16-12-02-07: Summary Of Essay Twelve Parts Two To Seven
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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 and evidence in full, should consult the Essays for which this is a précis. [In this particular case, these have not yet been published.]
It is worth recalling that many of the things I take for granted here depend on evidence and argument presented in Part One of Essay Twelve (summary here). Much of what I say below won't be easy to understand, or, indeed, accept, without reading that Essay, or its summary. Indeed, some of the material below might even appear rather dogmatic; in which case, readers are encouraged to shelve their qualms until the complete Essays are published over the next four or five years, where I will substantiate the claims I advance in this summary.
It is also worth pointing out at the start that when I refer to Traditional Philosophy as a prime example of ruling-class ideology -- and in this I include Dialectical Materialism [DM] -- , I do not mean to suggest that 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). My comments are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who either relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.**
However, that will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, and here for more details.
[**Exactly how this applies to DM will, of course, be explained in the other Essays published at this site (especially here and here). In addition to the two links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time aimed at absolute beginners!) here.]
More details are given below, but even more will be included in the final version of this Essay when it is published.
I have tried to limit the length of these summaries to 7000 words or less, but in this case I have clearly failed. That is because this précis attempts to summarise six very long Essays. When they have all been published, the material below will be broken up into six shorter, sub-7000 word sections, and re-posted.
Finally, this summary has largely been cobbled-together from notes, so in several places it is still rather rough-and-ready, and a little repetitive. Over the course of the next few years I will endeavour to rectify this, so the reader's indulgence is required in the meantime.
[Latest Update: 10/08/16.]
Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.
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(1) If Reality Is Fundamentally Linguistic, Or Mind-Like, No Wonder It Can 'Contradict' Itself
(a) Metaphysics On The Cheap
(b) Why Words Have Power
(2) Social Being Motivates The Philosophy Of 'Being'
(3) Feuerbach's Half-Finished Project
(a) Armchair Super-Scientists
(b) The Politics Of Metaphysics
(c) Ordinary Language Denigrated By Class-Conscious Theorists
(d) Ordinary Language And Workers
(e) Alienated Thought And Fetishised Language
(f) Representationalism And The Inner Bourgeois Individual
(g) The Ideological Heart Of A Heartless World
(4) Mystical 'Genius' Derives Everything From The Verb 'To Be'
(a) To Be Is To Blame
(b) Nothing To See Here
(5) Where Hegel Screwed Up
(a) The Identity Theory Of Predication
(b) Hegel Misidentifies Identity
(i) The 'Negative Form' Of Identity
(ii) Identity No Enemy Of Change
(c) Confuses Naming With Describing
(d) Confuses Identity With Identification
(e) The Theory Implodes
(f) Traditional Grammar Partly To Blame
(g) The Pseudo-Problem Of The Relation Between 'Thought' And 'Being'
(h) Propositions Turned Into Lists
(6) An Objection
(7) Linguistic Idealism
(8) Does This Essay Refute Itself?
(9) Empty Philosophical Language
(10) Lie Detector At Work
(11) Why All This Now?
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
If Reality Is Fundamentally Linguistic, Or Mind-Like, No Wonder It Can 'Contradict' Itself
Metaphysics On The Cheap
In Part One, it was shown that DM is part of a long-standing tradition in Philosophy whereby fundamental truths about reality are derived solely from language/thought. This idea is developed throughout the rest of Essay Twelve.
Even so, this traditional, a priori approach to Philosophy was, and still is, done on the cheap, so to speak. No expensive equipment is required, no elaborate or time-consuming experiments need be performed. On the contrary, anyone with a flair for inventing jargon, a love of prolixity, and, of course, sufficient leisure time can join in. Indeed, no empirical evidence whatsoever is needed in order to substantiate the hyper-bold metaphysical theses -- valid for all of space and time -- that effortlessly roll off the page of traditional thinkers, since their Super-truths can be derived from thought alone.
Metaphysical theories were originally concocted by thinkers who (in the main) displayed an aristocratic contempt for ordinary language and empirical knowledge -- and hence for the manual labour on which both are based. [There is an excellent account of this in Conner (2005).] Ordinary language and empirical knowledge are grounded in communal life, which means that they are ultimately based on collective labour and common understanding. Ruling-class hacks (i.e., Traditional Philosophers) almost invariably dismissed both as unreliable at best, beneath them at worst.
Traditional Thinkers were, of course, alienated from communal aspects of the human condition by the social division of labour that scarred early class society. Nevertheless, these theorists were quite open in their contempt for the 'semi-animal' existence they attributed to ordinary working people, just as they were equally convinced of the superiority of their own 'culture', their 'values', their 'high theory', and their view of reality. [There is a very powerful echo of this in Plato's Republic -- indeed, this elitist attitude runs right through his work, as it does that of many others.]
In that case, the inclination all DM-theorists display for wanting to derive substantive truths about reality from language alone (i.e., from 'thought experiments', or from a priori theses and trite maxims, mostly lifted from Hegel and other mystics, such as Heraclitus and Spinoza) is no big surprise. Philosophers have been doing this sort of thing for over two thousand years; it is now part of the philosophical furniture. So, since ruling-class hacks have always done this, when DM-theorists emulate them it seems an uncontroversial and perfectly normal way to proceed (and that is because of their own socialisation, education and class origin) -- so normal, in fact, that no one until recently has either noticed it, exposed it for what it is, and then challenged it.
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism; DM = Dialectical Materialism/Materialist, depending on context.]
Their appropriation of traditional thought-forms thus locates DM-theorists in a philosophical tradition that is possessed of an excellent ruling-class pedigree, one consequence of which is that DM/'Materialist Dialectics' [MD] is itself a form of LIE.
LIE, is in fact a family of doctrines which share several (over-lapping) features:
(1) The derivation of substantive truths about reality from thought alone;
(2) A systematic distortion/misuse of the vernacular;
(3) The promulgation of what seem on the surface to be empirical propositions, but which turn out to be anything but since they are supposed to be valid for all of space and time solely on the say-so of their promulgators;
(4) The invention of empty neologisms and abstract jargon, where words drawn from everyday language won't do;
(5) The derivation of 'necessary truths' that supposedly reveal the "essential" aspects of "Being", but which have been obtained from words alone;
(6) The confusion of rules of language and/or logic with empirical propositions (which is what in fact allows such theorists to 'derive' 'scientific-looking' laws from what are in fact contingent features of their use of certain words);
(7) A hasty extrapolation of such theses to all of reality, for all of time, based on a strictly limited number of 'examples' (all of which are unrepresentative, specially-selected, or suitably 'doctored');
(8) The 're-interpretation' of everything to fit this a priori framework.
As George Novack noted:
"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.]
Metaphysicians (and DM-theorists) not only take it for granted that reality has an underlying 'rational' structure, they arrogate to themselves the sole right to uncover its hidden secrets, and then inform the rest of humanity of the eternal truths they have thereby 'discovered'.
As noted in Part One, the truth-values of ordinary empirical propositions (i.e., indicative sentences concerning matters of fact) can only be validated by an interface with the world; their truth-status is thus evidence-based.
With metaphysical theses, the opposite is the case: the underlying, 'essential' state of the world is determined by what these theses supposedly tell us. Metaphysical theses, therefore, do not reflect the world; the world reflects them. Reality is a thus reflection of what they declare must be the case. Metaphysical theses determine the way the world has to be; they dictate to the world what it must be like. They stand as philosophical frameworks delineating the conceptual boundaries of Reality/'Being', as foundational principles which prescribe the logical or essential form of any possible world. That is why no supporting evidence is needed and little or none is ever really sought. No world is conceivable in which they don't apply. If so, evidence is irrelevant; they can't fail to be true.
That is, of course, why Lenin considered the opposite of Engels's thesis (about matter and motion) so "unthinkable", and why he and Engels said things like this:
"Dialectics…prevails throughout nature…. [T]he motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature." [Engels (1954), p.211. Bold emphasis added.]
"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted….
"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases and link added.]
"[Among the elements of dialectics are the following:] [I]nternally contradictory tendencies…in [a thing]…as the sum and unity of opposites…. [E]ach thing (phenomenon, process, etc.)…is connected with every other…. [This involves] not only the unity of opposites, but the transitions of every determination, quality, feature, side, property into every other….
"In brief, dialectics can be defined as the doctrine of the unity of opposites. This embodies the essence of dialectics….
"The splitting of the whole and the cognition of its contradictory parts…is the essence (one of the 'essentials', one of the principal, if not the principal, characteristic features) of dialectics….
"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….
"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute….
"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other….
"Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a 'nucleus' ('cell') the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general." [Lenin (1961), pp.221-22, 357-58, 359-60. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphases added.]
"Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world." [Ibid., p.110. Bold emphasis added.]
Which is also why, contrary to what we are told, such theses can be, and have been imposed on nature by every single DM-theorist.
[Detailed proof of the above allegation is given in Essay Two.]
Beware Greek Philosophers Bearing Metaphysical Gifts -- Or Why Words Have Power
So, DM is situated in a well-entrenched and ancient metaphysical tradition, a tradition that was (and still is) based on the systematic distortion of ordinary language, as Marx noted:
"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis added.]
Marx and Engels also famously agued that:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65. Bold emphases added.]
It is worth underling the last part of the above quotation, since most comrades seem to miss it, or fail to see its significance (especially those who then try to deny that Traditional Philosophy -- including those parts that have re-surfaced in DM -- also forms one part of these "ruling ideas"):
"[T]hey do this in the whole range...[they] rule as thinkers, 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." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]
Notice how they do this in the "whole range"; how they "regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age....", and how they also "rule as "thinkers". This can only mean that Traditional Philosophy forms part of these "ruling ideas". No wonder Marx branded Philosophy as just another form of religion:
"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. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]
No wonder, either, that he abandoned this bogus, ruling-class discipline in the mid-, to late-1840s. [Proof here.]
Moreover, the vernacular was (and still is) variously regarded by Traditional Theorists and dialecticians alike as of limited use since it is either paradox-friendly, ideologically-compromised, or it is the repository of 'banal commonsense'.
The original, and ideologically-motivated attack on 'vulgar' speech began with the inception of class society. From the historical record (outlined in several Parts of Essay Twelve (omitted from this Summary), and to a lesser extent in Essay Three Part One), I show how Greek thinkers incorporated abstract terms into their theories because they couldn't make ordinary words say what they wanted them to say. In so doing, they were quite open about their aims and intentions, just as they were equally candid about their contempt for ordinary human beings, their language, beliefs, experience and culture. The class-confidence and bias displayed by these early thinkers meant they didn't have to hide their theses behind too much metaphysical spin; in fact their thoughts began life intermingled with several genuinely scientific ideas.
However, the scientific study of nature and how to control it began long before developed forms of class society reared their ugly heads (on this, see Conner (2005)), but once the latter had emerged, science became all too easily encrusted and overgrown with the class-compromised results of Idealist speculation.
Nevertheless, with the development of productive technique, when more practically-orientated human beings started to take an increasingly careful note of how the material world actually worked -- and of the physical and social constraints this imposed on speculation (i.e., when they began to experiment, test and dovetail their theories with observation and improved practice, etc.) --, science was able to make steady progress and gradually break free from this intellectual quagmire. In order for this to work, scientists had to take material reality (and hence contingency) into account. Traditional Philosophers couldn't do this. Hence, science was able to distinguish itself from the many forms of Idealism that surrounded it on all sides by its increasing contact with the material world and technological progress.
[Of course, the situation here is vastly more complex than the above suggests, but this is a summary Essay, after all! The distinction between science and philosophy will be delineated more clearly, and in greater detail, in Essay Thirteen Part Two, when it is published.]
As noted above, the first exercise in linguistic chicanery that we know of in the 'West' took place in Ancient Greece. This was undertaken in order to transform earlier, aristocratically-motivated myths and Theogonies into secular and/or metaphysical 'truths' to provide a de-personalised (but now rational) legitimacy for the new forms of class power emerging in and beyond the sixth century BC.
These concepts, inherited from traditional thought, were aimed at 'justifying' and rationalising the consolidation and reproduction of ruling-class power. Hence, if the state 'reflects' the underlying 'rational'/'objective' order of reality (as Traditional Theorists have almost invariably maintained -- albeit modified in each subsequent Mode of Production to suit the ideological priorities of contemporaneous ruling elites), then any and all opposition to it could be waved aside as "irrational", "against the natural and/or divine order", and hence futile. The moral order of the state was thus linked to the "rational order" of reality. Indeed, the ethical condition of the soul and the structure of the State weren't just accidentally linked (for example, in Plato's thought, and in Ancient India and China); they were constitutive both of the entire cosmos and of rightful governance on earth. The same was true of the other 'rational principles', derived from thought alone by countless generations of ruling-class hacks, albeit expressed in different idioms as local conditions required.
Early Philosophers were in fact quite open about this; it is only recently that these cosmically-ambitious theses have retreated into the background. Even so, they are now making a strong come-back, and just in time for a new wave of Imperialist aggression in the Middle East, coupled with concerted attacks on working-class living standards across the planet. Now we have "Islamofascists" where once there were "Barbarians". Now we have various forms of genetic determinism, courtesy of 'Evolutionary Psychology'. Now we have 'naturally' lazy individuals, courtesy of 'rational-choice' economics.
Of course, the principles underlying -- and the intentional objects of -- these theoretical flights-of-fancy are, always were, and always will be inaccessible to sense perception, 'commonsense' and ordinary language/evidence.
And rightly so: only in a genuine democracy would such mundane considerations count for much.
Social Being Motivates The Philosophy Of 'Being'
Superimposed on all this were a few rather more base, contingent factors, themselves a consequence of class division. The extrapolation from language to eternal truths about the world was an extension of, and 'justification' for, each Traditional Theorist's own 'personal world-view', and not solely aimed at rationalising ruling-class power. These idiosyncratic theories were also derived from an alienated view "Being", and ultimately predicated on an earlier division of labour in nascent class society, but reflected now the 'elevated' class position of such Theorists.
As is well-known (at least by Marxists): in their attempt to free themselves from the constant oppression of nature, human beings found that they not only had to enslave themselves to political and social forms over which they soon lost control, they also had to submit themselves to ideologies that parasitized and rationalised this alienation. Ruling-class ideas thus came to rule because there was no social counter-weight to the Ideal view of reality promoted by the elite and their theoretical "prize-fighters".
Super-Scientific truths, which Traditional Philosophers in Ancient Greece had 'derived' solely from the meaning of a set of specially-selected and surgically-doctored words, began to mirror the abstract view of reality adopted by this new layer of Theorists, just as these theories also reflected their daily experience of class society. In this way, their mode of being mirrored their view of 'Being'. The life of these theoretical drones was largely one of leisure bought (directly or indirectly) at the expense of the necessary labour-time of those whose language and experience they depreciated and denigrated. In order to give expression to this form of estrangement, these theorists developed obscure Idealist 'jargon' deliberately set in opposition to the 'debased' and 'unreliable' language of those who had to work to stay alive.
In earlier myths and Theogonies, conflict in this world was viewed as a reflection of the rivalries that existed between warring 'gods', struggles that took place in a hidden (or occult) world beyond the reach of the senses. Their verbal wrangles and machinations became the model upon which later Idealist and Hermetic thinkers based their Super-Scientific ideas about how the universe worked -- theories they then happily imposed on nature and society.
Language, originally the product of collective labour and developed as a means of communication, is ill-suited if pressed into service as a means of representation (especially when it is interpreted as means of representing the thoughts of 'God'). In order to transform the vernacular into a representational device, theorists found they had to take words that had grown out of, and which expressed, relations between human beings as well as those they enjoy with nature, applying them to the relations between objects and processes in nature itself --, or, indeed, between these warring 'deities', as the late Professor Havelock noted:
"As long as preserved communication remained oral, 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 with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling modified to agree with UK English. Links added.]
Unfortunately, these ordinary expressions carried with them the connotations they possessed in their everyday use in connection with those inter-human relations. These moves had a inevitable result: when imposed on nature they transformed the traditional view of the world so that it became the projection of human social relations, thus anthropomorphising nature. Again, as Marx pointed out:
"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. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]
As we will see in other Essays published at this site: because they appropriated and then elaborated upon these anthropomorphic concepts, later generations of thinkers (including Marxist dialecticians and the vast majority of post-Renaissance Philosophers) anthropomorphised nature in like manner. In this way, much of subsequent thought failed to break free from this animistic view of reality.
[This process is illustrated in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three (especially here, here, and here), but in relation to the anthropomorphisation of the human psyche -- where the brain is pictured as 'seeing' things, sending 'messages' or 'information' to other parts of the body, employing 'signals' and 'codes' in order to so do.... It will be further illustrated in Essay Three Part Five (when it is published), where it will be shown that this view of nature and humanity lends a superficial plausibility to 'determinism' (and by default to metaphysical theories of the 'free will'), as nature and society are attributed with capacities, 'laws', and powers that enable it to 'determine' the course of events with 'iron necessity'. Until that Essay is published, the reader is directed here and here for more details.]
Superstitious individuals had earlier tried to interpret natural processes as the work of various assorted 'spirits' or 'deities', using anthropomorphic language to that end. Subsequently, in more developed class societies, priests and theologians indulged in this thought-form for ideological reasons, in order to suggest that the natural and social order are 'divinely-ordained', the legitimacy of which not only couldn't, it shouldn't be questioned, let alone resisted. Subsequently, as we can see from the record, Ancient Greek Thinkers began looking for increasingly secular ways of theorising about the world in order to construct a less animistic rationale for the new forms of class society beginning to emerge in the 6th century BC. However, they also retained this transformed language, not noticing they had in fact banished the aforementioned 'spirits' and 'gods' in name alone (as Feuerbach half recognised), but the anthropomorphic connotations still lingered on, and there they remain to this day.
Unfortunately for humanity, these developments also meant that it became 'natural' for theorists (like Anaximenes and Heraclitus) to see conflict in conceptual, logical and linguistic terms. And this is from where Hegel appropriated these archaic and terminally obscure ideas.
That, of course, set this new form of discourse in direct opposition to the language of everyday life. Again, as noted above, this alienated thought-form was bequeathed to all subsequent generations of thinkers, since the latter largely shared the same privileged material conditions, ruling-class patronage, as well as the ideological predispositions that came with this slice of the intellectual territory.
In this artificial 'intellectual' world, populated by indolent thinkers like these, words appeared to exert their own irresistible authority; commands, edicts and orders seemed to possess their own secret, magical power (which, of course, accounts for the ancient and early modern search for the original language that 'God' gave to mankind; on this, see Eco (1997), partially quoted here).
Words were, after all, capable of moving slaves, servants, and workers effortlessly about the place. Codified into law, words also appeared to possess genuine coercive power, which helped mask the class domination on which this parasitic social form was predicated. Naturally, this entirely superficial aspect of official language would blind those who benefited from these social forms to its material roots in class society.
The very real social power that words seemed to possess would 'naturally' suggest to such theoretical 'drones' that if language underpinned the authority of the State, and if the State mirrored Cosmic Reality, then the universe must run along discursive lines.
These theorists would thus begin to misinterpret a conventionalised social form as a secret code that powered the universe -- mastery of which would help those so minded to grasp the 'essential' aspects of 'Being', and then perhaps control it.
In that case, Traditional Theorists would begin to see reality as not simply 'rational', but as ultimately linguistic, constituted by the word of some 'god', or other. In ancient creation myths, the 'Deity' spoke and everything not only popped into existence, it sprang to attention and thereafter always did as it was told. On this view, seemingly inert matter had the capacity to obey orders (but only when addressed with the right sort of language -- hence, once again, the search initiated by generations of sorcerers for these magical words), as if matter was intelligent and possessed a will of its own. Nature was thus an enchanted 'Being', and, because of this distorted view of language, the nature of this 'Being' could be recruited to the 'legitimation' and rationalisation of class power.
Indeed, as these Ancient Theorists saw things, nature was governed by opposing forces: good and evil, light and dark, order and chaos, love and hate, hot and cold. All of these were either personified as good/evil intelligences, or were viewed as discursive principles (i.e., as 'logical' laws -- which weren't in fact just 'laws of thought', but were principles that governed all of reality, and had been established and stitched into the fabric of nature by the supreme Logos, who made everything in 'His' image).
These ideas feature in ancient creation myths, in Greek Philosophy, in Hindu, Buddhist and Chinese thought (appearing in the latter as Yin and Yang, for instance -- for more examples, see here). Hence, for such thinkers, the internal source of movement and development was ultimately linguistic, determined by these discursive opposites. Either that, or reality was founded on an Intelligence or Will of some sort (thus also on language), and, once again, all this was directly linked to the rationalisation of ruling-class power.
Material reality was thus not so much congealed energy as condensed language, no less the slave of 'God' than human servants were subjects of the state. "Ruling ideas" were thus derived from the alienated thoughts either (i) of those who in fact ruled or (ii) those who rationalised that rule on their behalf. "Ruling ideas" thus ruled society because, for such Idealists and Mystics, these ideas ruled the world. As above, so below; the microcosm mirrored the macrocosm, just as their thought supposedly mirrored the world.
Few Traditional Thinkers have strayed far from these archaic forms-of-thought, even if they had to be expressed in a different idiom as each Mode of Production came and went, and as each state altered its legal form and developed new ideological priorities.
Some might object that philosophical ideas can't have remained the same for thousands of years, across different modes of production; that allegation runs counter to core ideas in Historical Materialism. But, we don't argue the same for religious belief. Marx put no time stamp on the following, for example:
"...Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality....
"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." [Marx (1975c), p.244. Italic emphases in the original.]
The above remarks applied back in Ancient Babylon and Egypt, just as they did in China and India, in Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages and they have done so right across the planet ever since.
These thought-forms represented both a significant ideological leap for alienated mankind and a major step backward for oppressed humanity.
That is because Traditional Theorists carved these "ruling-ideas" into the very fabric of the heavens.
And, in one form or another, there they remain to this day.
Feuerbach's Half-Finished Project
In that case, Feuerbach uncovered only half the truth: it isn't just 'God' who is an alienated projection of human nature. The classical view of the cosmos outlined above is in fact a projection of alienated human social relations onto nature (something I have called "The Reverse Reflection Theory"), a projection carried out by the ideologues of those whose interests these manoeuvres served (indeed, as Marx suggested). These dead concepts have weighed on the brains of the living ever since -- as both tragedy and farce. 'God' may be alienated 'Man' writ large, but the cosmos is -- as Traditional Philosophy pictures it -- little more than alienated human social relations writ large.
As the Traditional view depicted things, the real universe (which is in effect constituted by a set of Abstract Particulars that lie behind 'appearances') was in effect an externalisation of the hierarchical relations of power and authority in class society. In this way, the coded language these theorists concocted was intimately linked to the continuing order of the Cosmos, and thus with the many and varied forms of the State the class war had thrown-up.
For example, in early Greece, Justice became a cosmic issue which was closely linked in with the course of human affairs. At the same time (and then later) property, exchange, debt, ransom, value, law, conflict, legal argument, and much else besides, assumed metaphysical, cosmic and social significance.
In Hegel, of course, these notions resurfaced as a series of "contradictions" -- and so it was that a set of animistic expressions (which reflected alienated social relations captured now in 'inverted' dialectical thought) were projected onto nature, so that they ran not just society, but the entire universe.
[Hence, the alleged inversion this theory underwent (so that Hegel supposedly now 'stood on his feet') has had no effect on this Idealist backdrop.]
Of course, these 'insights' were 'justified' by a priori arguments of one sort or other, each graced by yet another innovative use of jargon -- since that is the only way such theses can be made even to seem to work.
Again, as Marx argued:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an 'eternal law.'" [The German Ideology, quoted from here.]
"...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." [Ibid., quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]
Often these apparently secular doctrines were overlaid with overtly religious language -- just think of the concepts that Christians use, much of which Hegel appropriated: inherited sin, ransom, debts owed to 'God' (since all of us are 'His' slaves), redemption, 'mediation', and so on. Discourse like this (of a mystical and legalistic drift) had magical qualities imputed to it; language powered the world just as it supposedly ran the State.
Hence, a superficial social form (i.e., the ability to issue orders, promulgate and enforce laws, or prosecute legal argument, etc.) was inverted so that it became a 'logical' device that 'enabled' Traditional Philosophers to unmask cosmically significant secrets that lay 'beneath' appearances. This approach helped motivate them in their search for the master key -- the Philosophers' Stone -- capable of unlocking (and thus perhaps controlling) the 'essential' nature of 'Being'.
In subsequent metaphysical systems, overt mysticism like this became hidden behind references to a set of logical principles that 'must' underlie all of reality -- indeed, every 'possible world' -- depersonalised now as "essence", "dialectical logic", "natural law", or "necessary truth".
The Logos became Logic, and Logic ran the world.
That being so, it would be 'natural' for such Theorists to conclude that not only is logical, rational, and conceptual analysis capable of unmasking fundamental truths about reality, nothing else could. Hence, only a priori knowledge was genuine knowledge. It alone was reliable. Anything else wasn't proper Philosophy, and fit only for derision.
This approach to 'knowledge' is well summarised by the following two authors:
"Empirical, contingent truths have always struck philosophers as being, in some sense, ultimately unintelligible. It is not that none can be known with certainty…; nor is it that some cannot be explained…. Rather is it that all explanation of empirical truths rests ultimately on brute contingency -- that is how the world is! Where science comes to rest in explaining empirical facts varies from epoch to epoch, but it is in the nature of empirical explanation that it will hit the bedrock of contingency somewhere, e.g., in atomic theory in the nineteenth century or in quantum mechanics today. One feature that explains philosophers' fascination with truths of Reason is that they seem, in a deep sense, to be fully intelligible. To understand a necessary proposition is to see why things must be so, it is to gain an insight into the nature of things and to apprehend not only how things are, but also why they cannot be otherwise. It is striking how pervasive visual metaphors are in philosophical discussions of these issues. We see the universal in the particular (by Aristotelian intuitive induction); by the Light of Reason we see the essential relations of Simple Natures; mathematical truths are apprehended by Intellectual Intuition, or by a priori insight. Yet instead of examining the use of these arresting pictures or metaphors to determine their aptness as pictures, we build upon them mythological structures.
"We think of necessary propositions as being true or false, as objective and independent of our minds or will. We conceive of them as being about various entities, about numbers even about extraordinary numbers that the mind seems barely able to grasp…, or about universals, such as colours, shapes, tones; or about logical entities, such as the truth-functions or (in Frege's case) the truth-values. We naturally think of necessary propositions as describing the features of these entities, their essential characteristics. So we take mathematical propositions to describe mathematical objects…. Hence investigation into the domain of necessary propositions is conceived as a process of discovery. Empirical scientists make discoveries about the empirical domain, uncovering contingent truths; metaphysicians, logicians and mathematicians appear to make discoveries of necessary truths about a supra-empirical domain (a 'third realm'). Mathematics seems to be the 'natural history of mathematical objects' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.137], 'the physics of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1976), p.138; however these authors record this erroneously as p.139, RL] or the 'mineralogy of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.229]. The mathematician, e.g., Pascal, admires the beauty of a theorem as though it were a kind of crystal. Numbers seem to him to have wonderful properties; it is as if he were confronting a beautiful natural phenomenon [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47; again, these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.41, RL]. Logic seems to investigate the laws governing logical objects…. Metaphysics looks as if it is a description of the essential structure of the world. Hence we think that a reality corresponds to our (true) necessary propositions. Our logic is correct because it corresponds to the laws of logic….
"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v, RL], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform with those adopted at this site. Italic emphases in the original. It isn't being suggested here that these authors agree with the use to which their ideas have been put!]
This is one of the reasons why the attack on the roots of all forms of 'Western' thought (promoted at this site) is so difficult for comrades to accept (or even grasp); in their heads, ruling ideas still dominate -- in this case, in the shape of dialectical 'logic'. What is more, they all fail to see this, even after it has been pointed out to them, and that is because they accept it as 'natural' that this Traditional, a priori approach to knowledge is the only way to think 'rationally' about reality. Hence, for them, only a priori speculation (backed up with little or no evidence) can possibly count as genuinely philosophical truth. Materially-based, scientific knowledge isn't enough; Marxism needs a Philosophy. This idea is so firmly lodged in comrades' heads that it rules almost by divine right.
[Why this is so is revealed in Essay Nine Part Two.]
In this way, ruling-class ideas have come to rule militant minds.
However, 'philosophical' knowledge (of this sort) is divorced from material reality -- in fact it has been abstracted away from it. As such it is conveniently hidden beneath 'superficial appearances', which renders it safe from material confutation. Naturally, this means that such knowledge is occult, mystical, and esoteric -- which helps account for the popularity of occult and mystical thought among Traditional Thinkers (and, indeed, among many members of the ruling-class -- in fact most of them -- for example, these days the Masons -- and also, alas, far too many Marxist dialecticians).
The above observation, of course, includes Hegel, a Hermetic Mystic of the worst possible kind.
The Politics Of Metaphysics
The Ancient (ideological) turn to this new conception of reality clearly mirrored the pseudo-democratisation that took place classical Greece in and around the fifth century BC -- based as the latter was on slavery.
It was now expedient for theorists to transform the earlier personified powers of the 'gods' into impersonal 'forces' and 'laws' in order to provide a more relevant and persuasive rationale for these new forms of class domination (wherein kings and queens no longer ruled, these having been replaced by oligarchies, dictatorships, or early forms of republican government). Warring, envious and capricious gods (which in effect helped rationalise the interpersonal rivalries between warring royal families) had to be tamed and transformed into the aforementioned impersonal forces, principles and laws. Even so, where necessary the latter were still under the control either of a single Supreme 'Deity', or a Supreme Rational Principle, an Absolute. Naturally, a properly ordered Polis had to reflect a similarly 'rational' cosmic order.
Nevertheless, this change still preserved the anthropomorphic and animistic overtones of the old way of seeing things --, even if this was now much harder to see.
Once more, this novel and class-motivated world-view was clearly aimed at demonstrating why nature and society had to be the way they were, linking the power of the State to the necessary structure of 'Being'.
Hegemony so easily 'justified' by hermeneutics.
[It is worth recalling here that "hermeneutics" is derived from the Greek God Hermes, the central character of Hermetic Philosophy -- the system that Hegel bequeathed to Dialectical Marxism. Hermes was 'himself' based on the Egyptian god Thoth, who supposedly invented language and Philosophy (aka 'wisdom') -- and who, incidentally, we are told constituted the world out of language --, from whom the Greeks derived their word for 'God' (Theos -- and hence Theology), and we our word "theory".]
Ordinary Language Denigrated By Class-Conscious Theorists
As a result, not only did the first wave of ruling-class prize fighters find that they had to dismantle primitive communism physically, they also had to mount a pincer assault on communal language and the common experience of ordinary human beings, centuries later. This is no mere invention; the historical record fully supports this observation. [Details will be given in the full Essay, when it is published.]
They were forced to do this because the vernacular prevents the formation of a single coherent metaphysical thought (for reasons explained in detail in Essay Twelve Part One, summarised here), just as it can't be used to confirm the a priori theses metaphysicians invent as the ideological mood takes them.
This explains why Traditional Philosophers had to invent 'abstract' ideas to populate their theories and rationalise these newly emerging class hierarchies. [This is plain to see in the work of early Greek and Roman thinkers, where they were quite open about what they were doing.] Of course, such moves became the accepted norm in later thought, and thus didn't require such openly ideological 'justification'.
If 'concepts' and/or 'categories' control all of reality, or all of thought (or both, as in Hegel), then nobody could possibly challenge their legitimacy. If anyone were foolish enough even so much as try, that would be evidence enough that they did not "understand" the precursor to dialectics -- i.e., the NeoPlatonic/Hermetic ideas that would later help sink Hegel (and thus Marxism) into a mystical and dogmatic quagmire.
In the 'West', this Ancient, Aristocratic world-view found expression in the use of specially-engineered jargon -- wherein allegedly 'essential' features of reality became the reification of contingent features of Indo-European grammar. As a result, subjects, predicates -- and especially participles of the diminutive verb "to be" (i.e., "is" and "being") --, were imbued with profound ontological significance. The superficial grammatical structure of a few specially-selected sentences was thus considered capable of revealing the deepest underlying features of the entire universe.
In these new social settings, the analysis of specially modified linguistic forms was not only metaphysically revealing, it was financially rewarding; patronage was available only to those who theorised along the 'right' lines and thus who drew the most useful conclusions.
Abstract thought could thus find a home for itself in a world where those who performed material labour for them could find none -- for their thoughts and experiences were denied one.
The language of those who had to work to stay alive was thus doctored and distorted, since it represented the 'debased' experience of those directly alienated by these new social forms. Hence, not only was materialism regarded as a dangerous ideology, the material language by means of which it alone can be expressed had to be constantly denigrated.
In any subsequent rebellion against the State, however, the material language of everyday life rapidly became a focus for expressing the grievances and for pressing the demands of those thrown into revolt. To be sure, their justification was often couched in religious terms (a classic example being the rebellions encouraged by Thomas Müntzer), but the aspirations and tactics of such groups had to be expressed in the vernacular if support were to be won among ordinary folk. No matter how fervent one's belief in 'God', without the right tactics, organisation and means of communication -- all of which are material constraints --, no revolt would last long.
In this way, struggle from below (especially in the last few centuries) has gradually undermined, if not inverted, the Ideal forms of domination that had been imposed on the majority for thousands of years, thus opening up the social world increasingly subject to material and collective control. Again, while these struggles might have been expressed in religious terms centuries ago, they have emerged more recently in increasingly overt materialist and/or ordinary language.
That is, of course, why revolutionary papers find they have to use ordinary language to communicate with their audiences.
It is also why the present age is unique; we now possess a material counter-weight to Idealism, which can help bring to an end the domination, not just of our rulers, but also of their ruling-ideas: an international working-class.
Indeed, the ideas represented here were only made possible because the working-class entered the stage of history as a material force.
This also explains why the larger the working-class, the less relevant dialectics becomes, and the smaller the impact Dialectical Marxism has upon it.
The tide of history has changed; dialecticians, with their heads deep in the sand, have yet to register this blindingly obvious fact.
In Hegel's work, the Ideal stands proudly on its feet, Absolute master of all. But, it wasn't the efforts of comrades like Engels, Lenin or Trotsky that turned it the 'right way up'. If anything, they put it on a cart and paraded it about the place, celebrating it as the work of "genius".
On the contrary, it is the struggle of ordinary working people that helped cut this metaphysical Frankenstein off at the knees, for they alone can provide the material counterweight to the Idealism that gives it life.
Marxist intellectuals and/or activists (no matter how devoted they are to the revolution) can't of themselves do this, and for obvious reasons (these are spelled out in Essay Nine, Parts One and Two): in general these comrades are almost exclusively petty-bourgeois or de-classé individuals, and are thus 'naturally' inclined toward an Ideal view of reality -- or, they have to adopt such a view in order to obtain work as 'legitimate' thinkers.
Ordinary Language And The Working Class
In that case, no revolutionary movement can succeed without employing the language of ordinary life, ditching the Ideal. Revolutionaries who think otherwise not only succeed in aligning themselves with those who still, to this day, benefit from or 'rationalise' class domination, they guarantee the further alienation from Marxist politics of those already estranged by this ideologically-motivated ruination of their lives: the majority of workers.
As Marx noted, in all epochs the ideas of the ruling-class rule --, but it helps significantly to that end if erstwhile radicals internalise the elitist thought-forms encapsulated in DM/'Materialist Dialectics', parrot it back at workers, and attempt to substitute it into their heads against the grain. Indeed, those who have adopted this tactic have merely helped disseminate and consolidate alien-class hegemony over 'radical' thought.
Clearly, this makes the defence of ordinary language a class issue.
And yet, up to now, the non-dialectical penny seems not to have dropped, since dialectal Marxists appear not to have noticed that workers en masse have ignored, and continue to ignore, their class-compromised 'theory' for well over one hundred years.
[That particular claim is substantiated in Essay Nine Part One.]
Alienated Thought-Forms And Fetishised Language
Vernacular speech was originally invented by ordinary human beings who interfaced with one another and with the material world (in collective labour and communal life). In contrast, the specialised languages that express various forms of ruling-class ideology (encapsulated, for example, in Traditional Philosophy) contain jargon that interfaces, not with the world, but with yet more jargon.
Indeed, in such circumstances systematic jargon-juggling (aka Metaphysics) has become the philosophical norm, with Traditional Thought coming to resemble what one imagines a long and detailed commentary on the nature, temperament and predilections of the Jabberwocky might look like.
[This accusation can be levelled, too, but with more justification, against much that passes for Academic Marxism. Small wonder then that it has so far had no detectable impact on the class struggle (that is, other than negative). On this, see Essay Nine, Parts One and Two, and Noam Chomsky's comments here.]
In this way, Traditional Theorists systematically mistook, and misread, a social form (language) for the material world itself, inverting the products of social relations so that they began to mirror, and then constitute, in a suitably Ideal form, reality itself -- a form that reflected in turn their own mode of being: a leisure-dominated life allied with the role official language plays in legislation and in the issuing of orders and commands (on this, see above).
As a result, these theorists developed an alienated and fetishised view of language, so that what had once been the product of the relations between human beings became inverted and distorted in an ideological form as an expression of the real relation between things, or even as those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx on commodity fetishism). Again, as he noted:
"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]
This inversion has real material roots in the alienation from collective labour (and thus from the language that arises from such labour) that class division had forced on ruling-class hacks -- and, indeed, on contemporary Dialectical Marxists (who are, almost to a man/woman, petty-bourgeois and/or de-classé individuals).
For Traditional Thinkers, language is representational, its primary role being (1) Originally, to convey 'god's' thoughts to humankind (or, rather, to a very select minority who then 'interpret' them for the rest of us), (2) To uncover the 'inner' nature of "Being", and (3) To re-present nature's hidden "essences" to such Theorists, thus enabling class-ideologues to 'rationalise' whatever class structure was dominant at the time (or which was seeking to replace it with another). In fact, there would be no point inventing metaphysical language if it couldn't do this.
Philosophical language thus became a specialised dialect, the sole property of an 'educated minority', which helps account for all the obscure jargon it boasted, and then for yet more jargon on top of that to 'explain' the original jargon --, and, of course, to ensure that this dialect remained the exclusive property of this elite band of thinkers (who alone 'understood' this esoteric code).
This is indeed one of the central tenets of Hermetic thought; just as Hermes interpreted the 'Gods' to certain 'select' individuals, so only a suitably arcane language could interpret and/or represent 'God's thoughts' to a similarly exclusive section of humanity. In this way, the inner Linguistic Microcosm could represent the outer Ideal Macrocosm to the 'educated' few.
Hence, discourse wasn't seen as a social tool created by ordinary human beings in order to facilitate communal life and collective labour. No, its primary function was higher, and more 'noble': its primary function was to represent reality and express 'thought'. But, this was only abstract 'reality' and rarefied 'thought', capable of being captured only by the 'concepts', categories and ideas of those with too much leisure time on their hands than is good for any human being.
Intellectualist metaphors connected with sight came to dominate theory; you either 'saw' the truth (by "intuition", or by divine illumination), or you were part of the problem -- or, closer to home, you just didn't "understand" dialectics. Hence, jargon connected with specialised forms of perception (particularly a hidden, inner sort of perception, re-named "speculative thought" by Hegel -- and it is worth recalling that "speculate" comes from the Latin speculum, "to mirror", another eminently Hermetic notion) seeped into all areas of Traditional Epistemology as representational and cognitivist theories swept the board.
They were, indeed, "the only game in town".
Representationalism And The Inner 'Bourgeois Individual'
However, if in fact only small and unrepresentative sections of humanity were capable of 'representing' these esoteric truths to themselves, then that automatically excluded the majority from attaining genuine knowledge, and thus from power. As is well-known, the ruling-class has always preferred secrecy and mystery. No less so here.
On the other hand, if language primary role is communitarian, mystery-mongering like this becomes impossible by means of the vernacular. Everything there is open to view; nothing is hidden (to paraphrase Wittgenstein, once more).
[Why this is so is explained in detail In Essay Twelve Part One.]
Nevertheless, according to the traditional, representational view of language, human beings have first to learn to represent the world to themselves (that is to think in this narrow sense of the word) before they are capable of communicating their ideas to others. Naturally, that makes this theory anti-communal, since it is predicated on exclusivity and individualism. This is also why theories that are built around a priori theses have always appealed to philosophical traditionalists (and, as we now know, to dialecticians), since it allows them to concoct such theories in the privacy of their own heads.
Representationalism, of course, became a much more overt doctrine in its early modern incarnation concocted at or around the time of the last major change in class power, in the 17th and 18th centuries. This view of language and mind now dominates all forms of traditional thought (indeed, it typifies the bourgeois/individualist view of 'mind' and 'rationality', and which in its essentials has hardly advanced or changed much in the last 300 years) -- even for those theorists who pay lip service to the communicational model.
But, if representationalism were correct, accounting for communication would become problematic. How would it be possible, for example, to explain the meaning of a newly invented piece of jargon if it merely represents things in its inventor's head? Others may pretend to follow what is said (or imagine they can), but beyond that, what content would there be to such pretence? [There is more on this in Essay Three Part Two, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.]
Representationalism thus threatens not just the status of knowledge, it undermines socially-conditioned meaning (and this is so even for traditionalists, as we saw was the case with Lenin in Essay Twelve Part One).
The communicational model doesn't face such problems. There, meaning emerges from social interaction, not isolated episodes of internalised mental processing. Just as labour creates value, socialisation based on collective labour creates meaning.
Of course, representationalism not only makes it impossible to account for the social nature of knowledge, it helps create the spurious 'problem' of other minds -- for it now becomes obvious that, short of a miracle, no two individuals could share the same ideas about anything, or even so much as a single "abstraction". Far worse: no one could share the same idea even about the 'same idea'.
In contrast once more, by its very nature ordinary language is communitarian. Only during (but mostly after) socialisation is it possible for human beings to begin to form beliefs about the world, or express them in a comprehensible form (even to themselves). Hence, to state the obvious, children have to be taught language by their parents, carers and peers communicating with them, and training them. Only after they have been successfully inducted into a speech community is it possible for them to begin to represent anything to themselves, or anyone else, for that matter.
In contrast to this, abstract metaphysical language is individualistic, atomistic and representational. If language were primarily of this nature, communication would be impossible. Language, instead of being a free medium of exchange, would become a prison trapping thought in a solipsistic dungeon. In fact, no thoughts could be formed given this view.
[Why this is so is explained in Essay Thirteen Part Three, where many of the above claims, as well as those below, are defended in depth and at length.]
Hence, according to the traditional view (in its modern form), it is almost as if there were a surrogate, inner bourgeois individual in each head. Indeed, representationalism itself suggests that we all have an 'inner spectator' in our skulls; how else could we make sense of these 'inner representations' to 'consciousness'? What is the point of using the word "represent" if there is no one to whom things are represented? If this transitive verb means what we ordinarily take it to mean (that is, if we do not misrepresent its meaning(!), and acknowledge its transitive nature), then the use of this word depends on an homunculus theory of mind.
At this point, the atomistic nature of this traditional line of thought should be plain for all to see since the 'explanatory' core of this approach to language presents us with what looks suspiciously like an isolated individual -- beloved of bourgeois thought -- lodged in each head. This oracular, cranial 'lodger' -- who differs from the Cartesian Soul in name only -– is far removed from the affairs of communal life. Such a speechless 'atom' would have no need of a public language, nor would it require socialisation. Its 'discourse' (if such it may be called) couldn't therefore be social, but merely internal, esoteric and private.
In order for this to work, representationalists have had to anthropomorphise the human brain, installing an inner bourgeois social atom in each and every head.
The individual strikes back and is living in a skull near you.
However, private property in the means of mental production sits rather awkwardly with an avowedly Marxist account of language.
[As Essay Thirteen Part Three shows, far too many Marxists have uncritically appropriated this bourgeois view of the 'mind' and of 'consciousness'.]
Small wonder then that ruling-class ideas have always ruled; every head contains its very own bourgeois ideologue! Or, rather, all who swallow this tale are constrained to think as if they believed this, since representationalism implies that each of us form our own ideas as separate, isolated individuals, only later to share them with others. Indeed, these days, this view seems so natural (even to Marxists) that few question it. DM-epistemology only serves to reinforce this misconception.
Out of this compromise was born Engels's classic 'problem' of the relation between "thinking and being" [Engels (1888), p.593], which is in fact a 'problem' only for those who accept the validity of representationalism.
In stark contrast to the traditional view of language, the vernacular is already part of the material and social world; hence any thoughts expressed in ordinary language need no further relating to material reality -- the vernacular is thus able to capture real life in all its complex, material forms.
[This isn't to say that it can be used to access all parts of the physical universe without supplementation from science and mathematics.]
Seen this way, another classic 'problem' (the relation of 'thought' to 'being') is dissolved.
The Ideological 'Heart Of The Heartless World'
Nevertheless, as a result of profound changes that took place in parts of Southern Europe in the sixth century BC, Metaphysics emerged as an alienated form of ruling-class ideology -- a set of theories that gave heart to those who ran this heartless world, and which rationalised class power and social inequality, serving as an 'intellectual' source of the opiate of the oppressor.
To bring this condition to an end will require the end of the conditions that created it. The criticism of Metaphysics is thus one with the criticism of the ideas of those who have imposed their system on the rest of us -- and one with the criticism of the ruling ideas that have been imported into Marxism (in the shape of DM/MD).
To be sure, this criticism must assume material form in the class struggle, but this won't happen if those who claim to be its leading cadres have appropriated and then elaborated upon these alien thought-forms. Instead of Dialectical Marxists trying to reform this theoretical condition, occupying it and altering it from within -- as they have hitherto attempted to do by concocting their own variant of Traditional Thought (this being the philosophical equivalent of Reformism) --, they should aim rather to smash it.
There is thus no room in revolutionary socialism for any form of Philosophical Entryism.
This Ideal Tiger can't be de-clawed one clause at a time.
In view of the above, the aim must now be to return Marxist Philosophy to its roots in the material language of working people (as Marx enjoined); that is, to the language developed by that section of humanity that interfaces with material reality every day.
This accounts for the heavy emphasis placed on the vernacular in these Essays -- and hence, too, it explains my implacable opposition to all forms of Traditional Philosophy.
The language used by Traditional Thinkers (like Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus, Descartes, Spinoza, and Hegel) actually insulates the mind from material reality (since it isn't based on a material interaction with it -- either in communal life or in collective labour), just as it insulates the minds of comrades who to this day still think Marxism is a ringing success.
That is how good a job it has done on them!
Hegel's impenetrable jargon was cobbled-together from terminology bequeathed to him by mystics and theorists working in this Ancient Metaphysical Tradition -- but plainly not from those who interacted with the physical world in communal labour. [On this, see Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]
Traditional Theorists interface with material reality only in their spare time, or on their days off, as it were -- but seldom in communal labour. Most of the time they enjoy the communion of books, ideas and concepts. Small wonder then that such thinkers have had to develop a specialised vocabulary --, jargon that is suffused with words that have no material roots --, in order to give expression to their own alienated form of life.
Over the last 2500 years, these theorists have developed and elaborated upon this Ideal view of reality, one that is based on a systematic attempt to derive "necessary truths" from the alleged meaning of certain words (such as, "Being", "mediation", "cause", "contradiction", "substance", "reality", "infinite", "Universal", etc., etc.). This approach to theory underlies all forms of ruling-class thought, in every Mode of Production, albeit utilising a different form of expression in each.
[Any who think this violates core principles of HM should check this out and then perhaps think again.]
This being so, there can be no philosophical theory that isn't Ideal. Here, for once, Hegel was right:
"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.]
And hence there can't be one that is free from ruling-class concepts and priorities.
At this site, these sweeping claims aren't left as bald assertions, they are thoroughly substantiated in the Essays I have already published.
Hermetic 'Genius' Derives Everything From A Participle Of The Verb "To Be"
To Be Is To Blame
One particular 'argument' is of special interest here; it crops up in different forms in several places in Hegel's work, and attempts to connect "Being" with "Nothing" and then with "Becoming", by magically 'deriving' all three from the verb "to be".
[In what follows, I will be examining John Rees's version of this 'argument'; in Essay Twelve Part Five (when it is published) will look at several different interpretations of it -- some Marxist and some not. Because of its centrality, this 'argument' is systematically taken apart line by line in Essay Twelve Part Five, and shown to fail even in its own terms. What appears here is merely a summary.]
Amazingly, this 'argument' was praised by Lenin and Trotsky [Lenin (1961), p.110; Trotsky (1986), p.103; echoed in Rees (1998), pp.49-50], even though this prize example of Jabberwocky Lore sits right at the heart of the Ideal monster.
Rees summarised thus 'argument' in the following way:
T1: "The 'Science of Logic' begins with the most abstract of all human ideas, Being. This is the bare notion of existence shorn of any colour, size, shape, taste or smell. This first concept is also, in its way, a totality. Although Being reveals no characteristics or distinguishing marks, it does, nevertheless, include everything. After all, everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, 'This is --,' even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being…. But Being also contains its opposite, Nothing. The reason is that Being has no qualities and no features that define it. If we try to think about pure Being…we are forced to the opposite conclusion, Being equals Nothing.
"But even Nothing is more than it seems. If we are asked to define Nothing, we are forced to admit that it has at least one property -– the lack or absence of any qualities…. This presents us with a strange dilemma: being is Nothing and yet Nothing is something. Hegel, however, is not so stupid as to think that there is no difference between being and Nothing, even though this is what our logical enquiry seems to suggest. All that this contradiction means is that we must search for a new term that…can explain how Being and Nothing can be both equal and separate (or an 'identity of opposites'…). Hegel's solution is the concept of Becoming." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50. Spelling adjusted in line with UK English; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]
But, there is no way that these concepts ("Being", "Nothing" and "Becoming") could have been derived from "careful empirical work", nor can they be "tested in practice" -- let alone abstracted from anything that is recognisably material.
In the end, the fact that erstwhile materialists (like Lenin and Trotsky -- or even Rees, since he nowhere criticises this 'argument') praised this prime example of linguistic mystification isn't the least bit surprising -- when their own ideas are viewed against the class-compromised background of Traditional Thought.
This is how Trotsky characterised it:
"The identity of Being (Sein) and Nothingness (Nichts), like the contradictoriness of the concept of the Beginning, in which Nichts and Sein are united, seems at first glance a subtle and fruitless play of ideas. In fact, this 'game' brilliantly exposes the failure of static thinking, which at first splits the world into motionless elements, and then seeks truth by way of a limitless expansion [of the process]." [Trotsky (1986), p.103.]
Whereas Lenin thought it was:
"Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear dead and shows that there is movement in them." [Lenin (1961), p.110.]
[AIDS = Absolute Idealism; LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
However, at no point do Rees and other DM-fans repudiate this style of reasoning, only some of its 'Ideal' implications -- which, coupled with the praise Lenin and Trotsky heaped upon it, indicates that for dialecticians the rejection of Hegelian AIDS is purely formal, and manifestly superficial. By no stretch of the imagination have any of the above conclusions been drawn from "an analysis of real material forces", or anything even remotely like one. The fact that leading DM-classicists could claim to learn anything about the nature of "static thinking" from such woefully defective 'logic' reveals how superficial their frequent and vociferous rejection of AIDS really is. The 'logic' of this passage is entirely bogus and thoroughly Idealist, again, as George Novack noted:
"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.]
The concepts Hegel employed are the result of grossly exaggerated abstractions, tortured 'logic' and terminally dubious assertions.
No wonder Marx repudiated Traditional Philosophy.
In fact, this Hegelian 'derivation' has set a new gold standard for all forms of LIE, for from it everything in existence -- every object, thought and process -- can be 'derived' miraculously from the verb "to be"!
Indeed, to misquote Berkeley here: "to be" is to be blamed.
In order to uncover its well-concealed truths, this innocuous verb has to be transformed into the noun "Being" -– which, now re-born, supposedly names 'everything that exists'. This grandiose 'concept', stripped of all its 'properties', suddenly becomes 'identical' with "Nothing", which in turn immediately and magically produces "Becoming". The entire Trinity from a diminutive "is". Seldom can so much be owed by so few to so little.
First of all, Rees claims that: "The most abstract of all human ideas [is] Being...", but he forgot to say how anyone could possibly know this for sure. Does anyone this side of the Kuiper Belt own an 'abstractometer' calibrated accurately enough to measure the exact level of abstractness possessed by any given word or concept? Does "Being" itself come supplied with its own metaphysical 'quality assured certificate', which declares the extent to which it has been removed from the material world? Is there a cosmic version of the Guinness Book of Records that catalogues this and other rival 'abstractions'? If so, Rees was remarkably coy about it.
Far worse, Rees omitted the carefully collected, materially-based evidence (perhaps in the shape of a survey of novice and experienced 'abstractors' alike) that supports this brave conclusion about what human beings can or can't do with their brains and/or their concepts.
To be sure, Rees's claim was predicated on the exercise of thought, not on evidence. The idea seems to be that if anyone were to think about things long enough -- forcing the verb "to be" through enough hoops -- they would arrive at a similar result. But, what if they don't? What if someone discovers an even more abstract idea than this one, perhaps as a result of more prolonged and intense meditation? How could Rees possibly rule this out?
Fortunately, we needn't wait for the results of experiments nor of surveys designed to test that brave supposition, since this trick has already been pulled off by several Philosophers! According to them, there is something even more abstract than "Being"; their undefeated world champion, Mega-Abstraction is Meinong's "Subsistence". This remarkable word/concept, so we are told, nets not only things that actually exist, but also things that do not -- as well as things that cannot -- exist.
Luckily, no concrete evidence is required to substantiate this major advance in human knowledge; in fact all that any future contender for the title of "Champion Abstractor" need do to capture this prize is summon up a greater determination to invent jargon, or fiddle with diminutive verbs, than Hegel or Meinong ever managed.
Of course, Meinong's 'discovery' means that, with respect to Discursive Magic, Hegel was decidedly second rate.
Well, what proof are we offered in support of such easily obtained, eternally-true, bold conclusions? How much carefully gathered experimental evidence is there that substantiates such momentous results? What exhaustive analyses of real material forces are we presented with? Where is the practice that verifies all this 'innovative' science?
After all, Rees and other DM-fans regularly tell us things like this:
"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Bold emphasis added.]
"[The laws of dialectics] are not, as Marx and Engels were quick to insist, a substitute for the difficult empirical task of tracing the development of real contradictions, not a suprahistorical master key whose only advantage is to turn up when no real historical knowledge is available." [Rees (1998), p.9. Bold emphasis added.]
"'[The dialectic is not a] magic master key for all questions.' The dialectic is not a calculator into which it is possible to punch the problem and allow it to compute the solution. This would be an idealist method. A materialist dialectic must grow from a patient, empirical examination of the facts and not be imposed on them…." [Ibid., p.271. Bold emphases alone added.]
"Testing by facts or by practice…is…found in each step of the analysis." [Ibid., p.113; quoting Lenin (1961), p.318 -- not p.320 as Rees suggests.]
"Constant empirical work is...essential to renew both the concrete analyses and the dialectical concepts that are generalized from these analyses." [Ibid., p.110.]
So, where is all this 'vitally important' "testing by facts or by practice"?
Nothing To See Here
To be sure, Rees did offer the following 'proof' (and no doubt the evidence in support will appear in the second edition of TAR):
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, "This is --," even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50.]
One small nagging problem -- several in fact --, despite these claims, the reader is offered no grounds at all for supposing that "existence" and "Being" are connected, or, indeed, that they are the same -– or, that "Being" is "shared" by everything which partakes of existence -– or, even that the one so much as suggests the other. There is no argument here either to show that "Being" is a quality, or even that it can be shared. Worse still, no reason is given for believing that there is such a thing as "Being" to begin with --, whether or not it is a quality, object, property, process, state, activity, or something else.
[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution -- i.e., Rees (1998).]
Admittedly, there is a word in the English language (viz.: "being"), which variously functions as a participle, or as part of a compound noun (as in "human being"). But, what is this new term "Being" supposed to be? We aren't told. And if we aren't told, how are we supposed to agree that everything shares whatever 'it' is supposed to be? On the contrary, we are simply left to assume that "existence", "being" and "Being" are one and the same, or that they are connected in some way. Presumably this is because these words look similar, or they seem to mean the same thing, or even that they have traditionally been inter-linked by Traditional Theorists, but with no proof that they are connected in any way at all.
This isn't a promising start for an analysis of a concept that is supposed to be "the most common of all human ideas"; neither is it an entirely convincing way to demonstrate Hegel's "brilliance".
Thus, the 'evidence' connecting "Being" and "existence" amounts to little more than the superficial typographical similarity between "being" and "Being". The former is a present participle (possibly), while the latter is supposed to be that "quality that is shared by everything that exists". But, how could such an unremarkable auxiliary verb come to imply so much? As we saw in Essays Three Part One and Twelve Part One, this is a direct consequence of the traditional idea that all words function as names -- even those that don't look like them, such as auxiliary verbs.
However, it seems that this "quality" ("Being") arises only if something already exists, for as Rees indicates:
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists." [Ibid.]
This clearly says that before anything can take on any "particular characteristics" -- such as the quality of "Being", one presumes -- it must already exist. So "Being" can't be the same as "existence", since the former is acquired whatever it is that already exist -- a fact conceded by Rees's use of the word "before" --, but, which bare 'things' presumably have as yet no qualities (or "characteristics"). "Being" must be a "quality" that 'things' which already exist later go on to acquire -- that is, of course, unless a "quality" here isn't a "characteristic". Once again, we are left in the dark.
It could be objected that this use of "before" is logical, not temporal. In that sense, it would be a logical pre-condition for something to acquire characteristics (such as "Being") that it exists. However, Rees's wording doesn't support such a reading; he is clearly talking about things already existing so that they can partake of any property, or characteristic. But, even if he were making a logical claim, he would be mistaken. There are countless 'things' that do not exist that have certain qualities, for example, the round square. This doesn't exist, and we know that since it possesses qualities that no existent thing could possess.
Moreover, it would make the last sentence somewhat pointless if existence were the same as "Being":
T2: Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists.
[Just as it would be pointless saying that "kittenhood" is a quality shared by every baby cat.]
Perhaps we could point to the following comment as an effective reply to several of the above objections:
T3: Being…is the bare notion of existence…. Being reveals no characteristics or distinguishing marks.
From this, It could be claimed that "Being" must be the same as "existence". That is because:
T4: Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics.
This seems to mean that because "Being" and "existence" have no "characteristics" they must be the same. But, that isn't what these sentences say. T4 just says that everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. That doesn't rule out the possibility of something having general characteristics before it exists -- which would of course mean that non-existent things could possess such unspecified general characteristics (as we saw above with the round square). Perhaps they just 'Subsist' with these general characteristics? Then, subsequently, when they 'pop into existence', they proceed to acquire particular "characteristics", one of which is "Being". Who is to say? Rees certainly doesn't rule this out, and it isn't easy to see how he can.
Perhaps, in that case, "Being" is a general characteristic that all existing things share? But, even if it were, that wouldn't show it was the same as "existence".
Of course, it is worth reminding those who dote on the traditional way of 'philosophising' (i.e., those who think that the derivation of substantive truths about fundamental principles underlying all reality from a few word tricks is proper philosophy) that "Being" can't be the same as "existence", since we can surely say things like "Being exists" and "Being does not exist", which we couldn't if they were one and the same. This is quite apart from the fact that DM-fans who doubt the validity of the LOI are in no position to argue that they are the same. If "A is never equal to A", "being" and "existence" surely stand no chance.
[LOI = Law of Identity, examined in detail in Essay Six.]
Be this as it may, even if Rees could rule out the possibility that "Being" is a quality/characteristic that existent things acquire late in the game, as it were, and he had worded T4 more carefully, the assumed identity (or close link) between "Being" and "existence" would still be unsustainable. Since neither of these possess any "characteristics or distinguishing marks" at all, it is impossible to see how anyone could tell (or decide) whether they were the same or were different. Even the lack of common characteristics and distinguishing marks doesn't justify their identification. This is, of course, because we need some way of specifying in what respect they are identical or are different, and, as yet, we have no information about either of them -- except, of course, that we can form no idea of them! Out of desperation we might try to argue that they must be the same in that they both share nothing in common, but that would be about as convincing as the old schoolboy joke that football and rugby are the same because there's an "e" in "either". Anyway, even though there is nothing to tell them apart, there is equally nothing to identify them. Word games aside, this isn't entirely convincing logic.
T4: Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics.
This means that the only way "Being" and "existence" could be identified is by discovering an etymological, semantic or conceptual link between them (since there is no obvious syntactic or "ontological" connection). The word "Being", at least in English, is clearly a transmogrification of the verb "to be". [A similar segue occurs in German.] But, because "Being" is a re-write of a common word, it can have as yet no established meaning -- it loses that right upon being re-configured in its new form. This means that if "Being" does have a meaning, that must have been fixed by an implied convention or by an explicit stipulation. In either case, the rest of us plainly have to be told what this word now means. This can be seen from the fact that Rees had to inform us of all this, which he wouldn't have had to do if "Being" had retained its established meaning (noted above), or if it had a settled meaning of its own. On that basis, the semantic (or, perhaps, 'ontological') discovery outlined earlier -- that "Being" is shared by everything that exists -- depends only on a convention already built into the use of that word or on one deliberately assigned to it by those who have a quick sale to make. In the latter case, these two terms ("Being" and "existence") would have no other connection beyond someone's say so. Now, with respect to the former word ("Being"), its 'meaning' plainly depends on the philosophical use to which it has been put -- a use that stretches right back to Ancient Greece, and one that is demonstrably Idealist (and arguably mystical) in origin. Worse still, the use of neither word in such contexts depends on -- nor results from -- any sort of material practice. In which case, it is now at little clearer that these two notions are related solely by marriage not by birth. And, like some marriages, this is one of convenience.
It might be objected here that the argument outlined in T1 is based on what existence really is, that is, on its true nature. Furthermore, the identification of "Being" and "existence" wasn't intended, nor is it even suggested.
As to the first of these rejoinders: says who? How do we know that "existence" really is as T1 depicts it? The word could be a complete misnomer in such contexts. It could pick out only a tiny fraction of things. It might fail to denote anything. It could name something imaginary. It might not name anything. It might not even be a name. In fact, it might be no more of a word than, say, "BuBuBu" is.
The only obvious response that could be made to this is that T1 is based on what the word "existence" really means. But, that would just confirm the already well-founded suspicion that from the meaning of words (not from 'concepts, in self-development' --, in fact, here, these 'concepts' look more like they are being frog-marched in the required direction) substantive conclusions about reality have been conjured into existence. As was argued at length in Essay Twelve Part One, the specialised terms used in T1 aren't like ordinary words whose meanings are publicly accessible and whose import is in no doubt, and whose use needs no justification. Philosophical terms possess no such bona fides. What they mean isn't up to anyone to guess. They have no meaning -- let alone a "real meaning" -- until one is assigned to them. Terms-of-art like "Being" do not interface with material reality through any or sort of practical activity in the material world, nor any based on established usage; they are thoroughly Ideal. Hence, we have to be told that "Being" is somehow related to "exist", and that the latter word is somehow defective without this add-on.
As to the second claim -- that "Being" and "existence" weren't actually identified in T1 -- little can be said, except that this "brilliant" argument might perhaps fall apart even more quickly if that were the case.
[Further ruminations on this 'argument' can be found in Essay Twelve Part Five when it is published.]
Where Hegel Screwed Up
'The Identity Theory Of Predication'
Dialectical 'Logic' [DL] derives from (1) Hegel's
logic, and from (2) A logico-linguistic dodge invented in the Middle Ages. As a
result, Hegel thought that certain sentences contained an in-built contradiction.
If we use Lenin's example, we can see where this idea came from, and hence where it goes astray:
J1: John is a man.
[Hegel in fact used the sentence, "The rose is red".]
First of all, Hegel accepted a theory invented by
Medieval Roman Catholic Theologians (now called the
Identity Theory of Predication),
propositions like J1 in the following manner:
J2: John is identical with Manhood.
The former "is" of predication has now been replaced by an "is" of identity.
[Predication involves saying something about someone or something. So, J1 can be used to say something about John. "John" is the subject, and "a man" is the predicate. The verb "is" linking them is called the "copula". When this "is" is turned into an "is" of identity, J1 becomes the following monstrosity: "John is identical with a man." That is why J2 is often used in its place, even though it, too, is bizarre.]
Greatly simplified, the argument then went roughly as follows: Since John can't be identical with a general term
("a man"/"Manhood" -- or, rather, with what it supposedly represents, a
Universal), we must conclude the
J3: John is not identical with Manhood.
The argument then continued: however, if John is a man, he must be identical with (or, at least, he must share in) what other men are, so we must now conclude:
J4: John is not not identical with Manhood.
Or, more simply:
J5: John is not a non-man.
Hard though this might be to believe, out of this was born the Negation of the Negation and the Unity and Interpenetration of Opposites -- the entire dialectic concocted from a re-configuration of a diminutive participle of the verb "to be" -- namely, "is"!
[Readers who might prefer to consult Hegel's argument in
all its glory can access it here.
Its logical ramifications are spelt out in detail in a (Marxist) paper
I have reproduced (and then criticised),
here. Lenin transcribed much of this
material from Hegel into his Philosophical Notebooks, and wrote in the margin: "This is
very important for understanding dialectics." In relation to that, and the philosophical
background to Hegel's argument (which was in fact a response to
criticism of rationalist theories of causation) -- as well as Lenin's appropriation of
this aspect of Hegel's theory -- see here.
(Rationalism is explained
Anyway, Hegel thought this showed that movement was built into our concepts as thought passes from one pole (one opposite conclusion) to another (i.e., from conclusions about John to negations and then double negations about him), which suggested to Hegel that speculative (i.e., properly 'philosophical') thought, and thus all of reality, had dialectics built into it.
[He concluded this about 'reality' since he was an Absolute Idealist and believed that such thoughts mirrored, if not constituted the world.]
It also led Hegel into casting doubt on the validity of the
so-called 'Law of Identity'
[LOI] -- a
'Law', incidentally, that can't be found in Aristotle's work
-- despite what many dialecticians would have us believe. It, too, was invented
by Medieval Roman Catholic Theologians.
As a result, Hegel argued that it was important to consider the LOI stated negatively. The LOI, as it had been passed down to Hegel, went as follow: "A is equal to A", or "A = A" (where "A", it seems, could stand for such diverse things as: objects, processes, predicates, concepts, relations, relational expressions, or, indeed, anything he wanted it to stand for).
[A supposed instance of this 'Law' (and an example Hegel himself used) is "A planet is a planet". (Shorter Logic, §115.) The radical confusion sloppy logic like this generates -- and upon which Hegel's core arguments actually depend -- is exposed here.]
Hegel then translated the LOI into the following
'negative form': "A cannot at the
same time be A and not-A", which he also claimed was the so-called
Law of Non-contradiction
[Incidentally, to save confusion, I have put "A" in bold type to help distinguish it from the normal use of the capital letter "A".]
However, in order to proceed, Hegel not only employed a barrage of impenetrably obscure jargon, he relied on some hopelessly sloppy semantics (as noted above).
[Semantics -- what words/symbols are supposed to designate, refer to, signify, or mean.]
Hegel plainly thought he could ignore the logical/grammatical distinctions that exist between our use of certain terms --, or, at least, between the roles they occupy in sentences. More importantly in this regard, he thought he could ignore the distinction between naming and describing. This 'enabled' him to bamboozle his readers, using what amounted to a series of verbal tricks, and from the ensuing confusion, hey presto, 'the dialectic' emerged like a rabbit from a hat.
So, Hegel's core argument was that the LOI, stated negatively, implied the LOC (why this was important for Hegel will be considered presently):
When the principles of Essence are taken as essential principles of thought they become predicates of a presupposed subject, which, because they are essential, is "everything". The propositions thus arising have been stated as universal Laws of Thought. Thus the first of them, the maxim of Identity, reads: Everything is identical with itself, A = A: and negatively, A cannot at the same time be A and Not-A. This maxim, instead of being a true law of thought, is nothing but the law of abstract understanding. The propositional form itself contradicts it: for a proposition always promises a distinction between subject and predicate; while the present one does not fulfil what its form requires. But the Law is particularly set aside by the following so-called Laws of Thought, which make laws out of its opposite. It is asserted that the maxim of Identity, though it cannot be proved, regulates the procedure of every consciousness, and that experience shows it to be accepted as soon as its terms are apprehended. To this alleged experience of the logic books may be opposed the universal experience that no mind thinks or forms conceptions or speaks in accordance with this law, and that no existence of any kind whatever conforms to it. [Hegel, Shorter Logic §115. Bold added.]
[See what I meant by "impenetrable"! And he was being relatively clear here! (Any who doubt this should perhaps read this extended passage devoted to this topic, and then perhaps think again!)]
Hegel Misidentifies Identity
The 'Negative Form' Of Identity
So, from the LOI -- i.e., from A = A -- Hegel thought he could obtain "A cannot at the same time be A and not-A", which, while it is supposed to be the LOI 'stated negatively', is also supposed to be the LOC.
This is a key point in the argument, since he believed that a commitment to the LOI was tantamount to denying that change occurred in reality -- an unsupported assumption that has been appropriated equally uncritically and then parroted by Marxist dialecticians and Hegelians ever since.
Hegel further reasoned: if change is universal (an idea he pinched from another mystic, Heraclitus, who in turn concocted this 'universal truth' from his (mistaken) conclusions about the possibilities involved in stepping into a river!), then nothing could possibly be identical with itself, and so everything must contain, or imply, a contradiction: A is at the same time not-A!
Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when cancelled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground, which contains identity as well as difference superseded and deposited to elements in the completer notion. [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119.]
[B]ut contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity. [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956.]
[The serious problems that these hyper-bold, and unsubstantiated claims create for Hegel are explored here. And, of course, contradictions don't 'cancel', either!]
Identity No Enemy Of Change
In fact, identity is no enemy of change, for if two objects are identical, they will both change equally quickly -- otherwise they can't have been identical.
Moreover, if an object is no longer identical with its former self, it must have changed.
So, identity doesn't prevent change (an odd idea in itself!); it simply enables us to decide if and when it has occurred.
With these observations the entire 'dialectic' completely falls apart.
Be this as it may, Hegel failed to notice that there is no connection whatsoever between the LOI and the LOC. The LOI concerns the conditions under which an object is supposedly identical with itself, or with something else; it isn't about the alleged identity between propositions, nor of clauses with propositions, or clauses with clauses.
In fact, this is where the sleight-of-hand occurs. Hegel's sloppy semantics (mentioned above) masked this serious error. Allowing A to slide effortlessly between various denotations (i.e., between different meanings -- one minute it stands for an object, the next a sentence, the next a predicate expression, the next a concept, the next a process, the next a relational expression...) 'enabled' Hegel to perform this verbal conjuring trick.
Indeed, if a proposition has no identity (i.e., if we allow A to stand now for a proposition, not an object), it wouldn't be a proposition to begin with. That is, if it were unclear what was being proposed -- i.e., put forward for consideration, which is what propositions do or can be used for -- then plainly nothing has yet been proposed, and so nothing can follow from it.
In that case, the alleged 'negative' version of the LOI has nothing whatsoever to do with the connection between a proposition and its contradictory.
The LOC, on the other hand, concerns the truth-functional connection** between propositions (or clauses), not objects (since objects can't be true or false!). In its simplest form it concerns the conjunction of a proposition with its negation (e.g., "Today is Tuesday and today isn't Tuesday" (said at high noon on any particular day)). It plainly has nothing to do with objects or their supposed identity. [Readers can check out my more technical comments on this topic posted at Wikipedia.]
[**"Truth-functional" is a technical term for the type of link that exists, or might exist, between propositions. In this particular case, if a certain proposition is true its negation is false, and vice versa. The one affects the truth-status of the other. Unfortunately, the full details of Hegel's moves here are rather complex, so I have omitted them. However, interested readers can access them here, here, here, and here.]
Hegel Confuses Naming With Describing
Only by confusing objects (or the names of objects) with propositions (or clauses) -- that is, by confusing objects and/or their names with what we say about them -- was Hegel able to conjure the 'dialectic' into existence.
[His other 'arguments' are merely window dressing. (They too will be demolished in Essay Twelve Parts Four and Five, when they are published.)]
We name objects and persons (among other things). Typically, only then can we say things about them, and we do so in sentences. These familiar features of language are quite distinct.
[I'll explain why it is important that they stay that way later. (Sure we have other ways of referring to things, but they only complicate the picture, they don't alter it.)]
Furthermore, propositions aren't objects. Nor are they the names of anything, as Hegel appears to have assumed. If they were, they couldn't be used to say anything. Sure, we use various inscriptions (words, phrases, clauses, sentences, utterances) to articulate our sentences -- that is we write words on paper, type letters on computer screens, or we say things -- , but when we do this, these inscriptions serve as symbols (i.e., they signify things for us, and to us, and convey meaning). We achieve this by the way we employ such linguistic resources according to the grammatical complexity our ancestors built into language.
To see this, just look at any object or collection of objects (assuming they do not represent a coded message of some sort) and ask yourself what it/they say to you. You might be tempted to reply that it/they say this or that, but in order to report what it/they allegedly say, you will be forced to articulate whatever that is in a proposition, or some other sentence. You couldn't do this by merely reproducing the original objects, or, indeed, any other objects, nor could you do so by just naming them.
story taken from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels exposes the
absurdity of the idea that
we could say things simply by using objects. More on this
This isn't surprising, since objects have no social history, intellect or language, whereas we do, and have.
Naming is like setting out the pieces on a chess board ready for a game. A move in a game is like a proposition (describing, or explaining, for example). While they both depend on each other, only someone intent on ruining a game (or who had a hidden agenda) would deliberately confuse the two.
Unfortunately, Engels and Lenin swallowed this spurious Hegelian word magic, hook, line and sinker -- and that is because neither of them were logicians. Despite this, they both had a wildly inflated opinion of Hegel's expertise in this area.
[This isn't to malign these two great revolutionaries; others, who should know better, have similarly allowed themselves to be duped. Exactly why they do this is explained in Essay Nine Part Two.]
However, because of their misguided respect for Hegel, Marxists ever since have been saddled with his fractured 'logic' (upside down, or 'the right way up').
Here, for example, is Lenin's use of this idea:
To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic]
with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics
(as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently,
the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the
individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The
universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every
individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a
fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only
approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters
incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by
thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena,
processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of
necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the
contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say
John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the
essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other….
Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a "nucleus" ("cell") the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general. [Lenin (1961), i.e., Philosophical Notebooks, pp.359-60.]
[Engels's much shorter version of the same idea can be found here.]
Both of these comrades plainly felt confident they could 'derive' fundamental truths about reality, valid for all of space and time -- not from a scientific investigation of the world --, but from examining a few words inspected through Hegel's distorting lens!
And yet, dialecticians still tell us with a straight face that their theory hasn't been imposed on nature!
Unfortunately, the sentence Lenin used -- J1 (repeated below)
-- is descriptive. We use sentences like this to describe the individuals concerned --, so it can't be treated in the way Hegel imagined
it could (that is, as an identity statement). In fact, Aristotle
would have approached it differently. In order to explain its structure, he
would have said something like:
A1: Manhood applies to John.
[J1: John is a man.
J2: John is identical with Manhood.]
In other words, in J1 the predicate is used to describe John; it isn't expressing an identity, as it is in J2.
Indeed, it makes no sense to suppose with Hegel that John (or his name) could be identical with a general term -- any more than it would make sense to suppose that you, for example, are identical with a conjunction, a preposition, or an adverb --, or with what any of these supposedly 'represent'.
In which case, this example of Medieval Roman Catholic 'logic' isn't simply misguided, it is bizarre in the extreme!
It surely takes a special sort of 'genius' (which we are assured by Lenin that Hegel possessed) to suppose that an object/individual like John could be identical with a predicate, or with the 'abstraction' it supposedly designated!
Identity Not The Same As Identification
To be sure, Hegelians might want to call propositions like J1 "essential", in that they tell us what kind of being John is; that is, they help identify him. Even if that were so, and there are good reasons for supposing it isn't (on that see Essay Thirteen Part Two, when it is published), that still wouldn't affect the counter-argument presented here. Nor would it affect the point that J1 is still descriptive. It certainly doesn't justify turning J1 into J2.
And, of course, identifying something isn't the same as asserting an identity relation.
For example, if squaddie NN is asked whether or not he can identify Osama bin Laden in a line-up, and he replies, "Yes, Osama is identical to Osama, Sarge!", he would risk being put on a charge. On the other hand, if he points to one of the suspects and says, "That's him, Sarge!", he wouldn't. [This was, of course, written before the US military executed Osama bin Laden.] So, identification isn't the same as identity (no pun intended). Hegel ran the two together.
The Theory Implodes
If we return to the original sentence, translated this time into Hegel-speak, we can perhaps see more clearly where the argument goes astray:
J2: John is identical with Manhood.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to explain what the extra "is" here (highlighted in green) now means. But, this extra "is" has to be used in order to make the alleged identity between John and Manhood (or whatever) plain.
In fact, if all such uses of "is" expressed disguised identities (as we are assured they must), J2 would now have to become:
J2a: John is identical with identical with Manhood,
as the green "is" from J2 is replaced with what it is supposed to mean, i.e., "is identical with" --, in turquoise, in J2a.
After another such 'dialectical' switch J2a would become:
J2b: John is identical with identical with identical with Manhood,
as the turquoise "is" we had to use in J2a is replaced by "is identical with" to yield J2b. And so on:
J2b: John is identical with identical with identical with identical with Manhood.
These untoward moves can only be halted if we argue that "is" doesn't always express an identity in such propositions. But, dialecticians gave up the right to lodge that particular appeal the moment they accepted The Identity Theory of Predication.
Fortunately, Aristotle's approach short-circuits this; there is no "is" at all in A1:
A1: Manhood applies to John.
By way of contrast, Hegel's 'analysis' can't avoid this verbal explosion; indeed, it positively invites it.
Anyone who thinks this is just "pedantic" nit-picking need only reflect on the fact that Hegel -- or anyone who agrees with him --, can't explain this 'theory' without using J2:
J2: John is identical with Manhood.
But, as we can now see, Hegel's theory stalls at this point, for this extra "is" can't be one of identity (for the above reasons), and if it isn't, then the theory that tells us that "is" is always one of identity (in such contexts) is defective.
In fact, this Hegelian trick can only be performed using one or other Indo-European language. By-and-large, other language groups do not possess this particular grammatical feature. The above moves depend solely on the subject-predicate form taking the copula "is" (or its cognates), which form is found almost exclusively in the aforementioned family of languages.
This shows that Hegel's 'logic' isn't just bizarre, it is parochial into the bargain!
Traditional Grammar Partly To Blame
To illustrate these bogus moves in yet more detail,
J1: John is a man.
traditional grammar, J1's
general form is in effect this:
G1: S is P.
[Where, "S" = "Subject", "P" = "Predicate".]
Now, we already have a facility in language that allows us to express identity -- and genuinely so. For example, here is an uncontroversial identity statement:
G2: Cicero is Tully.
["Tully" was Cicero's other name. Cicero was a reactionary politician, orator and author who lived in Ancient Rome about the same time as Julius Caesar.]
So, G2 quite legitimately means:
G2a: Cicero is identical with Tully.
[However, the extra blue "is" here is now an "is" of predication, not identity! So, the verbal explosion we met earlier isn't implied by G2a.]
G3: A = B.
[Where "A" is "Cicero" and "B" is "Tully"; using "="
as the identity sign, again.]
G2 and G3 express an unambiguous use of the "is" of identity -- no problem with that -- whereas, in G2a, the "is" is one of predication.
However, it is important to note that the identity relation here operates between two names or singular terms (on this, see below***) -- or it does so between two named individuals, depending on how identity is finally understood. This is typical of the use of the "is" of identity.
Now, just look at the superficial similarity between the following two linguistic forms -- especially between J1/G1 (predication) and G2 (identity):
J1: John is a man.
G1: S is P.
G2: Cicero is Tully.
G3: A = B.
Highly influential Ancient and Medieval logicians and grammarians noticed this, too, and combined the two distinct forms into one, reading the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity. [Why they did this will be explained presently.]
But, this move now turns the predicate "P" into a name, in parallel with the Proper Name ("Tully") used in G2.
As noted a few paragraphs back, identities concern the relation between names, or between other singular terms -- for example:
P1: The 43rd President of the United States is George W Bush.
***Here, the first singular term (highlighted in blue) is a definite description; the second singular term ("George W Bush") is a Proper Name.
[Alternatively, identity propositions express a relation that is supposed to hold between whoever/whatever it is that these terms refer to.]
Unfortunately, given this view, "P" now becomes a name -- hence, it can no longer be a predicate.
[Why that is so will be explained presently, too.]
As we have seen, Hegel adopted this Medieval analysis, deliberately conflating the "is" of identity with the "is" of predication. This then 'allowed' him to claim that propositions like J1 were in fact identity statements.
Of course, this means that the core of Hegel's 'logic' is based solely on what is in effect a grammatical stipulation -- i.e., it is a dogmatic assertion that these two forms (predicate and identity statements) are one and the same, which move creates the intractable problems we met above --, but which stipulation Hegel nowhere adequately justified.
Moreover, as we will soon see, this particular stipulation destroys the capacity language has for expressing generality. Predicates enable us to say general things about named individuals or objects (etc.) -- for example, that John is a mechanic, or a hospital porter, or even a man. Turning predicates into names stops them doing this, preventing them from being used to say anything general.
So, given a 'Hegel-make-over', J1 thus becomes J1a (and/or J1b):
J1: John is a man.
J1a: John = man/Manhood.
J1b: John is identical with man/Manhood.
Hence, on this view, just as "Tully" names Cicero, "man" names Manhood --, or perhaps, the class ('category', or 'concept') of men.
The Pseudo-Problem Of The Relation Between 'Thought' And 'Being'
As noted above, the 'rationale' underlying these linguistic moves had already been laid down by earlier theorists and mystics, who were, among other things, concerned to explain the alleged union or identity between the human soul and 'God'/'Being'. Hence, they played around with the Greek verb "to be" (and thus with the "is" of predication) until it was made to say what they wanted it to say.
[Of course, this grammatical sleight-of-hand helps account for the emphasis placed by subsequent Idealists on the supposed 'identity' of 'Thought' and 'Being', which later became the main problematic of German Idealism --, a problematic Engels also bought into. On that, see his Ludwig Feuerbach And The End Of Classical German Philosophy.]
There is in fact no other reason for adopting the Identity Theory of Predication, which also helps explain why it was theologians and mystics who concocted it (and why Hegel, the Mystery-Meister Himself, eagerly appropriated it).
[Of course, none of these moves took place in an ideological or political vacuum; a brief outline of some of the relevant issues can be found here.]
Anyway, logicians and grammarians after Aristotle, and especially those working in the Middle Ages (who also used this theory to help them tackle and try and explain the incomprehensible Christian Trinity), began to conflate these two distinct forms as a matter of course. This fed into, and was fed in return by an increasingly elaborate and complex metaphysic supposedly centred on the ultimate structure of reality and the relation of 'Thought' to 'Being'/'God' --, which speculative gyrations were based solely on: (1) This linguistic sleight-of-hand, (2) Mystical Theology --, and (3) Nothing more!
Certainly not on a scientific investigation of the world.
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.]
'The dialectic' is thus based on defective a priori dogmatics, of the sort castigated by Novack (Engels and other dialecticians have also said similar things), but not on evidence. Sure, evidence is often later sought to 'illustrate' the 'laws' dialecticians uncritically imported from Hegel, but the original theses themselves were derived in the way that Novack highlights, by 'pure thought'. And, as we saw in Essay Seven Part One, the watery-thin evidence dialecticians have scraped-together since woefully fails to substantiate their theory.
So, in the end, J1/G1 and G2-type sentences were modelled along the lines expressed by G4 and G5 -- i.e., as identity statements:
J1: John is a man.
G1: S is P.
G2: Cicero is Tully.
G4: A = B.
G5: John = Manhood.
Propositions Turned Into Lists
But, and once more, this turns predicates into Proper Names -- i.e., "a man" becomes the Proper Name of Manhood (or the 'Concept Man'), which it plainly is not. Naming isn't the same as describing. We name our children when they are born, we do not simply describe them. If we do subsequently describe them, we use predicates, not names. We don't name children with phrases like "is a man", or "is tall". Not even pop stars do that to their off-spring! We describe the world around us, we do not simply name it.
The untoward result of buying onto linguistic confusion like this was recently outlined for us by Professor E J Lowe:
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).]
So, a collection of names is just that: a list -- and lists say nothing, just as objects say nothing. For example -- coded messages aside, once more -- this list says nothing:
L1: John, book, car.
L1 can only be made to say different things if its constituent words are articulated with other expressions that do not function as names:
L2: John found my book in his car.
L3: John lost your book and sold his car.
L4: John isn't mentioned in that book, but his car is.
L5: John has vanished, so has your book and my car.
L6: John can book you a car tomorrow.
L7: Give John a book to read while I steal his car.
You just can't see any of these in L1. Well, did any of you see one or more of L2-L7 in L1 before you read them? But, there are countless sentences (that none of us have ever heard before) that can be constructed from just these three nouns.
So, our use of expressions that aren't names, and which do not function like names, allows us to generate an endless number of sentences with different meanings -- meanings that would be unavailable to us if we simply employed lists of names, or collections of objects.
Of course, it could be objected that there are languages in which names do describe. For example, Native Americans use names such as "Sitting Bull", "Crazy Horse", or "Rain In The Face", which describe what the individual concerned either did or was reminiscent of.
Even so, no Native American would argue as follows:
N1: Sitting Bull has just stood up.
N2: Therefore Sitting Bull is no longer Sitting Bull, he is Standing Bull.
But, they would argue as follows:
N3: That animal over there is a sitting bull.
N4: It has just stood up, so it's now a standing bull.
[I have deliberately kept these sentences trite so that the logical point being made isn't obscured by needless complexity.]
This shows that the logical use of names is distinct from that of descriptions. Any contingent traditional, psychological, or idiosyncratic associations a name has are logically irrelevant to its use as a name, no matter how important such quirks of language are to a given culture.
Hence, the name "Sitting Bull" is a logical unit and cannot be split up like a description can. [Examples of the latter are given here.] That is partly because, as Aristotle noted (De Interpretatione, Section 3), names are tenseless, but predicates are not. So, we still call Julius Caesar, "Julius Caesar", even though he is dead, and even though there was a time when he had no name at all -- i.e., the moment he was born.
The above examples bring this out since change (expressed by the use of suitably tensed verbs like "stood" or "sitting") is conveyed by our use of tensed predicates, not names. That is why, whatever Sitting Bull does, he is still Sitting Bull. There is no past, present or future tense of names like "Sitting Bull", "Julius Caesar", or "George Washington".
[These and other complications are discussed at length in Geach (1968), pp.22-80. See also here.]
So, for Hegel,
"a man" became the Proper Name of Manhood, which was then dignified by
being called an "abstraction",
or even worse, an "essence" -- both of which were conjured into existence
by this linguistic dodge, and nothing more.
In this way, then, dialectics (in the post-Hegelian sense of this word, upside down or the 'right way up') arose out of egregiously defective logic and a series of errors compounded by a crass misconstrual of what is in effect minor aspect of a sub-branch of Indo-European grammar!
Hard to believe? Well, Marx himself indicated that this was so:
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: The German Ideology, p.118. Bold emphases added.]
So, Traditional Philosophy and 'dialectics' (again, in the post-Hegelian sense of that word) are based on "distorted language".
Indeed, the analysis outlined in this Essay (and elsewhere at this site) underlines why Marx was right.
[Although, it isn't being argued here that Marx would have agreed with this assessment! On the other hand, if he were consistent, he should have!]
Now, even if the above analysis is incorrect in some way, neither Aristotle, nor Hegel (nor anyone else, for that matter) has been able to explain how or why contingent features of Indo-European grammar could possibly have such profound implications built into them --, that is, how they could contain/reveal such fundamental truths about the deep structure of reality, valid for all of space and time.
Did the rest of us miss a meeting?
In fact, I call this approach to 'knowledge': Linguistic Idealism.
[More on that here and here.]
So, the above considerations reveal how and why Hegel screwed up -- and why the 'dialectic' (upside down, or 'the right way up') enjoys absolutely no rational support whatsoever.
High time we ditched this confused, defective and failed 'theory'.
Historical Materialism doesn't need it, and can do without it.
Does This Essay Refute Itself?
Finally, some might want to argue that to refute Hegel is ipso facto to confirm the dialectic. Hence, in trying to refute Hegel, this Essay refutes itself!
However, the above considerations do not amount to, nor were they intended to be a refutation of Hegel. In order to refute his work, one would have to show it false. On the contrary, what I have done here is show that his work is far to confused for anyone to be able to say whether or not it is false.
It doesn't make it that far.
Empty Philosophical Language
The claim that ordinary language can't cope with change (or, at least with complex and long drawn out change) is also subjected to detailed scrutiny and then refutation. In fact, and on the contrary, it is Hegelian jargon that can't account for the dynamism we find in nature and society -- indeed, it spectacularly fails to do what had been advertised for it all along. If there were a Sale of Philosophical Goods Act, Hegelian jargon would be Exhibit A for the prosecution.
Ordinary language contains countless words that express every conceivable sort of change, to whatever level of detail is required; practically every verb and adverb stands in clear testimony to that fact. [A long list of such words is given in Essay Four.]
In contrast, Hegelian jargon is wooden, opaque and lifeless, having had its spirit removed without anaesthetic during abstraction.
Unfortunately, DM-theorists have been more intent on repeating the ill-considered criticisms of the vernacular found throughout Traditional Philosophy. Indeed, their reliance on the opinions of a card-carrying mystic and purveyor of ruling-class forms-of-thought (i.e., Hegel), as justification for their denigration of ordinary language, thus implicates them in a Metaphysical Tradition which includes among its ranks some of the very worst apologists of class rule.
The 'LIE' Detector At Work
In the event, I explain why DM suffers from all the failings of any metaphysic based on a ruling-class view of reality. The latter is in fact a family of views whose members possess several beliefs in common; as already noted, chief among these is the thesis that reality is 'rational', controlled by a 'Mind' (of some sort) -- or by mind-like 'laws' -- or it is 'governed' by mysterious forces that only the 'initiated' are capable of understanding. For its successful depiction, this approach requires a specialised and impenetrable vocabulary, whose terms work rather like the words of the old Latin Mass: they are intended to mystify, and thus help guarantee exclusivity for the elite and their ideologues (as well as, in this case, derivatively for the Dialectical Magi who lead our movement).
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
This esoteric language supposedly enables those engaging in 'conceptual analysis' (or, more accurately, the systematic production of empty jargon) to un-mask the hidden "essence" that 'underlies' appearances, way beyond the reach of the "common herd". Naturally, the superscientific theses that Traditional Thought managed to weave together in this way are incapable of being confirmed by mere mortals --, which, fortunately, renders them safe from refutation, and thus beyond democratic control.
Although others have argued along apparently similar lines (highlighting the implications of the traditional idea that reality is 'rational', etc.), the emphasis placed in these Essays is somewhat different. Here both the assertion that reality is rational and its denial are criticised, since they are both metaphysical theses based on Ideal forms-of-thought. Non-sense and the 'negation' of non-sense are both non-sensical.
The upshot of this approach is that the last 2500 years of Traditional Thought (i.e., Metaphysics, and this includes the mystical variety Hegel inflicted on humanity) is little more that ruling-class hot air.
These Essays supply the reader therefore with a rather large material pin.
Wittgenstein's method is enlisted to assist in the removal of this Hermetic poison (DM) from HM. His approach, despite what many of Wittgenstein's epigones claim for it, is neither relativist nor anti-realist. That is because Realism, Relativism, and anti-Realism are metaphysical theories themselves, and hence are equally non-sensical (i.e., none of them are based on non-materially-grounded language).
[This will from one of the main subjects of Essay Thirteen Part Two when it is published sometime in 2015.]
The tactic adopted here thus seeks to destroy Metaphysics in order to make scientific knowledge possible (to paraphrase Kant). In Marxist terms, I do not aim to reform Traditional Philosophy from within, but assist in its termination.
This therefore brings to a close the work Feuerbach initiated, for now it is possible to see all forms of alienated human thought for what they really are: the product of a fetishised view of class society, and one based on the assumed powerlessness of working people (all the more to keep them that way).
If the challenge posed here is correct, revolutionaries are forced to adopt other criteria of truth. To that end, a particularly successful criterion (consonant with HM) is suggested -- one that classifies rival theories as defective because they all collapse into incoherent non-sense at some point. That is in turn because they all depend on language that hasn't been derived from material interaction with the world, nor on communal life, but on jargon borrowed from fetishised forms of discourse which reflect ruling-class experience, priorities and interests.
It is also shown in detail how and why attempts to undermine ordinary language will always backfire on its would-be critics (as, for example, we saw happen in relation to Lenin's attempt to declare motion without matter "unthinkable").
Furthermore, ordinary language is to be distinguished from "commonsense" (a distinction most theorists deliberately ignore, fail to notice or misunderstand).
Ordinary language can't be the same as "commonsense" because every claim expressed in the latter can easily be contradicted in the former. [That argument is expanded upon here.]
Why All This Now?
Finally, it is also argued that the emphasis placed on ordinary language by certain Analytic Philosophers (up until a few generations ago, at least) wasn't unconnected with the rise of the working class as a political force in modern history. The latter-day demise of this tradition in Analytic Philosophy (coupled with the resurgence of Metaphysics, but particularly Hegelianism) is also linked to the change in the balance of class forces that has taken place over the last forty years or so, leading once again to the ascendancy of Idealism.
In fact, the modern home of 'monetarist' economic theory (the USA) was also the source of the most determined attacks on Ordinary Language Philosophy (OLP). Hence, over the same period, we have also witnessed the resurgence of a gamut of right-wing ideas in science (for example, the rise of Sociobiology in the 1970s, which later transmogrified into 'Evolutionary Psychology' in the 1990s). No coincidences these.
This isn't to suggest that those working in OLP were revolutionaries, or even that they saw things this way. It is to assert, however, that their emphasis on ordinary language had materialist roots, and that it didn't just emerge out of thin air. In fact, many of these philosophers were socialists of one sort or another (Russell, Ayer, Schlick, Neurath, Ryle, Hampshire, Davidson, to name but a few). Indeed, the vast majority of Wittgenstein's friends were Communists and socialists, or were sympathetic to Trotskyism. Wittgenstein is reported to have said he was a "communist at heart"; he also supported the gains of the October revolution. Here are a few more salient facts about Wittgenstein:
1) He is on record affirming his support for the gains workers made as a result of the Russian Revolution, declaring that he would lose sympathy for the regime there if class distinctions returned.
2) He wanted to move to the USSR in the early 1920s, and then later in the mid-1930s, when he was offered the chair of Philosophy at Kazan University (Lenin's old college), hardly an offer that would have been made to a non-red German speaker at the height of Russian anti-Nazi paranoia.
3) In the Preface to his most important work (the Investigations), Wittgenstein credits a leading Marxist (Sraffa) for the most formative ideas of that book. We now know of striking similarities between their work (on that, see here, too).
4) Wittgenstein quotes (or alludes to) Engels approvingly in that book, and uses an argument found in Voloshinov (who was a colleague of a mutual friend). He also adopted a social and anthropological approach to language, as did Voloshinov only a few years earlier. There are other remarkable similarities between Voloshinov's work and Wittgenstein's, as there are between Wittgenstein, Marx, Engels and Hegel's work (see the next point).
5) Almost totally unique among Analytic Philosophers, Wittgenstein questioned the 'Law of Identity', and raised doubts over the applicability of the 'Law of Non-Contradiction' (even arguing that one could regard motion and change as contradictory!), and he expressed the opinion that the idea that everything is in flux (Heraclitus) must be inherent in language -- all of which ideas are central both to Hegel's system and DM (upside down or the 'right way up'). Moreover, he employed arguments and expressions found in both Hegel's and Engel's work.
6) Like Marx and Engels Wittgenstein regarded language as a social artefact (even likening words to tools), and connected discourse with practical activity -- also like Marx --, arguing that in the beginning "was the deed".
7) His approach to language and Philosophy was remarkably similar to Marx's, connecting the former with collective labour and communication, the latter with empty abstraction and linguistic "distortion", or "deformity".
[For more of the same, see here.]
This, of course, makes the work of the most important philosopher of Ordinary Language (i.e., Wittgenstein) crucially important for the defence of working-class politics. [Although it is not maintained here that he saw things this way, either!]
The working class in previous centuries was far too small and weak to provide a materialist counter-weight to the Idealism found in all forms of ruling-class thought, and more recently in Dialectical Marxism. This is no longer the case.
In fact, the larger the working-class becomes, the less impact Dialectical Marxism has on it.
And we can now see why.
These Essays perhaps represent the first attempt in the modern age to reshape working-class thought de novo, and thus Marxist Theory in toto.
In which case, the Owl of Minerva can get stuffed.
[For those who don't know what the dialectics that is about, Hegel wrote in the Preface to his Philosophy of Right: "The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk" ([Hegel (2005), p.xxi] -- my paraphrase), meaning that philosophical wisdom will only appear at the end of certain periods in history; more details here, here and here. (The last link has the full quotation.)
The Owl of Minerva is also the official journal of the Hegel Society of America, and Minerva was the name of the Masonic Journal (which preached radical French Jacobin ideas) that Hegel read in Berne in 1794 -- according to a letter he wrote to Schelling (24/12/1794). There is no evidence, though, that Hegel became a Mason, but he was employed at that time by a prominent Mason -- Jean Gogel -- to tutor his children, and many of his friends were Masons, as were those who influenced him. It is also worth adding that Masonic lodges, especially those in Germany, were heavily steeped in Hermetic Philosophy. There is more on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]
It became important for a new, rising class -- the bourgeoisie -- to invent a (Christian) philosophy of change that represented their right to modify and re-shape the status quo in their favour (and which, again, linked even this development to the cosmic or 'divine' order), an erstwhile 'philosophy of freedom', which, when applied, merely ends up enslaving the working class all the more.
[This forms one of the main topics of Essay Nine Parts One and Two.]
Enter dialectics -- which, of course, helps explain why the ruling classes of the former USSR, Eastern Europe and China were ardent DM-fans.
DM, a cosmically hyper-ambitious 'theory', succeeded in elevating the above to their 'rightful' and pre-eminent position in the workers' movement, connecting it with the underlying order of the entire universe --, since only they 'understood' dialectics, only they knew how to use it to transform humanity (from above).
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