16-05 -- Summary Of Essay Five: Hegel And Engels Are Wrong, Motion Isn't Contradictory




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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.




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.]


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.]



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1) Dialectics -- A Doctrine Of Change That Cannot Even Account For Movement


a) Initial Problems


2) Fatal Defects


a) Reconstructing The Argument


b) Demolishing It


3) Ambiguity -- The Mother Of Confusion


4) Yet More A Priori Super-Science


Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism


Abbreviations Used At This Site


Return To The Main Index Page


Contact Me



Dialectics, The 'Doctrine Of Change' That Can't Even Account For Movement!


In Essay Five I demolish Engels's surprisingly brief, but no less superficial, 'analysis' of motion:


"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]


This is, of course, an idea Engels lifted from Hegel, who in turn derived it from a paradox invented by Zeno (490?-430?BC), an ancient Idealist and Mystic who concluded that motion was impossible.



Initial Problems


There are several serious problems with the above passage, difficulties that need addressing even before its fatal weaknesses are highlighted.


1) The first of these is connected with Engels's claim that the alleged 'contradiction' here has something to do with its "assertion" and "solution". This isn't easy to square with his other stated belief that matter is independent of mind. Who, for example, "asserted" this alleged contradiction before humanity evolved? And who did the "solving"?


Or, are we to assume that things only began to move when sentient beings capable of making assertions appeared on the scene?


2) The next difficulty centres around the question whether this alleged 'contradiction' can in fact explain motion. No one imagines (it is to be hoped!) that this 'contradiction' works like a sort of internal metaphysical motor, powering objects along. But, as we will see in Essay Eight Part One, this is precisely what dialecticians like Lenin appeared to think:


"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. The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).


"In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external -- God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of 'self-movement'.


"The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to the 'leaps,' to the 'break in continuity,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.


"The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Italic emphases in the original. Bold emphases added.]


It could be argued that this is a little too glib. Maybe so, but that particular response will be tested to destruction in Essay Eight Part One.


Independently of that, it isn't easy to see how an object being in one place and not in it, as well as being in two places at once, can explain how or why it actually moves. At  best, this alleged 'contradiction' is derivative -- that is, it is reasonably clear that it is motion that explains (or which initiates) the 'contradiction', not the other way round. But, if that is so, what explains motion?


Plainly, if dialecticians want to cling on to this 'theory', they will find they can't actually explain why objects move, which is rather odd since they spare no opportunity regaling us with the claim that they are the only ones who can!


[DM = Dialectical Materialism.]


It could be objected that DM-theorists in fact appeal to contradictory forces to account for motion, but we will see in Essay Eight Part Two that there is no interpretation that can be placed on the word "force", or on the word "contradiction", that will sustain such an ancient and animistic view of change and movement.


["Ancient" in the sense that it was an early Greek idea that moving objects needed something to sustain their motion. In contrast, modern Physics merely deals with change in motion/momentum, and, in order to do that, most theorists have dropped all reference to forces. Details can be found in Essay Eight Part Two, here. "Animistic" since this idea also depends on another ancient doctrine that conflict and motion can be explained in terms of the 'will' of some 'god' or other, or alternatively, as the result of an 'animating spirit' of some description.]


But, even if forces were 'contradictory', and reference to a continual cause of motion was both available and rational, that would hardly explain how an object being in one place and not in it, and being in two places at once, could actually explain why it moves. Plainly, this alleged 'contradiction' does no work.


Moreover, even in DM-terms, this fable makes little sense. Are we really supposed to believe that an object that is 'here' is made to move by its being 'not here' --, its 'dialectical' opposite, its 'other' (as Hegel and Lenin called them)? Or, that the two 'places' mentioned are locked in some sort of 'struggle', as the DM-classicists claim is the case with all such 'dialectical' opposites? Or even that the one turns into the other -- i.e., that 'here' turns into 'not here', and 'not here' turns into 'here' --, as the aforementioned DM-worthies also claimed?


3) Engels's 'analysis' was itself based on a very brief and sketchy thought experiment (Hegel's and Zeno's were based on word juggling), one that was in turn motivated by a superficial consideration of a limited range of terms associated with this phenomenon.


Despite this, Engels was quite happy to derive a set of universal truths about motion -- applicable everywhere in the entire universe, for all of time -- from the alleged meaning of a few simple expressions. Clearly, the concepts Engels used cannot have been derived by 'abstraction' from his (or from anyone else's) experience of moving bodies, since no conceivable experience could confirm that a moving body is in two places at once, only that it moves between at least two locations in a finite interval of time.


To be sure, that is why Engels not only had to indulge in flights-of-fancy to make his case, it is also why he had to impose his views on reality. This was despite his promise that it was something he would never do.


4) Putting this to one side, even if Engels's claims were correct, they couldn't account for movement (and hence they can't explain change), anyway. Clearly, Engels failed to notice (just as subsequent dialectical-copiers of the above passage have also failed to notice) that the way he depicts motion doesn't distinguish moving from stationary bodies. Stationary bodies can be in two places at once, and they can be in one place and not in it at the same time. For example, a car can be in a garage and not in it at the same moment (having been left parked half-in, half-out); and it can be in two places at once (in the garage and in the yard), and stationary with respect to some inertial frame, all the while. [Several obvious and less obvious objections to this argument are neutralised in Essay Five.]


Hence, at most, Engels argument provides his readers merely with the necessary conditions for movement, not its sufficient conditions.


The only way this and other counter-examples can be neutralised by DM-fans is to re-define the relevant terms in a way that would in the end make Engels's 'analysis' inapplicable to material bodies. It would do this by applying it solely to immaterial, mathematical points -- plainly because only a stationary mathematical point can be in precisely one point at a time. Unfortunately, in that case, Engels's thought experiment would no longer concern what is supposed to be unique to moving material objects.


Either way, unless augmented in some way, Engels's words cannot be used to distinguish moving from stationary bodies.


Of course, mathematical points themselves cannot move -- that is, if they could move they would have to occupy still other points. But points aren't containers (they have no shape, circumference or volume, otherwise they wouldn't be points -- they have no physical dimensions or rigidity, so they cannot even 'push' each other out of the way as they 'try' to 'move'); so nothing can occupy them. In that case, points cannot move.


[Certainly, there are mathematicians who talk as if they believe points can move, but, beyond a certain way of speaking (i.e., figuratively), there is nothing to support the idea that they can move (and everything to suggest they can't -- not the least of which is that such points do not exist in space and time to be able to move anywhere). On this, see Essay Seven Part One, here. Indeed, if certain ways of speaking could make things move, far more of us would believe in magic.]


Alternatively, anyone who claimed that mathematical points could move would have a hard time explaining where they moved to, where they were before they moved, and how they could be contradictory -- indeed, if these points were only the same size as any point they allegedly 'occupied', it would mean they could not be in two such places at once, or they would expand. Moreover, such an 'explanation' would have to be given without an appeal to yet another set of mathematical points for them to 'occupy', shifting this problem to the next stage.


5) Engels's claim that motion is contradictory only follows if a body cannot logically be in two places at once, or if it cannot be in one place and not in it at the same time. Engels just assumed the truth of this premiss; he nowhere tried to justify it (and no one since seems to have bothered to do so, either).


[Some might point to Graham Priest's work in this area, but it is far from clear that his 'contradictions' are 'dialectical' to begin with, or even that his analysis makes sense. On that, see here.]


However, because an ordinary stationary material body can be in two places at once, and in one place and not in it at the same time (as we have already seen), Engels's key premiss is not even empirically true! In that case, it certainly can't be a logical/conceptual truth restricted only to moving bodies. If it is true that stationary objects can also do what Engels says, then it cannot be a contradiction when moving bodies do it, too -- or, at least, it can't be a contradiction true only of moving bodies. In that case, it cannot be something that accounts for motion, or even distinguishes it from rest.


Of course, it could be argued that the 'contradictions' Engels was interested in are 'dialectical contradictions', not logical contradictions. However, his wording doesn't support such an interpretation:


"Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]


It certainly seems from this that Engels was talking about logical contradictions as much as about 'dialectical contradictions'.


And, believe it or not, that would in fact prove to be good news for DM-fans, for we have at least got some sort of handle on logical contradiction. The other sort (i.e., 'dialectical contradiction') has resisted all attempts at explanation for nigh on 200 years (not that anyone has tried very hard). [In fact, the best Marxist attempt to do this (to date) has been demolished here.]



And Now For The Fatal Defects


In this Introductory Essay, I have had to omit much of the material included in Essay Five (Sections (4)-(7)) that enters into considerable (and technical) detail about these "fatal defects". I have also had to outline what I take to be Hegel's and/or Engels's reasons for asserting that motion is contradictory, since they themselves manifestly failed to tell us why they concluded this -- being merely content to assert it for a fact!



Reconstructing The Argument


1) It isn't at all easy to ascertain the rationale behind Engels's (and thus Hegel's) conclusion that motion is contradictory, but it seems to depend on this line-of-argument -- perhaps beginning with a rejection of the apparent contradiction in E1a, expressed in E1:


[E1a: An object can be in motion and at rest at one and the same time.]


E1: An object cannot be in motion and at rest at one and the same time.


E2: If an object is located at a point it must be at rest at that point.


E3: Hence, a moving body cannot be located at a point, otherwise it wouldn't be moving, it would be at rest.


E4: Consequently, given E1, a moving body must both occupy and not occupy a point at one and the same instant.



Demolishing It


But, if this is Engels's (or even Hegel's) rationale, then he/they offered their readers no reason why we should prefer one contradiction (E4) over another (E1a). And yet, E1a is a familiar truth, for it is surely possible for an object to be at rest with respect to one frame of reference and yet be in motion with respect to another (that is, that it can be at rest and in motion at the same time).


On this, Robert Mills had this comment to make:


"Another way of stating the principle of equivalence, a way that better reflects its name, is to say that all reference frames, including accelerated reference frames, are equivalent, that the laws of Physics take the same form in any reference frame…. And it is also correct to say that the Copernican view (with the sun at the centre) and the Ptolemaic view (with the earth at the centre) are equally valid and equally consistent!" [Mills (1994), pp.182-83. Spelling altered to conform to UK English. More on this here.]


[It is worth recalling that the late Professor Mills was co-inventor of Yang-Mills Theory in Gauge Quantum Mechanics, and thus no scientific novice.]


Hence, in one frame, the Earth is stationary, in another is it moving. But, in that case, if E1a is true, E4 cannot follow from E1, and the imputed rationale behind Engels's 'contradiction' disappears.


2) Engels's conclusion clearly depends on an object moving between locations with time having advanced not one instant; that is, his conclusion implies that the supposed change of place must occur outside of time -- or, worse, that it happens independently of the passage of time --, which is incomprehensible, as even Trotsky would have admitted:


"How should we really conceive the word 'moment'? If it is an infinitesimal interval of time, then a pound of sugar is subjected during the course of that 'moment' to inevitable changes. Or is the 'moment' a purely mathematical abstraction, that is, a zero of time? But everything exists in time; and existence itself is an uninterrupted process of transformation; time is consequently a fundamental element of existence. Thus the axiom 'A' is equal to 'A' signifies that a thing is equal to itself if it does not change, that is if it does not exist." [Trotsky (1971), pp.63-64.]


And yet, how else are we to understand Engels's claim that a moving body is actually in two places at once? if that were the case, a moving object would be in one place at one instant, and it would move to another place with no time having lapsed; such motion would thus take place outside of time. But, according to Trotsky, that sort of motion wouldn't exist, for it wouldn't have taken place in time.


Furthermore, it would mean that while we may divide location as finely as we wish -- so that no matter to what extent the spatial aspects of a body's position were partitioned, we would always be able to distinguish two contiguous points allowing us to say that a moving body was in those two places at once --, while we can do that with location, we cannot do the same with respect to time.


Engels's 'argument' thus depends on the claim that while the location of a particular body is subject to infinite divisibility (an assumption which, one presumes, is necessary to support the claim that moving bodies must be in two places at the same time, no matter how microscopically close together they are -- which in turn implies that spatial locations can be given in endlessly finer-grained detail), the time interval during which this takes place isn't subject to similar division. Now, this is an a priori and non-symmetric restriction -- that is, it is applied to time, but not to space. This is impossible to justify on either empirical or logical grounds.


[Not one single DM-fan, as far as I am aware, has ever even so much as tried to justify this one-sided implied division. In fact, it is clear that not one single DM-fan even seems to be aware of it!]


If this one-sided constraint is rejected (as surely it must!), it would mean that no matter how close together the two locations occupied by a given (moving) object actually are, we can always specify a finite time interval during which the said movement occurs. That done, the alleged 'contradiction' vanishes. [Few would regard it as in any way contradictory that a moving object can be in two locations during a finite time interval.]


Again, the only way to neutralise this response would be to counter-claim that a body must be motionless if it is in a certain place at a certain time (as we saw in E2). That being so, it could be argued that if an object is moving, it must be in two places at the same time.


But, that just repeats the non-symmetrical restriction noted above (along with its suspect derivation, upon which doubt was cast earlier). If we can divide up places as finely as we please, so that it is possible to say an object is in two of them while the 'instant' during which this occurs stays the same, then we can surely do likewise with respect to time, specifying two times for each of these two places  (or, at least, a time interval in which such a change of place occurs). Again, the only way this response can be blocked would be to argue that while place is infinitely divisible, time isn't. And how might that be justified?


Once more, none of this is the least bit surprising since Engels's claims about motion and change date back to the a priori speculations of that ancient mystic Heraclitus -- a thinker who didn't even bother to base his wild ideas on anything remotely like evidence (having derived his 'profound' conclusions about all of reality for all of time from what he thought was true about the possibility of stepping into a certain river!) --, and to an Idealist conundrum invented by Zeno.


[Of course, these observations dispose of the DM-claim that contradictions between space and time are only to be expected since reality is 'fundamentally contradictory'. That is because this 'contradiction' obviously results from a lop-sided convention that interprets one of these (place) as continuous (and hence subject to infinite division) and the other (time) as discrete (and hence not so subject). But, if they are both treated in the same way (as either both continuous or both discrete), there is no contradiction. These are very crude classifications. However, the lack of clarity here is a direct result of having to make sense of Hegel and Engels's own terminal lack of clarity on this issue.]


3) Engels also failed to notice that several other (even more) paradoxical consequences follow from his ideas. One of these is that if a moving body is anywhere, it must be everywhere, all at once.


The reason for saying this is as follows: Engels's argument depends on the idea that a moving body must be in two places at the same time -- i.e., in, say, P1 and P2 --, otherwise it would be stationary. This allows him to derive a 'contradiction': a moving body must be in two places at once, and it must both be in and not in at least one of these at the same moment.


But, clearly, if the said body is in P2 it must also be in P3 in the same instant. If this is denied, then the conclusion that a moving body must be in one place and not in it at the same instant, and in another place at the same time, will have to be dropped.


However, if it is still true that at one and the same instant a moving body is in one place and not in it, and that it is in another place at the same time (otherwise it would be stationary), then it must be in P3 in the same instant that it is in P2 -- or it wouldn't be moving while at P2, but would be stationary at P2.


In that case, such a body must be in at least three places at once.


If we now apply the same argument to P3, then that body must also be in P4, at the same time, and then in P5..., and so on.


Hence, assuming that the said body is still moving while at P2, by the application of a sufficiently powerful induction, it can be shown that any moving body must be everywhere if it is anywhere, all at the same instant!


Now, that is even more absurd than Zeno's ridiculous conclusion!


But that's Diabolical Logic for you!


[More on this, here, where the above argument is presented in greater detail and where several obvious objections are rebutted.]



Ambiguity -- The Mother Of Confusion


We saw earlier that Engels's use of "contradiction" cannot distinguish moving from stationary objects. In that case, the alleged 'contradiction' he 'derived' is more a function of ambiguities in language than it is a reflection of objects and processes in reality.


In Essay Five, here and here, I list numerous examples of similar ambiguities, each of which seems to imply a 'contradiction' (and all of which Zeno and Engels failed to notice) if we insist on treating language in this crude and Philistine way (that is, if we emulate Zeno, Heraclitus, Hegel and Engels, and fail to take account of such ambiguities).


Now, these ambiguities are relatively easy to resolve, and if the same tactic is applied to the language that the above Idealists employ, the same result emerges: these 'contradictions' simply vanish.


[I have omitted the details from this summary for reasons outlined in the Preface. so the reader is directed to Essay Five for more on this. Follow the two links above.]



Yet More A Priori Super-science


As noted earlier, Engels performed no experiments before or after he 'derived' his conclusion about motion, and, as far as we know, no dialectician since has done any, either. In fact, it is impossible even to imagine or describe a single observation or experiment that could conceivably confirm Engels's claims. This is partly because the 'contradictions' to which he alluded can't be observed, and partly because of the modal, universal and omni-temporal character of the conclusions themselves. That is, no experiment could confirm that every moving body in the entire universe, for all of time, has to move as Hegel or Engels say they must.


This means that the only substantiation Engels could have offered in support of his claims was based on language. Indeed, had anyone questioned these conclusions his only response would have involved him reminding such a sceptic what the words he used really meant. It would be no good advising non-believers to look harder at the phenomena, refine their search or redo some experiment --, which is, of course, why one finds no experimental evidence at all in books on dialectics that either confirms, or even so much as vaguely supports, a belief in the contradictory nature of motion. All we find in its place are dogmatic assertions based on a brief consideration of a few ambiguous words. [Readers are, of course, invited to check any randomly-chosen book or article on DM to see if this allegation is itself correct.]


Thus, Engels's only 'evidence' would have been (indeed, was) based on an appeal to linguistic usage -- and, even then, based solely on Zeno's or Hegel's use of certain words! This predicament, which Engels shares with all other metaphysicians, invariably passes off unnoticed because (i) This approach to a priori 'knowledge' is widespread throughout Traditional Thought, (ii) It has been going on for so long, and (iii) It is imagined that by looking at the meaning of words the Armchair Philosopher is actually examining the world itself, and not simply a few specially-selected, and unrepresentative expressions. [We saw this in Essay Two. See also, Essay Twelve Part One.]


This is a hallmark of traditional, ruling-class thought: derive fundamental truths about 'reality', valid for all of space and time, from the supposed meaning of a handful of words, and then impose them on nature, dogmatically.


True to form, and consistent with the traditional view of philosophy he had been socialised to accept: Engels restricted his comments neither to examples of motion he had personally investigated nor to the entire body of examples witnessed by humanity since records began. Despite this, he still felt confident that he could extrapolate from his own understanding of a few ordinary-looking words to conclusions that were applicable to every conceivable example of motion, anywhere in the universe, for all of time:


"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…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases added.]


In fact, what Engels actually did -- and this is the extent of the 'careful' scientific research he carried out in this area -- was copy the analysis of motion he found in Hegel's Logic, an analysis which, as we have seen in Essay Five, is defective anyway.


As we shall also see (in Essays Nine Part One and Two, and Twelve (summary here)), this fact alone has revealing ideological implications.


Or, 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.]


This brands Engels's work in this area, Idealist -- which shouldn't surprise us given its origin in Hegelian (and Ancient Greek) Mysticism. Upside down or 'the right way up', Engels's conclusions are clearly (and solely) based on an "appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source...".


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