I think your passion and dedication is enviable, even while disagreeing with you. 


I'd like to take is in a more productive direction. Is there a manageable section you can send me to? Literally tell me what to read like an assignment. My scattered-brain needs limits.

 

To which I replied:

 

Thanks for the detailed reply.

 

MS: "The issue is that you're mainly grinding an axe with the 'tradition of DM,' not with systematic and/or historical dialectics found in Capital (at least from what I've read)."

 

No, I am criticising every last trace of Hegel, as well as Traditional Philosophy in general, and as both find echo in dialectics -- that is, in Marx, Engels, Plekhanov, Luxemburg, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Mao, and every dialectician since. I deal with Marx's total abandonment (yes, you read that right!) of 'the dialectic' as tradition would have it, and as you have understood it, here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm#Marx-And-DM--11

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm#Marx-And-DM--1

 

[Those links won't work properly if you are using Internet Explorer!]

 

MS: "I'm interested in understanding the capitalist mode of production. If you can offer a better of reading of Capital than, say, Tony Smith in 'The Logic of Marx's Capital' or Chris Arthur in 'The New Dialectic and Marx's Capital,' then I'm all for it. Point me in that direction."

 

As was the case with Murray, I think Tony Smith and Chris Arthur's work in this area is appallingly bad. They all make the same mistakes. Check out The Myth of Dialectics by Rosenthal for a much better interpretation of Marx's Capital. I'm not saying I fully agree with it, but it is a major step in the right direction.

 

MS: "There was a time in my life where the type of arguments you make concerned me. Not anymore."

 

And what 'type of arguments' are those then?

 

MS: "You want to philosophically undermine the tradition of dialectical material[ism]. That's fine. But the vast majority of what I've read does not apply to what I'm talking about."

 

Not so; Essay Three Parts One and Two completely undermine the traditional view of abstraction and the Dialectical Marxist view of that mythical process. So, any use of the traditional view, or the 'dialectical' view, to interpret Capital is misguided before it even begins. As my essays show, 'the 'dialectic' (upside down, or 'the right way up') is devoid of any rational support.

 

MS: "There is zero talk of dialectics being sown into the fabric of Nature in thinkers like Murray, Tony Smith, Chris Arthur, Fred Moseley, or Michael Lebowitz. Rather, systematic dialectics is method of inquiry translated into mode of exposition, the rational reconstruction of an organic whole. Given the fact that the organic whole under investigation is reproduced over time, it is necessarily an interconnected whole. Every thing that is 'posited is presupposed,' as Marx says in the Grundrisse. Abstraction allows us to rationally reconstruction 'the chaotic conception of the whole' that we confront in our immediate experience."

 

(1) Yes I am aware of that, but if 'abstraction' at any level, and in any shape or form, is a non-starter, their work, and your interpretation, go out of the window. That is what Essay Three shows. I have to include a criticism of dialectics as it is applied to nature, since that is what most revolutionaries still accept, but my criticism of abstraction is completely general, whether it is applied to nature or to human development and the economy.

 

(2) "Given the fact that the organic whole under investigation is reproduced over time, it is necessarily an interconnected whole. Every thing that is 'posited is presupposed,' as Marx says in the Grundrisse. Abstraction allows us to rationally reconstruction 'the chaotic conception of the whole' that we confront in our immediate experience."

 

Ok, but as I show in Parts One and Two, the above process can't be applied to nature or society.

 

MS: "Telling me abstraction are figments of my imagination, or that they lack philosophical justification, has no purchase. The explanatory power of abstractions can only be replaced another explanation with greater purchase."

 

(1) Well, of course there are better explanations. The philosophy of science has moved on since Hegel tried to mystify everything.

 

(2) Here is what I have also written in Essay Three Part One:

 

To be sure, the Traditional Tale is deeply engrained in our culture -- you will even find psychologists who assure us that we can all construct or apprehend "abstractions" in the intimate confines of our skulls, even if they go rather quiet (or indulge in hand waving) when asked to fill in the details -- indeed, to such an extent that experience has taught me to avoid questioning this mythical 'process' in polite company or risk being treated as one who has just confessed to murder. [This comment is especially true of debates with Marxist dialecticians, zealous defenders of Traditional Jargon and the ruling-class thought-forms that gave them life. Here is just the latest example of such 'radical conservatism'.]

 

Nevertheless, this Emperor has no clothes, abstract or concrete; indeed, there isn't even so much as a drop of blue blood in 'his' veins -- as both halves of this Essay seek to demonstrate.

 

Worse still: there isn't even an Emperor -- clothed or naked!...

 

In general, DM-fans with whom I have debated Abstractionism react to my criticism of this 'concept', 'method', or 'process' with incredulity, followed by extremely negative, if not highly emotiveirrational, and hostile personal abuse, which means they are perhaps the most fervent defenders of this ancient ruling-class approach to 'knowledge'. [See, for example, herehere and here.] Their reaction isn't all that surprising given the allegations that will be advanced both in this Essay and at this site in general concerning the philosophical theories touted by DM-fans, for instance, here and here.

 

In Part Two, I will examine in more detail the traditional approach to abstraction, showing that by incorporating this 'process' and its alleged 'results' into DM, Dialectical Marxists have only succeeded in drawing a 'theoretical viper' to their breast.

 

And here is what I have written in the summary of Essay Three Part One (which is where I originally suggested you begin):

 

In Ancient Greece the idea took hold that there was an invisible, abstract world underlying 'appearances' that was more real than the material universe we see around us, which was accessible to thought alone.

 

[These ideas didn't, of course, grow in a vacuum; their social, political and ideological background will be examined in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

As Marx pointed out, members of the ruling-class often relied on other layers in society to concoct and then disseminate these ideas on their behalf in order to persuade the rest of us that each successive system was 'rational', 'natural', or 'divinely ordained':

 

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideasi.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...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]

 

Notice, Marx tells us that the ruling-class do this "in its whole range", that they "rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age."

 

In Ancient Greece, with the demise of the rule of Kings and Queens, the old myths and Theogonies were no longer relevant. So, in the newly emerging republics and quasi-democracies of the Sixth Century BC far more abstract, de-personalised ideas were required.

 

Enter Philosophy.

 

As Marx also noted:

 

"[P]philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold emphasis added. I have used the on-line version.]

 

It is no accident then that Philosophy emerged as Greek society changed in the above way.

 

However, thinkers in the Ancient World found they had to invent a series technical terms if they were to account for the supposedly hidden structure of 'reality' -- words such as "Form", "Being", "Substance", "Essence", and the like. This terminology subsequently entered into, and then began to dominate 'western' intellectual life for the next two thousand years. These thinkers found they had to do this because ordinary language resists recruitment to this end (again, as Marx also pointed out -- on this, see the next sub-section) -- as, indeed, these theorists themselves acknowledged, which is why they had to invent this new jargon. In relation to this development, classical scholar, the late Professor Havelock, had this to say:

 

"As long as preserved communication remained oral [in Ancient Greece -- RL], the environment could be described or explained only in the guise of stories which represent it as the work of agents: that is gods. Hesiod takes the step of trying to unify those stories into one great story, which becomes a cosmic theogony. A great series of matings and births of gods is narrated to symbolise the present experience of the sky, earth, seas, mountains, storms, rivers, and stars. His poem is the first attempt we have in a style in which the resources of documentation have begun to intrude upon the manner of an acoustic composition. But his account is still a narrative of events, of 'beginnings,' that is, 'births,' as his critics the Presocratics were to put it. From the standpoint of a sophisticated philosophical language, such as was available to Aristotle, what was lacking was a set of commonplace but abstract terms which by their interrelations could describe the physical world conceptually; terms such as space, void, matter, body, element, motion, immobility, change, permanence, substratum, quantity, quality, dimension, unit, and the like. Aside altogether from the coinage of abstract nouns, the conceptual task also required the elimination of verbs of doing and acting and happening, one may even say, of living and dying, in favour of a syntax which states permanent relationships between conceptual terms systematically. For this purpose the required linguistic mechanism was furnished by the timeless present of the verb to be --  the copula of analytic statement.

 

"The history of early philosophy is usually written under the assumption that this kind of vocabulary was already available to the first Greek thinkers. The evidence of their own language is that it was not. They had to initiate the process of inventing it....

 

"Nevertheless, the Presocratics could not invent such language by an act of novel creation. They had to begin with what was available, namely, the vocabulary and syntax of orally memorised speech, in particular the language of Homer and Hesiod. What they proceeded to do was to take the language of the mythos and manipulate it, forcing its terms into fresh syntactical relationships which had the constant effect of stretching and extending their application, giving them a cosmic rather than a particular reference." [Havelock (1983), pp.13-14, 21. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling adapted to agree with UK English. Links added.]

 

Havelock then shows in detail that this is precisely what the Presocratic Philosophers did: they eliminated verbs and replaced them with newly-minted nouns -- for example, transforming the verb "to be" so that it now became "Being". [The significance of these moves will become clearer as this Summary unfolds.]

 

The 'fundamental truths' Philosophers concocted, as this jargon was put to use, were then imposed on 'reality' in an a priori and dogmatic manner.

 

As we saw in the Summary of Essay Two (reproduced below), Dialectical Marxists are enthusiastic traditionalists in this regard, too, content to impose their a priori theses on 'reality' in like manner. This means that every dialectician without exception has adopted this antiquated approach to a priori knowledge -- the aim of which was (and still is) to 'uncover' a series of hidden "essences" and "abstractions" by the operation of thought alone.

 

[NB: These comments aren't aimed at criticising the legitimate use of abstract nouns in the vernacular.]

 

At this point it is also worth adding that the usual justification for assuming that philosophical abstractions exist (somewhere?) -- that is, that they help philosophers and scientists account for general features of the world, and hence for our ability to understand nature -- in fact turns out to be the very thing that prevents them from doing this, as we will soon see.

 

You can read that summary, here (it is about 5% of the length of Essay Three Part One!):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Three_Part_One.htm

 

And here is part of the Summary of Essay Two (which Essays shows that dialecticians do the exact opposite of what they claim, i.e, that they impose this dogmatic theory on the facts -- there are at least thee hundred quotations from the dialectical classics and from subsequent dialecticians that substantiate that controversial assertion) -- where I set my cards on the table:

 

Ruling-Class Forms-Of-Thought

 

For over two thousand years Traditional Philosophers have been playing on themselves and their readers what can only be described as a series of verbal tricks. Since Ancient Greek times, metaphysicians have occupied themselves with deriving a priori theories solely from the meaning of a narrow range of specially-chosen (and suitably doctored) words. The 'philosophical gems' that resulted from this were painstakingly polished and then peddled to the rest of humanity dressed-up as 'profound truths' about fundamental aspects of reality, which were then imposed on nature, invariably without the benefit of a single supporting experiment. Not that the latter would have been relevant, anyway, as these two authors point out:

 

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

 

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

 

"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v -- RL; in the Bibliography to this Essay, I have linked to the Routledge 2010 edition, where this comment appears on p.xliii], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted at this site. Links added.]

 

In fact, Traditional Theorists went further; their acts of linguistic legerdemain 'enabled' them to discover such Super-Truths in the comfort of their own heads, theses they claimed revealed the underlying and essential nature of the universe, valid for all of space and time. Unsurprisingly, discursive magic of this order of magnitude meshes rather well with contemporaneous ruling-class forms-of-thought (for reasons that are explored in detail in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here) -- chief among which is the belief that reality is rational.

 

Clearly, the doctrine that 'reality is rational' must be forced onto nature; it can't be read from it since nature isn't Mind. However, it is much easier to rationalise the imposition of a hierarchical and grossly unequal class system on 'disorderly' workers if boss-class ideologues can persuade one and all that the 'law-like' order of the natural world perfectly reflects, and is reflected in turn by, the social order from which their patrons just so happen to benefit --, the fundamental aspects of which none may question, least of all oppose.

 

Material reality may not be rational, but it is certainly rational for ruling-class "prize-fighters" to claim it is.

 

Radical Talk -- Conservative Walk

 

Even before the first Marxist dialecticians put pen to misuse, they found themselves surrounded on all sides by ideas drawn from this ancient ruling-class tradition. As Lenin himself admitted:

 

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine...is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Clearly, the DM-classicists were confronted by a serious problem: if they imposed their ideas on nature in like manner, they could easily be accused of propagating yet another form of Idealism. On the other hand, if they didn't do this, they wouldn't have a 'philosophical theory' of their own to lend weight to their claim to lead the revolution. Confronted thus by traditional thought-forms (which they had no hand in creating, but which they were only too happy to appropriate), dialecticians found there was no easy way out of this minefield -- or, at least, none that prevented their theory from sliding into Idealism.

 

Their 'solution' was as simple as it was effective: ignore the problem.

 

Or, at least, ignore it in favour of issuing a series of disarming denials --, like the following:

 

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

 

This isn't to argue that dialecticians weren't aware of the Idealism implicit in Traditional Thought -- indeed, as George Novack pointed out:

 

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

 

On the contrary, their excuse for disregarding the pernicious influence of Traditional Philosophy on their own ideas is that the materialist flip they say they had inflicted on Hegel's system was deemed capable of transforming theoretical dirt into philosophical gold.

 

However, flip or no flip, their own ideas in this direction are thoroughly traditional: they are dogmatic, a priori, and are expressed in a specialised form of jargon lifted straight from the Philosophers' Phrase Book. While few DM-theorists will deny that Traditional Philosophy itself is predominantly Idealist, not one of them has failed to emulate the approach to a priori knowledge it promotes.

 

So, despite the fact that dialecticians constantly claim that DM has hasn't been imposed on nature -- for that would surely brand their theory "Idealist" -- they invariably end up doing just that, imposing their ideas on reality. In so doing, they simply confirm the allegation that Traditional Thought has found a new batch of converts among erstwhile radicals.

 

Hence, in spite of frequent claims to the contrary, Marxist Philosophy has from its inception been remarkably conservative. Instead of trying to bury Traditional Theory, dialecticians have in fact done the opposite, they have emulated it.

 

Indeed, they have gone out of their way to ensure that our movement has been dominated by "ruling ideas" from the get-go.

 

You can read that summary here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Two.htm

 

Followed by the mountain of supporting evidence I have incorporated into Essay Two, here:

 

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

 

MS: "I was modifying your opening line. The only thing I assume in that statement is the material world. I do not attempt to 'prove' anything. There is no claim about abstractions actually existing. I'm simply making the obvious and humble point that in order for us to think (i.e., abstract), there must be something to abstract from (i.e., the world). That's it. I don't assume abstractions. I assume their precondition, the material world."

 

Except, later on in your last e-mail you claimed abstractions did somehow exist extra-mentally. I would be interested to see your proof of that, and a convincing demonstration of their precise nature.

 

MS: "Rosa, if you want to have that debate [i.e., if there is or is not a material world], I will have to respectfully decline. I'm interested in what Marx was interested in, understanding the capitalist mode of production, not in playing philosophical games. Thankfully, I don't think you do ;) ...don't take my smartassery too seriously "

 

I am sorry, but where did I even suggest I doubted there was a world out there? I merely questioned your ability to abstract anything from it (in the philosophical sense of that word).

 

MS: "For Marx and myself, abstractions are the 'way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces the concrete in the mind' (Marx on "Method of Political Economy" from the intro to the Grundrisse)."

 

Yes, I am aware of that (I even quote Marx to that effect in my Essays -- see below); but as I noted in my last reply to you, that is something neither Marx nor you are actually capable of doing. I set out my reasons for saying that in Essay Three Part Two. Part One, on the other hand, shows that what abstraction actually does is undermine the unity of the proposition since it turns them into lists of Proper Names. I have greatly condensed my argument in the Summary to Part One, link above.

 

MS: "Not making a fantastical claim here. Simply saying there are concrete objects out there in the real world and, as thinking beings, we humans have ability to reproduce those objects (abstractly) in the mind."

 

Again, where have I denied there are such objects in the world? What I deny is your ability (or anyone's ability) to reproduce them 'in the mind'. Again, I go into this in considerable detail in Part Two.

 

We use common nouns when we want to say something general about anything; there is no need, therefore, to retreat into a hidden, uncheckable world in 'the mind'. Not one single scientist in the entire history of the subject has checked the contents of anyone else's mind (nor has a single dialectician done that), since, of course, that is impossible; we all listen to, or read each others words, propagated thought the air or written on the page or screen. And these words appear in an open arena, in a public space, where they can be checked and communicated. [That, of course, helps explain the social nature of language and knowledge.]

 

Unfortunately, it is impossible for you, or anyone else, to check these 'abstractions' -- even if they could be formed (which I question, too). You have no idea whether your hidden 'abstractions' are the same as anyone else's, never mind whether they are the same as Marx's. No good appealing to the words you or he use, since, given this theory, those words depend for their meaning on a further layer of 'abstractions', which can't be checked either. An appeal to memory would be to no avail here, too, since memories are also supposed to make use of 'abstractions' which would themselves be subject to the very same searching doubts. There is in fact no way to break into this 'abstractive circle', no way to check it or them. So, for all you knowfor all anyone knows, Marx's 'abstractions' could be completely different from yours, and yours could change from moment to moment. You have no way to check. But, that isn't the case with words expressed in a public domain, and that is why I keep referring to common nouns, not these mythical 'abstractions'.

 

The above is in fact an application of Wittgenstein's 'Private Language Argument' (which I develop in detail in Part Two), which exposes a fatal flaw in the traditional theory of abstraction (and the account of 'abstraction' given in dialectics), a factor Bertell Ollman noticed (but which he has so far failed to resolve). Here is what I had to say about this point in Part Two:

 

True to form, Andrew Sayer's attempt to characterise this 'process' [of 'abstraction'] reveals that he, too, thinks it is an individualised, if not private skill in relation to which we all seem to be 'natural' experts:

 

"The sense in which the term ['abstract' -- RL] is used here is different [from its ordinary use -- RL]; an abstract concept, or an abstraction, isolates in thought a one-sided or partial aspect of an object. [In a footnote, Sayer adds 'My use of "abstract" and "concrete" is, I think, equivalent to Marx's' (p.277, note 3).]" [Sayer (1992), p.87. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

As is the case with Ollman, and, indeed, everyone else who has pontificated about this obscure 'process', we aren't told how we manage to do this, still less why it doesn't result in the construction of a 'private language'.

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself pointed out:

 

"What, then, is distinctive about Marx's abstractionsTo begin with, it should be clear that Marx's abstractions do not and cannot diverge completely from the abstractions of other thinkers both then and now. There has to be a lot of overlap. Otherwise, he would have constructed what philosophers call a 'private language,' and any communication between him and the rest of us would be impossible. How close Marx came to fall into this abyss and what can be done to repair some of the damage already done are questions I hope to deal with in a later work...." [Ollman (2003), p.63. Bold emphases added.]

 

Well, it remains to be seen if Professor Ollman can solve a problem that has baffled everyone else for centuries -- that is, those who have even so much as acknowledged it exists!

 

It is to Ollman's considerable credit, therefore, that he is at least aware of it.

 

[In fact, Ollman is the very first dialectician I have encountered (in over thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'! Be this as it may, I have devoted Essay Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for more details.]

 

Of course, none of this fancy footwork would be necessary if Ollman recognised that even though Marx gestured in its direction, Historical Materialism doesn't need this obscure 'process' (that is, where any sense can be made of it) -- or, indeed, if he acknowledged that Marx's emphasis on the social nature of knowledge and language completely undercuts abstractionism.

 

It would be interesting to see how you, too, propose to escape from the solipsistic dungeon into which this theory has deposited you.

 

Part Two can be accessed here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_02.htm

 

"If you want to cut and paste the relevant sections or summarize your argument against this humble claim, then please do. I will try my best to respect it. However, if your conclusion is that we are incapable of 'reproducing the concrete in the mind,' then I'm sorry to say (once again), Marx and I are not playing your philosophical game. We are trying to understand the capitalist mode of production. There's a chaotic collection of commodities out there in the concrete world and they were produced under the social form of capital. We can reproduce the relevant aspects of those capitalistically produced commodity in our minds, as the abstraction 'commodity.' Once abstracted in the mind, we can theoretically develop its relevant aspects (e.g., that it is both a use-value and value) and we can disregard its irrelevant aspects (e.g., the material attributes that make it a desirable consumer good). Then we can better understand its nature and how it relates to other economic categories in the organic system under investigation, bourgeois society. That is exactly what Marx is doing in the first chapter of Capital."

 

(1) I have reproduced a tiny fraction of it above.

 

(2) Of course I am not playing a "philosophical game"; I reject all of Traditional Philosophy (and that includes 'dialectics'), root and branch. Like Marx, I am an anti-philosopher. Here is my argument in support of that controversial claim:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/was_wittgenstein_a_leftist.htm#Marxs_Attitude_To_Philosophy

 

[Remember that link won't work if you are using Internet Explorer.]

 

(3) Marx certainly gestures at using the 'process of abstraction', but, as I have shown, that process is no more feasible than is squaring the circle, so he can't have used it. Here is what I have to say about his alleged use of 'abstraction' in Parts One and Two -- first I quote Marx (I have reproduced this material here since you appear to think I don't know what Marx had to say!):

 

"[S]cience would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956.]

 

"It would seem right to start with the real and concrete, with the actual presupposition, e.g. in political economy to start with the population, which forms the basis and the subject of the whole social act of production. Closer consideration shows, however, that this is wrong. Population is an abstraction if, for instance, one disregards the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn remain an empty phrase if one does not know the elements on which they are based, e.g. wage labour, capital, etc. These presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price, etc. If one were to start with population, it would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and through closer definition one would arrive analytically at increasingly simple concepts; from the imagined concrete, one would move to more and more tenuous abstractions until one arrived at the simplest determinations. From there it would be necessary to make a return journey until one finally arrived once more at population, which this time would be not a chaotic conception of a whole, but a rich totality of many determinations and relations.

 

"The first course is the one taken by political economy historically at its inception. The 17th-century economists, for example, always started with the living whole, the population, the nation, the State, several States, etc., but analysis always led them in the end to the discovery of a few determining abstract, general relations, such as division of labour, money, value, etcAs soon as these individual moments were more or less clearly deduced and abstracted, economic systems were evolved which from the simple [concepts], such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, advanced to the State, international exchange and world market.

 

"The latter is obviously the correct scientific methodThe concrete is concrete because it is a synthesis of many determinations, thus a unity of the diverse. In thinking, it therefore appears as a process of summing-up, as a result, not as the starting point, although it is the real starting point, and thus also the starting point of perception and conception. The first procedure attenuates the comprehensive visualisation to abstract determinations, the second leads from abstract determinations by way of thinking to the reproduction of the concrete.

 

"Hegel accordingly arrived at the illusion that the real was the result of thinking synthesising itself within itself, delving ever deeper into itself and moving by its inner motivation; actually, the method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete is simply the way in which thinking assimilates the concrete and reproduces it as a mental concrete. This is, however, by no means the process by which the concrete itself originates. For example, the simplest economic category, e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, population which produces under definite conditions, as well as a distinct type of family, or community, or State, etc. Exchange value cannot exist except as an abstract, one-sided relation of an already existing concrete living whole.

 

"But as a category exchange value leads an antediluvian existence. Hence to the kind of consciousness -- and philosophical consciousness is precisely of this kind -- which regards the comprehending mind as the real man, and only the comprehended world as such as the real world -- to this consciousness, therefore, the movement of categories appears as the real act of production -- which unfortunately receives an impulse from outside -- whose result is the world; and this (which is however again a tautology) is true in so far as the concrete totality regarded as a conceptual totality, as a mental concretum, is IN FACT a product of thinking, of comprehension; yet it is by no means a product of the self-evolving concept whose thinking proceeds outside and above perception and conception, but of the assimilation and transformation of perceptions and images into concepts. The totality as a conceptual totality seen by the mind is a product of the thinking mind, which assimilates the world in the only way open to it, a way which differs from the artistic-, religious- and practical-intellectual assimilation of this world. The real subject remains outside the mind and independent of it -- that is to say, so long as the mind adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude. Hence the subject, society, must always be envisaged as the premiss of conception even when the theoretical method is employed.

 

"But have not these simple categories also an independent historical or natural existence preceding that of the more concrete ones? Ça dépend. [That depends -- RL.] Hegel, for example, correctly takes possession, the simplest legal relation of the subject, as the point of departure of the philosophy of law. No possession exists, however, before the family or the relations of lord and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations. It would, on the other hand, be correct to say that families and entire tribes exist which have as yet only possession and not property. The simpler category appears thus as a relation of simpler family or tribal associations with regard to property. In a society which has reached a higher stage the category appears as the simpler relation of a developed organisation. The more concrete substratum underlying the relation of possession is, however, always presupposed. One can conceive an individual savage who has possessions; possession in this case, however, is not a legal relation. It is incorrect that historically possession develops into the family. On the contrary, possession always presupposes this 'more concrete legal category'. Still, one may say that the simple categories express relations in which the less developed concrete may have realised itself without as yet having posited the more complex connection or relation which is conceptually expressed in the more concrete category; whereas the more developed concrete retains the same category as a subordinate relation.

 

"Money can exist and has existed in history before capital, banks, wage labour, etc., came into being. In this respect it can be said, therefore, that the simpler category can express relations predominating in a less developed whole or subordinate relations in a more developed whole, relations which already existed historically before the whole had developed the aspect expressed in a more concrete category. To that extent, the course of abstract thinking which advances from the elementary to the combined corresponds to the actual historical process." [Marx (1986), pp.37-39. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases alone added. capitals in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. This passage will be examine in more detail in Part Two.]

 

"Beginnings are always difficult in all sciences. To understand the first chapter, especially the section that contains the analysis of commodities, will, therefore, present the greatest difficulty. That which concerns more especially the analysis of the substance of value and the magnitude of value, I have, as much as it was possible, popularised. The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation. Why? Because the body, as an organic whole, is more easy of study than are the cells of that body. In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both. But in bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labour -- or value-form of the commodity -- is the economic cell-form. To the superficial observer, the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae. It does in fact deal with minutiae, but they are of the same order as those dealt with in microscopic anatomy." [Marx (1996), pp.7-8. Bold emphasis added. I have modified the first sentence to agree with the Penguin edition since it reads much better.]

 

I then add these thoughts:

 

In fact, Marx doesn't actually do what he says he does in these passages; he merely gestures at it, and his gestures are about as substantive as the hand movements of stage magicians. This isn't to malign Marx. Das Kapital is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written; but it would have been an even more impressive work had the baleful influence of Traditional Thought been kept totally at bay....

 

"It seems correct to begin with the real and the concrete…with e.g. the population…. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest…. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations…. The latter is obviously scientifically the correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence the unity of the diverse." [Marx (1973), pp.100-01.]

 

What Marx actually achieved was putting familiar words to use in new ways, thus establishing new concepts that enabled him to understand and explain Capitalism with startling depth and clarity. Anyone who reads the above passage can actually see him doing this. They don't need to do a brain scan on Marx (even if he were still alive!), nor apply psychometric tests to follow his argument -- or, indeed, re-create his alleged 'abstractions', which they would have to do if the 'process of abstraction' were something we all do privately in our heads. And, they certainly don't have to copy Marx's supposed moves -- and they most certainly can't copy them, for Marx failed to say what he had actually done with the concepts/words he employed, or how he had 'mentally processed' them (if in fact he had done so!). Indeed, his 'instructions' about how to abstract the "population" are even less useful than John Lennon's famous remark that to find the USA you just had to turn left at Greenland. Hence, no one could possibly emulate Marx here since there are no usable details -- which, of course, suggests that Marx didn't in fact do what he thought he had done, or proposed to do, otherwise, careful thinker that he was, he would have spelt them out. More significantly, no one since has been able to reconstruct these mythical 'mental' moves, or show that their own weak gesture at applying this method is exactly the same as the one used by Marx -- or even that it yields the same results (as noted earlier).

 

In fact, it is quite apparent from the above passage that Marx had forgotten about his own refutation of this very process! [On that, see here, and again in the next sub-section, below.]

 

Of course, none of this is surprising. As we have seen, abstractionists become rather hazy when it comes to supplying the details of this mysterious 'process'; that is why, after 2400 years of this metaphysical fairy-tale having been spun -- over and above the sort of vague gesture theorists like Ollman offer their readers --, no one seems able to say what this 'process' actually is!

 

By way of contrast, the actual method Marx employed (as noted above: we can see him doing this on the page -- i.e., indulging in an intelligent and novel use of language) is precisely how the greatest scientists have always proceeded. In their work, they construct arguments in an open arena, in a public language -- albeit this is often accompanied by a novel use of old words --, which can be checked by anyone who cares to do so. This can't be done with Ollman's mythical "mental constructs".

 

MS: "If abstractions are as Marx defines them -- reproductions of the concrete in thought -- then we are using both common nouns and abstractions."

 

Well, we certainly agree that we use common nouns, but you have yet to explain what on earth these abstractions are, and you aren't alone. No one has been able to say what they are -- that is over and above repeatedly calling them 'mental constructs', which is what my Essays show they can't be (several aspects of my argument have been summarised above).

 

MS: "Marx sees a material object. Marx thinks about material object. Marx is abstracting."

 

However, as my argument above shows, he certainly said a few incantations over the words he committed to paper, but one thing he couldn't do is 'abstract' a single thing, and for the reasons set out in my Essays, summarised above.

 

MS: "This is literally all the necessary justification we need to start thinking critically about 'the reproduction of concrete in thought.' The content of abstractions is what matters, not a justification of their ontological status."

 

Forgive me for saying this, but that is just hand-waving. Like so many others, you leave the crucial details out (in fact, you add virtually zero details!). I don't. In Parts One and Two, I have considered every single 'justification' dialecticians have offered for this mythical process (that is, of the few who even so much as attempt to do it) and show none work. You are unaware of this since you have yet to read those two essays. Once more, I don't blame you for that! They are impossibly long -- and they are like that because they are meant to be comprehensiveI have left absolutely no wiggle room for dialecticians.

 

MS: "Abstractions are functional concepts. They work because they advance our understanding of the world. Marx used them without ever feeling the need to philosophically justifying them. Reading Capital is the best justification you'll ever get."

 

Well, I have been reading and studying Capital since the early 1980s, but I have yet to see any such justification. What have I missed?

 

MS: "I'm familiar with the debate. I was merely saying IF you think thoughts are possible, then you think abstractions are too. And we are just calling them different names. You apparently think thoughts are possible but abstractions are not...because DMs have built them up into metaphysical monstrosities or something?"

 

Not so. Thoughts do not go on in our heads (that is a Cartesian myth). I have covered that topic extensively in the longest of my essays, Thirteen Part Three (it is the equivalent of a 600 page book -- unfortunately, I have yet to write a summary for it!):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page_13_03.htm

 

MS: "This issue, and virtually all of your philosophizing with a hammer, is on a tradition of thought, not systematic or historical dialects as they are clearly found in Marx's writings."

 

(1) Yes, well I take my cue from Lenin and Engels, who did likewise.

 

(2) Ok, well, you haven't read my extension of this into Marx's work, have you? Essay Three was aimed at completely undermining the traditional approach, which finds clear echo in Hegel, and hence in Marx. If the former is a non-starter, so is the latter.

 

MS: "Marx clearly affirms the use of abstractions. In particular, the economic categories of classic political economy."

 

Yes, yes, we have already established that. I nowhere deny it, nor would I. I merely question the status of these mythical 'abstractions' as well as their mysterious provenance.

 

I am sorry, but the next few paragraphs in your e-mail are surplus to requirements (since I nowhere deny Marx' used 'abstractions', or in the way you have outlined), so I will once again ignore them.

 

MS: "Last comment is on 'whiteness.' That was Hume's example in his Treatise. My point: we can make a 'distinction of reason' between the whiteness and roundness of the white marble globe. But this is merely a mental distinction. Treating whiteness a as real concrete thing instead of a thought object is a bad abstraction. Whiteness cannot be separated from the white marble globe in reality. If you want to tell me that I can't make this distinction in my mind because I can't philosophically justify the concept of 'whiteness,' then my response is: okay, I'm doing it and I don't care to philosophically justify it to anyone; just as Marx did not feel the need to philosophically justify his use of abstractions in Capital --he simply made abstractions and ran with them. What he didn't do is treat the commodity 'in his mind' as if it were identical to the commodity as it would have been immediately encountered 'on the shelf.' Instead, he concretize the abstraction 'commodity' step-by-step by bringing in more complex and concrete abstractions, until his reconstruction reflected the surface level consciousness of the economic agents in bourgeois society.....but now 'as a rich totality of many determinations and relations'."

 

(1) Ok, so thank you for admitting you can't justify any of this, and nor could Marx; that at least aligns you with everyone else I have read on this topic. It also means that you have to accept all this on faith (so your approach can't be scientific) -- and no wonder, this approach to philosophy was invented by mystics and theologians. No wonder then that Marx said this about philosophy:

 

MS: "Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold added.]

 

(2) But even if you could justify it, that would be to no avail: once again, as we can see, you have turned the general noun you began with ("white") into the Proper Name of an abstract particular ('whiteness'), and, as I have pointed out several times, that would destroy the unity of the proposition, wrecking the capacity language has to say anything at all. Once more, I have worked out the details behind those controversial assertions (but these problems were known to Plato and Aristotle!) in Part One; they have been summarised in the Summary of Part One (link above).

 

Here is Davidson on this topic (also quoted in Part One):

 

"Aristotle again and again reverts to the claim that if the forms are to serve as universals, then they cannot be separate from the entities of which they are properties. Aristotle agrees with Plato that universals, like the forms, are the objects of scientific study.... Where Aristotle differs from Plato was in holding that universals are not identical with the things of which they are properties, they exist only by virtue of the existence of the things of which they are properties. If universals existed independently, they would take their place alongside the things that instantiate them. Separate existence is just what would make universals like other particulars and thus no longer universal. But doesn't this argument show Aristotle to be confused? If universals can be talked about, they can be referred to. Yet whatever can be referred to is a particular. Confusion seems to have set in: universals are both particulars and at the same time necessarily distinct from particulars." [Davidson (2005), pp.89-90. Bold emphasis added; paragraphs merged.]

 

"In the Sophist Plato had limited the discussion to names of human agents and verbs of action, but Aristotle explicitly broadens the scope of both names and verbs. Subject expressions for Aristotle include both common nouns like 'animal' and names like 'Philo'. In the Categories Aristotle provides a list of predicate types (κατηγορίαι -- categories, RL). These comprise the category of substance (man, horse), of quantity (four cubits long), of quality (white, grammatical), of relation (double, half, larger), of location (in the Lyceum, in the agora), of time (yesterday, last year), of posture (lying down, sitting), of dress (shod, in armour), of action (cutting, burning), and of affection (being cut, being burned).

 

"It is not altogether clear whether the predicate (or verb) includes what we express in English by the copula 'is' and its variants. Aristotle says that 'health' is a name, but 'is healthy' is a verb. In Greek 'is healthy' is a single word (ύγιαίνει). This would be right, but he also says verbs are names...." [Ibid., p.91. Italic emphases in the original, bold emphasis added. On this, see also Note 22c.]

 

"The need to introduce an entity to explain the function of verbs or predicates has been assumed or postulated or argued for by most philosophers who have been interested in the structure of sentences and the thoughts that sentences can be used to express....

 

"It is reasonable to ask why philosophers have not succeeded by now in solving this simple, though absolutely basic, problem." [Ibid., pp.93-94.]

 

About which I then comment (slightly edited):

 

This 'problem' is now at least 2400 years old, and we are no nearer to finding solution than Plato was. Even so, the answer to Davidson's question is pretty clear: this 'problem' was the sole creation of a crass syntactical error (turning general nouns into Proper Nouns that name certain 'concepts', these 'abstractions', thus turning general nouns in singular terms, destroying generality), which, naturally, means this is in fact a pseudo-problem. Since Hegel was one of the philosophers interested in "the structure of sentences", he is simply a more recent example of a 'thinker' whose 'logic' was completely skewed by this age-old confusion.

 

The untoward result of this ancient syntactical slide is explained by Professor E J Lowe (in his review of Davidson (2005)):

 

"What is the problem of predication? In a nutshell, it is this. Consider any simple subject-predicate sentence, such as..., 'Theaetetus sits'. How are we to understand the different roles of the subject and the predicate in this sentence, 'Theaetetus' and 'sits' respectively? The role of 'Theaetetus' seems straightforward enough: it serves to name, and thereby to refer to or stand for, a certain particular human being. But what about 'sits'? Many philosophers have been tempted to say that this also refers to or stands for something, namely, a property or universal that Theaetetus possesses or exemplifies: the property of sitting. This is said to be a universal, rather than a particular, because it can be possessed by many different individuals.

 

"But now we have a problem, for this view of the matter seems to turn the sentence 'Theaetetus sits' into a mere list of (two) names, each naming something different, one a particular and one a universal: 'Theaetetus, sits.' But a list of names is not a sentence because it is not the sort of thing that can be said to be true or false, in the way that 'Theaetetus sits' clearly can. The temptation now is to say that reference to something else must be involved in addition to Theaetetus and the property of sitting, namely, the relation of possessing that Theaetetus has to that property. But it should be evident that this way of proceeding will simply generate the same problem, for now we have just turned the original sentence into a list of three names, 'Theaetetus, possessing, sits.'

 

"Indeed, we are now setting out on a vicious infinite regress, which is commonly known as 'Bradley's regress', in recognition of its modern discoverer, the British idealist philosopher F. H. Bradley. Bradley used the regress to argue in favour of absolute idealism...." [Lowe (2006). Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. This undermines the 'unity of the proposition', turning them into lists, and lists say nothing.]

 

As Davidson also points out, attempts to solve this artificial problem have in different ways motivated every traditional theory of predication since Plato's day, and thus much of logic, ancient  and modern -- and that includes the bowdlerised logic taught in the universities of Kant and Hegel's day, and which they subsequently put to mis-use.

 

Having said that, Paul Redding points out (in Redding (2007), pp.85-114) that Kant had been at pains to criticise the Term Logic philosophers inherited from medieval logicians, and that he distinguished singulars from particulars. A singular is supposedly something given in perception (which Kant confusingly calls an "intuition") before it has been subsumed under a universal (or before it has been conceptualised -- an obscure process that later came to be called the "myth of the given" by Wilfrid Sellars). A singular is thus apparently a bare "this". A particular, on the other hand, is always a "this such" (i.e., an individual of a certain sort), which has been subsumed under a universal and which has therefore been conceptualised. Hegel accepted this distinction but criticised Kant's mishandling of it. For Hegel, apparently, what is given in perception has already been conceptualised (so there are no 'bare particulars' (individuals) -- to use more recent jargon), rendering Kant's distinction between immediate intuition (perception) and subsequent conceptualisation (subsumption under an appropriate universal) entirely misconceived.

 

However, as argued in this Essay, Hegel's misguided analysis of general terms -- turning them into the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars in a thoroughly traditional manner -- undercuts his entire argument since it destroys the generality he hoped to find in his appeal to 'concepts'.

 

Incidentally, this also undermines Redding's futile attempt to recruit Wittgenstein to Hegel's cause.

 

Be this as it may, it can be shown (but I will not do so here) that modern attempts to 'solve' this 'problem' (for example, those found in Davidson (2005) or Gaskin (2008)) fall into the same trap. [More on that in Essay Twelve.]

 

This is the bear trap into which Hegel blundered, subsequently followed by every Marxist dialectician (using the sub-Aristotelian logic they found in the former's work). Once more, I spell out in painful detail how that actually took place, step-by-step, in Part One.

 

[Incidentally: your brief description of Marx's method makes him a Kantian, not a follower of Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up'). According to Hegel, we don't look at objects and then abstract from them; an object for him was always an object of a certain sort. None of that makes a blind bit of sense, but you might want to rethink what Marx had to say, or how you have interpreted him -- if I have understood you correctly!]

 

MS: "Please don't take my snark for aggression. I'm constitutionally incapable of not being a smart ass. I respect and admire you. I think your passion and dedication is enviable, even while disagreeing with you."

 

I didn't notice any 'snark'....

 

MS: "I'd like to take is in a more productive direction. Is there a manageable section you can send me to? Literally tell me what to read like an assignment. My scattered-brain needs limits."

 

I am not sure we are going to get very far since my work represents a fundamental challenge to the entire discipline of philosophy, all 2400 odd years of it, and that includes 'dialectics'. Comrades who are steeped in the traditional approach to philosophy (that is, that philosophy is regarded as a sort of 'super-science' which delivers 'super-facts', often way beyond the remit of the sciences) find my ideas very hard to absorb (your failed attempts to get on my wavelength being just another example of this), still less to agree with. I claim no originality for this since I am merely applying Wittgenstein's method to this discipline and to dialectics.

 

My ability to communicate my ideas to you will anyway depend on how much Analytic Philosophy you know and how much modern logic you have mastered. Having said that, you should begin where I long ago suggested you should, with the Summary Essays (which are all between 5% and 10% of the length of the originals):

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Seven-Part-01.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Seven-Part-01b.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Seven-Part-01c.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Eight-Part-01.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Eight-Part-02.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Nine-Part-01.htm

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Nine-Part-02.htm

 

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

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Eleven_Part_One.htm

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Eleven_Part_Two.htm

 

http://anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Twelve-Part-01.htm

 

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

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Summary_of_Essay_Thirteen_Part_One.htm

 

Check out the opening page of my site, which explains (briefly!) what each essay (and hence each summary) is actually about:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/

 

And Essay One which spells out why I began this project back in 1998:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2001.htm

 

You only need to read the first ten or so paragraphs to get an idea.

 

If any of the links I have included in the e-mail don't work, let me know and I will correct them.

 

Exchange #3 -- 05/11/2019:

 

MS:

 

I’ll work through this material. At work now, so I can’t really respond. And perhaps I shouldn't without working through more of the material. But your critique seems to be so sweeping that I'm constantly say to myself’, "well, that doesn’t apply". For instance:

 

"As we saw in the Summary of Essay Two (reproduced below), Dialectical Marxists are enthusiastic traditionalists in this regard, too, content to impose their a priori theses on 'reality' in like manner. This means that every dialectician without exception has adopted this antiquated approach to a priori knowledge -- the aim of which was (and still is) to 'uncover' a series of hidden 'essences' and 'abstractions' by the operation of thought alone." [MS is quoting me.]

 

This doesn't apply to Hegel and Marx (or Lenin):

 

Hegel:

 

"The Essence must appear…. essence does not linger behind or beyond appearance. Rather it is, we may say, the infinite kindness which lets its own show freely issue into immediacy, and graciously allows it the joy of existence." (Fine. Quibble with the flowery language. I do. It's annoying.)

 

Marx:

 

"It must never be forgotten that the production of this surplus-value — and the reconversion of a portion of it into capital, or the accumulation, forms an integrate part of this production of surplus-value — is the immediate purpose and compelling motive of capitalist production. It will never do, therefore, to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, namely as production whose immediate purpose is enjoyment or the manufacture of the means of enjoyment for the capitalist. This would be overlooking its specific character, which is revealed in all its inner essence." [Economic Manuscripts: Capital, Vol.3, Chapter 15.]

 

Marx:

 

"The price of production includes the average profit. We call it price of production. It is really what Adam Smith calls natural price, Ricardo calls price of production, or cost of production, and the physiocrats call prix nécessaire, because in the long run it is a prerequisite of supply, of the reproduction of commodities in every individual sphere. But none of them has revealed the difference between price of production and value. We can well understand why the same economists who oppose determining the value of commodities by labour-time, i.e., by the quantity of labour contained in them, why they always speak of prices of production as centres around which market-prices fluctuate. They can afford to do it because the price of production is an utterly external and prima facie meaningless form of the value of commodities, a form as it appears in competition, therefore in the mind of the vulgar capitalist, and consequently in that of the vulgar economist." [https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1894-c3/ch10.htm.]

 

Value, an essence, is completely immaterial. It necessarily appears. Not behind or underneath or in some mystified a priori form. It appears in price because it could not be known otherwise. Taking the appearance of value as nothing but its form of appearance (price) is what vulgar economist did and drew Marx's wrath.

 

None of this happens by the operation of thought alone. This occurs in the real movement of capital. But the real movement, the appearances, must be revealed in all their inner essences, which do not divulge their truth through the appearances. This requires thought…but not thought alone.

 

You seem to be trying to mystify Marx(ists) by tying them to tradition of thought to which he/they do not belong.

 

To which I replied:

 

I did say we were talking past each other, and the more we communicate the more I am inclined to believe that.

 

MS: "This doesn’t apply to Hegel and Marx (or Lenin):"

 

What doesn't? This?

 

Me: "As we saw in the Summary of Essay Two (reproduced below), Dialectical Marxists are enthusiastic traditionalists in this regard, too, content to impose their a priori theses on 'reality' in like manner. This means that every dialectician without exception has adopted this antiquated approach to a priori knowledge -- the aim of which was (and still is) to 'uncover' a series of hidden 'essences' and 'abstractions' by the operation of thought alone."

 

I did note that you can find the proof of the above allegation in Essay Two (where I quote over a hundred dialecticians -- the classics and lesser figures --, to that end), but you clearly failed to notice that!

 

You now quote Hegel, who is happy to impose this idea (dogmatically) on thought/the world (as I alleged):

 

"Hegel:  The Essence must appear…. essence does not linger behind or beyond appearance. Rather it is, we may say, the infinite kindness which lets its own show freely issue into immediacy, and graciously allows it the joy of existence. (Fine. Quibble with the flowery language. I do. It’s annoying.)"
 

Thanks, that makes my point for me. Hegel is happy to impose the vast bulk of his ideas on 'the world'.

 

I see you have jumped to this conclusion of yours without, once again, looking at the mountain of evidence I have amassed in Essay Two to that end. If this is the way we are going to proceed, I see no point in continuing this exchange.

 

You then quote Marx:

 

"Marx: It must never be forgotten that the production of this surplus-value -- and the reconversion of a portion of it into capital, or the accumulation, forms an integrate part of this production of surplus-value — is the immediate purpose and compelling motive of capitalist production. It will never do, therefore, to represent capitalist production as something which it is not, namely as production whose immediate purpose is enjoyment or the manufacture of the means of enjoyment for the capitalist. This would be overlooking its specific character, which is revealed in all its inner essence."
 

I am sorry, but I fail to see how this quote is relevant. What point are you trying to make?

 

Perhaps this:

 

"Value, an essence, is completely immaterial. It necessarily appears. Not behind or underneath or in some mystified a priori form. It appears in price because it could not be known otherwise. Taking the appearance of value as nothing but its form of appearance (price) is what vulgar economist did and drew Marx’s wrath. None of this happens by the operation of thought aloneThis occurs in the real movement of capital. But the real movement, the appearances, must be revealed in all their inner essences, which do not divulge their truth through the appearances. This requires thought…but not thought alone.

 

"You seem to be trying to mystify Marx(ists) by tying them to tradition of thought to which he/they do not belong."

 

Not so --, but I see you have yet to follow the links I posted that cover this topic. We aren't going to get far if you keep 'shooting from the hip', MS. I did say we were talking past one another. I am not inclined to continue this correspondence if you persist with this 'shoot from the hip' policy.

 

MS: "You seem to be trying to mystify Marx(ists) by tying them to tradition of thought to which he/they do not belong."

 

In fact, I am mystified how you arrived at that conclusion. Had you followed the links I added, and not 'shot from the hip', you'd have seen this is the exact opposite of the truth. In fact, I absolve Marx from the vast majority of my criticisms since I think he waved goodbye to 'dialectics', as Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky and you conceive it. The top two links in my last reply to you enter into this topic in some detail. We aren't going to get far if you keep rushing off hasty replies before you have read what I am arguing. There is no one forcing you to read what I say, but deciding what you think about my views based on reading less than 0.01% of my work, makes about as much sense as rejecting Marxism based on reading only a couple of pages of Das Kapital, as some have done.

If you follow those links you will see that I argue that by the time he came to write Kapital, Marx had a completely different view of 'dialectics' (which aligned his method more closely with that of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School (of Ferguson, Millar, Robertson, Smith, Hume and Stuart)), since by then he had abandoned Hegel root-and-branch (confining the latter's influence to a few remarks here and there with which he merely "coquetted"; hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?). So, the 'dialectics' we find in Kapital bears no relation to the 'dialectics' that has come down to us via Hegel 'put back on his feet', by Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Trotsky, and the academic dialecticians to whom you referred in your last e-mail.

 

Here are those links again:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm#Marx-And-DM--11

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm#Marx-And-DM--1

 

That means that when I speak about Dialectical Marxists (for example in the passage you quoted from my last e-mail), I am excluding Marx (I have to do that since his 'dialectics' bears no relation to the sort you are trying to promote, as the above two links seek to show; his is an older form of the 'dialectic', more closely connected with the historical materialism he found in the Scottish School, and Kant).

And, of course, Hegel wasn't a Dialectical Marxist -- so why you quoted him in reply to me on this point is a mystery. But, you'd know that if you had resisted the temptation to rush off a knee-jerk response, or maybe had read my actual words more carefully. Had you done that you'd not have sent me a Hegel quote in response to passage where I am speaking about Dialectical Marxists, not Dialectical Idealists, would you?

 

So, please, MS, resist the temptation to 'shoot from the hip', or there seems no point us continuing with this exchange.

 

Exchange #4 -- 06/11/2019:

 

MS:

 

No sooner could I convince Don Quixote he was tilting at windmills.
 

I'm not having a knee-jerk reaction. Although, given your penchant for labelling and name-calling on the site, I can understand that reaction.


I'd love to actually engage with your understanding of Capital. It is, I have to assume, plagued by the misunderstandings of classical political economy at best, but most likely vulgarist through-and-through.  


I like you Rosa, but goddamn, get over yourself and we can come together. "Dialectical materialism" is not what's in the way...

 

[MS later apologised for saying the above.]

 

To which I replied:

 

I agree. That has been my experience over the last thirty years debating dialectics with comrades. We are so far apart, any chance of a meeting of minds is impossible. The vast majority respond like you have, with knee jerk reactions in place of a careful consideration of what I have to say, rather like some who throw Das Kapital away before they have read to the end of page two. Dialecticians are intellectually stuck in the early 19th century, using sub-Aristotelian logic (thanks to Hegel, Lenin and Trotsky), Mickey Mouse Science (thanks to Engels and Plekhanov) and ruling-class forms of thought that had been invented by Ancient Greek ruling-class hacks. The ideas of the ruling-class now rule Dialectical Marxism.


Mercifully, logic, philosophy, politics and science have all moved on since then. So have the working class. Dialectics has never seized them, and never will. That was always going to be the big test, and dialecticians have consistently failed them; big surprise! workers everywhere ignore them in return. Upside down Mystical Hermeticism (i.e., 'dialectics') was never going to appeal to them (which is, of course, why the Bolsheviks kept well clear of it in 1917 -- there were no slogans employing its nostrums anywhere in sight back then, no attempt to argue that "Truth is the whole and the crimes of Tsar Nicholas!", "Change in quantity leads to change in quality and the fight for a 10% rise!", or "Being is identical with, but at the same time different from, Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming and Bread, Peace and Land!")


Here is why:


http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm
 

I have to say, I didn't expect to get anywhere with such comrades, or even with you. Forgive me for saying this, but anyone who now takes any advice from that logical and philosophical incompetent, Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up'), isn't going to listen to anything I have to say. As my old professor of logic used to intone, some heads are so full of noise they can't hear anything that disturbs their dogmatic slumber. Your knee-jerk reactions, even before you had read so much as 0.001% of my work, somehow suggests he was right. Indeed, had the opposite happened, and my words had fallen on fertile ground in general, or with you in particular, I would have concluded I was doing something wrong. I expect, just as I continue to predict, that what I have to say will continue to fall on stony ground. As is the case with religious consolation -- which devotion to 'the 'dialectic' resembles, and not just because of its origin in Mystical Christianity --, it will take a revolutionary working class to rid Marxism of this philosophical weed and save our movement from itself; I stand no chance. Dialectical Marxists will cling to the magical words they found in Hegel (which Marx rejected by the time he came to write Das Kapital, as I have shown), as well as traditional, ruling-class thought-forms, even as they watch their form of Marxism dying on the vine. Apparently, according to such comrades, the only two things in the entire universe that aren't interconnected are this regressive theory and the long term failure of Dialectical Marxism.


I explain why such comrades -- indeed, your good self -- are locked into this death spiral, here:

 

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

That is perhaps one of my most original Essays, since it provides, for the first time ever, anywhere, a Historical Materialist reason why Dialectical Marxism has been such a long-term and abject failure. [And no, it isn't just down to 'dialectics'!]


So, when we examine practice, we can see where this theory has taken Dialectical Marxism -- down the tubes. If truth is indeed tested in practice (but I challenge even that dogma in Essay Ten Part One), history has returned a pretty clear verdict on your theory. You might want to think about that, MS, if nothing else.
 

You can find the details substantiating that depressing verdict, if you follow the above link (should you be at all interested in finding out):
 

R!


PS. No I won't debate Das Kapital, since you will bring this failed theory to it. Before Marxism can even begin heal, we have to stop the flow of poison coming in from Hegel. No debate on the lines you suggest makes any sense until that deadly stream has been permanently closed off (just as there was no point Newtonians debating with Aristotelians back in the late 17th century), which is why I focus on that major problem, not on what you seem to be interested in. If your house is on fire, you don't debate the colour scheme or discuss rearranging the furniture, howsoever much you might want to do so.


You tackle the fire!


You just want to move the furniture around...

 

There were then followed a few brief skirmishes which aren't worth repeating.

 

Exchange #5 -- 12/11/2019:

 

Here is my response to one of those:

 

Apologies for the delay in replying, MS. For some reason, my system put your e-mail in my spam folder!

 

I have adopted an abrasive approach in my Essays for reasons I have explained in the opening Essays to my site, and on the opening page:

 

Several other features of these Essays will strike the reader as rather odd:

 

(i) Their almost exclusively negative, if not unremittingly hostile tone;

 

(ii) Their quasi-dialectical structure (where the word "dialectical" is to be understood in its older, classical sense);

 

(iii) The total absence of any alternative philosophical theories;

 

(iv) Their extraordinary length;

 

and finally,

 

(v) Their analytic, if not uncompromisingly relentless, style.

 

The first two items above aren't in fact unrelated. Although I have endeavoured to construct as comprehensive a case against DM as possible, I have also sought to raise objections to my own criticisms at nearly every stage. While this strategy has been adopted to test my ideas to the limit, it has also been of some use in trying (where possible) to render DM a little clearer or more comprehensible.

 

To that end, the reader will find that many issues have been raised here for the very first time anywhere -- ever. Core DM-theses have been examined in unprecedented detail; most of them from a completely novel perspective. It is a sad reflection on the mental paralysis induced in those who -- in Max Eastman's words -- "suffer from dialectics", that DM-dogmas have escaped detailed scrutiny for well over a hundred years. It is nevertheless accurate for all that.

 

Even if it should turn out that this project is misconceived in some way, in whole or in part, it succeeds in breaking entirely new ground, as readers will soon discover. In fact, should DM-supporters engage fairly with the content of the Essays published at this site -- even if they remain of the same opinion by the end --, they will find that their own ideas will emerge clarified and strengthened because of the many entirely original set of challenges advanced in this work.8

 

As I alleged earlier, it is the opinion of the present author that DM has contributed in its own not insignificant way to the spectacular lack of success that has plagued Dialectical Marxism. It is an alarming fact that of all the major political ideologies or movements in human history, Dialectical Marxism is among the least successful ever. The role that DM has played in helping to engineer this disastrous state of affairs partly accounts for the persistently negative, if not openly hostile, tone adopted in these Essays.

 

If revolutionaries genuinely wish to change the world by assisting in a successful working-class revolution (and I certainly count myself among those who do), then the sooner this alien-class ideology (DM) is jettisoned the better.

 

In that case, if the ideas presented here are correct, then it is reasonably clear that DM has helped cripple the revolutionary movement almost from the beginning. Because of that those who insist on clinging to this regressive doctrine (for whatever reason) risk extending this abysmal record of failure and debacle into this new century.

 

Unfortunately, it is far from clear whether humanity or Planet Earth can take another hundred years of Capitalism. Indeed, one more protracted cycle of DM-induced failures could (or, and far more likely, would) help guarantee that even fewer workers take Marxism seriously --, or, and what roughly amounts to the same, live to tell the tale in anything remotely resembling a civilised society.

 

Items (iii) and (v) in the above list are rather different, though.

 

As far as (iii) is concerned, from time to time readers will find themselves asking the following question of the author: "Well, what's your theory, then?" No alternative philosophical theory will be advanced here or anywhere else, for that matter. That tactic hasn't been adopted out of cussedness -- or even out of diffidence --, but because it is an important aspect of Wittgenstein's method (adopted at this site) not to advance philosophical theories of any sort. His approach in fact means that no philosophical theory makes any sense.

 

[Exactly why that is so will be considered at length in Essay Twelve Part One. A brief summary of that Essay has now been posted here. Objections from the left to the use of Wittgenstein's ideas have been neutralised here.]

 

As far as (v) is concerned, those unfamiliar with Analytic Philosophy might find the overall style of these Essays somewhat daunting, if not entirely deflationary. This is so in the sense that these Essays seek not only to deflate the overblown pretentions of Traditional Philosophy, but those of DM, too -- and they do likewise with the shared assumptions upon which both are predicated (for example, the idea that fundamental truths about reality, valid for all of space and time, can be derived from thought/language alone, which can then be dogmatically imposed on nature and society) -- exposing the fact that these "ruling ideas" have been founded on little more than hot air.

 

Nevertheless, the analytic method is much to be preferred since (in many cases) it produces clear results. Anyone who takes exception to this way of doing Philosophy (or, indeed, who is happy to leave his/her head in the sand) can simply log-off this site now. I have no wish to wake you up.

 

Item (iv) also needs some explaining. The extraordinary length of these Essays has been dictated by two factors: (a) the nature of DM itself and (b) the attitude of its supporters.
 

All of the major -- and the vast majority of the relatively minor -- DM-theses have been subjected to extensive and destructive criticism throughout this site. Because of DM's totalising and interconnected approach to knowledge it can be demolished in no other way. Had a single topic been left with only superficial wounds -- and not fatally injured -- its supporters might easily have imagined it could be revived. Had even one of its theoretical strands been left intact -- because of the alleged interconnections that exist between each and every one of its parts -- the temptation would have been to conclude that if one element is viable, the rest must be, too. So, like Japanese Knotweed, DM would grow back. Hence, the excessive length of each of the main Essays is partly the result this theory's holistic character, and partly because few of its supporters have ever bothered to analyse their theory to any great extent or in any detail -- certainly not in the unprecedented manner found at this site.

 

Those who still think these Essays are too long should compare them with the works of, say, Hegel, Marx or Lenin, whose writings easily dwarf my own. I have, however, attempted to summarise my main criticisms of DM in three Essays of decreasing length, difficulty, and complexity, herehere and here.

 

Finally, even though many of the arguments presented at this site are in my view definitive, genuine knock-down arguments in Philosophy are exceedingly rare. In that case, readers will have to make up their own minds whether or not I am alone in judging my Essays definitive. [Quoted from here.]

 

You speak about name-calling. I plead guilty to that; I have adapted my style from Engels, Lenin and Trotsky; anyway, it palls into insignificance compared with the language used by fellow comrades on me, and each other, fully documented at my site (links provided on request). One of the latest examples came from Professor Andrew Kliman (I am sure you know who he is). I challenged him on the Marxist Humanist website to explain what a 'dialectical contradiction' is; he manifestly failed to do that, and could not responded effectively to my objections. So, in a subsequent e-mail he expressed the hope that I would "eat s*it and die!", or, failing that, quaff some Hemlock. Another comrade (from the same party as I used to belong to, and with whom I agree practically 100% over our politics) accused me of being "worse than the Zionists and the Nazis"! Another accused me of being an under-cover cop. I am almost universally vilified by fellow comrades (Trotskyists, Stalinists, Maoists, Libertarian Marxists, Academic Marxists, right across the entire spectrum) and am routinely barred from posting on their websites, even if I am not banging on about 'dialectics'. So, after over thirty tears of this, one tends to become a little tetchy.

 

However, I don't think I have called you any names, and apologise if it turns out I have.


I am still far from sure we can reach a meeting of minds, though. My Essays begin from a completely different place, and subject 'dialectics' to a completely novel and destructive analysis. And for reasons outlined above.


Finally, I don't read Das Kapital in the way you suggest. I fully accept Marx's "dialectical" approach in that book, I just interpret dialectics differently from 99.99% of fellow Marxists. I accept what Marx himself said about "his method" in the Preface to the second edition. I added a link in an earlier reply to you that will take you to where I argue at length in favour of my interpretation.

 

To which MS replied:

 

Thank you for responding. Not going to lie, I felt bad...I thought I might've "hurt" you or just pissed you off to the point of no return. Glad it was just spam ;)


It's ironic that you mentioned Kliman. He and Fred Moseley recently got into this back and forth spat on his website. It was so unbelievably childish. Lost a little respect for Fred. Didn't have all that much for Andrew to begin with. He's an a-hole for saying that to you, Rosa! 


No need for you to apologize for anything. You did not call me anything directly. The implications of the claims you make on the site do have some bearing on me, though. It seems -- at least from my perspective -- that you believe comrades are seduced into a tradition of DM from uncritically absorbing received notions from canonized DMs, notions with petty-bourgeois ideological roots more appropriate to the ruling class than the working class...or something to that effect. 


I don't have any attachment to dialectical materialism per se. As mentioned, I'm more interested in the systematic dialectical presentation of categories found in Capital. It offers the best explanation of what is going in capitalist society. I have not encountered many or maybe any of the authors from the "new reading" or value-form perspective on your site...Rubin, Backhaus, Rosdolsky, Murray, Smith, Reuten, Arthur, Postone, Heinrich, etc...


So I feel like what you're attacking and what I'm defending are different things, despite having some overlap. Where Hegel is helpful, he's helpful. The origin of an idea has no bearing on its truth, a blatant 'genetic fallacy' as you well know. The best to way to demystify the ruling class ideas that permeate class society is not through a Wittgenstein ordinary language approach imo [in my opinion -- RL]. The problem is not some riddle created by language. That approach is, in fact, deflationary. It cannot 'do justice' the phenomena to be explained. Bringing in Kant and Aristotle is justified to an extent, but making them and the Scottish Enlightenment thinkers the center of influence on Marx's dialectic is like trying to stick a square into [a round?] hole imo. It's hard for me to take claims like that seriously. 

 

I'm writing a rather lengthy answer on Quora about "real abstractions"....to make good on my claim from our earlier discussion.

 

To which I responded:

 

Ok, thanks for that, MS.

 

MS: "I have not encountered many or maybe any of the authors from the "new reading" or value-form perspective on your site...Rubin, Backhaus, Rosdolsky, Murray, Smith, Reuten, Arthur, Postone, Heinrich, etc..."
 

I'm not sure where you got the idea that I support that interpretation of Das Kapital, since I do not. The only interpretation of Marx's classic that has impressed me of late is Rosenthal's, in his book, The Myth of Dialectics.


And you are right, I don't reject the received view of 'dialectics' because it comes from Hegel (although the fact that his 'dialectic' is just Christian and Hermetic mysticism writ large should give avowed materialists pause); I reject Hegel's entire system and so the received view of 'dialectics' enjoys no rational support (from Hegel or anywhere else, for that matter), and what is more, it features nowhere in Marx's classic. I have explained why Hegel's system is to be rejected, here (mercifully, this is one of my shortest essays):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Outline_of_errors_Hegel_committed_01.htm
 

I also reject the idea that Hegel in any way influenced Marx when he came to write Das Kapital; in fact, that book is a Hegel-free zone (upside down or 'the right way up'). Das Kapital still explains how capitalism works if we rely on his view of 'dialectics'.

 

I also take Marx's advice to heart -- Philosophy is another form of religious alienation:


"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold added.]


Abstraction is a distortion of language:


"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 added.]   
 

Hence we have to wave it 'goodbye':   
 

 "One has to 'leave philosophy aside'...one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality...." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.236.]
 

You can find the exact references for the above in my most successful Essay (which is apparently being referenced in scores of academic papers, or so the web monitoring site, Academia tells me), and that essay shows exactly why Wittgenstein's method carries on where Marx's left off:


http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/was_wittgenstein_a_leftist.htm  

 

Exchange #6 -- 15/11/2019:

 

MS:

 

Oh, I'm sorry, I guess I wasn't clear. Those authors represent the dialectical tradition support, not the DM you directly attack on the site; hence, "I have not encountered them on your site." I certainly don't think you support their reading!!!


I have not read The Myth of Dialectics. Hopefully I can get to it one day. 

 

There are general aspects of Hegel's method that Marx utilized in writing Capital, moving from the abstract to the concrete, simple to complex, essence to form of appearance. Marx's understanding of form and content is inextricably bound up with Hegel's, as well. I don't know how these facts can be denied by anyone, honestly. 


Bad abstractions are a distortion of language. Hypostatizing distinctions made in the mind into reality is a distortion (e.g., turning labour in general into wage labour). Or treating the existing economic categories as they currently exist under a historically determined social form as if they were eternal is a distortion (e.g., as JS Mill does with production). "One-sided" abstractions made by Ricardo are distortions (i.e., fixating on quantitative exchange relations, the magnitude of value, and ignoring its form). Proudhon organizing abstractions according to pre-made -- assumed to be Hegelian logic -- is a distortion. But that doesn't mean abstraction is a distortion. It simply means abstractions can be.


I do not disagree with you or Marx on the nature of philosophy. At the same time, I, as well as Marx, use it were it is useful.


Here's the link to the answer where I attempt to make good on my claim that real abstractions emerge from reality, as opposed to the minds of women and men (formal abstraction).

 

https://www.quora.com/Which-gives-you-a-better-understanding-of-Marxism-the-traditional-Marxist-analysis-or-value-form-theory/answer/

 

To which I replied:

 

Yes, I drew that conclusion when I read your recent Quora answer (yesterday) detailing your interpretation of Marx's Capital.

 

MS: "There are general aspects of Hegel's method that Marx utilized in writing Capital, moving from the abstract to the concrete, simple to complex, essence to form of appearance. Marx's understanding of form and content is inextricably bound up with Hegel's, as well. I don't know how these facts can be denied by anyone, honestly."
 

I disagree. I have covered these issues at length at my site.


In fact, I think I have shown that Das Kapital is a Hegel-free zone, except for a few jargonised expressions with which Marx merely wished to "coquette". Indeed, in the Postface to the second edition, Marx added a summary of 'the dialectic method', the only one he published and endorsed in his entirety life, which he says is "my method" and "the dialectic method", but in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found. Here is that passage, alongside my comments about it and other passages from the Postface (this is an except of part of my argument in Essay Nine Part One -- Added on Edit: this section has since been re-written):

 

Some readers might be tempted to point to the following passage from the Afterword to the Second Edition of Das Kapital in support of the idea that Marx was still working under Hegel's influence (but only if put 'the right way up') when he wrote that classic study:

 

"...I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added. I have used the punctuation found in MECW here.]

 

However, Marx's use of the word "coquetted" suggests that, at best, Hegel's Logic only exercised a superficial influence on his ideas, confined merely to certain "modes of expression", and limited to just a few sections of Das Kapital (i.e., "here and there").

 

[Again, contrast that with what Lenin said, and with what we are about to discover concerning Marx's view of "the dialectic method".]

 

Marxist dialecticians often take exception to that interpretation of the Afterword, arguing that all this "coquetting" was, on Marx's own admission, confined to the chapter on value, not the rest of the book. However, that response is far from conclusive.

 

First of all, the punctuation in MECW (reproduced above) suggests Marx was using the chapter on value as one example among many where he had "coquetted" with Hegel's ideas, but it wasn't the only one.

 

Second, it would be decidedly odd if Marx had "coquetted" with Hegelian jargon in the most important chapter of the book, but had done so nowhere else. Why pick on only the most important chapter to "coquette" -- i.e., play around -- with such allegedly important concepts?

 

Third, as far as Marx "openly" avowing himself a pupil of Hegel, he pointedly put that comment in the past tense:

 

"I criticised the mystificatory side of the Hegelian dialectic nearly thirty years ago, at a time when is was still the fashion. But just when I was working on the first volume of Capital, the ill-humoured, arrogant and mediocre epigones who now talk large in educated German circles began to take pleasure in treating Hegel in the same way as the good Moses Mendelssohn treated Spinoza in Lessing's time, namely as a 'dead dog'. I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Ibid., pp.102-03. Bold emphases added. Once more, I have reproduced the punctuation used in MECW.]

 

This is hardly a ringing endorsement; indeed, it is equivocal, at best. Marx didn't say that he was still a pupil of Hegel, but that he once was. Of course, it might have been true that he still counted himself a pupil of Hegel when the above was written, but there is nothing in the above to suggest that Marx viewed the link between his own and Hegel's work in the way Lenin had, or in the way that subsequent dialecticians have.

 

[Several letters that suggest Marx still counted himself as a 'pupil' of Hegel' were in fact written before the Afterword was published, so in this respect they aren't relevant.]

 

Of course, it is possible to call a theorist a "mighty thinker" and claim to have learnt much from her/him even while disagreeing with everything they had to say. For example, I think Plato is a "mighty thinker", but I disagree with 99.99% of his ideas.

 

John Rees attempted to neutralise the devastating conclusion that the extent of the influence on Marx of Hegel's Logic was no more than a few jargonised expressions with which Marx merely "coquetted", only "here and there", by arguing as follows:

 

"Remarkably, this last quotation is sometimes cited as evidence that Marx was not serious about his debt to Hegel and that he only or merely 'coquetted' with Hegel's phraseology, and that he really did not make any further use of the dialectic. That this interpretation is false should be obvious from this sentence alone. The meaning is clearly that Marx was so keen to identify with Hegel that he 'even' went so far as to use the same terms as 'that mighty thinker' not that he 'only' used those terms." [Rees (1998), p.100.]

 

Well, if that were so, why did Marx put his praise of Hegel in the past tense, and why did he immediately add the following?

 

"...[E]ven, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, [that he (Marx) had -- RL] coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added. Once more, I have used the punctuation found in MECW.]

 

This comment is reasonably clear: Marx himself -- not Rosanot Peter Struvenot James Burnhamnot Max Eastman... --, Marx himself says that he "coquetted" with Hegelian phraseology (hardly a serious use of the Logic!), and only in a limited number of places ("here and there"). So, far from merely "using" such terms, as Rees suggests, Marx in fact "coquetted" with them. Indeed, had his alleged "debt" to Hegel been plain for all to see, he wouldn't have expressed himself so equivocally or dismissively. [These days we would perhaps use 'scare quotes'.]

 

[As will soon become clear, the core HM ideas in Das Kapital owe much more to the 'dialectical method' developed by Aristotle, Kant and The Scottish Historical School (of FergusonMillar, Robertson, SmithHume, and Steuart) than they do to Hegel. On this, see Meek (1954). On Kant, see Wood (1998, 1999). On Marx and Aristotle, see McCarthy (1992) and Meikle (1995). On Aristotle's conception of 'dialectic', see Reeve (2001). (See also my comments at RevLeft, here and here; some of that material has been reproduced below.) For Aristotle's comments about his own 'dialectical method', see Appendix A. (Unfortunately, RevLeft is now almost totally defunct, so those links might not work!)]

 

[HM = Historical Materialism.]

 

It is now apparent that the ideas of these earlier dialecticians (Aristotle, etc.), coupled with the above comments (and more importantly, the content of the long passage quoted below), represent the "rational core" of Hegel's mystical theory -- in which it turns out that there is no (non-'coquetted') input from Hegel whatsoever in Das Kapital.

 

Hence, for Marx, to rotate Hegel and put him 'on his feet' is to reveal how empty his head really is -- the "rational kernel" contains not one atom of Hegel!

 

Some have pointed to Marx's own words -- where he refers to "the dialectic method" -- in order to counter the above allegations. The question is, of course: what did Marx himself --, not others -- what did Marx himself mean by that phrase?

 

Well, we needn't speculate. Marx very helpfully told us what he meant by it in that very same Afterword to the Second Edition. There, he quotes a reviewer in the following terms:

 

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

 

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

 

"Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Marx (1976), pp.101-02. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

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

 

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

 

In that case, and once more, Marx's "dialectic method" more closely resembled that of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School.

 

Notice, too: Marx isn't here referring to a "dialectic method", nor yet merely part or one aspect of "the dialectic method", but "the dialectic method". Even more significant, this is the only summary of "the dialectic method" Marx published and endorsed in his entire life.

 

Moreover, Marx's published words carry far more weight than do his unpublished musings. So, unlike the vast majority of Marx's epigones, I begin with this passage when I want to understand Marx --, since it tells us what Marx himself, not anyone else, what Marx himself considered his "method" to be -- and I interpret everything else Marx said about 'dialectics' in that light.

 

Mysteriouslythose who claim to be Marxists refuse to do this! In fact, they almost totally ignore both this passage and what Marx said about it. Indeed, many of them severely criticise me for paying any heed to it!

 

Others often point to the following passage in reply:

 

"My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea.' With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought." [Ibid., p.102. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link added.]

 

But, one can't get any more "opposite" to Hegel than to excise his ideas completely from one's own.

 

Again, we needn't speculate about this since the long passage above -- in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found, and which Marx's nevertheless calls "the dialectic method" -- supports the above interpretation. That is indeed so if we begin with this, the only summary of "the dialectic method" Marx published and endorsed in his entire life, and ignore the failed Engels/Plekhanov/Lenin tradition of interpreting Marx as an 'inverted Hegelian'.

 

[I will pass no comment here on Marx's ideas concerning "reflection"; I will, however, have something to say about them in Essay Twelve Part Four, when it is published.]

 

Still others point to the following remarks:

 

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

 

"In its mystified form, dialectic became the fashion in Germany, because it seemed to transfigure and to glorify the existing state of things. In its rational form it is a scandal and abomination to bourgeoisdom and its doctrinaire professors, because it includes in its comprehension and affirmative recognition of the existing state of things, at the same time also, the recognition of the negation of that state, of its inevitable breaking up; because it regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary." [Ibid., p.102.]

 

Of course, this leaves it open to interpretation what the "rational form" of the dialectic really is. But, and once again, if we rely on what Marx actually published, as opposed to what the failed Engels/Plekhanov/Lenin tradition would have us believe, then the long passage above reveals what that "rational form" actually is. As we have seen, it contains no Hegel at all, upside down or the 'right way up'. Indeed, as noted earlier, to turn Hegel "the right side up" is to show how empty his head really is!

 

But, what about this?

 

"The mystification which dialectic suffers in Hegel's hands, by no means prevents him from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner." [Ibid.]

 

To be sure, concerning "the dialectic", that doesn't prevent Hegel "from being the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner." What does prevent him is that Hegel wasn't the first -- Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School beat him to it. Indeed, they exercised a major influence on Hegel himself; he simply took their ideas and mystified them with a lorry load of Hermetic and Christian gobbledygook. Indeed, Hegel himself failed to present his readers with a "comprehensive and conscious" form of "the dialectic", as the long quotation above shows. There, Marx calls that summary -- but not Hegel's ham-fisted 'dialectic' -- "the dialectic method", despite the fact that it was a Hegel-free zone.

 

[In fact, it isn't possible to make sense of Hegel's 'method', so there can't be a "comprehensive and conscious" form of "the dialectic" if we allow his ideas back in through a side door. So, we can perhaps now see why Marx referred to the long passage above as "the dialectic method"; he did so since it contained not one single atom of Hegel.]

 

In that case, according to Marx's own endorsement -- not mine -- according to Marx, "the dialectic method" contains no vestige of Hegel!

 

Naturally, DM-fans are guaranteed to take exception to that conclusion, but in that case they should pick a fight with Marx, not me.

 

In fact, they most certainly do not like it. Witness the reception an earlier version of the above argument received at RevLeft (and elsewhere) -- here, here, here, and here. Nothing rattles their chains as much as this. It seems that reality is one thing dialectically-distracted comrades are completely averse to facing, still less confronting. Witness, too, another recent attempt to impose Hegel on Das Kapital, here. In those 'debates', I have responded to several objections in addition to those mentioned above, one or two of which might indeed have occurred to the reader. I don't intend to reproduce that material in this Essay, so interested readers are referred to the above debates for more details. The latest attempt to re-mystify Marx can be found here, in the comments section at the bottom. An even more recent example can be accessed here. [However, as noted in the Preface, several of these links no longer work.]

 

Hence, when we begin with Marx's own summary of "the dialectic method", we arrive at an entirely different interpretation of his words -- that is, we end up with a reading of them at variance with the traditional use that has been made of them. If Marx called something that contains no trace of Hegel whatsoever "the dialectic method" (note again: not "a dialectical method", or "part or one aspect of the dialectic method", nor yet "one man's take on the dialectic method", but "the dialectic method"), and which by implication represents the "rational core" of 'dialectics', then it can't be the case that Hegel was "the first to present its general form of working in a comprehensive and conscious manner." Again, why call such a summary -- the only one Marx published and endorsed in his entire life -- "the dialectic method", and "my method", if it contained absolutely no input from Hegel, unless Marx had abandoned Hegel by the time he came to write his masterpiece?

 

Of course, if we don't start from Marx's own description of his method (or, at least a description he endorsed), but from some other view of it concocted after he died, then we can hardly claim to have been faithful to his intentions.

 

It could be argued that the Grundrisse (i.e., Marx (1973)) is living disproof of many of the above allegations. Well, it would be had Marx seen fit to publish it -- but he didn'tso it isn't.

 

But, he did publish this:

 

"...I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added. Once more, I have used the punctuation found in MECW.]

 

Moreover, Marx added to Das Kapital the only summary of "the dialectic method" that he published and endorsed in his entire life, which is, as we have seen, a Hegel-free zone.

 

So, whatever it was that happened to Marx's thinking between the writing of the Grundrisse and his publishing the second edition of Das Kapital, it clearly changed his view of Hegel's Logic -- to such an extent that its jargon became something with which he merely wished to "coquette" --, or, to be more truthful, which he wanted almost totally to ignore.

 

Some critics of the above point to certain letters Marx sent to Engels and others, which seem to support the view that Marx still looked to Hegel as some sort of authority when he wrote Das Kapital. However, these letters aren't conclusive; the vast majority were written before the Afterword was published. More importantly, no unpublished work can countermand an author's published opinions. Once again, in Marx's case, that includes the only summary of "the dialectic method" he published and endorsed in his entire life (quoted earlier)in which there is no trace of Hegel whatsoever, upside down or 'the right way up'.

 

In several of these letters Marx does indeed speak about "the dialectic method" and "dialectics", but we now know what he meant by those words -- as the long quotation above tells us: his "dialectic method" owes absolutely nothing to Hegel, except for a few jargonised expressions with which he merely "coquetted", and even then only in a few places in Das Kapital -- i.e., "here and there", not "all the way through".

 

Of course, this doesn't mean that Marx's unpublished works aren't important, only that when it comes to interpreting an author, what he/she has published must take precedence.

 

Hence, if we rely only on what Marx actually published about "the dialectic method", and ignore the failed Engels/Plekhanov/Lenin tradition of ms-interpreting Marx, it is clear that Marx had turned his back on this 'mighty thinker' when he wrote Das Kapital.

 

[I find I have to keep repeating the above points since DM-fans develop selective blindness and tend to miss them otherwise. So, apologies are owed once more to readers who have to endure such repetition.]...

 

I then consider in detail a handful of passages from Volume One of Das Kapital itself to which comrades often point in support of the traditional interpretation of Marx's classic, and I show that none of them establishes what those comrades think they do. I won't reproduce that material here. I then add these remarks close to the end:

 

Once again, the above doesn't constitute cast iron proof that Marx didn't see eye-to-eye with other DM-fans (like those mentioned above) about there being a 'dialectic in nature', but it does throw the traditional interpretation of Das Kapital into considerable doubt.

 

In that case, unless supporters of the traditional view can produce a summary of "the dialectic method" written and published by Marx, contemporaneous with, or subsequent to, Das Kapital that supports the attempt to re-mystify his work, the thesis presented here must stand: Marx abandoned Hegel, root-and-branch, when he came to write his masterpiece. And, if that is the case, if "the dialectic method" in Das Kapital is a Hegel-free zone (upside down or 'the right way up'), then it is all the more obvious that he didn't accept the doctrine that there is a 'dialectic in nature' in his later years, either.

 

In that case, Lenin should have said:

 

"It is possible completely to understand Marx's Capital, and especially its first chapter, merely by coquetting with the phraseology of Hegel's Logic. Consequently, half a century later anyone who is capable of coquetting will understand Marx!!" [Edited misquotation of Lenin (1961), p.180.]

 

[Support for this reading of the relation between Marx, Lenin and Hegel has come from Louis Althusser's notorious article, 'Lenin Before Hegel' (reprinted in Althusser (2001)). I hasten to add that I don't agree with everything Althusser says in that essay (for example, I don't accept the "epistemological" break Althusser attributes to Marx -- Marx is plainly not interested in 'epistemology', an odd idea that Althusser and others have foisted on Marx). It is also worth noting that I have pushed this argument much further than Althusser ever would, or could. After all, he still thinks the word "contradiction" has some sort of 'dialectical' role to play in Marxist theory! In addition, he totally ignored what Marx had to say about Philosophy, and the "distorted" jargon and empty concepts philosophers like him employ.]

 

From here:

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2009_01.htm#Marx-And-DM--11

 

I have devoted two long essays at my site (Essay Three Parts One and Two) that totally debunk the mythical 'process of abstraction'; in addition I also show that Marx didn't actually use it -- in spite of a few passages that seem to suggest otherwise.

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_01.htm

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/page%2003_02.htm

 

MS: "Bad abstractions are a distortion of language. Hypostatizing distinctions made in the mind into reality is a distortion (e.g., turning labour in general into wage labour). Or treating the existing economic categories as they currently exist under a historically determined social form as if they were eternal is a distortion (e.g., as JS Mill does with production). 'One-sided' abstractions made by Ricardo are distortions (i.e., fixating on quantitative exchange relations, the magnitude of value, and ignoring its form). Proudhon organizing abstractions according to pre-made --assumed to be Hegelian logic-- is a distortion. But that doesn't mean abstraction is a distortion. It simply means abstractions can be."

 

In fact I manage to show that all such abstractions distort language. I won't go into details here since this reply is already far too long!

 

MS: "Here's the link to the answer where I attempt to make good on my claim that real abstractions emerge from reality, as opposed to the minds of women and men (formal abstraction)."

 

I am far from convinced you can successfully make that distinction based on what I read (yesterday). Abstractions don't leap out at us; they have to be apprehended somehow by human beings. In that case, the distinction between 'real' and 'formal' abstractions is, I think, a distinction without a difference. Again, I won't summarise my counter-arguments here (and for the above reasons).

 

Thanks for the link but as I said, I read that Quora answer yesterday. There is much in that answer with which I agree, but, again, much that I don't.

 

You might also like to read the exchange between Rosenthal and Tony Smith in Historical Materialism (Smith wrote a snotty review of Rosenthal's book in that journal).

 

Rosenthal, J. (2001), 'Hegel Decoder: A Reply To Smith's "Reply"', Historical Materialism 9, pp.111-51.

 

Smith, T. (1999), 'The Relevance Of Systematic Dialectics To Marxian Thought: Reply To Rosenthal', Historical Materialism  4, pp.215-40.

 

--------, (2002), 'Hegel: Mystic Dunce Or Important Predecessor? A Reply To John Rosenthal', Historical Materialism   10, 2, pp.191-205.

 

I don't know if Rosenthal responded a second time. Smith second reply is rather poor, in my view. I suspect Rosenthal didn't want to dignify it with a response.

 

Exchange #7 -- 18/11/2019:

 

MS:

 

Sorry for the slow response.

 

You:

 

"So, whatever it was that happened to Marx's thinking between the writing of the Grundrisse and his publishing the second edition of Das Kapital, it clearly changed his view of Hegel's Logic -- to such an extent that its jargon became something with which he merely wished to "coquette" --, or, to be more truthful, which he wanted almost totally to ignore."

 

I'd say, to his thinking, not much. His mode of expression changed. Why? Because the (Hegelian coquetted) A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy fell stillborn on the press in 1859. The reading public could not penetrate it. This undoubtedly impacted Marx's mode of expression (and hurt his feelings). The first edition of Capital Vol. 1 ch. 1, which is less Hegelian than the Critique, fell stillborn as well. In the second edition there is  even less "coquetting" with Hegel's mode of expression, but the movement of thought is the same, i.e., from the simple, abstract to the complex, concrete.

 

As I’m sure you know, Marx wrote an appendix to ch.1, Die Wertform, for the "non-dialectical" reader. Here's the back and forth between him and Fred [i.e., Engels -- RL]  in regards to it:

 

Fred [i.e., Engels]: "The second sheet especially bears rather strong marks of your carbuncles, but that cannot be altered now and I do not think you should do anything more about it in an addendum, for, after all, the philistine is not accustomed to this sort of abstract thought and certainly will not cudgel his brains for the sake of the form of value." (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1987, vol. 42, p.381)

 

He later goes on:

 

"In these more abstract developments you have committed the great mistake of not making the sequence of thought clear by a larger number of small sections and separate headings. You ought to have dealt with this part in the manner of Hegel’s Encyclopaedia, with short paragraphs, every dialectical transition marked by a special heading and so far as possible all excurses and mere illustrations printed in a special type. The thing would have looked rather like a schoolbook, but it would have been made much more comprehensible to a very large class of readers. For the people, even the learned section, are no longer at all accustomed to this kind of thinking and one must facilitate it for them in every possible way." (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1987, vol. 42, p.382)

 

On 22 June, Marx replied to Engels. He began by expressing the hope that "the bourgeoisie will remember my carbuncles all the rest of their lives," and continues later in the letter as follows:

 

"As to the development of the value-form I have and have not followed your advice, in order to behave dialectically in this respect as well; i.e. I have: 1. written an appendix in which I present the same thing as simply and pedagogically as possible, and 2. followed your advice and divided each step in the development into §§, etc. with separate headings. In the preface I then tell the 'non-dialectical' reader that he should skip pages x-y and read the appendix instead. Here not merely philistines are concerned but youth eager for knowledge, etc. Besides, the matter is too decisive for the whole book." (Marx and Engels Collected Works, 1987, vol. 42, p.385) [https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1867-c1/appendix.htm.]

 

The problem is not with the dialectic presentation, which is Hegel's "stripped of its mystical form."  The problem is with the difficulty of dialectics, in its mystical form or not. Marx clearly expressed his issues with Hegel from the mid-late 1840s on. But he never abandoned, despite modifying, Hegel's method of inquiry. He couldn't, if he wanted to remain a dialectician: "Hegel's dialectic is the basic form of all dialectic...." [Letters: Marx-Engels Correspondence 1868.]

 

You:

 

"I am far from convinced you can successfully make that distinction based on what I read (yesterday). Abstractions don't leap out at us; they have to be apprehended somehow by human beings. In that case, the distinction between 'real' and 'formal' abstractions is, I think, a distinction without a difference. Again, I won't summarise my counter-arguments here (and for the above reasons)."

 

The difference is that formal abstractions do not require a material process in order to be apprehended. All they require is an analytical brain capable of making distinctions. Individual commodities can be empirically observed in isolation from one another and then their "common features" can be brought to together by the formal abstractor. Value is a real abstraction because brute empiricism and analytical distinction is not enough. You cannot look at a commodity and determine whether or not it is a bearer of value. It presents itself to you as a sensuous thing, a use-value. To know if it is a use-value with a value, the commodity has to go through a material process "independent of the wills" of human beings. I think there is a distinction with a difference here.

 

I apologize if you have already, but can you get me to place where you make your pitch for the Aristotle-Kant-Scotsman dialectic?

 

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find those Smith-Rosenthal articles without paying $30 for them. Gotta give Rosenthal credit for the "Hegel Decoder" sobriquet. Pretty funny…..and accurate in a non-satirical way. Smith makes Hegel clear, at least to me.

 

To which I replied:

 

Since you ignored about 90% of my previous e-mail I don't think there is any point continuing this correspondence.

 

 

To which MS replied:

 

I'm sorry you feel that way. About 70% of your last email dealt with the importance of the "coquetted" comment from the Afterword. I quoted your conclusion and then offered an alternative explanation. You treat a mode of expression as if it were identical to a method of inquiry. The results of a method of inquiry can be expressed in different modes without any change to the method used to obtain said results. Any two expositors can express results, gained by using an identical method, differently. Marx never said what was of great use to him was Hegel's (ridiculous) mode of expression. He said: "What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel’s Logic..."

 

Had I bothered to respond to the above, I'd have said:

 

MS, you quote Marx's (unpublished) words:  -- "What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel’s Logic..." from over ten years earlier!

 

First, I am not denying that Hegel had been important to Marx, but he wasn't twelve years later when he came to publish Das Kapital. How do we know? Marx very helpfully added a summary of his "method" and "the dialectic method" (quoted earlier) in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found. And yet Marx still calls this "my method". So, clearly his "method" no longer included anything from Hegel, the opposite of what he said in 1858.

 

Second, although Marx's unpublished work is important, it can't take precedence over his published work. Marx did not publish that letter (from 1858), but he did publish that summary.

 

Our correspondence petered out after that, but we began another round on Quora (in the comments section), here:

 

https://www.quora.com/Why-was-Marx-not-a-fan-of-Hegel-Were-they-not-both-impressed-with-the-power-or-even-the-inevitability-of-dialectical-materialism/answer/Rosa-Lichtenstein

 

However, we merely covered familiar ground in those comments, still talking past one another. Several of the points I raised were left unanswered.

 

Exchange #8 -- 26/03/2020:

 

MS:

 

I just read over your last comment. I'll try to address some of the central points.

 

The issue with your so-called "smoking gun" from the 1873 Postscript is that it is more of a "smoldering gun." It has been interpreted in different ways by different readers. Some even take it as positive proof that Marx returned to Hegel. He clearly states that he resuscitated the dead dog when he was writing Capital even though it was unpopular to do so. At the same time, he clearly states that his method is different from Hegel's. One of the differences, not mentioned in the Postscript, is Marx's issue with the "presuppositionless" method of the "German School." This is a failure of idealism in that such a beginning for a scientific enquiry is too far removed from material reality to be explained. On the other hand, the crude empiricism of Adam Smith is unacceptable for being too materialistic and failing to analyze how the content of material reality takes place within a particular social form.

 

My point: The 1873 Postscript is not the knock down proof you want it be. It might be knock down proof for you. But you have an idiosyncratic reading that overemphasizes what you like and ignores what you don't. The charitable interpretation is that the Postscript is ambiguous towards Hegel, both complimentary and critical.

 

As far as the Russian's explication of "the dialectic[al] method" in the Postscript, it is referring to historical dialectics. Let’s look at it:

 

"The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it."

 

First, I must point out the author's appeal to the concept of necessity as a justification for the present social order and as a justification for the transition to the next -- via the historical dialectal of social forms. In the systematic dialectic of economic categories, transition occurs on the same model of necessity. I find it strange you (at least implicitly) heap praise on the Russian fellow for appealing to necessity and disdain on me for doing the same. Perhaps if this Russian chap and Marx were still alive today you could coach them up on the goddess Ananke (you know I'm an interminable  smartass…  please take my sh*t talking with a grain salt). [Link added -- RL.]

 

More importantly, this passage is referring to historical transitions or diachronic movements over time. Systematic dialectics, what I am defending, can be seen as a synchronic (immanent) critique of a specific social form of production and exchange. The two, historical and systematic, dialectal methods are related but different. The former sets the stage (or is the point of departure) for the latter, while the latter is a fine-grained explanation of the dominant social form in its current moment, which justifies the necessary movement of history to the next stage.

 

I don't have an issue with "the dialectic[al] method" qua historical dialects that the Russian articulates. Its language is a little deterministic, which I don't care for. And he paints a picture of the dialectical method more than he actual explains it. That is why I do not prop it up as the be all-end all of Marx's dialectical method in Capital, as you (seem to) do. All-in-all, it is a fair description, suitable for a Postscript.

 

What it clearly is not is an explanation of Marx's method of systematic dialectics, which Marx (insufficiently) lays out here: (3) The method of political economy. He explains why he omitted its publication here: Preface.

 

That’s why I'm "dismissive" of the Postscript in our comments. It misses the mark of what I'm defending.

 

As far as coquetting, there is a clear move away from Hegelian language in the Grundrisse and the Critique of Political Economy to the First German Edition of Capital to the French Edition. But there is no movement away from systematic dialectics. Marx would've needed to completely rewrite Capital Vol. 1 to enact the "root and branch" break with Hegel, as you claim. The all-too-human truth is that Marx was disappointed with the difficulty that readers were having with Capital and with the 1859 Critique before it, as proven by his letters to Engels and others during the time. This is the reason Marx stopped flirting with Hegel's language. But it doesn't change the fact that Hegelian logic is still all over the text…albeit more hidden as time went on.

 

You:

 

"He mentions members of the Scottish Historical School many more times than he mentions Hegel in his published and unpublished work (after the late 1840s), and Aristotle and Kant as many times as Hegel."

 

If I were not such a chivalrous gentleman, I'd say this claim was made in bad faith.

 

If you include Smith in the Scottish Historical School, yeah, I guess it's technically true. But I can produce 10 instances of Marx calling Smith some variation of an idiot for every single time Marx agrees with Smith. 

 

Aristotle probably gets equal mention to Hegel. I don't try to downplay the significant influence of The Philosopher on Marx (and Hegel). Both thinkers appeal to formal causality and have a realist ontology.

 

The references to Kant are more implicit, I think. There's a strong argument that the first three chapter as they pertain to the logic of simple circulation, which fails to capture the logic of capital circulation because of its pure formal character, is Kantian. But this demonstrates the inability to understand capital as the "automatic subject" through "Verstand" or finite thinking, i.e., it is not positive but a critical use of Kant. 

 

If you want to claim Kant influenced Marx in terms of historical dialectics, I'd need proof. Marx praises Pastor Richard Jones' understanding of history more than Kant's. 

 

I have to leave it there for now….

 

I now reply as follows:

 

MS: "The issue with your so-called 'smoking gun' from the 1873 Postscript is that it is more of a 'smoldering gun.'"

 

In fact, it is a signed confession which involved Marx handing over the said gun with his fingerprints all over it. He did that when he said the following:

 

"After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method...Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Quoted earlier on this page.]

 

There are several things worth underlining about this signed confession (the only one such that Marx published and endorsed in his entire life): Marx not only calls this "my method" -- not a "re-hash or reinterpretation of my method", but "the dialectic method". Furthermore, Marx doesn't say this is "one aspect" of "the dialectic method", or "one version of", "part of", or "view of" it, but "the dialectic method". Not "a dialectic method" but "the dialectic method". And since it has had Hegel completely excised and still remains "the dialect method" -- according to Marx, not me -- there isn't even a tiny crack for Dialectic Mystics to try to sneak Hegel back in (upside down or 'the right way up').

 

MS: "It has been interpreted in different ways by different readers. Some even take it as positive proof that Marx returned to Hegel. He clearly states that he resuscitated the dead dog when he was writing Capital even though it was unpopular to do so."

 

Of course it has, but given Marx's very plain language, we can now see how wildly inaccurate are those that still try to make Marx say the opposite of what he specifically ruled out -- i.e., Hegel's malign influence.

 

MS: "He clearly states that he resuscitated the dead dog when he was writing Capital even though it was unpopular to do so."

 

Ok, so let's have a look at where he said that (I note you failed to quote him, and we'll soon see why):

 

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

 

I covered this rather weak point at my site. Here it is again:

 

Some readers might be tempted to point to the following passage from the Afterword to the Second Edition of Das Kapital in support of the idea that Marx was still working under Hegel's influence (but only if put 'the right way up') when he wrote that classic study:

 

"...I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added. I have used the punctuation found in MECW here.]

 

However, Marx's use of the word "coquetted" suggests that, at best, Hegel's Logic only exercised a superficial influence on his ideas, confined merely to certain "modes of expression", and limited to just a few sections of Das Kapital (i.e., "here and there").

 

[Again, contrast that with what Lenin said, and with what we are about to discover concerning Marx's view of "the dialectic method".]

 

Marxist dialecticians often take exception to that interpretation of the Afterword, arguing that all this "coquetting" was, on Marx's own admission, confined to the chapter on value, not the rest of the book. However, that response is far from conclusive.

 

First of all, the punctuation in MECW (reproduced above) suggests Marx was using the chapter on value as one example among many where he had "coquetted" with Hegel's ideas, but it wasn't the only one.

 

Second, it would be decidedly odd if Marx had "coquetted" with Hegelian jargon in the most important chapter of the book, but had done so nowhere else. Why pick on only the most important chapter to "coquette" -- i.e., play around -- with such allegedly important concepts?

 

Third, as far as Marx "openly" avowing himself a pupil of Hegel, he pointedly put that comment in the past tense:

 

"I criticised the mystificatory side of the Hegelian dialectic nearly thirty years ago, at a time when is was still the fashion. But just when I was working on the first volume of Capital, the ill-humoured, arrogant and mediocre epigones who now talk large in educated German circles began to take pleasure in treating Hegel in the same way as the good Moses Mendelssohn treated Spinoza in Lessing's time, namely as a 'dead dog'. I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Ibid., pp.102-03. Bold emphases added. Once more, I have reproduced the punctuation used in MECW.]

 

This is hardly a ringing endorsement; indeed, it is equivocal, at best. Marx didn't say that he was still a pupil of Hegel, but that he once was. Of course, it might have been true that he still counted himself a pupil of Hegel when the above was written, but there is nothing in there to suggest that Marx viewed the link between his own and Hegel's work in the way Lenin had, or in the way that subsequent dialecticians have.

 

[Several letters that suggest Marx still counted himself as a 'pupil of Hegel' were in fact written before the Afterword was published, so in this respect they aren't relevant.]

 

Of course, it is possible to call a theorist a "mighty thinker" and claim to have learnt much from her/him even while disagreeing with everything they had to say. For example, I think Plato is a "mighty thinker", but I disagree with 99.99% of his ideas.

 

So, I am not surprised, MS, that you failed to quote Marx since he put his praise for Hegel in the past tense. And we already know that by the time he came to publish Das Kapital, he had abandoned that Christian Mystic, Hegel, root and branch.

 

How do we know? Marx cleared away all doubt when he added a summary of his "method" and "the dialectic method" which contained not one atom of Hegel. He even reduced Hegel to the literary equivalent of the Cheshire Cat (of Alice in Wonderland fame) by using a few Hegelian terms-of-art non-seriously, and only in a few places in his masterpiece.

 

It is usual to take an author's published thoughts over any they left unpublished, and, in addition, accept the precedence of their later comments over any from earlier in their writing career. Only those who seek to distort their ideas will reverse these protocols, ignore, or abandon them altogether. But that is precisely what we find is the case with those who seek to re-mystify and re-enchant Marx. Instead of beginning with the only summary of his "method" and "the dialectic method" Marx published and endorsed in his entire life, they refer us to published remarks from decades earlier, or comments Marx thought not to publish. Why is that? If they really want to know what Marx thought in his mature years, they wouldn't do that. [I have explored their real motives in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

MS: "At the same time, he clearly states that his method is different from Hegel's."

 

Again, I covered this point in Essay Nine Part One:

 

Others often point to the following passage in reply:

 

"My dialectic method is not only different from the Hegelian, but is its direct opposite. To Hegel, the life process of the human brain, i.e., the process of thinking, which, under the name of 'the Idea,' he even transforms into an independent subject, is the demiurgos of the real world, and the real world is only the external, phenomenal form of 'the Idea.' With me, on the contrary, the ideal is nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought." [Ibid., p.102. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link added.]

 

Of course, one can't get any more "opposite" to Hegel than to excise his ideas completely from one's own.

 

Again, we needn't speculate about this since the long passage above -- in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found, and which Marx nevertheless calls "the dialectic method" -- supports the above interpretation. That is indeed so if we begin with this, the only summary of "the dialectic method" Marx published and endorsed in his entire life, and ignore the failed Engels/Plekhanov/Lenin tradition of interpreting Marx as an 'inverted Hegelian'.

 

[I will pass no comment on Marx's remarks about "reflection" since MS didn't.]

 

MS: "My point: The 1873 Postscript is not the knock down proof you want it be. It might be knock down proof for you. But you have an idiosyncratic reading that overemphasizes what you like and ignores what you don't. The charitable interpretation is that the Postscript is ambiguous towards Hegel, both complimentary and critical."

 

Well, it won't be a 'knock-down proof' if you are determined to ignore the only summary of "the dialectic method" Marx published and endorsed in his entire life, will it? But for those of us who want to know what Marx himself thought (not what he can be made to say by those intent on re-mystifying his work), this signed confession is all the proof we need.

 

As far as ignoring "what I don't like" is concerned, I don't like to have irrelevant passages quoted at me by those who ignore Marx's own confession. I also don't like to see fellow Marxists look to that Mystical bumbler, Hegel, for theoretical inspiration, especially now we know Marx turned his back on him.

 

What I would like is for those who want to re-enchant Marxism to produce a summary of "the dialectic method" published and endorsed by Marx that is contemporaneous with, or subsequent to, the Postface to the Second Edition, that rehabilitates Hegel (upside down or 'the right way up'). Short of that, they are wasting their time.

 

Unfortunately for them, there isn't one, so they are wasting their time.

 

MS: "As far as the Russian's explication of "the dialectic[al] method" in the Postscript, it is referring to historical dialectics. Let’s look at it:

 

'The one thing which is of moment to Marx, is to find the law of the phenomena with whose investigation he is concerned; and not only is that law of moment to him, which governs these phenomena, in so far as they have a definite form and mutual connexion within a given historical period. Of still greater moment to him is the law of their variation, of their development, i.e., of their transition from one form into another, from one series of connexions into a different one. This law once discovered, he investigates in detail the effects in which it manifests itself in social life. Consequently, Marx only troubles himself about one thing: to show, by rigid scientific investigation, the necessity of successive determinate orders of social conditions, and to establish, as impartially as possible, the facts that serve him for fundamental starting-points. For this it is quite enough, if he proves, at the same time, both the necessity of the present order of things, and the necessity of another order into which the first must inevitably pass over; and this all the same, whether men believe or do not believe it, whether they are conscious or unconscious of it.'

 

"First, I must point out the author's appeal to the concept of necessity as a justification for the present social order and as a justification for the transition to the next -- via the historical dialectal of social forms. In the systematic dialectic of economic categories, transition occurs on the same model of necessity. I find it strange you (at least implicitly) heap praise on the Russian fellow for appealing to necessity and disdain on me for doing the same. Perhaps if this Russian chap and Marx were still alive today you could coach them up on the goddess Ananke...

 

"More importantly, this passage is referring to historical transitions or diachronic movements over time. Systematic dialectics, what I am defending, can be seen as a synchronic (immanent) critique of a specific social form of production and exchange. The two, historical and systematic, dialectal methods are related but different. The former sets the stage (or is the point of departure) for the latter, while the latter is a fine-grained explanation of the dominant social form in its current moment, which justifies the necessary movement of history to the next stage." [Link added.]

 

There are several points in the above that require comment:

 

MS: "First, I must point out the author's appeal to the concept of necessity as a justification for the present social order and as a justification for the transition to the next -- via the historical dialectal of social forms. In the systematic dialectic of economic categories, transition occurs on the same model of necessity."

 

Smuggling Hegelianisms back into that passage as proof that it is compatible with that mystic's ideas ('the right way up') after all is no more legitimate than it would be for someone to do the following to the Book of Genesis (in order to provide support for a 'Christian' form of Darwinism):

 

"And God said, 'Let the living creatures evolve from common ancestors by natural selection.' So God allowed the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, evolve according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, 'Be fruitful and maximise your offspring so that only those that produce the fittest adaptations survive.' And there was evening, and there was morning -- the fifth day." [Edited misquotation of Genesis Chapter One.]

 

There is nothing even remotely Hegelian in the passage Marx added to the Postface, and you are only able to claim the opposite by modifying what it has to say. You wouldn't have to do that if it were plain for all to see that it did indeed contain, or express, ideas unique to Hegel.

 

But, what about this?

 

MS: "I find it strange you (at least implicitly) heap praise on the Russian fellow for appealing to necessity and disdain on me for doing the same. Perhaps if this Russian chap and Marx were still alive today you could coach them up on the goddess Ananke...."

 

First of all, you will struggle long and hard and to no avail to find where I "heap praise on the Russian fellow for appealing to necessity", or even imply, vaguely suggest or hint it.

 

Second, I have nowhere passed comment on the validity of anything that that Russian reviewer had to say; I merely point out that Marx's endorsement of his words as "the dialectic method" shoots down in flames the many attempts that have been made since Marx died to mystify his masterpiece. That summary manages to do that independently of whether or not I accept as valid any of its ideas.

 

Third, as I have argued elsewhere on my site, I reject all theories that appeal to any form of "necessity", whether Marx, Hegel or anyone else endorses  that 'concept'. This incoherent carry over from Greek mysticism (as MS notes) is connected with that other bogus ruling-class doctrine, determinism -- on that, see the Appendix to Essay Thirteen Part Three.

 

Fourth, other theorists (whose 'dialectic' more closely resembled Marx's) also referred to necessity, so this 'concept' isn't something unique to Hegel. What you need to do is show that there are any ideas in that summary that were unique to Hegel.

 

What about this?

 

MS: "More importantly, this passage is referring to historical transitions or diachronic movements over time. Systematic dialectics, what I am defending, can be seen as a synchronic (immanent) critique of a specific social form of production and exchange. The two, historical and systematic, dialectal methods are related but different. The former sets the stage (or is the point of departure) for the latter, while the latter is a fine-grained explanation of the dominant social form in its current moment, which justifies the necessary movement of history to the next stage."

 

Maybe so, but you have yet to show that these (Hegelian) ideas are to be found anywhere in the summary.

 

MS: "I don't have an issue with 'the dialectic[al] method' qua historical dialects that the Russian articulates. Its language is a little deterministic, which I don't care for. And he paints a picture of the dialectical method more than he actual explains it. That is why I do not prop it up as the be all-end all of Marx's dialectical method in Capital, as you (seem to) do. All-in-all, it is a fair description, suitable for a Postscript."

 

Well, the important thing is not what you (or even I) think about that summary, but what Marx thought about it, and he was quite clear:

 

"After a quotation from the preface to my 'Criticism of Political Economy,' Berlin, 1859, pp. IV-VII, where I discuss the materialistic basis of my method...Whilst the writer pictures what he takes to be actually my method, in this striking and [as far as concerns my own application of it] generous way, what else is he picturing but the dialectic method?" [Quoted earlier on this page.]

 

Could he have been any clearer?

 

MS: "What it clearly is not is an explanation of Marx's method of systematic dialectics, which Marx (insufficiently) lays out here: (3) The method of political economy. He explains why he omitted its publication here: Preface.

 

Again, I covered this in Essay Nine Part One, and above (here it is again):

 

It could be argued that an earlier work, the Grundrisse (i.e., Marx (1973)), is living disproof of many of the above allegations. Well, it would be had Marx seen fit to publish it -- but he didn't, so it isn't.

 

But, he did publish this:

 

"...I therefore openly avowed myself the pupil of that mighty thinker, and even, here and there, in the chapter on the theory of value, coquetted with the mode of expression peculiar to him." [Marx (1976), p.103. Bold emphasis added. Once more, I have used the punctuation found in MECW.]

 

Moreover, Marx added to Das Kapital the only summary of "the dialectic method" that he published and endorsed in his entire life, which is, as we have seen, a Hegel-free zone.

 

So, whatever it was that happened to Marx's thinking between the writing of the Grundrisse and his publishing the second edition of Das Kapital, it clearly changed his view of Hegel's Logic -- to such an extent that its jargon became something with which he merely wished to "coquette" --, or, to be more truthful, which he wanted almost totally to ignore.

 

MS: "You treat a mode of expression as if it were identical to a method of inquiry. The results of a method of inquiry can be expressed in different modes without any change to the method used to obtain said results. Any two expositors can express results, gained by using an identical method, differently. Marx never said what was of great use to him was Hegel's (ridiculous) mode of expression. He said: 'What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel’s Logic...'"

 

As I noted earlier, too:

 

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

 

MS, you quote Marx's (unpublished) words:  -- "What was of great use to me as regards method of treatment was Hegel’s Logic..." -- from over ten years earlier!

 

First, I am not denying that Hegel had been important to Marx, but he wasn't twelve years later when he came to publish Das Kapital. How do we know? Marx very helpfully added a summary of his "method" and "the dialectic method" (quoted earlier) in which not one atom of Hegel is to be found. And yet Marx still calls this "my method". So, clearly his "method" no longer included anything from Hegel, the opposite of what he said in 1858.

 

Second, although Marx's unpublished work is important, it can't take precedence over his published work. Marx did not publish that letter (from 1858), but he did publish that summary.

 

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

 

MS: "That’s why I'm 'dismissive' of the Postscript in our comments. It misses the mark of what I'm defending."

 

Ok, well if you want to get Marx right you'll reject that unwise approach to his published thoughts, and maybe pay heed to what he thought it wise to endorse as his "method" and "the dialectic method"; however in place of that you prioritise his unpublished remarks from over a decade earlier. And it's clear why you do this: it is the only way to can 'justify' re-mystifying his ideas.

 

MS: "As far as coquetting, there is a clear move away from Hegelian language in the Grundrisse and the Critique of Political Economy to the First German Edition of Capital to the French Edition. But there is no movement away from systematic dialectics. Marx would've needed to completely rewrite Capital Vol. 1 to enact the 'root and branch' break with Hegel, as you claim. The all-too-human truth is that Marx was disappointed with the difficulty that readers were having with Capital and with the 1859 Critique before it, as proven by his letters to Engels and others during the time. This is the reason Marx stopped flirting with Hegel's language. But it doesn't change the fact that Hegelian logic is still all over the text…albeit more hidden as time went on."

 

Well, you have yet to show that that is the case. Moreover, you ignore Marx's very clear indication that he had turned his back on that logical and philosophical incompetent, Hegel, when he came to publish Das Kapital. Marx even told us that Hegelian jargon was only to be found in a few places in that book, and he that had used them non-seriously! In order to claim what you do above, you must either conclude Marx was lying or he didn't know what he was doing.

 

MS: "You:

 

'He mentions members of the Scottish Historical School many more times than he mentions Hegel in his published and unpublished work (after the late 1840s), and Aristotle and Kant as many times as Hegel.'

 

"If I were not such a chivalrous gentleman, I'd say this claim was made in bad faith.

 

"If you include Smith in the Scottish Historical School, yeah, I guess it's technically true. But I can produce 10 instances of Marx calling Smith some variation of an idiot for every single time Marx agrees with Smith. 

 

"Aristotle probably get equal mention to Hegel. I don’t try to downplay the significant influence of The Philosopher on Marx (and Hegel). Both thinkers appeal to formal causality and have a realist ontology.

 

"The references to Kant are more implicit, I think. There's a strong argument that the first three chapter as they pertain to the logic of simple circulation, which fails to capture the logic of capital circulation because of its pure formal character, is Kantian. But this demonstrates the inability to understand capital as the 'automatic subject' through 'Verstand' or finite thinking, i.e., it is not positive but a critical use of Kant." 

 

Again, there are several points in the above that require comment:

 

First, I can do without the patronising tone.

 

Second, I made that comment in all seriousness.

 

When I was debating this with dialecticians over at RevLeft ten years ago, I spent an entire afternoon going through all fifty volumes of MECW (I have the entire set on my shelves), and I counted the number of times he mentioned Hegel (after the late 1840s) and the number of times he mentioned Ferguson, Millar, Anderson, Hume, Smith and Stuart, and the latter won heads down. I published the results over at RevLeft, but unfortunately that site is now all but defunct, otherwise I'd post a link. I don't propose to do that count again, although some of that material has been reproduced below (and I suspect I'd get a different result if I did the same with the MEGA edition when it is finally finished); so if you doubt me, I'll just have to live with that.

 

Third, I never said his remarks were always positive about Smith, for instance; so even if he bad-mouthed him, he did that too with Hegel from time to time.

 

Fourth, I made no claims about the number of times Marx mentioned Kant, so I am not too sure why you mentioned him.

 

MS: "If you want to claim Kant influenced Marx in terms of historical dialectics, I'd need proof. Marx praises Pastor Richard Jones' understanding of history more than Kant's."

 

in relation to Kant, what I did say was this:

 

In that case, and once more, Marx's "dialectic method" more closely resembled that of Aristotle, Kant and the Scottish Historical School.

 

I would say that Aristotle and The Scottish School most definitely influenced Marx, but I'd be more cautious over Kant.

 

But, where I have said that Kant influenced Marx, since Kant heavily influenced Hegel, and since both were also heavily influenced by The Scottish Historical School (which also influenced Marx), a convincing case can be, and has been made that Kant exercised a profound influence on Marx (at least in this respect, over Historical Materialism). In earlier exchanges I pointed you in the direction of where I had entered into this, but it seems you didn't follow those links. Here is that material:

 

Marx made plain the influence of the Scottish School in the German Ideology (erroneously calling it "English"):

 

"The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry." [MECW 5, p.42.]

 

On this see Meek (1967), and Wood (1998, 1999) -- the latter of which underlines how influential Kant's work was in this area.

 

This is what I have posted at RevLeft on this topic (slightly edited -- I managed to save this before RevLeft went dead):

 

It is not I who called them this (i.e., "The Scottish Historical Materialists"), but others, mainly Marx and Engels.

 

"Ronald Meek, 'The Scottish Contribution to Marxist Sociology' [1954; collected in his Economics and Ideology and Other Essays, 1967.] Such luminaries as Adam Ferguson and Adam Smith. This influence was actually acknowledged. In The German Ideology, right after announcing their theme that 'men be in a position to live in order to be able to "make history", they say "The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry.'" [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

[I ought to point out that the author of the above is in fact hostile to Marx and Engels, but there is little available on the Internet at present on this topic.]

 

Meek actually calls them the "Scottish Historical School" (p.35), but he attributes this phrase to Roy Pascal (Communist Party member, friend of Wittgenstein and translator of The German Ideology), who used it in his article 'Property and Society: The Scottish Historical School of the Eighteenth Century', Modern Quarterly, March 1938.

 

The full passage reads as follows:

 

"Since we are dealing with the Germans, who are devoid of premises, we must begin by stating the first premise of all human existence and, therefore, of all history, the premise, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to 'make history.' But life involves before everything else eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is thus the production of the means to satisfy these needs, the production of material life itself. And indeed this is an historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today, as thousands of years ago, must daily and hourly be fulfilled merely in order to sustain human life. Even when the sensuous world is reduced to a minimum, to a stick as with Saint Bruno [Bauer], it presupposes the action of producing the stick. Therefore in any interpretation of history one has first of all to observe this fundamental fact in all its significance and all its implications and to accord it its due importance. It is well known that the Germans have never done this, and they have never, therefore, had an earthly basis for history and consequently never an historian. The French and the English, even if they have conceived the relation of this fact with so-called history only in an extremely one-sided fashion, particularly as long as they remained in the toils of political ideology, have nevertheless made the first attempts to give the writing of history a materialistic basis by being the first to write histories of civil society, of commerce and industry." [Quoted from here.]

 

In the Poverty of Philosophy, Marx also wrote:

 

"Let us do him this justice: Lemontey wittily exposed the unpleasant consequences of the division of labour as it is constituted today, and M. Proudhon found nothing to add to it. But now that, through the fault of M. Proudhon, we have been drawn into this question of priority, let us say again, in passing, that long before M. Lemontey, and 17 years before Adam Smith, who was a pupil of A. Ferguson, the last-named gave a clear exposition of the subject in a chapter which deals specifically with the division of labour." [MECW Volume 6, p.181. Spelling altered to conform with UK English.]

 

Marx refers to Ferguson repeatedly in his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (MECW Volume 30, pp.264-306), as he does others of the same 'school' (e.g., Adam Smith and Dugald Stuart) throughout this work.

 

He does so, too, in Volume One of Das Kapital -- MECW Volume 35: pp.133, 359, 366, 367.

 

[He also refers to other members of that 'school', e.g., Robertson, p.529, Stuart and Smith (however, the references to these two are far too numerous to list -- check out the index!).]

 

Indeed, throughout Marx's entire works, the references to Smith and Stuart are also too numerous to list.

 

Kant's influence is outlined in the following (I owe these references to Philip Gasper):

 

Wood, A, (1998), 'Kant's Historical Materialism' in Kneller and Axinn, Chapter Five.

 

--------, (1999), Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge University Press).

 

Kneller, J., and Axinn, S, (1998), Autonomy And Community: Readings In Contemporary Kantian Social Philosophy (State University of New York Press).

 

See also 'Ferguson and Hegel on the Idea of Civil Society' by Martha King -- as well as Kettler (2005).

 

[This comes from Essay Nine Part One, where you can find details of any of the references not fully detailed above in the Bibliography.]

 

As far as I am aware, this is still a heavily under-researched area of the origin of Historical Materialism, and that is because comrades are still fixated on Hegel.

 

 

 

Exchange #9 -- 29/04/2020:

 

Before I engage with MS once more, I need to underline how difficult it is arguing with fans-of-the-'dialectic'. Some will defend Engels's version of this 'theory'/'method', some will modify it, some will apply the 'dialectic' only to human development (but disagree with others exactly how that works out), others will apply it to both (and then disagree with others over that too)! They all claim they are faithfully representing Marx, and what he argued in Das Kapital, even though that isn't possible. They will berate me for criticising their specific version of this 'theory'/'method' as if I were criticising Marx himself. The overwhelming majority ignore what I have argued -- and many will act surprised when I point this out to them --, even though, in general, I pass comment on the vast bulk of what they argue. As I have pointed out in Essay One:

 

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

 

Trotskyists complain if I quote Stalin or Mao's writings; Maoists and Stalinists moan if I do likewise with Trotsky's (or even with "Brezhnev era revisionists"); non-Leninist Marxists will bemoan the fact that I haven't confined my comments to the 'dialectic' in Marx's work, or Hegel's, advising me to ignore the confused or "simplistic" work of Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Trotsky!

 

Of course, because these comrades haven't read my work, none of them know that I have in fact examined the work of A, B, C, D,..., W, X, Y and Z (and that includes Marx and Hegel -- as well as the work of others many of these comrades have never even heard of!). In fact, since most of the material dialecticians produce is highly repetitive (check out Essay Two for scores of examples!), this often means that reading A's work is tantamount to studying almost everyone else's, too!

 

However, the most common complaint on the Internet from academic, or quasi-academic, Marxists is that I have ignored more substantive theorists, such as Lukacs, Marcuse, Adorno, Habermas, Žižek, Ollman, and the like. [I have explained why I have done this, for example, here.] The work of several of these HCD-theorists will anyway be examined in later stages of this project. [Indeed, parts of Ollman's work have already been examined -- as have Marcuse's and Žižek's.]

 

MS:

 

I'm still unclear about your criticism of abstraction (at least as it relates to what I have to say). I've read over Essay Three multiple times.

 

Take this line for instance:

 

"At this point it is also worth adding that the usual justification for assuming that philosophical abstractions exist (somewhere?) -- that is, that they help philosophers and scientists account for general features of the world, and hence for our ability to understand nature -- in fact turns out to be the very thing that prevents them from doing this, as we will soon see." [Quoting me, form here.]

 

Abstraction is not used in this sense by Marx or any of the authors I reference. "General features of the world" is not what we (Marx and gang) are talking about when we say we're abstracting. We are talking about a very specific, historically determined society where wealth takes the form of an immense collection of commodities. Abstraction helps us understand this society, not general features of the world, nature, or society.  

 

Lenin's nonsense is nonsense. Like freshman level bad philosophy. Read Jairus Banaji's essay "From Commodity to Capital: Hegel's Dialectic in Marx's Capital." He criticizes Lenin's proposition "John is a man" no less than you, but for not understanding Hegelian logic. Lenin is no authority on Hegel. He had literally just read Hegel once. So when Lenin says something like:

 

"Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other."

 

he is deeply confused. Marx, following Hegel, does not separate essence (value) from appearance (money). That is impossible, if the point is to explain either essence or appearance. Marx demonstrates how value must appear as money, the necessary form of appearance of value. Appearance is essential to essence. Value does not exist without money. There's no way to "counterpose one to the other" [e.g., value (essence) to money (appearance)-MS]. Marx starts with the most abstract conception of value and concretizes it. In this sense, value becomes real in unison with its form appearance, not in separation from it. When Marx abstracts the value aspect of the commodity from the use-value aspect of the commodity in the first pages of Capital, he is not "separating the essence from the appearance." Within a single commodity, the use-value aspect is not the appearance of the essence (value) that gets abstracted away. Value does not appear in a single commodity. That is impossible. Value appears in the use-value of another commodity, money. Nowhere in Capital does Marx separate money (appearance) from value (essence) by abstracting. He does the exact opposite. [Sent via e-mail]

 

 

My reply to the above is as follows.

 

MS: "I'm still unclear about your criticism of abstraction (at least as it relates to what I have to say). I've read over Essay Three multiple times."

 

That isn't surprising since MS actually read the Summary of Essay Three Part One, which is about 5% of the length of Essay Three Part One. That's like reading Marx's Wages, Price and Profit and thinking you had read Das Kapital. [And no, I am not comparing myself to Marx, just making the point that an introductory Essay, written for those who find the main Essays too difficult or too long, can't be viewed as a definitive version of my ideas.] I even say this at the top of each such Essay, and I highlight it in bold, like this:

 

This is an Introductory Essay, which has been written for those who find the main Essays either too long or too difficult. It doesn't pretend to be comprehensive since it is simply a summary of the core ideas presented at this site. Most of the supporting evidence and argument found in each of the main Essays has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments in full, should consult the Essay for which this is a summary. [In this particular case, that can be found here.]

 

My case against abstractionism is presented at length in Essay Three Parts One and Two (which have a combined length of 250,000 words). MS hasn't read these Essays, so it is hardly surprising he fails to understand my criticisms of this ancient, time-worn and defective theory, abstractionism.

 

As I have pointed out above, I don't blame MS for not reading those two Essays; their length alone is daunting enough (combined, they are the equivalent of a 500 page book!), but if MS wants to debate this topic with me, that  is what he'll need to do, otherwise we are both wasting each other's time. I am certainly not going to reproduce here, in these replies, tens of thousands of words from where I enter into this topic in PhD level detail and complexity, and triple PhD length. I will, however, quote several sections (long and short) from those Essays when I think they might be helpful, or I'll post links to where I cover a given topic in more detail.

 

MS: "Take this line for instance:

 

'At this point it is also worth adding that the usual justification for assuming that philosophical abstractions exist (somewhere?) -- that is, that they help philosophers and scientists account for general features of the world, and hence for our ability to understand nature -- in fact turns out to be the very thing that prevents them from doing this, as we will soon see.' [Quoting me, from here.]

 

"Abstraction is not used in this sense by Marx or any of the authors I reference. 'General features of the world' is not what we (Marx and gang) are talking about when we say we're abstracting. We are talking about a very specific, historically determined society where wealth takes the form of an immense collection of commodities. Abstraction helps us understand this society, not general features of the world, nature, or society." 

 

MS will search long and hard and to no avail for anywhere in my Essays where I allege this of Marx. What I am speaking about in the above paragraph is the ancient philosophical theory of abstraction, and I am summarising there about forty thousand words found in both Essays. MS needs to remember that I am dealing there with the classical DM-theory of abstraction (found in Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and countless 'lesser' DM-clones since), not the sanitised version found in the work of Academic Marxists.

 

Having said that, it is also clear that these academic dialecticians are applying their sanitised version of this ancient theory (cleared of all the DM-crudities one finds in the work of  Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and the aforementioned 'lesser' DM-clones). As MS himself says, this antiseptic version has been applied to "a very specific, historically determined society where wealth takes the form of an immense collection of commodities. Abstraction helps us understand this society, not general features of the world, nature, or society." But, it is the same defective theory, only now applied to a much narrower slice of "the general features of the world". If the method is defective at source, it is irrelevant where, or to what, it is applied. Error doesn't evaporate when its focus is narrowed.

 

Of course, we have no idea what Marx meant by his use of this mythical process since he failed to tell us. Sure, he wrote a few vague things about 'abstraction', but as I have pointed out in Essay Three Parts One and Two (MS might be operating under the false belief that I haven't read Marx on this topic -- in fact I quote him at length in these two Essays, these being just two examples where I quote Marx on 'abstraction'):

 

As dialecticians themselves tend to argue: a reference to (and use of) general terms ('concepts'?) in the pursuit of knowledge is also required since neither science nor dialectics can rely solely on "surface appearances" or "immediate experience". The idea seems to be that while the latter might relate to, or temporarily shape, our initial view of things, philosophical and scientific knowledge both seek to locate and integrate nature and society's underlying law-governed "essences" by the use of further and more refined abstractions (or generalisations), subsequently tested in practice.

 

These ideas can be found in Marx's expressed opinions, too:

 

"[S]cience would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956.]

 

"It would seem right to start with the real and concrete, with the actual presupposition, e.g. in political economy to start with the population, which forms the basis and the subject of the whole social act of production. Closer consideration shows, however, that this is wrong. Population is an abstraction if, for instance, one disregards the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn remain an empty phrase if one does not know the elements on which they are based, e.g. wage labour, capital, etc. These presuppose exchange, division of labour, prices, etc. For example, capital is nothing without wage labour, without value, money, price, etc. If one were to start with population, it would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and through closer definition one would arrive analytically at increasingly simple concepts; from the imagined concrete, one would move to more and more tenuous abstractions until one arrived at the simplest determinations. From there it would be necessary to make a return journey until one finally arrived once more at population, which this time would be not a chaotic conception of a whole, but a rich totality of many determinations and relations.

 

"The first course is the one taken by political economy historically at its inception. The 17th-century economists, for example, always started with the living whole, the population, the nation, the State, several States, etc., but analysis always led them in the end to the discovery of a few determining abstract, general relations, such as division of labour, money, value, etc. As soon as these individual moments were more or less clearly deduced and abstracted, economic systems were evolved which from the simple [concepts], such as labour, division of labour, need, exchange value, advanced to the State, international exchange and world market.

 

"The latter is obviously the correct scientific method. The concrete is concrete because it is a synthesis of many determinations, thus a unity of the diverse. In thinking, it therefore appears as a process of summing-up, as a result, not as the starting point, although it is the real starting point, and thus also the starting point of perception and conception. The first procedure attenuates the comprehensive visualisation to abstract determinations, the second leads from abstract determinations by way of thinking to the reproduction of the concrete.

 

"Hegel accordingly arrived at the illusion that the real was the result of thinking synthesising itself within itself, delving ever deeper into itself and moving by its inner motivation; actually, the method of advancing from the abstract to the concrete is simply the way in which thinking assimilates the concrete and reproduces it as a mental concrete. This is, however, by no means the process by which the concrete itself originates. For example, the simplest economic category, e.g. exchange value, presupposes population, population which produces under definite conditions, as well as a distinct type of family, or community, or State, etc. Exchange value cannot exist except as an abstract, one-sided relation of an already existing concrete living whole.

 

But as a category exchange value leads an antediluvian existence. Hence to the kind of consciousness -- and philosophical consciousness is precisely of this kind -- which regards the comprehending mind as the real man, and only the comprehended world as such as the real world -- to this consciousness, therefore, the movement of categories appears as the real act of production -- which unfortunately receives an impulse from outside -- whose result is the world; and this (which is however again a tautology) is true in so far as the concrete totality regarded as a conceptual totality, as a mental concretum, is IN FACT a product of thinking, of comprehension; yet it is by no means a product of the self-evolving concept whose thinking proceeds outside and above perception and conception, but of the assimilation and transformation of perceptions and images into concepts. The totality as a conceptual totality seen by the mind is a product of the thinking mind, which assimilates the world in the only way open to it, a way which differs from the artistic-, religious- and practical-intellectual assimilation of this world. The real subject remains outside the mind and independent of it -- that is to say, so long as the mind adopts a purely speculative, purely theoretical attitude. Hence the subject, society, must always be envisaged as the premiss of conception even when the theoretical method is employed.

 

"But have not these simple categories also an independent historical or natural existence preceding that of the more concrete ones? Ça dépend. [That depends -- RL.] Hegel, for example, correctly takes possession, the simplest legal relation of the subject, as the point of departure of the philosophy of law. No possession exists, however, before the family or the relations of lord and servant are evolved, and these are much more concrete relations. It would, on the other hand, be correct to say that families and entire tribes exist which have as yet only possession and not property. The simpler category appears thus as a relation of simpler family or tribal associations with regard to property. In a society which has reached a higher stage the category appears as the simpler relation of a developed organisation. The more concrete substratum underlying the relation of possession is, however, always presupposed. One can conceive an individual savage who has possessions; possession in this case, however, is not a legal relation. It is incorrect that historically possession develops into the family. On the contrary, possession always presupposes this 'more concrete legal category'. Still, one may say that the simple categories express relations in which the less developed concrete may have realised itself without as yet having posited the more complex connection or relation which is conceptually expressed in the more concrete category; whereas the more developed concrete retains the same category as a subordinate relation.

 

"Money can exist and has existed in history before capital, banks, wage labour, etc., came into being. In this respect it can be said, therefore, that the simpler category can express relations predominating in a less developed whole or subordinate relations in a more developed whole, relations which already existed historically before the whole had developed the aspect expressed in a more concrete category. To that extent, the course of abstract thinking which advances from the elementary to the combined corresponds to the actual historical process." [Marx (1986), pp.37-39. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases alone added. capitals in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. This passage will be examine in more detail in Part Two.]

 

"Beginnings are always difficult in all sciences. To understand the first chapter, especially the section that contains the analysis of commodities, will, therefore, present the greatest difficulty. That which concerns more especially the analysis of the substance of value and the magnitude of value, I have, as much as it was possible, popularised. The value-form, whose fully developed shape is the money-form, is very elementary and simple. Nevertheless, the human mind has for more than 2,000 years sought in vain to get to the bottom of it all, whilst on the other hand, to the successful analysis of much more composite and complex forms, there has been at least an approximation. Why? Because the body, as an organic whole, is more easy of study than are the cells of that body. In the analysis of economic forms, moreover, neither microscopes nor chemical reagents are of use. The force of abstraction must replace both. But in bourgeois society, the commodity-form of the product of labour -- or value-form of the commodity -- is the economic cell-form. To the superficial observer, the analysis of these forms seems to turn upon minutiae. It does in fact deal with minutiae, but they are of the same order as those dealt with in microscopic anatomy." [Marx (1996), pp.7-8. Bold emphasis added. I have modified the first sentence to agree with the Penguin edition since it reads much better.]

 

In fact, Marx doesn't actually do what he says he does in the above passages; he merely gestures at it, and his gestures are about as substantive as the hand movements of stage magicians. This isn't to disparage Marx. Das Kapital is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written; but it would have been an even more impressive work had the baleful influence of Traditional Thought been kept totally at bay. [Yes, I know the first quotation above is from the Grundrisse, not Das Kapital!]

 

What Marx actually achieved was putting familiar words to use in new ways, thus establishing new concepts that enabled him to understand and explain Capitalism with startling depth and clarity. Anyone who reads the above passage can actually see him doing this. They don't need to do a brain scan on Marx (even if he were still alive!), nor apply psychometric tests to follow his argument -- or, indeed, re-create these alleged 'abstractions', which they would have to do if the 'process of abstraction' were something we all do privately in our heads. And, they certainly don't have to copy Marx's supposed moves -- and they most certainly can't copy them, for Marx failed to say what he had actually done with the concepts/words he employed, or how he had 'mentally processed' them (if in fact he had done so!). Indeed, his 'instructions' describing how to abstract the "population" are even less useful than John Lennon's famous remark that to find the USA you just had to turn left at Greenland. Hence, no one could possibly emulate Marx here since there are no usable details -- which, of course, suggests that Marx didn't in fact do what he thought he had done, or proposed to do, otherwise, careful thinker that he was, he would have spelt them out. More significantly, no one since has been able to reconstruct these mythical 'mental' moves, or show that their own weak gesture at applying this method is exactly the same as the one used by Marx -- or even that it yields the same results as those allegedly achieved by Marx (as noted earlier).

 

In fact, it is quite apparent from the above passage that Marx had forgotten about his own refutation of this very process! [On that, see here, and again in the next sub-section, below.]

 

Of course, none of this is surprising. As we have seen, abstractionists become rather hazy when it comes to supplying the details of this mysterious 'process'; that is why, after 2400 years of this metaphysical fairy-tale having been spun -- over and above the sort of vague gesture theorists like Ollman offer their readers --, no one seems able to say what this 'process' actually is!

 

By way of contrast, the actual method Marx employed (as noted above: we can actually see him doing this on the page -- i.e., indulging in an intelligent and novel use of language) is precisely how the greatest scientists have always proceeded. In their work, they construct arguments in an open arena, in a public language -- albeit this is often accompanied by a novel use of words --, which can be checked by anyone who cares to do so. This can't be done with Ollman's mythical "mental constructs".

 

Short of accessing the alleged 'mental processes' that Marx is supposed to have 'used', MS can't possibly know what Marx did (or even if he actually did anything at all in his head in this regard), nor can any of the other academic dialecticians to whom MS alludes.

 

But, we don't need to know what went on in Marx's head; all we need do is read the very material words he committed to paper (and draw a polite veil over his use of the word "abstraction", rather like we ignore Newton's appeal to God and measurements of the Great Pyramid of Giza in support of his theory of gravitation).

 

The problem with 'abstraction' conceived in the way that MS does was pointed out by Bertell Ollman in his study of Marx's ideas on this topic (quoted earlier (but slightly edited with a few new paragraphs added), which MS just ignored, even though it torpedoes this aspect of 'systematic dialectics' well below the waterline):

 

Unfortunately, it is impossible for you [MS], or anyone else, to check these 'abstractions' -- even if they could be formed (which I question, too). You have no idea whether your hidden 'abstractions' are the same as anyone else's, never mind whether they are the same as Marx's. No good appealing to the words you or he use, since, given this theory, those words depend for their meaning on a further layer of 'abstractions', which can't be checked either. An appeal to memory would be to no avail here, too, since memories are also supposed to make use of 'abstractions' which would themselves be subject to the very same searching doubts. There is in fact no way to break into this 'abstractive circle', no way to check it or them. So, for all you knowfor all anyone knows, Marx's 'abstractions' could be completely different from yours, and yours could change from moment to moment. You have no way to check. But, that isn't the case with words expressed in a public domain, and that is why I keep referring to common nouns, not these mythical 'abstractions'.

 

The above is in fact an application of Wittgenstein's 'Private Language Argument' (which I develop in detail in Part Two), which exposes a fatal flaw in the traditional theory of abstraction (and the account of 'abstraction' given in dialectics), a factor Bertell Ollman noticed (but which he has so far failed to resolve). Here is what I had to say about this point in Part Two:

 

Furthermore, even if there were clear or plausible answers to such questions, another annoying 'difficulty' would block our path: it would still be impossible for anyone to check these abstractions to see if they tallied with anyone else's -- or, for that matter, ascertain whether or not they had 'abstracted' them right. In fact, the word "right" can gain no grip in such circumstances -- since, as Wittgenstein pointed out, whatever seems right will be right. But for something to be right it needs to be checked against a standard that isn't dependent on the subjective impression of the one judging. But, there is no such standard. Given this theory, everyone's notion of a cat will be private to each individual abstractor. They have no way of checking their abstractions with those of anyone else, which means, of course, there can be no standard abstract cat to serve as an exemplar, and hence nothing by means of which anyone's abstractions can be deemed right. Later in this Essay I will be pointing out the following in relation to Andrew Sayer's and Bertell Ollman's 'theory of abstraction':

 

True to form, Andrew Sayer's attempt to characterise this 'process' [of 'abstraction'] reveals that he, too, thinks it is an individualised, if not private skill in relation to which we all seem to be 'natural' experts:

 

"The sense in which the term ['abstract' -- RL] is used here is different [from its ordinary use -- RL]; an abstract concept, or an abstraction, isolates in thought a one-sided or partial aspect of an object. [In a footnote, Sayer adds 'My use of "abstract" and "concrete" is, I think, equivalent to Marx's' (p.277, note 3).]" [Sayer (1992), p.87. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

As is the case with Ollman, and, indeed, everyone else who has pontificated about this obscure 'process', we aren't told how we manage to do this, still less why it doesn't result in the construction of a 'private language'.

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself pointed out:

 

"What, then, is distinctive about Marx's abstractions? To begin with, it should be clear that Marx's abstractions do not and cannot diverge completely from the abstractions of other thinkers both then and now. There has to be a lot of overlap. Otherwise, he would have constructed what philosophers call a 'private language,' and any communication between him and the rest of us would be impossible. How close Marx came to fall into this abyss and what can be done to repair some of the damage already done are questions I hope to deal with in a later work...." [Ollman (2003), p.63. Bold emphases added.]

 

Well, it remains to be seen if Professor Ollman can solve a problem that has baffled everyone else for centuries -- that is, those who have even so much as acknowledged it exists!

 

It is to Ollman's considerable credit, therefore, that he is at least aware of it.

 

[In fact, Ollman is the very first dialectician I have encountered (in over thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'! Be this as it may, I have devoted Essay Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for more details.]

 

Of course, none of this fancy footwork would be necessary if Ollman recognised that even though Marx gestured in its direction, Historical Materialism doesn't need this obscure 'process' (that is, where any sense can be made of it) -- or, indeed, if he acknowledged that Marx's emphasis on the social nature of knowledge and language completely undercuts abstractionism.

 

Naturally, this means that this process can't form the basis of 'objective' science (and that remains the case even if we substitute "idealisation" for "abstraction"). Plainly, that is because (i) No one has access to the results of anyone else's 'mental machinations' (or idealisations), (ii) There appear to be no rules governing the production of these abstractions --, or, indeed, governing the entire 'process' itself --, and, as we have just seen, (iii) There is no standard of right, here.

 

By way of contrast, in the real world agreement is achieved by the use of publicly accessible general terms already in common use, words that were in the vernacular long before a single one of us was a twinkle in our (hypothetical) ancestral abstractors' eyes.

 

[That is, of course, just a roundabout way of saying that "abstraction" is a highly misleading euphemism for subjective, uncheckable idiosyncratic classification.]

 

It would be interesting to see how you, too, propose to escape from the solipsistic dungeon into which this theory has deposited you.

 

Seventeen years later and we are still waiting for Ollman's solution. I am not holding my breath...

 

Several weeks later we are still waiting for MS's solution, or even some recognition that this is a problem.

 

MS: Lenin's nonsense is nonsense. Like freshman level bad philosophy. Read Jairus Banaji's essay "From Commodity to Capital: Hegel's Dialectic in Marx's Capital." He criticizes Lenin's proposition "John is a man" no less than you, but for not understanding Hegelian logic. Lenin is no authority on Hegel. He had literally just read Hegel once. So when Lenin says something like:

 

"Here already we have the elements, the germs, the concepts of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say: John is a man, Fido is a dog, this is a leaf of a tree, etc., we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other."

 

he is deeply confused. Marx, following Hegel, does not separate essence (value) from appearance (money). That is impossible, if the point is to explain either essence or appearance. Marx demonstrates how value must appear as money, the necessary form of appearance of value. Appearance is essential to essence. Value does not exist without money. There's no way to "counterpose one to the other" [e.g., value (essence) to money (appearance) -- MS]. Marx starts with the most abstract conception of value and concretizes it. In this sense, value becomes real in unison with its form appearance, not in separation from it. When Marx abstracts the value aspect of the commodity from the use-value aspect of the commodity in the first pages of Capital, he is not "separating the essence from the appearance." Within a single commodity, the use-value aspect is not the appearance of the essence (value) that gets abstracted away. Value does not appear in a single commodity. That is impossible. Value appears in the use-value of another commodity, money. Nowhere in Capital does Marx separate money (appearance) from value (essence) by abstracting. He does the exact opposite.

 

In fact, as I have shown (here and here), Hegel's use of "The rose is red" is no less lame Philosophy. The rest of what MS says reads into Marx's work ideas that aren't there. I have challenged MS before to prove there are such things as "essences" to begin with, but he has yet to rise to that challenge. In Essay Three Part Two (here), I have also criticised the traditional distinction drawn between 'appearance' and 'essence'/'reality' (one of the "ruling ideas" of the ruling class), which MS and Lenin both take for granted. Again, I don't intend to repeat that material here.

 

MS also sent me a document that entered into the 'process of abstraction' in more detail (I have reproduced it in full in the Appendix):

 

Let me clarify a few points about the nature of abstractions. For Marx, the term delineates a mental process undertaken by thinking subjects. He did not feel the need justify this procedure epistemologically or metaphysically by offering a theory of truth. Marx thought thoughts happened in that thinking box between the ears called 'the mind.'

 

In his own words:

 

"[T]he method of arising form the abstract to the concrete is the only way in which thought appropriates the concrete, reproduces it as the concrete in the mind." (Grundrisse, pg. 101)

 

Tying this claim to failed philosophical attempts to justify "the mind" and, thereby, turning this into an epistemological, metaphysical, or linguistic debate over the nature of a "thinking box" called "the mind" is a cheap philosophical trick. Marx is not some grad school student defending a theory of truth. He is giving a critique of political economy. Thus, he simple takes it for granted that mental functions occur in our heads, instead of in our stomachs or hearts, and gets on with the business of critiquing. I sleep well at night with the same commonplace understanding of thoughts occurring "in the mind," even if I know (as Marx knew) that such a "place" cannot be given a proper philosophical defense. Thought reproduces the concrete "in the brain" expresses the same thing as thought reproduces the concrete "in the mind."

 

First, I devoted no little space in Essay Three Part One to showing that this is indeed what Marx and subsequent dialecticians mean by the mythical process of 'abstraction', but other than a few vague gestures, we aren't told how this process actually works, or how it avoids the problems raised by Ollman (which were quoted earlier). Once more, I went over this in detail in both Parts of Essay Three. I also spent much time in Essay Thirteen Part Three taking apart the traditional and metaphysical Platonic/Christian/Cartesian theory of 'the mind' that both Marx and MS accept, just as I also heavily criticised the idea that thinking takes place in our heads. I am not going to reproduce here the 100,000+ words I devoted to that topic!

 

Second, whenever comrades raised such issues with me over at RevLeft, and criticised my (Wittgensteinian) attempt to turn this into a "linguistic debate" I pointed out that they had made the mistake of using language to make that very point! I then encouraged them to try to make the same point but avoid using any language this time. Oddly enough, none of them took me up on that challenge. I am now happy to extend it to MS. [His failure to do so will perhaps convince him that this is an issue over the use of language.]

 

I next quoted Marx's words at the above comrades:

 

"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 alone added.]

 

Marx not only identifies thought with language he recommends we avoid the sort of obscure jargon philosophers use -- since it is based on abstraction, which distorts reality (not only have subsequent Marxist dialecticians studiously ignored this, but Marx himself forgot about it in later work!) -- and he recommends we return to using ordinary language. I have followed that very Wittgensteinian suggestion in all my work, and have explored it in this respect in Essay Thirteen Part Three (link above), where I show that our ordinary use of language actually prevents us drawing such metaphysical conclusions about 'the mind', 'thought' and the brain.

 

MS: My point: Abstraction is a kind of thinking. Imagining is a kind of thinking. Planning is a kind of thinking. Remembering is a kind of thinking. All of these mental functions are similar. All are different modes of thinking appropriate to different forms of thoughts. Abstractions, in particular, are abstractions from the way the material world immediately presents itself to us as thinking beings. Neither Marx nor I are making a "dogmatic imposition" when we say that abstraction is the kind of thinking appropriate to the analysis of economic forms (Capital, pg. 90) and, then, proceed by abstracting.  If I said planning is the kind of thinking appropriate to the analysis of grocery shopping, would you accuse me making the "dogmatic imposition" of planning, that is, if I hadn't already justified planning philosophically?

 

This is indeed a "dogmatic imposition" because the details are consistently omitted and it is merely asserted that this is what we all supposedly do when no evidence or argument is offered in support -- and when the serious difficulties this approach faces are simply ignored as if they weren't there, or as if anti-abstractionists (like the young Marx, or the mature Wittgenstein) had nothing to say about this mythical process. Here are just a few of the serious problems I have pointed out in Essay Three (both Parts):

 

As we shall also see, the nature of this mysterious 'process' is difficult to describe, even if you believe in it. [Several examples of DM-theorists trying to explain this mysterious 'process' are given above and in Appendix B.]

 

Here are just a few of the serious problems it faces:

 

(1) If the 'process of abstraction' is indeed a 'mental activity', how would it be possible for each abstractor to know if they had arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or, indeed, anything in particular? Indeed, the notion that there could be a 'correct' abstraction loses all meaning if there is no way to check. With what, or with whom, could any of the supposed results be checked? Since this 'process' is supposed to take place in 'the mind', no one would have access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor would each abstractor have access to the 'abstractions' they produced only a few moments earlier. An appeal to memory would be to no avail since memories are also supposed to make use of abstractions, which would themselves be subject to the very same doubts. There is in fact no way to break into this 'abstractive circle', no way to check.

 

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail, either. Again, if each abstractor 'processes' their 'abstractions' in the privacy of their own heads, no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of the relevant words (or the relevant 'concepts' -- like "Substance", "Being", "Nothing", "The Population", "abstract labour", etc.) drawn from the vernacular, or elsewhere. Definitions would be no help, either, since, just like memory, they also employ 'abstractions' -- so, they would also be subject to the same awkward questions. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she has processed without access to her/his 'mind'? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is 'the meaning' of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means (even if meanings could be established that way). No particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny (as those who accept this theory intend, not as I have criticised it -- so I am not contradiction my claim that these abstractions are really the Proper Names of abstract particulars). That being so, the same 'difficulties' would confront the general terms supposedly used in any definition used to that end, and so on...

 

And, it is even less use appealing to the 'logic of concepts', which drives 'thought' along, as, say, a staunch follower of Hegel might attempt to do. Not only is it unclear what Hegel's terminology actually means (any who doubt this might like to try to explain, say, these passages), but even if all he had ever said were crystal clear, since he was the first to concoct this 'dialectical process', 'thought' can't inevitably be driven along these lines -- otherwise we wouldn't have needed Hegel to deliver the good news to us. Of course, it could be argued that he was the first to reveal what we all somehow manage to do without realising it, or, even, that he revealed what 'the speculative philosopher' does, or should do, whether or not he/she realises it, too. [Or, to be more honest, this is what Hegel, or anyone else who has swallowed his ideas, gestures at doing, by doling out page-after-page of the 'correct' jargon.] Naturally, this just labels the problem, it doesn't constitute an effective response.

 

I will, however, postpone replying to this particular riposte until Part Two of this Essay (some of which has been reproduced below).

 

Until then it is sufficient to note that 'thought' can only take this route if we are prepared to accept without question the logical, classical, and Hegelian blunders outlined in this Essay (here and here, as well as here and here); in which case, such 'thought' deserves all the confusion it attracts to itself as a result.

 

Moreover, even if abstractions were arrived at in a 'more law-like way' -- as the 'mind' tries to grapple with scientific knowledge, ŕ la Hegel --, it would still be unclear how any one mind could possibly check the 'abstractive' results of any other in order to ascertain whether or not either or both of them had arrived at the same Ideal result. Indeed, how could anyone trapped in a Hegelian world of internally processed, 'Jackson Pollock-like Concepts' decide if they even meant the same by the word "same", for goodness sake!

 

 

Figure Four: Stop Press! At Last, An Accurate Representation Of Hegel's 'System'

Has Been Discovered In The Basement Of An Art Gallery In Minsk

 

As Marx noted:

 

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975a), p.60. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

This is an inner process which is in principle impossible to check, even by the one doing the processing!

 

Finally, it is even less use responding (as some have done) that we have to assume such things otherwise we would be faced with a yawning chasm of extreme scepticism. That is because the theory itself implies extreme scepticism, as Essay Ten Part One has shown.

 

(2) If, as some versions of this theory appear to imply, abstractions are produced by some sort of subtractive process -- as more and more specific features are disregarded, indeed, as Marx himself noted (re-posted below) -- in order to derive increasingly general terms, exactly who decides which parts should be subtracted first, second or third? For example, do we start by abstracting a cat's whiskers, its curiosity or its purr? Do we ignore its position or its number? And, if all of this is processed 'in the mind', who is to say that everyone does exactly the same things to exactly the same subtracted parts, in the same order or in the same manner as anyone else?

 

In answer to this objection, one DM-theorist tells us the following:

 

"Abstraction is the mental identification, singling out of some object from its connections with other objects, the separation of some attribute of an object from its other attributes, of some relation between certain objects from the objects themselves. Abstraction is a method of mental simplification, by which we consider some one aspect of the process we are studying. The scientist looks at the colourful picture which any object presents in real life through a single-colour filter and this enables him to see that object in only one, fundamentally important aspect. The picture loses many of its shades but gains in clarity. Abstraction has its limit. One cannot abstract the flame from what is burning. The sharp edge of abstraction, like the edge of a razor can be used to whittle things down until nothing is left. Abstraction can never be absolute. The existence of content shows intrinsically in every abstraction. The question of what to abstract and what to abstract from is ultimately decided by the nature of the objects under examination and the tasks confronting the investigator. Kepler, for example, was not interested in the colour of Mars or the temperature of the Sun when he sought to establish the laws of the revolution of the planets." [Spirkin (1983), p.232. Bold emphases and link added.]

 

But, concerning the example to which Spirkin refers, it wasn't the object (Mars) that decided "what to abstract and what to abstract from", it was Kepler who did. And, if this 'process' takes place in the 'mind' -- since it is "a method of mental simplification" -- all the problems outlined above (and below) will simply reassert themselves.

 

Naturally, if 'abstractions' are cobbled-together by a process of generalisation, or law-like development, then these questions will still apply, but in this case perhaps in reverse order.

 

(3) The actual process of mental subtraction is difficult to conceive, too. When we ignore the various parts of the objects we are supposedly performing this trick upon, is it like some sort of mental striptease? But, if we take away too much, how might we know whether the rest of this ceremony has been performed on the same 'mental' object with which we began? While we might all start with, say, a chaffinch, after its feathers, beak, claws, colour, song, wings, size and number have been stripped away, how might we distinguish the amorphous blob left behind from a similarly processed Axolotl? Or, someone's grandmother? Or, indeed, the Crab Nebula? Of course, if its number has been 'abstracted', we won't even be able to do that, will we? If we can't distinguish two such chaffinches from one such (number having been sent to the benches), we certainly won't be able to distinguish one chaffinch from two, or, indeed, one chaffinch from one Axolotl.

 

Of course, abstractionists are never quite this crude; they restrict themselves to rather more well-behaved "concepts", "categories" or refined "ideas", those they trust to 'reason', or better still, to 'dialectical'/'speculative' thought. But, these shadowy beings are even more obscure. Does, therefore, the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog have legs, a head and a stomach full of worms? If not, then we might wonder if this concept genuinely applies to him. If it does, we might wonder even more what the difference between him and his 'concept' is. If there is none, then Kermit would be no less Ideal. On the other hand, if there is a difference, how do we know this 'concept' belongs, or even applies, to Kermit?

 

Worse still, any conclusions drawn about the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog, or indeed amphibians in general, would apply to that 'concept', not to its supposed slimy external correlate. This would seem to be the case unless we are now to suppose that, just like a Black Magic Doll, whatever we do to the 'concept', we do to the real object it is said to reflect or represent. Of course, Idealists might not be able to distinguish reality from illusion, anyway, but materialists would be unwise to stumble into that dense fog alongside them -- or, indeed, adopt a 'philosophical' technique that can't in the end tell fact from fancy, or frog from fog....

 

And how exactly does one dissect a concept? Do concepts possess an 'objective' anatomy, which any rank amateur can slice, dice, poke or prod? Are there manuals we can consult, instruction books we can check, experts we may e-mail or engage with on Facebook?

 

To be sure, the Traditional Tale is deeply engrained in our culture -- you will even find psychologists who assure us that we can all construct or apprehend "abstractions" in the intimate confines of our skulls, even if they go rather quiet (or indulge in hand waving) when asked to fill in the details -- indeed, to such an extent that experience has taught me to avoid questioning this mythical 'process' in polite company or risk being treated like someone who has just confessed to murder.

 

[That comment is especially true of debates with Marxist dialecticians, zealous defenders of Traditional Jargon and the ruling-class thought-forms that gave them life. This is just the latest example of such 'radical' conservatism.]

 

Here is Marx's argument debunking this approach to 'abstraction:

 

"Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction -- for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis -- presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that if you leave out of account the limits of this body, you soon have nothing but a space -– that if, finally, you leave out of account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction the only substance left is the logical categories. Thus the metaphysicians, who in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core….

 

"Just as by means of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition -- purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things...." [Marx (1978), pp.99-100. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Nevertheless, this Emperor has no clothes, abstract or concrete; indeed, there isn't even so much as a drop of blue blood in 'his' veins -- as both halves of this Essay seek to demonstrate.

 

Worse still: there isn't even an Emperor -- clothed or naked!

 

This ruling idea has been sat on its Epistemological Throne for long enough; time to wheel out a very material guillotine and do 'an Oliver'.

 

 

And the following is from Essay Three Part Two:

 

Yet More Headaches For Dialecticians

 

Traditional 'solutions' to these bogus philosophical 'problems' -- "bogus" because, in the 'West', they had originally been based on a class-motivated misconstrual of a small and unrepresentative grammatical feature of Indo-European grammar (as we saw in Part One of this Essay and in Essay Two) -- traditional 'solutions' only succeeded in creating two further 'difficulties'.11

 

Oddly enough, both of these 'difficulties' re-surfaced in a modified form in the DM-theory of 'abstraction', as we are about to find out.

 

Induction And The Social Nature Of Knowledge

 

In Traditional Philosophy, the first of these subsequently came to be known as the "Problem of Induction. This involves the (presumed) theoretical possibility that future events might fail conform to what would ordinarily be expected of them -- or, to put this another way, they might fail to be constrained by the conceptual straight-jacket the 'mind' had hitherto intended for them.12

 

This 'problem' is based on the assumed fact that generalisations about the future course of nature, when they rely solely on how certain objects, processes or events have behaved in the past, can't provide a deductively sound basis for the inference that future objects, processes, or events will always behave in the same way. Or, more generally, that the course of nature will remain the same (howsoever that is understood). So, for example, just because water has always frozen at a certain temperature, that doesn't mean that it will always freeze at that temperature (that is, even if that water has the same level of purity, and is cooled at normal atmospheric pressure throughout, etc., etc.). Or, to use David Hume's example, just because bread has always nourished those who consume it, that doesn't imply that it always will. In that case, there is no contradiction in supposing it won't.

 

"All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, relations of ideas, and matters of fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of geometry, algebra, and arithmetic, and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

 

"Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind." [An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Part I. Link added. Some paragraphs merged.]

 

This idea is brought out rather well by the following:

 

"But there is a price to be paid for this new methodology. About a hundred years after Bacon, Hume (1711-1776) pointed out the problem.

'The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body of such sensible qualities was, at that time, endued with such secret powers: But does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems nowise necessary.' [This passage is taken from Part II of Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and can be accessed here -- RL.]

"If we want to be very careful and not lump things into the same category, if types are not real, if the only real things are particular individuals, then there are no general truths about bread. We can describe the colour, shape, texture, taste and so on of this piece of bread, but if the general kind 'bread' isn't real, then whatever I learn about this piece of bread won't help me learn anything about the next piece of bread. That is the crucial usefulness of real types: if 'cat' is a real type, and not simply a nominal type, then whatever I learn about this particular cat will help me understand all cats. I can learn and know something about how to cure a problem with your cat if I have studied other cats, as long as they are identical in nature. If there is no reality to their unity as cats, then every new particular is just a new thing, and we can learn about it only by studying it; nothing else we study can possibly help us. So the existence of universals turns out to have a very profound impact on scientific methodology and epistemology." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; spelling modified to agree with UK English. Links added.]

 

[I hasten to add that the above doesn't represent my opinion; I am merely making a point about the traditional approach to this topic. Where Hume went wrong was to overlook the fact that if something that is assumed to be bread fails nourish us (all things being equal!), we would have good reason to question whether it was indeed bread.]

 

However, as we have seen, traditional 'answers' to the 'problem of Universals' only succeeded in transforming it into another 'problem' involving Abstract Particulars, which, of course, may or may not behave the same way tomorrow as they have done today. Although these Abstract Particulars might be Ideal --, 'Heavenly Creatures' of some sort, 'mental entities', or, indeed, something else -- there is no guarantee that even if they faithfully tow the line today they will do so tomorrow.

 

Some might argue that these are changeless abstractions (although it isn't too clear that a dialectician can consistently champion that response), but even if that were so, the words used to express that very idea aren't, and there is no guarantee that they will mean the same in the future as they have done in the past -- or even that our memory of these abstractions will even remain the same....

 

In short, an appeal to 'Universals' is no help at all if they, too, turn out to be particulars, which, because of that, can't guarantee their own future behaviour without another menagerie of 'Universals' to do it for them, and so on ad infinitem.

 

Of course, any theory that has been based on the Heraclitean Flux (as is the case with the theories dialecticians come out with) has only succeeded in sinking itself even deeper in the mire, for if there is indeed a universal flux, the future can't resemble the past! And what is worse, the word "resemble" can't even 'resemble' itself!

 

[The 'relative stability' argument, that is often offered in reply, has been neutralised here.]

 

This 'problem' partly originates in the mistaken belief that scientific theory itself delivers a special sort of truth. When that idea is abandoned (i.e., that scientific theories are the sorts of things that are capable of being either true or false), a solution to the 'problem' of induction soon suggests itself. [Notice the word "theory" here. I am not impugning scientific facts -- to state the obvious, facts aren't the same as theories. These rather controversial claims will be substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Nevertheless, let us pose this 'problem' more acutely, pushing it a little further than is usually the case: Since both the flow of ideas 'in the mind' (even those 'in the brain' of an Über-Rationalist, like Hegel) and the sensations that accompany them are also events, 'subjective' experience can't avoid being thrown into irredeemable doubt concerning the future behaviour of even these 'mental events'.

 

In that case, but only if we accept this crazy family of theories, our experience of anything that has yet to occur (and this also includes our own future thoughts) might fail to 'resemble' what they had been, or seemed to have been, in the past. Even the nature of our sensations and ideas could alter from moment to moment. If we experience an idea now as an idea of a certain sort, it could be experienced or thought of as something totally different tomorrow, even though it might prove impossible to say right now what that might be -- either because we haven't the language available to do it, or because that language might itself change before we managed to utter or think anything at all.

 

Recall, 'abstractions' were invented to provide philosophical -- or even scientific -- stability to the deliverances of the senses. They were supposed to help provide a secure foundation for knowledge, a basis that transcended the particular and ascended to the general, and which was far superior to ephemeral, contingent, transient facts based on experience or 'appearances'. However, if we now have to appeal to 'Universals' ('Concepts', 'Categories', 'Principles', 'Ideas' or 'Rules'), all of which have been privately processed, in order to guarantee that the aforementioned changes won't happen, then, because these 'abstractions' are particulars, too, they are clearly no help at all. That is because these 'Universal' particulars (for want of a better term!) are subject to the very same doubts about their own future behaviour that already weigh against ordinary material particulars -- again, only if we insist on addressing this 'problem' on traditional lines. In that case, no particular -- abstract or concrete -- can secure a single general conclusion about the future behaviour of other objects, events and processes --, or even about themselves. There are no self-certifying ideas to be had here, given this way of conceiving this 'problem'.

 

Worse still: any 'solution' to this 'problem' (should one ever be found!could itself be experienced as a non-solution the very next day -- especially if we are foolish enough buy into the Heraclitean Flux.

 

Naturally, expressed in this way, and in relation to the thoughts of theorists who are happy to employ the language and concepts of Traditional Philosophy, any attempt to solve the 'problem' of how the present 'binds' the future has already lost its way. In fact, as should now seem obvious, phrases like "The present" and "The future" are particulars, too (or, they 'refer' to Abstract Particulars), and as such they possess neither the brain nor the brawn to extricate any who think along these lines from this sceptical quagmire.

 

And, therein lies a clue to the dissolution to this family of 'problems': reject this entire way of talking as incoherent non-sense.

 

Not even the anti-materialist, Aristocratic Philosophers who invented it could make head or tail of it.

 

As we now know -- mainly because it was exposed in Part One of this Essay -- the original source of these 'difficulties' was a syntactical blunder committed by Ancient Greek metaphysicians, logicians and grammarians. In which case, the above dissolution of over two millennia of wasted effort recommends itself.

 

That is why Wittgensteinians have no need of a philosophical theory in their endeavour to deflate the countless balloonfulls of hot air ruling-class hacks have been inflating for over two thousand years; those theories self-deflate when (i) The source of that hot air is switched off, and (ii) A very real, very sharp, very materialist pin is introduced into the equation.

 

So, if any single 'mind' is capable of experiencing only a finite number of exemplars from which it has to piece-together the general ideas later attributed to it, subsequent experience could always refuse to play ball, metaphysically 'rebelling', as it were.

 

In that case, the future might fail to resemble the past in any meaningful sense. Not only might the Sun fail to rise (tomorrow), but cats might even refuse to walk about on mats, they could even turn into them. And Hegel might even begin to make sense.

 

Of course, as noted above, some philosophers have argued that these 'difficulties' could easily be neutralised if the mind was capable of gaining direct access to these 'abstract' ideas (Real Universals, General Concepts or Categories, etc.), which were supposed to be fully capable of regimenting contingent nature (or, at least, the 'impressions' the senses sent its way), so that the future was guaranteed to resemble the past -- or, at least, resemble our previous experience and knowledge of the past.

 

However, in order to control these potentially 'rebellious' ideas (and, indeed, our ideas of them), something a little more robust was called for than Locke's Social Contract, or Hume's feeble habitus. Ancient Greek notions concerning an ordered Cosmos -- a limited Whole, a doctrine concocted at a time when Idealist theories like this seemed to make some sort of sense to the ruling-class hacks who dreamt them up --, didn't translate at all well into the socially-fragmented, bourgeois world of the 18th century. Indeed, those ancient dogmas were themselves threatened on a daily basis by these seemingly unruly material particulars.

 

As noted aboveDavid Hume attempted to solve this 'problem' by an appeal to the habits of the mind (hence my use of the word "habitus"), which supposedly induced in us certain expectations about the future based on past experience. Clearly, this rather vague notion is susceptible to the rather disconcerting challenges set out above, as Hume himself acknowledged. This is quite apart from the fact that once it is allowed that any series of events in this universe is subject to such a sceptical onslaught, it is difficult to see how these 'habits of the mind' can themselves emerge unscathed.

 

The abandonment of the 'logical' or necessary connection between a Universal and its Particulars, which took place in the High Middle Ages (with the rise of Nominalism -- but the cracks were already forming in the Ancient World in the work of post-Aristotelian theorists, the Nominalists merely prised these fissures wide enough for all to see), introduced radical contingency into Traditional Theories of nature and society. This development wasn't, of course, unconnected with the decline of the power of the Papacy as Feudalism began to unravel, giving way to early forms of the market economy.

 

Rationalist Philosophers (like Spinoza and Leibniz) attempted to repair the damage these 'revisions' had inflicted on the 'Rational Order'. To that end, they devised a series 'necessitarian' theories of their own that attempted to provide a logical connection between a given substance and its 'accidents', its properties. Unfortunately, these theories were themselves predicated on the same old "ruling ideas" -- i.e., on (i) The unsupported dogma that 'reality' is 'rational', and (ii) The doctrine that fundamental 'truths' about 'reality' could be derived from thought alone.

 

[On the general background to this, see, for example, Copleston (2003a, 2003b, 2003c).]

 

Here is how I have made a similar point in Essay Eleven Part Two -- in a consideration of certain aspects of Christian Fundamentalism and 'Intelligent Design', but it seems relevant to one of the main themes of this Essay:

 

There is an excellent summary of the two main avenues theists have taken in their endeavour to conceive of the relationship between 'God' and 'His' creation, in Osler (2004), pp.15-35. [Not unexpectedly, these neatly mirror the tensions that plague the dialectical account of nature and society, too.]

 

Here follows a summary of the relevant parts of Osler's thesis (with a few additional comments of my own thrown in for good measure):

 

Traditionally, there were two ways of conceiving 'God's' relation to material reality: (a) 'He' is related to it by necessity, as an expression of 'His' nature, and (b) 'He' is related to it contingently -- as an expression of 'His' 'free will'.

 

If (a) were the case, there would be a logical connection between the properties of created beings and their 'essence' -- i.e., the logical core of each being, which is either an expression of its unique nature, or of the 'kind' to which it belongs. In turn, this would be a consequence of the logical or conceptual links that exist between 'creation' and 'God's Nature'. If that weren't the case, it would introduce radical contingency into creation, undermining 'God's Nature' and/or 'His' control of 'Creation'. As a result language and logic must constitute reality (why that is so is outlined here).

 

[Also worth pointing out is the fact that super-truths like this -- about fundamental aspects of 'reality' -- may only be accessed by means of speculative thought.]

 

This means that all that exists is either (i) An expression of the logical properties inherent in 'God', or (ii) An emanation from 'God'. That is, material reality must be logically 'emergent' from, and hence connected with, the 'Deity'. So, the universe 'issues' forth from 'His' nature 'eternally' and a-temporally, outside of time, since 'He' exists outside of time. Everything must therefore be inter-linked by 'internal', or 'necessary', relations, all of which were derived from, and constituted by, 'concepts' implicit in 'God', which are also mirrored in fundamental aspects of creation. This idea is prominent in Plotinus and subsequent Neo-Platonists, like Hegel.

 

Given this approach, the vast majority of 'ordinary' human beings can't access, nor can they comprehend, this 'rational' view of 'reality'; their lack of knowledge, education -- or even 'divine illumination' -- means that, at best, they misperceive these 'logical properties' as contingent qualities. Hence, for them, appearances fail to match underlying "essence". Naturally, this implies that "commonsense" and ordinary language are 'fundamentally unreliable'.

 

Now, where have we heard all that before?

 

(b) On the other hand, if 'God' acted freely when 'He' created the world -- that is, if 'He' wasn't acting under any form of 'compulsion', logical or conceptual -- i.e., because of the logical properties inherent in 'His' nature -- then there would be no logical or necessary connection between 'The Creator' and 'His Creation' -- nor, indeed, between each created being. Every object and process in reality will therefore be genuinely contingent, and appearances will no longer be 'deceptive', since appearances can't mask the hidden, esoteric 'essences' mentioned above, for there are none. If so, there are no synthetic a priori truths (as these later came to be called), ascertainable by thought alone. The only path to knowledge was through observation, experiment, and careful study of the 'Book of Nature'. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the foundations of modern science were laid in the Middle Ages largely by theorists who adopted this view of 'God' -- for example, Jean Buridan.

 

[Copleston (2003c), pp.153-67, Crombie (1970, 1979), Grant (1996), Hannam (2009), Lindberg (2007).]

 

In post-Renaissance thought, the 'necessitarian' tradition surfaced in the work of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Hegel; the 'voluntarist' tradition reappeared in an attenuated form in the work of Newton, the Empiricists, and the so-called "mechanists", who stressed the connection between 'God's' free will and contingency in nature, alongside the primacy of empirical over a priori knowledge and the superiority of observation and experiment over speculation and abstract theory.

 

[To be sure, the above categories are rather crude; for example, Descartes was a mechanist, but his theory put him on the same side of the fence as Spinoza and Leibniz, whereas Gassendi was also a mechanist, but his ideas aligned him with the voluntarists. On this, see Copleston (2003d).]

 

Now, when, for example, Fundamentalist Christians look at nature and see design everywhere, they also claim to see 'irreducible complexity' -- the handiwork of 'God' -- and they either put this down to 'His' free creation, or they see it as an expression of logical properties imposed on nature by the Logos (depending, of course, on how they view the nature of 'The Creator' and 'His' relation to the world).

 

Christian mechanists saw design in nature, too, but their theories became increasingly deistic, and later atheistic. The introduction of a contingent link between 'God' and nature severed the logical connection that earlier theorists had postulated, making "the God hypothesis" seem increasingly redundant.

 

[On this, see Lovejoy (1964). There is also an excellent account of these developments in Redwood (1976). Also see Dillenberger (1988). A classic expression of these developments can be found in the debate between Leibniz and Clarke. Cf., Alexander (1956), and Vailati (1997).]

 

Much of this controversy had been provoked, however, by the work of the Medieval Nominalists, whose theories also sundered the logical link between a substance and its properties, as part of a reaction to the tradition begun by Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, with his separation of 'essence' and 'existence' in created beings), Averroës (Ibn Rushd), and the so-called "Latin Averroists" (e.g., Siger of Brabant). The latter argued strongly in favour of Aristotle's doctrine of natural necessity, undermining 'God's' free will -- at least, so far as the Roman Catholic Church saw things. This reaction was also prompted by philosophical worries about the nature of transubstantiation and the relation between the 'essence' of the emblems (the bread and the wine in the Eucharist) and their 'accidents' (their apparent properties).

 

The aforementioned reaction was occasioned by the 'Condemnations of 1277', whereby the Bishop of Paris, Étienne Tempier, condemned 219 propositions, among which was the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle -- particularly the idea that the created order was governed by logical necessity. The most important response to these condemnations appeared in the work of the Nominalist, William of Ockham, who, as a result, stressed the free will of 'God' and thus the contingent nature of the world. For Ockham, this meant that there were no 'essences' in nature, nor were the apparent properties of bodies (their 'accidents') logically connected with their 'nominal essence' (as this later came to be called by Locke).

 

[On this, see Osler (2004), Copleston (2003b), pp.136-55, 190-95, 437-41, Copleston (2003c), pp.43-167, and Copleston (2003e), pp.79-107.]

 

In the 18th century, a resurgence of the 'necessitarian' tradition motivated, among other things, the "re-enchantment" of nature and society in the theories concocted by the Natürphilosophers and Hegel -- and later, those invented by Marxist Dialecticians.

 

[On this, see Harrington (1996), Lenoir (1982), Richards (2002), and Essay Fourteen Parts One and Two, when they are published. More details can be found in Foster (1934), Hooykaas (1973), Lindberg (2007), and Osler (2004). For the Hermetic background to all this, see Magee (2008). Cf., also Essay Twelve (summary here). At a future date, I will publish an essay on Leibniz I wrote as an undergraduate, which anticipated some of the ideas in Osler's book, for example.]

 

So, where Christians see design, DM-fans see "internal relations". Same problematic, same source -- same bogus 'solution' to this set of pseudo-problems.12a

 

In such inhospitable surroundings, not only must 'Concepts' and 'Abstractions' that attempt to regiment impressions and ideas into the right sortal groups be robust enough to so organise the contents of the 'mind' behind the backs, as it were, of their producers (i.e., Traditional Theorists), they must exist prior to, and independent of, experience -- or, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune themselves.

 

Initially, for "crude materialists", at least, it wasn't easy to account either for the source, or for the effectiveness, of these 'sergeant-major'-like concepts -- i.e., these 'mental constructs' ('frameworks', 'concepts' and 'categories', etc.), which permit of no exceptions, past, present or future. The theoretical rescue for empiricists and materialists (if such it may be called) came from an unexpected source: German Idealism. More specifically, and even more revealingly, this 'rescue' turned out to be an impossibly convoluted, obscure version of Ancient Greek Platonism and Hermeticism.

 

The Seventh Cavalry had arrived in the nick of time, but it was, alas, blowing a very indistinct note -- possibly none at all.

 

Esoteric Flannel replacing Errol Flynn.

 

The 'Epistemologically Imperialist Utopia' concocted by these Teutonic Idealists required the invention of Super-Duper 'Concepts'Industrial Strength 'Categories', Carbon Fibre 'Principles', and Borazonic Ideas, packing enough metaphysical clout to control the deliverances of the senses with an iron hand. These days such heavy-duty principles are further buttressed by impressive sounding phrases -- such as, "natural necessity", "conceptual-", or "ontological-necessity". Terms like this are clearly needed, otherwise the semi-house-trained impressions (or, for Kant, "intuitions") the senses deliver up might continue to revolt and set up their own Anarchist Collective -- where fires might actually freeze things instead of burning them, fish might break out in song, and Dialectical Marxism might even become a ringing success.13

 

[From Note 13: Anyone who objects to the anthropomorphic terminology used at this point should perhaps recall that it is only being employed in order to show how completely unbelievable Traditional Theories like this are when its language and concepts are pushed to the limit, and thus applied more consistently -- its class roots also exposed -- than is usually the case. Anyone who still objects should rather take issue with those who concocted these theories not those who seek to lampoon them.]

 

Furthermore, these 'Concepts', 'Categories' and 'Principles' would have to be logical -- or, indeed, 'dialectical' --, if they are capable of exercising rigid control over the future course of events -- or even the future deliverances of the senses --, ensuring that every single impression and idea troops into the correct metaphysical category, collected under the right general term, never even thinking to step out-of-line; not once.

 

As noted earlier, bourgeois ideas were now clapped in chains; the 'free market' 'revolution in the head' was over. The Rationalist and Idealist takeover turned out to be a veritable 'Mental Thermidor'.14

 

One awkward question remained: How could something even as powerful as a 'Logical Principle' guarantee that future contingencies will always do as they have been told? Surely these 'rational principles' are particulars themselves -- especially if they reside in individual, isolated bourgeois skulls?

 

The point here is rather simple: logical principles per se can't create generality; generality emerges from the application of a rule, which neither words nor 'Concepts' -- nor even 'Principles' -- can quite manage on their lonesome. Once again, it is human beings (as part of a collective, but not as individuals) who determine what constitutes the correct application of a rule, since, as has been pointed out many times, words, 'Concepts', and 'Principles' have neither the wit, intelligence, nor social structure sufficient to the task.

 

That was, indeed, the point of emphasising the atomisation that gave birth to the bourgeois, 'logical principles' mentioned earlier in this Essay. The fragmentation introduced into epistemology (in both its Rationalist and Empiricist wings) meant that in the heads of 'socially isolated' bourgeois thinkers -- this isn't my judgement on them, it follows from their own epistemologies -- these 'Concepts' can only operate as the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars, or, indeed, as particulars themselves, destroying generality and undermining the unity of the proposition as a result. So, for example, 'the concept of time' (in Kant) and that of 'Being' (in Hegel) are no less Abstract Particulars than anything Aristotle had ever invented.14a0

 

Clearly, 'Logical Principles' like this could only regiment unruly ideas and rebellious particulars if they somehow controlled their future behaviour, and were thus intelligent agents themselves. Truth be told, it was almost as if these 'Logical Principles' actually existed in 'external reality', too, and were those very Ideas themselves in 'self-development', or were the rules which led the deliverances of experience by the hand. In Hegel, this doctrine clearly sundered the distinction between Mind and Matter -- which is largely why Engels thought he could argue that matter is just an abstraction, indeed, using an echo of the very same argument (and even the same example!) Hegel had employed:

 

"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 alone 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.]

 

"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 hereItalic emphases in the original; bold added.]

 

In fact, the control of future contingencies now became a question concerning the self-discipline of a veritable army self-developing 'Concepts'. In fact, these 'Concepts' controlled the future because they controlled themselves, and with a bright and shiny 'new logic' -- a dialectical logic -- to lead the way; a 'logic' that was itself based on a seriously distorted metaphor about how arguments themselves edge toward their conclusions. This new 'logic' laid down the law, and everything in nature and society -- Mind and Matter -- could do little other than bend the knee to its Contradictory Will.

 

The World Soul in Plato thus had new life breathed into it and ran the entire show; the future was now under the effective control of this 'logic' as part of the supernatural self-expression of an 'animating spirit'. In this way, the social application of linguistic rules was inverted and became the inner expression of 'Self-Developing Mind'.

 

It is precisely here that the fetishisation of language -- referred to in Part One -- inserted itself into Dialectical Philosophy, and hence into Marxism.

 

As we saw, Ancient and Medieval Logic had in effect destroyed the expression of generality in and by language. In its place, an ersatz 'generality' was taken off the bench and sent into play -- but now as an integral aspect of the operation of a Cosmic 'Mind' beavering away inside Hegel's head. However, even when Hegel's fantasy is "put back on its feet", the logical blunders on which it was based remained in place. Indeed, they were fetishised all the more, being transmogrified into the animating spirit of what would otherwise have been inert matter. This now breathed life into the theories concocted by the 'crude materialists' -- for without this animating spirit, these 'contradictions', their systems would be left like a 'clock without a spring'. Hegel's 'Self-Developing Mind', now "back on its feet", re-animated matter -- nature and society were summarily re-enchanted. [Harrington (1996).]14a1

 

Paradoxically, in this topsy-turvy 'dialectical universe', we have also been told that the working out of the 'Iron Laws of the Cosmos' is wholly compatible with human freedom! These Self-Developing Ideas were, of course, free because they were a law unto themselves. Indeed, they even seemed to control 'God', who, it turns out, had all along been led by the nose by these 'self-developing' concepts, too.

 

The 'good news' for humanity is that the more they subject themselves to these Laws, the 'freer' they become. As the Gospel says, "The truth shall make you free", and the 'law' of Christ brings 'true' freedom.

 

Hence, the more human beings are in chains the less they are in chains!

 

You just couldn't make this stuff up!

 

But, hey, that's Diabolical Logic for you...

 

Rousseau thought he could justify social control in this way, too, but all he had in mind was an 'Ideal Thermidor'. In comparison, Hegel discovered that his own Ideas controlled him, but only if he projected the protocols of 'social reality' internallyand fetishised these ideas inside his headHence, for him, what had once been the product of the social relations between human beings (language, argument and dialectic) not only upended itself and manipulated his thought processes, it ran the entire universe!

 

This is indeed the philosophical equivalent of the deranged who claim they are 'God Incarnate'; these crazy ideas took over the asylum. Instead of the psychologically-challenged contradicting themselves, Hegel's universe did it for them!

 

Feuerbach plainly got things completely the wrong way round; Hegel's 'God' is the projection of humanity inwards, not outwards. For DM-fans, ideas supposedly 'reflect' the world --, but they do this only if they allow Hegel's mystical and fractured 'logic' to control their thoughts, too.14a2

 

Indeed, as Max Eastman noted:

 

"Hegelism is like a mental diseaseyou can't know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it." [Eastman (1926), p.22.]

 

[Anyone who objects to my quoting Max Eastman should check this out first, and then perhaps think again.]

 

Which, of course, helps explain the semi-religious fervour with which the Sacred Dialectic is defended by all those whose brains it has colonised. [On that, see here and here.]

 

However, Hegel's Idealist 'solution' only succeeded in creating another problem: If autocratic 'Principles' like these are required so that order can be imposed on unruly reality -- as well as our ideas about it -- and if knowledge is still dependent on the vicissitudes of human cognition, then these 'Principles' only succeed in undermining themselves. Indeed, if the cosmic order can only be comprehended by being put in some sort of order inside each bourgeois skull by anthropomorphising reality and our ideas about it, then that anthropomorphisation can't fail to self-destruct. That is because, if ordinary human beings can't be relied on (i.e., if the vernacular is untrustworthy, and 'commonsense' is unreliable --, which ruling-class slurs and suspicions had motivated this suicidal 'theory' in the first place, thus assisting in the destruction of generality), then these 'inner human beings' (these anthropomorphised, Self-Developing Ideas), and their shadowy 'internal relations', must be equally, if not more, suspect.

 

If the ideas of everyday, material human beings, with their reliance of 'appearances', can't be trusted, then what confidence can we have in the reliability of these inner, ghostly spectres, these shadow human beings?

 

This worry arises not just because it is difficult enough to account for the social nature of knowledge in the individual case, but because this 'problem' becomes completely intractable when it is generalised to take into account the countless minds supposedly able to perform the same trick and arrive at the same conclusions from their limited experience and finite stock of ideas. [As we saw earlier.]

 

Given this approach, humanity-wide conceptual coordination would be completely miraculous. Indeed, it would be no less miraculous for this to happen across the inhabitants of a small village, let alone a large city.

 

In fact, it is far more likely that each and every member of the much smaller, self-selected group of 'professional abstractors' -- or, for that matter, every single Hegel scholar -- is dancing to a different dialectical tune echoed in each socially-atomised head under the direction of their very own quintessentially petty-bourgeois brains.

 

[Apologies for these and the many other mixed metaphors in this Essay!]

 

The problem we met earlier (concerning the social and epistemological fragmentation introduced by the market economy) re-surfaces precisely here; the bourgeois psyche disunited will, it seems, never be re-united.

 

So, in the realm of ideas alone, it now proves impossible to undo the effects the bourgeois revolution introduced into epistemology. If every single human being has to perform these 'feats of abstraction' in their socially-atomised heads, then there can be no such thing as socialised knowledge -- or, more pointedly, no such thing as knowledge per se.

 

This helps account for the many and varied, and failed, theories of knowledge humanity has had inflicted on it over the last four hundred years -- to add to those concocted during the previous two thousand.

 

Nevertheless, by these means the Individual was allowed, if not invited, to strike back, initially disguised as the Dialectical Guru, Hegel Himself. Only he (and perhaps his dialectical-descendants) were 'licensed' to interpret the self-development of thought, and thus the course of history -- for the benefit of the rest of benighted humanity, of course. Dialectical Philosophers were now Dialectical Prophets, a resolutely substitutionist ideology their Gospel.14a

 

Given this approach to knowledge, no matter how robust the metaphysical, neurological or psychological coercion involved (operating inside each dialectical skull), the coordination of knowledge across a whole population would be, as we have seen, quite miraculous --, unless, of course, it had been imposed on all those involved by the Iron Will of the Glorious Leader, the Great Teacher, or simply, 'The Party'. The Invisible Hand was now replaced by the Mailed Fist of the Stalinised State -- or, indeed, the Guardians of Orthodoxy in the case of (nominally) non-Stalinist parties. In the 'bourgeois market' of internally-processed ideas, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand couldn't leave even so much as a smudged fingerprint. Hence, a very visible mailed fist belonging to the Dialectical Magus -- which sometimes took the shape of Gerry Healy; elsewhere that of Mao,  Bob Avakian, Marlene Dixon, Abimael Guzmán or even the Great Teacher Himself, Stalin -- was necessary in order to guarantee good epistemological order.

 

And Marxist 'intellectuals' who can't control orthodoxy merely grow angry and abusive when all this is pointed out to them. Each is just a 'diminutive Stalinist in the kingdom of ideas', only without any power. Hence, the tantrums.

 

[Exactly how 'Epistemological Stalinism' like this has worked its way into practically every nook and cranny of Dialectical Marxism, and thus into virtually every party and tendency on the far left, is explored in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

However, not only would each lone abstractor have absolutely no access to the ideas tucked away in the heads of other lone abstractors, they would have no way of checking whether or not they were even edging their own abstractions in the 'right', or even the 'same', direction. [And, it is no good appealing to 'practice', since that, too, has been overshadowed by the dead hand of abstractionism.]

 

Despite this, the fact that inter-subjective agreement actually takes place (and countless times, everyday) suggests that this fanciful neo-bourgeois picture is as wide-of-the-mark as anything could be. Indeed, when the day-to-day requirements imposed by the material world on every socially-active agent are factored in, this myth falls apart even faster than a WMD dossier.

 

The reasons for this aren't hard to find (if we assume for the purposes of argument that, per impossible, abstractionism is true): not only is it is highly unlikely that each mind would form the same general idea of the same objects and processes from its limited stock of data -- which is problematic enough in itself in view of the fact that no two people share exactly the same experience or draw the same conclusions from it -- the word "same" attracts identical difficulties (irony intended). Moreover, in its endeavour to explain generality, this traditional approach to knowledge involves an appeal to a concept that looks suspiciously general itself. If no two minds can check the supposed 'similarities' in or between anyone else's ideas -- howsoever dialectically orthodox those abstractors or these concepts happen to be -- then there is no way that a social process, if it is based on abstraction, could even make it onto the starting grid, let alone begin the race. Questions would naturally arise as to whether the 'same' ideas of anything (abstract, particular, concrete, general -- or even dialectical) had actually taken root in such socially-isolated dialectical minds. And these worries would persist until it had been established whether or not each abstractor had the 'same' idea about the word "same", let alone anything else.14b

 

And, how on earth might that be ascertained for goodness sake?

 

Worse still: given the 'dialectical' view of identity, this problem can't even be stated, let alone solved. The peremptory rejection of the LOI now returns to haunt DM-epistemology; by confusing a logical issue with an epistemological red-herring, the quest for what is supposed to be a 'superior form of dialectical knowledge' has now been trapped in a solipsistic dungeon.

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

Once more, that is because it has yet to be explained how any two dialectically-distracted minds could frame the same general, or even particular, idea of anything at all -- even before the dialectical juggernaut begins to roll --, or how a check might be made whether or not either of these intrepid abstractors had accomplished this miraculous feat correctly. And, that isn't so much because none of us has access to the mind of any other abstractor -- which, on this view, we haven't -- it is because it has yet to be established whether anyone even has the same idea of the word "correct"!15

 

Once more: how on earth might that be checked for goodness sake?

 

Again, it is no use looking to practice to rescue this failing theory, for it has yet to be established whether or not any two abstractors have the same abstract (or 'concrete') idea even of practice!

 

Once more, how on earth might that...?

 

[The reader is invited to finish that question for herself.]

 

Furthermore, it is equally unclear how even this relatively minor worry (about the generality of what are supposed to be general ideas) may be communicated between these lone abstractors without employing the very same notion that originally required explanation -- i.e., generality itself --, along with the application of the LOI as a rule of language.16

 

More problematic still (for those who at least gesture toward accepting even a minimally social view of language and knowledge) is the following question: How might it be ascertained whether or not the same ideas about anything (be they abstract, concrete, general, or particular) have been inherited correctly from former generations of intrepid abstractors? Without access to a time machine, mind probes -- and, once more, a prior grasp of the very things they have allegedly bequeathed to us (i.e., general ideas!) -- no one would be in any position to determine the accuracy of a single 'concept' or 'dialectical principle' supposedly belonging to this 'common inheritance'.

 

But, given DM-epistemology, no start could be made at even attempting to build such knowledge; not only would this 'intentional edifice' have no foundation -- since the basis on which we might build on inherited knowledge has already been shown to be no firmer than quicksand --, no two prospective labourers would have the same plot of land to labour upon, the same plan to guide them, the same materials to work with -- nor even the remotest idea about what would conceivably count as the 'same brick'!

 

[Except, of course, by sheer coincidence; but even then aspiring abstractors would still be unable to determine the nature of any such similarities -- plainly, since they would need general ideas in order to do it -- which they haven't yet constructed --, and, even worse, the word "same" is itself subject to the same difficulties (no pun intended), as noted above.]

 

Again, but to change the image, that is because dialecticians unwisely threw their hand in before the cards had even been dealt, for they are the ones who deny that anything could be exactly the same as anything else -- except in the most tenuous and abstract of terms. If they insist on taking pot shots at the LOI, it is little wonder DM-fans keep shooting themselves in the non-dialectical foot.

 

[Apologies once more for all these mixed metaphors!]

 

This means that, based on the strictures dialecticians have themselves placed on any concrete application of the LOI, no two people could ever have the same general -- or even particular -- idea of anything. Nor could they have the same idea about approximate identity (so that they could conclude that their ideas only really roughly coincided with those of anyone else). If the dread word "same" can't be the same in any two minds, the phrase "approximately the same" stands no chance.

 

Worse still, no dialectician would or could have the same (or approximately the same) general (or particular) idea as he or she previously had about anything -- last week, yesterday, or even a few seconds ago --, so that they could say of their own opinions that they were even approximately stable from moment to moment.

 

In that case, of course, the 'process of abstraction' can't even get off the ground!

 

It should hardly need pointing out that abstraction can't make a start where there is nothing common to abstract, or no shared concepts to work with from moment to moment -- or, of course, where no 'law of cognition' remains the same from second to second, or which is shared across an entire population of socially-isolated dialectical skulls.16a

 

An appeal to memory here would be to no avail, either. That is because it has yet to be established that anyone has the same memory of the meaning of the word "memory" from moment to moment.

 

Once again: how on earth might that be ascertained for goodness sake?

 

[I hasten to add once more that the above sceptical remarks do not represent my view! They are being aired in this Essay to expose the yawning chasm of scepticism implied by Traditional and DM-Epistemology.] 

 

In this way, the theory of abstraction has not only destroyed each and every dialectical proposition (that result was established in Part One of this Essay), the entire project has only succeeded in strangling itself even before birth as its adherents appropriated the regressive bourgeois individualist idea that we all abstract in the privacy of our own heads; just as it succeeds in undermining the thought processes of anyone foolish enough to give it so much as the time of day.

 

Of course, that is why an earlier claim was advanced (i.e., again, at the end of Part One) that the hypothetical activities of our heroic ancestral abstractors can't have taken place, since no sense can be made of the possibility that they could.

 

Indeed, as we have just seen....

 

Reality: Abstract, Concrete -- Or Both?

 

The second difficulty (mentioned earlier) isn't unconnected with the first, but has somewhat different implications. As we have just seen, traditional solutions to the 'problem' of Universals only appeared to succeed because they either (i) Anthropomorphised the brain along with its ideas, or they (ii) Fetishised language, so that the product of social interaction (language) was reified, with many of its words transformed into the relation between objects or processes, or they became those objects and processes themselves. [We saw this throughout Part One in connection with Traditional Theorists' and dialecticians' confusion of talk about talk with talk about the world -- for example here and here.] 

 

As we have also seen, in order to explain the operation of 'the mind', Empiricists found that they had to postulate the existence of what were in effect 'intelligent ideas', which were either spontaneously gregarious or were somehow capable of obeying externally imposed rules intelligently as they went about their lawful business.

 

On the other hand, Rationalists held that contingent events in 'reality' couldn't account for our -- or, in fact, their -- ideas about such events. As they saw things, the reverse was the case: it was the nature, or the development, of our ideas or our minds that explained the 'outer' world. Naturally, this inverted epistemology, and ended up dictating to nature what it must be like, implying that reality was fundamentally Ideal.

 

All this is reasonably obvious.

 

The next bit isn't quite so much.

 

On the basis of the entire gamut of rationalist world-views, theorists constructed (or 'discovered') what they took to be nature's "laws", but what they didn't do was conclude that their theories were true merely because nature and society were law-governed. On the contrary, many held that the connection was much tighter than this. They imagined they were able to read these 'laws' into nature and society simply because the mind was structured in a specific way. In addition, the 'possibility of experience' meant that the world also had to be structured in a certain way, or we couldn't experience, and hence know anything at all.18 This placed human cognition right at the centre of the meaning and cognitive universe -- and what was intended to be a 'Copernican Revolution' in Philosophy turned out to be its exact opposite: its Ptolemaic realignment. 'The human mind' now made the world. In fact, for some hard core thinkers, 'the mind' constituted the world.

 

[From Note 18: These ideas are up front in Kant, although some had been less clearly expressed in the work of earlier thinkers. However, since Hegel (by-and-large) adopted, and then adapted, Kant's approach to suit his own ends, the comments in the main body of this Essay only need to be true of post-Kantian Idealism in general for it to apply to dialectics (upside down or 'the right way up').

 

[Of course, these days, evolution (as opposed to our social development) is considered by many to have been capable of shaping the 'mind' in this and many other respects; I have devoted much of Essay Thirteen Part Three to showing how misguided that idea is, too. Readers are directed there for more details.]

 

[On the pernicious nature of Idealism, and why many opt for it (some of which motivating factors apply equally well to Marxist dialecticians), see David Stove's articles: 'Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story, Parts I and II', in Stove (1991), pp.83-177. However, in relation to Stove's work, readers should take account of the caveats I have posted here.]

 

If, as tradition would have it, the world is a 'reflection' of 'God's Mind' -- and the human mind 'at its best' is, in turn, a pale reflection of 'His' 'Mind' --, then the 'inter-reflection' between 'mind' and world, world and 'mind', would guarantee that philosophical thought left to its own devices was capable of penetrating beneath the surface of 'appearances', right to the heart of 'Being' itself, uncovering its hidden 'essences'. General laws thus seemed to be either the result of these 'self-directed' concepts, which accurately captured or mirrored nature's inner secrets, or they were their constitutive cause.

 

As Hermetic Philosophers had imagined, the Microcosm of the human mind reflected the Macrocosm of 'God's' creation because both were Mind. Union with 'God' was of a piece with union with Nature (or rather with its 'Essence'), which helps explain the origin of what turned out to be the main problematic of German Idealism: 'Subject-Object Identity'. In Hegel's system, the union between the 'Knower and the Known' was guaranteed by the application of Divine -- aka Dialectical -- Logic; the mystical 'Rosicrucian wedding' had finally been consummated.18a

 

Empiricist theories arrived at analogous conclusions, but from a different direction.19

 

Either way -- as Hegel himself pointed out -- every branch of Traditional Philosophy sooner or later found its way back to the Ideal home from whence it came:

 

"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is carried out." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55; § 316. Bold added.]