16-08-02-- Summary Of Essay Eight Part Two: Why Opposing Forces Aren't 'Contradictions'
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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 in full, should consult the Essay for which this is a summary. [In this particular case, that can be found here.]
As is the case with all my work, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago.
The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.
Phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and DM), aren't meant to suggest that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius). They are intended to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. 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, 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, here, and here). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time aimed at absolute beginners!) here.]
[Latest Update: 20/04/17.]
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2) The Gravity Of The Problem
3) Is "Dialectical Contradiction" Merely Figurative?
4) Are 'Contradictions' In Effect Part Of A Mathematical Model?
5) Contradictory To What?
6) The Origin Of This 'Theory'
7) 'Real' Contradictions
8) Does "Contradiction" Have A Special Meaning?
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
In Part Two of Essay Eight it will be shown why there is no way that "contradiction" ('dialectical' or otherwise) can be interpreted as "opposing force", nor vice versa.
[It should be added that this Summary of Essay Eight Part Two assumes some sense can be made of the phrase "dialectical contradiction". However, as Essays Five, Eight Parts One, Two and Three, and Eleven Part One have shown, no sense at all can in fact be made of it.]
The Gravity Of The Problem
Unfortunately for DM-supporters, since most of the motion in the universe is governed by the action of only one central force (i.e., in classical Physics, this is the force of gravity which governs the motion of planets around stars, and stars around galactic centres of mass, etc.), classical DM can't account for most of the bulk motion (and thus most of the change) in nature.
Now, even if such motion were to be regarded as the result of the complex inter-relation between gravitational fields, change in motion would still be caused by only one force: the resultant. No contradiction ('dialectical' or otherwise) has just one term.
Of course, if General Relativity is to be believed (where the force of gravity has been edited out of the picture, replaced by the motion of bodies along geodesics and world-lines) most of the motion in the universe would take place under the action of no forces at all.
This fact is underlined by Nobel Laureate, Professor Wilczek (of MIT), who makes a more general point about forces in modern Physics:
"The paradox deepens when we consider force from the perspective of modern physics. In fact, the concept of force is conspicuously absent from our most advanced formulations of the basic laws. It doesn't appear in Schrödinger's equation, or in any reasonable formulation of quantum field theory, or in the foundations of general relativity. Astute observers commented on this trend to eliminate force even before the emergence of relativity and quantum mechanics.
"In his 1895 Dynamics, the prominent physicist Peter G. Tait, who was a close friend and collaborator of Lord Kelvin and James Clerk Maxwell, wrote
'In all methods and systems which involve the idea of force there is a leaven of artificiality...there is no necessity for the introduction of the word 'force' nor of the sense−suggested ideas on which it was originally based.'"
[The above now appears in Wilczek (2006), pp.37-38.]
This is a point that even some dialecticians appear to have conceded:
"Gravity is not a 'force,' but a relation between real objects. To a man falling off a high building, it seems that the ground is 'rushing towards him.' From the standpoint of relativity, that observation is not wrong. Only if we adopt the mechanistic and one-sided concept of 'force' do we view this process as the earth's gravity pulling the man downwards, instead of seeing that it is precisely the interaction of two bodies upon each other." [Woods and Grant (1995), p.156.]
However, Woods and Grant will find it difficult to explain how a mere "relation" between two bodies is incapable of making one or both of them move unless there is a force there (or something else consequent on that relation -- such as a time-based trajectory along a "world-line", perhaps?) to bring it about.
Naturally, this means that most of the changes studied by physicists can't be the result of "contradictions" -- if, that is, the latter are still to be modelled as opposing forces.
In short: if there are no forces, there can be no 'dialectical contradictions'!
In view of the above, it might be tempting to interpret "dialectical contradiction" figuratively -- which response would resemble the tactic adopted by Christians, who, when faced with the results of modern science, tell us that the Book of Genesis is merely "figurative".
Alternatively, a set of opposing forces could be depicted as a 'dialectical contradiction' as part of a shorthand, which would then enable the modelling of different types of accelerated motion. That approach would allow the word "force" to be edited out of the picture as a physical entity in its own right. Indeed, Engels seems to have had this in mind in the quotation given below, where he argues that attraction and repulsion shouldn't be regarded as forces, but as simple forms of motion. This theoretical retreat was perhaps recommended to him by his other admission that the concept "force" was derived from an ancient mystical and anthropomorphic view of nature, which would, of course, imply that its use in DM smacked of animism:
"When two bodies act on each other…they either attract each other or they repel each other…in short, the old polar opposites of attraction and repulsion…. It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion...." [Engels (1954), pp.70-71. Bold emphasis added.]
"The notion of force, however, owing to its origin from the action of the human organism on the external world…implies that only one part is active, the other part being passive…[and appearing] as a resistance." [Ibid., p.82. Bold emphasis added.]
However, this revision would have two untoward consequences Engels appears not to have noticed:
(1) It makes his version of DM look even more positivistic that it already seems (at least in DN). If the appeal to forces in nature is no more than a shorthand for the relative motion of bodies, then, plainly, forces will have no real counterpart in nature. The whole idea would then be little more than a "useful fiction", introduced in order to account for the phenomena instrumentally. This would make the identification of forces with contradictions even more problematic (as will be demonstrated below). Plainly, and once again: if there are no forces, there can be no DM-'contradictions'.
[DN = Dialectics of Nature, i.e., Engels (1954); UO = Unity of Opposites.]
(2) Given this re-write of the word "force", the contradictory relationship between bodies would become little more than a re-description of their relative motion. [Woods and Grant seem to be thinking along these lines, too, as we saw earlier.]
Unfortunately, in that case, there would be no interconnection between such bodies, which appears to be an essential factor required by other DM-theses (where we are told that everything is "interconnected"). This seems to mean that causal interactions of this sort are externally-motivated, not mediated by forces, and thus can't be internally inter-conditioned. On this account, the 'unity-in-opposition' between oppositional objects and processes in the Totality will have been broken; the thesis that change is the result of 'internal contradictions' would then be left without any sort of internal, mediating factors. [This confusion was analysed in detail in Part One. Moreover, this approach would threaten to fragment the DM-Totality, since on that basis the interconnections between bodies and processes would become problematic, as we will see below.]
Anyway, the figurative reading of forces as 'contradictions' runs counter to the claim advanced by dialecticians that what they are offering is an 'objective' account of nature. It isn't at all easy to see how figurative language is capable of filling the gaps in an explanation of objects and processes in the material world -- any more than, say, the following can account for Juliet's beauty:
"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun." [Romeo and Juliet, Act Two, Scene Two.]
Or, at least, no more than would describing a man as a "pig" imply he had a curly tail, four legs and was a convenient source of bacon.
Are 'Contradictions' In Effect Part of a Mathematical Model?
Nevertheless, even if this proved to be an acceptable resolution of Engels's problem, it would still fail to provide DM-theorists with a promising way out of their difficulties. Taken literally or figuratively the equation of DM-'contradictions' with forces can't work, whether this applies to events in nature or society. This is so for several reasons.
The first of these is connected with the way that forces are already represented in Mathematics and Physics, for example, which doesn't appear to be even remotely appropriate for use in depicting contradictions as literal forces. Consider the following:
(a) Forces often operate according to an inverse square law. It is difficult to see how the same could be true of contradictions. Presumably, two objects, states of affairs, or processes contradict each other in nature or society or they don't. Not much sense can be made, one presumes(!), of the idea that a contradiction could operate with, say, only 25% of its former intensity (or whatever the appropriate descriptor is here) if the distance between its oppositional elements were doubled. Do bosses really become more conciliatory if workers walk away from them? Or if the local trade union offices are located in a distant town? Does wealth cause less conflict if the rich move their money to the Cayman Islands? Do appearances 'contradict' reality any the more -- or less -- if someone uses a microscope, or presses their face against the surface of an object?
Indeed, little sense can be made either of the idea that there is a literal separation distance between components of DM-'contradictions' -- for instance, that there is, or could be, a separation distance between Capital and Labour, or that there might be a literal gap between the "forces and relations of production", or even between an object and itself as it moves in a 'contradictory' sort of way. What could it possibly mean to suggest, for example, that the "contradiction between use value and exchange value" changes if these two terms (or the commodities to which they are supposed to apply) are further apart? Clearly, these two 'entities' can't be separated (except perhaps in thought), since they aren't the sort of thing that could be physically joined or split up -- but even if they could, they would still be just as contradictory as they were before they were parted (one presumes?). And yet, no force in nature has its local or remote magnitude unaffected by such changes.
Admittedly, dialecticians speak about the "contradictions" in the capitalist system "intensifying", but that isn't because the 'separation distance' between the relevant classes will have decreased. Whatever DM-theorists in fact mean by "intensification" here (which seems be that the alleged "contradictions" become more obvious, intractable, or crisis-ridden), they certainly don't mean it in the same way that physicists mean it when they talk about, say, the strength of a force field intensifying. Nor is there any mathematics involved in such DM-descriptions. So, while a technician, for example, might be dispatched to measure the intensity of forces in the earth's crust prior to an earthquake (as part of a genuine scientific research programme), no one, it seems, has ever been asked to do the same with these "intensifying" 'dialectical contradictions'. They (or at least their 'strength') appear to be permanently locked in subjective space, stubbornly impervious to scientific investigation.
Be this as it may, what sense can be made of the other contradictions alleged to exist in nature? Can, for example, a moving object be more contradictory than it used to be? Increasingly here and not here, maybe? In more than two places at once, perhaps, as it accelerates? Can an electron be more of a particle and a wave at the same time?
(b) Forces in nature can be represented by vectors, the use of which is governed by well-understood rules. As such, for example, they may be inclined at various angles to one another, added, subtracted and multiplied (to give inner, vector or scalar triple products, and the like) -- and by means of which diverse quantities such as areas, volumes, field densities, boundary fluxes (etc.), may be calculated. In addition, vectors may be parallel or orthogonal to one another or to previously defined axes, just as they can be decomposed into their components and projected onto a given direction, plane or surface. They can also be used to identify and classify the mathematical properties of various manifolds. Unit vectors can be defined in a given vector space, providing it with a base and spanning set. Modulii can be ascertained for any given vector, and so-called "Eigenvectors" can also be determined. Furthermore, matrices can be employed to represent vectors more efficiently, their determinants and inverses ascertained. The ordinary and partial derivatives of vectors can be calculated, and they can also be integrated (as part of line, surface or volume integrals), and so on.
It is difficult to see how any of the above (and many more besides) could be true of a single DM-'contradiction' interpreted (literally or metaphorically) as a force.
This brings us to the third reason for questioning the connection between forces and 'contradictions'.
Contradictory To What?
Let us assume that two forces (say, F1 and F2) 'contradict' one another. In that case, one of the following options would, it seems, have to obtain:
(1) F1 prevents F2 from acting (and/or vice versa), or,
(2) F1 impedes F2, perhaps stopping it from producing its usual effects (and/or vice versa).
[There is a third option: that these forces should "struggle" with one another; however, if that alternative is itself to make sense, it would have to be expanded in terms of one or both of the above.]
In the first case, F2 must either:
(1a) Cease to exist, or,
(1b) Confront F1 directly (as force on force) while it exists -- if it is to be affected by F1, or if it is to be prevented from operating by it.
However, if in (1a), F2 ceases to exist, it can't contradict, or be contradicted by, anything, since it no longer exists to do anything.
Assuming, on the other hand, that F2 is contradicted by F1 up until it ceases to exist, then option (1a) would become (1b).
In that case, the alleged contradiction between F1 and F2 must picture these forces as directly oppositional to each other, in some way. If so, these two forces must confront one another as forces of attraction and/or repulsion (or as a 'dialectical' combination of the two).
But, once again, it isn't easy to see how this configuration could be a contradiction in anything other than a figurative sense.
[That is because a literal contradiction involves the gainsaying of the words uttered by another individual.]
If, on the other hand, a literal (but as-yet-unexplained) interpretation of "contradiction" is still insisted upon, it would seem that this sort of interaction between forces could only take place if they were particulate in some way -- that is, if they registered some sort of resistance to one another (i.e., if they are impenetrable to some extent). If, on the other hand, they aren't particulate, it is hard to see how they could interact in any way, let alone 'contradict' each other. Continuous media have no rigidity and no impenetrability that enables them to exert forces of any sort (except, of course, as part of a figurative extension of particulate interaction, after all).
Now, there are well-known classical problems associated with the idea that forces are particulate (these are discussed in more detail in Essay Eight Parts One and Two) -- not the least of which is that if forces were particulate then they could only interact if they exerted still other forces (contact forces, cohesive forces, forces of reaction, etc.) on other particulates, initiating an infinite regress.
That is, in order to account for the ability of bodies to resist one another, we would need to appeal to forces internal to those bodies that enabled them to do just that -- i.e., in order for one body to stop another body penetrating it, or tearing it apart. But, if the forces internal to bodies were themselves also particulate, we would plainly need further forces to account for the coherence of these new bodies, and so on, ad infinitem.
Alternatively, once more, if these internal forces aren't particulate, but are continuous, they would be incapable of providing the required inner coherence, and the other body would simply pass through it unaffected.
In the end nothing would be accounted for (in this respect), since at each level there would be nothing to provide the required resistance or coherence.
So, it seems that reducing the interaction between forces to that between bodies explains nothing....
Unfortunately, even exchange particles (in QM) would succeed in exerting forces only if there were still further reaction forces internal to these bodies (that is, if they are indeed bodies -- as noted earlier, many physicists now speak of such 'particles' as perturbations in 'the field', which response poses serious problems of its own that we can't enter into here), forces that are themselves the result of rigidity, cohesion, and contact (etc.), to stop the force carrier particle passing right through the target particle without acting on it. Of course, as noted above, physicists these days appeal to fields, energy gradients, Feynman diagrams and the like, and reject such 'mechanistic' notions -- like those rehearsed in the previous couple of paragraphs. But, if fields and particles are both continuous, the above problems will simply re-emerge at this new level. On the other hand, if they are particulate, after all, this merry-go-round just takes another spin across the metaphysical dance floor.
[Some Physicists recognise this problem; many just ignore it, hoping that the mathematics alone will suffice.]
[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]
Of course, it could be objected once more that the above argument adopts an out-dated 'mechanistic'' view of interaction and, as a result, is completely misguided/obsolete. However, the modern 'mathematical' approach has plainly abandoned even the possibility of giving a causal, or, indeed, physical, account of forces -- or, at least, an explanation that doesn't itself depend on a figurative use of the sort of verbs we find in the vernacular to give a material account of why things happen in the everyday world (such as "push", "move", "resist", "hit", "collide", "deflect", "interact", and the like).
So, if a particle is viewed as the carrier of a force, and that force can be given no physical content -- for want of a better phrase -- but is still deemed capable of making things happen, deflecting particles from their line of action (etc.), then the aforementioned verbs must themselves lose contact with the meaning of typographically identical everyday verbs when they are used to speak about macro-phenomena.
Now, there is no problem with this providing we are aware of it and don't make the mistake of interpreting the technical use of such verbs literally, and then try to understand them in their everyday sense. Even so, a 'mathematical account' like this would merely be descriptive, not explanatory. Differential Equations, Hamiltonians, vectors and tensors can't make anything move, or alter the path of a single particle. To be sure, we can describe the phenomena using mathematical language/symbols, thus enabling us to 'balance the books of nature', as it were. But, the downside here is that mathematical models can't explain why anything actually happens in the physical world. (More details on this can be found in the full Essay.)
[Also see my comments over at Wikipedia, here (at the foot of the page) and here. Readers shouldn't conclude at this point that I am questioning the existence of The Field. What I am doing is questioning whether it can account for anything physical, or explain why anything actually happens in nature. (On this, see the discussion between myself and Paul Cockshott, here, and another between myself and a comrade who posted under the name "Lynx", here.)]
If, however, these annoying 'technical' problems are put to one side for the moment, it would seem that forces are only able to interact by affecting the motion of bodies that are already under the control of other forces. That is because it isn't easy to see how forces could affect one another -- other than by changing the nature of the relevant force field -- but even then, this would reduce to option (2), reproduced below.
In that case, (1b) would now become in effect amount to the action of F1 on the effects of F2 -- or, vice versa -- thus becoming option (2):
(1b) F2 confronts F1 directly (as force on force) while it exists -- if it is to be affected by F1, or if it is to be prevented from operating by it.
(2) F1 impedes F2, perhaps stopping it from producing its usual effects (and/or vice versa).
That being so, these forces would 'contradict' one another by preventing the normal effects of one or both of them from occurring. But, once more, if the latter are prevented from happening, they wouldn't exist to be contradicted, and we would be back at square one.
Should the above 'difficulty' be rejected for some reason, then if F1 does indeed succeed in 'contradicting' the effects of F2 --, say, the velocity of a body produced by an acceleration under the control of F2 (call this velocity, "V2"), we would now have a conflict between two unlike terms: F1 and V2. Clearly, given this scenario, the original contradiction between two forces will have disappeared, now replaced by a new relationship between a force and a velocity, which can't by any stretch of the imagination be called "contradictory". That is partly because the operating force merely alters a velocity -- in many cases it might even augment it, or merely deflect it -- and partly because a force can't 'struggle' with a mere rate of change of place. [Sure, it could 'struggle' with the body concerned, but we have already considered that option.]
Nevertheless, for a force to alter the velocity of a body, that force would have to be particulate, too, meaning that inter-particulate forces would come into play, once again. As already noted, continuous media have no inner coherence that enables them to alter anything -- unless, once more, they are surreptitiously viewed as particulate -- or somehow 'credited with rigidity' by mere fiat. This would then collapse this scenario back into option (1), with all its associated classical and figurative problems. Either way, the alleged contradiction here would evaporate for want of terms.
This criticism still applies even if the word "contradiction" is replaced by "conflict"; clearly, things can't conflict if they don't exist, nor can they "conflict" with what they have prevented from taking place.
[And what exactly is the 'inner conflict' here that is supposed to make things move and keep them moving? A metaphysical motor of some sort? More on that in Essay Five.]
It could be argued that the "conflict" here is precisely this: the fact that one force prevents another from acting. That option, along with all its ramifications, is considered in detail in Essay Eight Part Two (especially here). Further analysis of that option would prevent this from being a mere summary!
Also, the word "conflict" lacks the logical multiplicity and articulation that the word "contradiction" possesses. The whole point of using the word "contradiction" in DM was to emphasise the limitations of FL. This extension to the meaning of this word is what allows dialecticians to argue that contradictory states of affairs can exist simultaneously and can thus form into a contradiction. [In fact, Hegel's doctrine (one that Lenin certainly accepted) is much more involved than this. On that, see Essay Eight Part Three.] That was the thrust of the DL-theses examined in Essay Four -- i.e., that "A and not A" could be true, or could "co-exist". Hence, A and not A are supposed to be logically-, or dialectically-, connected. Now, if these As are meant to be propositions, the truth of one would ordinarily imply the falsehood of the other. But, their alleged dialectical connection doesn't imply this in any straightforward sense (or even at all!) -- indeed, the connection goes beyond this. This is what allows dialecticians to emphasise the putative superiority of DL over FL; their logic allows them to "grasp" such contradictions in order to make sense of change.
[FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic.]
If the meaning of the word "conflict" is pressed into service in place of "contradict", the aforementioned logical connection disappears, and the presumed superiority of DL over FL vanishes along with it, since no Formal Logician of any intelligence would deny that things can conflict -- nor indeed reject the claim that two propositions expressing conflict can't both be true (or false) at once. [That would, of course, be tantamount to them admitting that "conflict" wasn't synonymous with "contradict".]
On the other hand, if the old FL-connotations possessed by the word "contradiction" are simply imported and pasted onto the word "conflict", then the meaning of both terms must change accordingly. In that case, this particular DM-thesis will have been made true solely as a result of linguistic surgery, and that would in turn mean that another DM-'fact' had been manufactured by linguistic fiat alone, confirming DM's status as a form of LIE. Hence, in this case, a Super-scientific 'truth' will have followed from suitably manipulated language, and nothing more -- contradicting Engels:
"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature...." [Engels (1976), p.13.]
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism; that term is explained here.]
Finally, since only agents are capable of conflicting, this term may be used literally only by those who are prepared to anthropomorphise nature.
[This topic is discussed at greater length in the full version of Essay Eight Part Two. See also, here and here, where Hegel's logical blunders are exposed as the real source of these rather odd DM-claims.]
This might help explain why Engels modified his ideas, declaring that:
"It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion." [Engels (1954), p.71.]
In other words, it looks like forces should be regarded as "useful fictions" even in DM. As noted above, Engels was well aware of the anthropomorphic origin of the concept of force. So, for once, his scientific intuitions appear not to have let him down.
But, even if DM presented us with a viable option, it isn't easy to see how, on DM-grounds, one form of motion could in fact 'contradict' another form of motion. Classically, if one body alters another's motion, it would have to exert a force of some sort on it, which would introduce the very things Engels tried hard to eliminate.
So, despite what Engels said, DM needs forces; it can't do without them. It requires forces to provide the dialectical 'connective tissue' (as it were) and the motive power of the universe; without them there would be nothing internal to bodies which would be able to connect their motion to that of others, and nothing to interlink processes in the "Totality". In their absence, DM would look little different from "crude materialism". Indeed, without forces, dialecticians couldn't even pretend to explain why anything moved or developed.
In that case, dialecticians can't afford to take heed of this rare example of Engelsian good sense. And, of course, that is why they all ignore it.
On the other hand, if we admit the existence of classical forces -- that is, if we accept that they are more than just the complex ways of speaking about the interaction, or relative motion, of bodies (hence, if we reject Engels's advice) -- then the DM-account still won't work. That is because all such changes are in fact produced by a single resultant force operating in the system, not by two 'contradictory' forces.
In that case, if nature must be populated with forces -- and if the present author is allowed for a moment to indulge in some insincere, a priori, Superscience of her own --, change would then be the result, not of struggle, but of cooperation, unity and harmony between forces as they naturally combine to produce change by means of this cooperatively formed resultant, helpfully assisting particles on their way. Hence, we should rather raise an analogy here with logical tautologies -- not contradictions -- and argue alongside other ancient mystics (following on the excellent precedent set by Hegel) that nature is indeed governed by forces of empathy, affection and love.
The conclusion seems quite plain: given the truth of the classical account, and since resultant forces cause every change in nature, movement in general must be the result of dialectical tautologies. This new 'theory' at least has the advantage of being consistent with classical Physics, and every known observation. The same can't be said of DM.
Naturally, those critical of the above wholly insincere flights-of-fancy should now point an equally censorious finger at dialecticians, and for the same reason.
Alternatively, if it is now argued that both of the 'contradicted' forces (i.e., F1 and F2) still exist even while they interact with one another to produce this resultant, change would then be the result of the operation of at least three forces (the original two and the resultant); that would, of course, create energy from nowhere.
[Needless to say, if that is so, there is a pressing need for revolutionaries to identify this 'third force' since (on this view) it appears to be the one that will put paid to Capitalism!]
In that case, it looks like that the word "force" -- as it is used by DM-fans -- must be figurative, too. Hence, it now seems that DM can only be made to seem to work if we adopt what amounts to a poetic view of nature.
The Real Origin Of This 'Theory'
On the other hand, if it should turn out that these forces are reminiscent of those found in mystical religious systems (where forces personify 'god', or where they carry out 'His Will' -- in ancient astronomy, these forces were represented by angels who supposedly pushed the planets about the place; in Newton's theory, they were an expression of the direct or indirect action of 'God', etc., on 'His' "sensorium", the world), then it would make eminent good sense to suppose they could 'contradict' one another -- i.e., 'argue' among themselves.
It is no surprise, therefore, to find (once again!) that this is precisely where this 'dialectical' notion originated, and this we know for a fact. [On that, see Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
As such, and in this way, DM clearly represents the re-enchantment of nature and society.
So, while modern science has banished Will and Intelligence from nature, DM has only succeeded in re-introducing them.
It could be argued that the real value of 'Materialist Dialectics' lies in its capacity to help revolutionaries understand the contradictions in Capitalism, the better to change the course of history.
But, it is difficult to picture any of the elements of Capitalism as opposites; the forces of production, it would seem, are no more the opposite of the relations of production than a diesel engine is the opposite of the person using it -- or, indeed, the person owning it. Of course, it could be argued that these items are constituted by their social relations, and it is these that constitute the contradictory opposites. But, these opposites don't turn into one another, as the dialectical classics assure us they must. So, when was the last time that the forces of production turned into the relations of production? Or the proletariat into the capitalist class? The medieval peasantry in the feudal aristocracy, and vice versa?
Up until now, DM-theorists have been more intent on merely asserting that forces are contradictory (serially overusing this term) than they have been with providing any evidence or argument to demonstrate the truth of this dogma -- or, indeed, with clarifying what it could possibly mean to assert that they are 'contradictory'.
Once again, it is clear that DM-theorists have been happy to derive, and then promulgate, yet more a priori Super-Science from a set of inappropriate metaphors and dubious analogies, compounded by a poetic view of the assorted antics of ancient mystical intelligences (i.e., these forces and their 'contradictions'), all subsequently confused with what is a rather precise logical principle (i.e., "contradiction" as it appears in FL).
Standard examples DM-theorists regularly wheel-out to illustrate the analogy between forces and contradictions are considered in detail in Essay Seven Part One and Note 40 of Essay Eight Part Two, where they are shown to be misconceived. For instance, the alleged UO between the North and South poles of a magnet (or even that between positive and negative electrical charges) fails to illustrate the opposition between attractive and repulsive forces. In a magnet, two Norths, or two Souths (i.e., two likes), repel -- whereas two opposites (a North and a South), attract. So, if anything, non-opposites 'contradict' (i.e., 'conflict' with each other -- two Norths or two Souths repel), here, while actual opposites don't (i.e., North and South attract). Instead of a 'struggle' between opposites here we see harmony once again, confirming that magnetic change is also the result of the aforementioned 'dialectical tautologies'.
[UO = Unity of Opposites.]
Finally, several examples of "real material forces" (supposedly at work in Capitalism) are considered in detail in Essay Eight Parts Two (here, here, and here) and Three. Under close scrutiny none of them turn out to be contradictions in any meaningful sense of the word. In fact, they all turn out to be one or more of the following: discursive paradoxes, unexpected events, complex inter-relationships, injustices, irrationalities, contraries, inexplicable events, or crass errors.
Does "Contradiction" Have A Special Meaning in DM?
Of course, if DM-theorists intend the word "contradiction" to be taken in a special sense, all well and good (but see below); however, to date, they have signally failed to say clearly what this 'special' sense is, or why they wish to play around with this word.
Or, perhaps more accurately, they have in fact sought to equate it with "conflict", which verbal 'solution' does at least have the advantage of making overt the covert animism in DM -- for only if an object composed of inanimate matter were sentient or intelligent could it enter into conflict with itself (internally), or with anything else (externally).
As will be argued in detail in Essay Twelve (summary here), the tendency to see conflict in linguistic, moral or conceptual terms (in traditional thought) was a direct consequence of the way that indolent Greek Philosophers fetishised both language and the natural world, populating it with the supposed correlates of discursive terms in order to give sense to their own mode of being (i.e., those connected with the issuing orders to minions and the framing laws to preserve their wealth and power or that of their patrons, which laws supposedly mirrored the edicts of 'God', etc.). No surprise, therefore, to see this ancient, animistic world-view resurface in DM.
As Marx said, the ruling ideas are always those of the ruling-class.
[The full details of this will be spelt out in Essay Twelve Part Two, when it is published; in the meantime readers are directed here for more details.]
On the other hand, if DM-theorists aim to re-define the word "contradiction" as "conflict" then their theory would merely be a form of stipulative conventionalism -- since there is nothing in the meaning of either the everyday word "contradiction", or in its logical 'twin', that remotely suggests such a connotation; nor is there, vice versa, with "conflict".
Anyway we already have a perfectly ordinary and word in HM that is capable of explaining the interaction of class forces in Capitalism: "conflict". Why we need another word imported from Mystical Hermeticism is, therefore, puzzling.
Independently of this, it is reasonably clear "contradiction" has been deliberately re-defined, or re-configured (it has yet to be clearly defined), in order to make 'materialist dialectics' even seem to work, as well as in deference to tradition. But, we should be no more convinced of the acceptability of those manoeuvres than we would if, say, an apologist of Capitalism re-defined it as "natural" and "beneficial to all". If the re-definition of terms provided a "royal road" to scientific truth, those with the best dictionary or Thesaurus would surely win Nobel Prizes.
To be sure, one online dictionary says the following:
"contradiction, n 1: opposition between two conflicting forces or ideas..."
However, it is worth pointing out that
dictionaries are repositories of usage, and, except in relation to standardised
spelling, are neither normative nor
prescriptive. Indeed, they 'define' many things with which dialecticians would disagree.
"negation n 1: a negative statement; a statement that is a refusal or denial of some other statement 2: the speech act of negating 3: (logic) a proposition that is true if and only if another proposition is false."
No mention here of "sublation", or of the NON, but does that force dialecticians into accepting this 'definition'?
Check out the definition of "wage". too. No mention of "surplus value" or "labour power" (etc.). Do DM-fans accept this definition? Of course not; they pick and choose when it suits them.
[NON = Negation of the Negation.]
In that case, dictionaries record ideology as much as they record use or meaning. Here, the writers of this dictionary have clearly taken note of the animistic use of this word employed by Hegel, Hegel-groupies and DM-fans.
[In fact, The New Shorter Oxford Dictionary doesn't mention opposing forces in its definition of "contradiction".]
As the above shows, since no literal sense can be made of the equation of forces and contradictions, dialecticians shouldn't believe everything they read in dictionaries.
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