16-03-01: Summary Of Essay Three Part One -- How Abstractionism Undermines Dialectics
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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.
It is also worth pointing out that when I refer to Traditional Philosophy -- and I include DM in this, too -- as a prime example of ruling-class ideology, I don't mean to suggest that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although there are well-known examples where this was the case -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero, and Marcus Aurelius), but that this is a thought-form that represents their view of the world and which serves their interests, by rationalising their wealth and power, whoever invents it. Up until recently this approach to 'knowledge' had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.
However, this will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.
[Exactly how the above 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 posted in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time aimed at absolute beginners) here.]
An even shorter summary of some of the ideas outlined below, and in Essay Three Part Two, can be accessed here.
[Latest Update: 29/03/17.]
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) Traditional Thought
2) Linguistic Distortion
3) Abstraction: Its Own Gravedigger
4) The Gospel Of John
5) Abstract Distortion
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
Abbreviations Used At This Site
Return To The Main Index Page
In Ancient Greece the idea took hold that there was an invisible, abstract world underlying 'appearances' that was more real than the material universe we see around us, which was accessible to thought alone.
[These ideas didn't, of course, grow in a vacuum; their political and ideological background will be examined in Essay Twelve (summary here).]
As Marx pointed out, members of the ruling-class often relied on other layers in society to concoct and then disseminate these ideas on their behalf in order to persuade the rest of us that each successive system was 'rational', 'natural', or 'divinely ordained':
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling 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, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]
Notice, Marx tells us that the ruling-class do this "in its whole range", that they "rule as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age."
In Ancient Greece, with the demise of the rule of Kings and Queens, the old myths and Theogonies were no longer relevant. So, in the newly emerging republics and quasi-democracies of the Sixth Century BC far more abstract, de-personalised ideas were required.
As Marx also noted:
"[P]philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. Bold emphasis added. I have used the on-line version.]
It is no accident then that Philosophy emerged as Greek society changed in the above way.
However, thinkers in the Ancient World found they had to invent a series technical terms if they were to account for the supposedly hidden structure of 'reality' -- words such as "Form", "Being", "Substance", "Essence", and the like. This terminology subsequently entered into, and then began to dominate 'western' intellectual life for the next two thousand years. These thinkers found they had to do this because ordinary language resists recruitment to this end (again, as Marx also pointed out -- on this, see the next sub-section) -- as, indeed, these theorists themselves acknowledged, which is why they had to invent this new jargon. In relation to this development, classical scholar, the late Professor Havelock, had this to say:
"As long as preserved communication remained oral [in Ancient Greece -- RL], the environment could be described or explained only in the guise of stories which represent it as the work of agents: that is gods. Hesiod takes the step of trying to unify those stories into one great story, which becomes a cosmic theogony. A great series of matings and births of gods is narrated to symbolise the present experience of the sky, earth, seas, mountains, storms, rivers, and stars. His poem is the first attempt we have in a style in which the resources of documentation have begun to intrude upon the manner of an acoustic composition. But his account is still a narrative of events, of 'beginnings,' that is, 'births,' as his critics the Presocratics were to put it. From the standpoint of a sophisticated philosophical language, such as was available to Aristotle, what was lacking was a set of commonplace but abstract terms which by their interrelations could describe the physical world conceptually; terms such as space, void, matter, body, element, motion, immobility, change, permanence, substratum, quantity, quality, dimension, unit, and the like. Aside altogether from the coinage of abstract nouns, the conceptual task also required the elimination of verbs of doing and acting and happening, one may even say, of living and dying, in favour of a syntax which states permanent relationships between conceptual terms systematically. For this purpose the required linguistic mechanism was furnished by the timeless present of the verb to be -- the copula of analytic statement.
"The history of early philosophy is usually written under the assumption that this kind of vocabulary was already available to the first Greek thinkers. The evidence of their own language is that it was not. They had to initiate the process of inventing it....
"Nevertheless, the Presocratics could not invent such language by an act of novel creation. They had to begin with what was available, namely, the vocabulary and syntax of orally memorised speech, in particular the language of Homer and Hesiod. What they proceeded to do was to take the language of the mythos and manipulate it, forcing its terms into fresh syntactical relationships which had the constant effect of stretching and extending their application, giving them a cosmic rather than a particular reference." [Havelock (1983), pp.13-14, 21. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling adapted to agree with UK English. Links added.]
Havelock then shows in detail that this is precisely what the Presocratic Philosophers did: they eliminated verbs and replaced them with newly-minted nouns -- for example, transforming the verb "to be" so that it now became "Being". [The significance of these moves will become clearer as this Summary unfolds.]
The 'fundamental truths' Philosophers concocted, as this jargon was put to use, were then imposed on 'reality' in an a priori and dogmatic manner.
As we saw in the Summary of Essay Two, Dialectical Marxists are enthusiastic traditionalists in this regard, too, content to impose their a priori theses on 'reality' in like manner. This means that every dialectician without exception has adopted this antiquated approach to a priori knowledge -- the aim of which was (and still is) to 'uncover' a series of hidden "essences" and "abstractions" by the operation of thought alone.
[NB: These comments aren't aimed at criticising the legitimate use of abstract nouns in the vernacular.]
At this point it is also worth adding that the usual justification for assuming that philosophical abstractions exist (somewhere?) -- that is, that they help philosophers and scientists account for general features of the world, and hence for our ability to understand nature -- in fact turns out to be the very thing that prevents them from doing this, as we will soon see.
The idea that ordinary language was distorted, or superseded, for ideological reasons, and that abstractionism lies at its very heart, isn't the invention of the present author, Marx and Engels themselves referred to it:
"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'….
"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit.'" [Marx and Engels (1975), p.75. Bold emphases added.]
"For philosophers, one of the most difficult tasks is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they had to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.
"...The philosophers would only have to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, to recognise it as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis alone added.]
A particularly important example of linguistic distortion like this, which was also central to the formation of Hegelian, and later 'materialist', dialectics concerns the re-analysis of a seemingly innocuous set of indicative sentences found almost exclusively in the Indo-European family of languages: the subject-predicate form. In fact, this grammatical form comprises a limited sub-group of this family of languages -- that is, where the predicate takes as its copula the verb "to be" -- or one of its cognates -- i.e., "is".
Consider an example Hegel himself used: "The rose is red". Traditionally viewed, the subject term here is "The rose", and the predicate is what it is said to be, i.e., "red". The verb "is" merely connects these two parts of this sentence. As we will soon see, Traditional Theorists were able to mine a lorry load of metaphysical gems from this rich 'linguistic seam', for they thought they saw what was in effect a secret code built into language that enabled them to uncover truths not available to those blinded by 'commonsense' -- i.e., ordinary working people.
However, as readers will no doubt appreciate, sentences like the above [The rose is red] are used to describe the world around us, and no one thinks for a minute that our ancestors built into them a secret code, waiting to be uncovered by Aristocratic Philosophers thousands of years later.
In order to see how this linguistic dodge works, it might prove helpful to examine the logical form of such sentences. [Logical form refers to those features of indicative sentences that (i) Enable us to make valid inferences, and (ii) Facilitate in their comprehension. On that, see here.]
The logical form of such sentences may be expressed in several different ways, depending on the example in question; for instance:
A1: The Rose is red.
(1) "The F is G",
(2) "A is G",
(3) "Some F is G", or,
(4) "Every F is G" (or "All Fs are Gs"), and so on.
[Here "F" and "G" stand for various sorts of noun phrases (e.g., "man", "horse", "mortal", "red" -- or, indeed, "rose"), and "A" for a proper name (e.g., "John" or "Julius Caesar"). Clearly, this is to simplify greatly -- but this is a summary, after all!]
From Aristotle's day onwards, it became increasingly common to interpret the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity.
[Predication involves saying something about someone or something. So, A1 can be used to say something about roses, for example. When the "is" in A1 is turned into an "is" of identity, A1 becomes the following monstrosity: "The rose is identical with redness." I can't enter into the reasons for the re-configuration of such simple sentences in this way in this Summary -- although I have explained in detail why this happened in Part One itself.]
Hence, (1)-(4) above would now become:
(5) "The F is identical with G (or G-ness)."
(6) "A is identical with G (or G-ness)." [I will omit "(or G-ness)" from now on to save needless repetition.]
(7) "Some F is identical with (some/every) G".
(8) "Every A is identical with (some/every) G".
In the Middle Ages, this approach came to be known as the "Identity (or Essential) Theory of Predication", which 'allowed' philosophers and logicians to argue that predicates were in fact the names of "Universals", "Forms" or "Essences" (like "redness" or "manhood"), which could be 'abstracted' into existence in the mind of anyone with enough leisure time on his/her hands to perform this amazing trick.
To cut a long story short, this is the theory that motivated Hegel and provided him with the core rationale for his 'logic'. He reckoned that since no subject could be identical with a predicate, all such sentences must covertly allude to a contradiction lying at the heart of thought and hence of reality: the subject both is and is not identical with the predicate. Unfortunately, it never occurred to Hegel to draw the obvious conclusion that this way of looking at such an unrepresentative class of sentences, found in only one family of languages, wasn't perhaps a very intelligent way to proceed.
Nevertheless, the normal, descriptive and ascriptive mode of predication was put to one side because Hegel wanted to discover (using suitably distorted language) a hidden allusion to these "essences", which would then 'allow' him to derive an endless series of fundamental truths about reality -- valid for all of space and time -- in the comfort of his own head.
Of course, as already noted, this approach to language has been at the heart of Traditional Thought since Ancient Greek times, where discourse was regarded as just such secret code, capable of revealing the inner structure of "Being" -- but only to this gaggle of work-shy thinkers.
They imagined they could do this legitimately because (a) The 'gods' themselves had called the world into existence by means of language, and (b) They had bestowed language on humanity so they could re-present their divine thoughts to them, privately, in each head (or, in most cases, only in the heads of a select group of theologians and philosophers). Now, there were clear ideological reasons why Traditional Theorists adopted this dogmatic approach to 'knowledge': it 'allowed' them to rationalise and 'justify' the structure and authority of the State by linking it with the 'fundamental nature' of 'reality', and thus with the 'will of the gods' --, or (more latterly), with the 'natural order'. [These days all this has been 'programmed into our genes', so we are told.]
Language wasn't seen as a social product created in and by collective labour in order to facilitate communication (as Marx and Engels contended), but as a cipher concocted by the 'gods' for the above reasons -- that is, language was viewed as a representational device, aimed at re-presenting the divine order to a select group of 'thinkers'. This is, of course, why truths about "Being" (or 'reality') could be ascertained by thought alone -- in order to do this all a theorist had to do was re-think 'god's' thoughts, which, as we have just seen, constituted the 'essential' structure of 'reality'. It is also why these ideas could 'legitimately' be imposed on reality, dogmatically. After all, who wants to doubt 'God', or question the veracity of the thoughts 'He' had put in certain heads?
The neat trick that bound these ideological moves together was the 'mental' process of 'abstraction', since this 'allowed' Traditional Thinkers to access nature's "hidden secrets" -- which are inaccessible to the senses -- by thought alone. This approach to knowledge has dominated Western (and, in a different way, Eastern) thought ever since. Through Hegel's influence, it now dominates Dialectical Marxism.
Small wonder then that Marx and Engels said what they did about the "ideas of the ruling-class".
Abstraction: Its Own Gravedigger
As it turns out, this ancient thought-form is inimical to DM, anyway. In fact, it is lethal. That is because the process of abstraction radically alters key features of language, robbing indicative sentences of their capacity to express generality and thus of saying anything at all. This in turn is because this 'process' changes general terms (i.e., "universals" -- which are outwardly general in form, but which are in fact either 'general' nouns or reified linguistic functions -- on that term, see below) -- into abstract particulars, each one designated by an abstract noun (which, plainly, changes such general terms into the Proper Names of an 'abstraction').
That is, it changes general terms into singular terms.
[DM = Dialectical Materialism.]
[A linguistic function is an expression that, in use, enables the formation of true or false indicative sentences when combined with singular terms (such as Proper Names), quantifier expressions (for instance, "Every", Some", "None"), and the like. For example, the sentence forming fragment "...is a socialist" yields a true sentence if the gap is completed with "Karl Marx" (yielding "Karl Marx is a socialist"), but a false sentence for "Margaret Thatcher" (as in "Margaret Thatcher is a socialist").
It isn't absolutely necessary to view language this way, but it prevents many of the bogus moves attempted by Traditional Philosophers from being made. (There is much more on this in Essay Three Part One, here, and here.)
An abstract particular is like a real particular (such as a book or a chair), except we can't physically interact with 'it', only think about 'it' theoretically. Singular terms are expressions typically used to refer to, allude to, or designate, individuals or objects (etc.). For example, Proper Names and Definite Descriptions (such as, "Karl Marx" and "The 43rd President of the United States of America") are singular terms.]
Re-writing propositions in the way indicated above (via The Identity Theory of Predication) in fact prevents language from expressing generality, since it destroys predication, turning general terms (predicates) into singular expressions -- i.e., into the names of abstract particulars.
Plainly, this fatally undermines DM-epistemology, too -- whose theorists at least pretend to begin with the general in order to give concrete substance to the particular --, since it annihilates generality. [Why that is so will be explained presently.]
As such, these seemingly innocent moves in fact strangle DM faster than anything that has been posted at this site.
We can see how and why this happens by examining Lenin's comments about a simple sentence: "John is a man".
The Gospel Of John: In The Beginning Was The Word, "Is"
In his Philosophical Notebooks, Lenin attempted to derive the entire dialectic from a single sentence: "John is a man." He seemed quite happy to base this theory on such an alarmingly weak foundation, claiming to know what must be the case for all of reality, for all of time from a single sentence(!), in the thoroughly traditional manner outlined above:
"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.359-60. Emphases in the original.]
John's material insignificance (after all, he was a fictional character!) certainly didn't stand in the way of Lenin's attempt to uncover a host of universal and omnitemporal truths concealed beneath this individual's imputed manhood. Thus, from this figment of the imagination, Lenin thought he could derive a series of eternal and all-embracing super-scientific facts.
[The phrase "Super-scientific" relates to indicative sentences that purport to reveal fundamental truths about reality, but which go way beyond anything the sciences could possibly confirm, and which have been derived from thought alone, or from contingent features of language (such as the subject-predicate form). These 'truths' are supposed to apply across all regions of space and time, and to every possible world. Indeed, in many cases, they express the 'logical form' of reality itself. (That is why Lenin thought he was doing something scientific when he employed DL to this end -- see pp.92, 174, and 182 of PN, for example.)]
From sentences like these -- all of which were of the subject-predicate form, as noted earlier --, and scarcely giving any thought to the epistemological megalomania this implied, Lenin was able to claim that not just John, but everything in reality must be a UO, and thus that everything in existence must be contradictory. His evidence? Simply that John can't be identical with the universal term "man" -- a subject can't be identical with a predicate!
[DL = Dialectical Logic; UO = Unity of Opposites; PN = Philosophical Notebooks, i.e., Lenin (1961).]
While this is hardly impressive logic, it is quintessentially traditional.
Indeed, as pointed out above, the imposition on reality of such 'truths' is thoroughly traditional. Linguistic dodges like this largely go un-remarked by dialecticians -- and, oddly enough, that remains the case even after it has been pointed out to them, and that in turn is because this approach is held to be the only 'proper' or 'legitimate' way to do philosophy. Moves like this are part of the philosophical furniture, and have been employed by boss-class hacks for thousands of years.
To change the image: this is the theoretically-poisoned chalice from which not a single DM-theorist has failed to quaff. In fact, they happily pass it around and commend its contents to others. In this way, the ideas of the ruling-class have also come to rule Dialectical Marxism. DM-theorists have been happy to import these alien-class, sub-logical moves from Traditional Thought, internalising them -- even criticising those who reject the idea that Marxists should indulge a priori Super-Science like this.
Hardly pausing for breath, Lenin was able to 'derive' several other universal theses from his 'innovative' understanding of the copula -- i.e., the predicate connective "is". In so doing, he uncritically accepted Hegel's "Identity Theory of Predication", confusing the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity.
These manoeuvres were motivated by the additional belief that the subject-predicate form had profound ontological implications buried beneath its unprepossessing outer facade; it supposedly masked a secret code capable of revealing profound truths about 'reality' when unmasked by those happy to distort language in the required manner. To that end, this superficial grammatical feature (the predicate form) was now transformed into a relational form. It supposedly related each individual, or particular, to a Universal -- one object to another.
Of course, the "is" of identity is (uncontroversially) relational, not predicative. It serves to relate two ideas, individuals, words, or concepts (depending on which theory of relations or of identity one adheres to). For example, the genuine identity statement "Cicero is Tully" ("Tully" was Cicero's other name) asserts a relation between two named individuals (or between an individual and himself, or between his two names!), and is thus the equivalent of "Cicero is identical with Tully".
This legitimate use of the "is" of identity was now generalised across all sentences. Propositions of the form "A is G" (i.e., "John is a man") were now (illegitimately) re-written as "A = G" (i.e. "John is identical with Manhood"). Descriptive sentences now became relational.
[Why is this important? It is important because it is this move that destroys the capacity language has for saying anything at all, as we are about to find out.]
However, where there is a relation, plainly, there must be objects to be related. So, these moves now turned "man" into an abstract object, a particular -- Manhood -- (or into its Proper Name), referred to by the abstract noun "Manhood". Moves like this now initiated a fruitless 2500 year long search for the 'objects' to which such abstractions supposedly referred. [This fruitless search is the subject of Essay Three Part Two. Exactly why this fruitless search was initiated will be explored there, too.]
It is no surprise, therefore, to find that from this egregious misreading of a simple verb ("is"), numerous 'contradictions' freely flowed. These 'contradictions' meant -- or, so the story went -- that (i) Ordinary language and 'commonsense' are riddled with paradox since they so readily collapse into 'contradiction', (ii) Reality must be contradictory, too, and so, hey presto!, (iii) The universe must be fundamentally 'dialectical'!
In addition, it also meant that (iv) Everything in nature is interconnected by means of hierarchies of assorted "universals", (v) Change is powered by these 'internal contradictions' (they are internal to sentences, and are 'thus' logically 'internal' to objects and processes -- or so we are told), and that (vi) Necessity and freedom are dialectically united as complimentary aspects of reality.
All this a priori Super-science from this diminutive verb!
[The details underlying the above moves are fully worked out in Essay Three Part One.]
These ideas were further amplified by George Novack, in the following terms:
"It is logically true that A equals A, that John is John…. But it is far more profoundly true that A is also non-A. John is not simply John: John is a man. This correct proposition is not an affirmation of abstract identity, but an identification of opposites. The logical category or material class, mankind, with which John is one and the same is far more and other than John, the individual. Mankind is at the same time identical with, yet different from John." [Novack (1971), p.92.]
Here, as elsewhere in Traditional Philosophy, the re-interpretation of a seemingly insignificant grammatical feature of only one family of languages 'permitted' Novack to ignore and bypass the clear distinctions ordinary humans (i.e., workers) have built into language.
Novack had plainly forgotten what he had written elsewhere:
"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.]
'Innovative' logic like this also 'revealed' that (a) the LOI can't be of any use to 'speculative thought' (again, this was supposedly because subject terms are plainly not identical with predicate expressions -- this 'reasoning' surfaces in the first quotation from Novack, above), and (b) contingent reality is not only governed by dialectical logic, the entire world is an interconnected Totality, just as generations of mystics have always maintained.
[LOI = Law of Identity.]
Fortunately, these amazing facts are easily 'discovered'. No boring, expensive, time-consuming experiments or observations are required. Indeed, these 'super-facts' can be 'extracted' in a few minutes by means of a 'dialectical analysis' of any given subject-predicate proposition, which shows that every part, or aspect, of reality is implied by, and is linked to, each and every other. That is because John is identical with but different from a universal, which 'linguistic fact' connects him with all of reality -- as it does every other object and process (simply because of certain sentences about them).
There are several other super-facts that can be conjured into existence from this 'analysis'. For instance: (c) 'appearances' must 'contradict' underlying 'essence' (since the essential logic of the relation between John and his universal can't be accessed by the senses, but only by a 'process of thought' -- by 'abstraction' -- which reveals there is a 'contradiction' between John's 'appearance' as a man and his 'essence' as a MAN). Paradoxically, such 'logic' also guarantees (d) freedom of the will in the face of 'natural necessity' -- which is yet another DM-contradiction that just has to be "grasped" -- since John is both contingently and necessarily a man.
These bogus moves then 'allowed' dialecticians to blame the vernacular and 'commonsense' for these discursive faults, faults that were in fact entirely of their own making.
On that basis, therefore, and on this alone, Lenin felt justified in imposing dialectics on the entire universe, just like Traditional Thinkers have always done.
These moves were clearly regarded as 'safe' because (i) Discourse itself has dialectics built into it, and (ii) We all have to use language to depict nature. In that case, nature can't fail to be dialectical. Hence, dialectics may now safely and legitimately be imposed on reality, and the earlier bluff denial that this is never done may brazenly be ignored.
The secret code buried into subject-predicate sentences provided Lenin with the key to unlock all of reality:
"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…." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Bold emphasis added.]
Also worthy of note is the fact that the metaphor of the Key was central to Hermetic Mysticism, a core component of Hegel's thought.
"A key tenet of Hermeticism is the Unity of the Cosmos and the sympathy and interconnection of all things." [Quoted from here.]
The Idealism implicit in all this isn't easy to miss, for on this view nature is dialectical because language can be made to say so at the flick of a noun or verb.
However, if the predicative form is descriptive, then predication can't be referential (i.e., it can't designate or name an abstract idea or concept -- in this case, allegedly, Manhood) -- since description isn't reference. Aristotle saw through this 'difficulty' 2400 years ago; for him predicates applied to individuals designated by subject terms -- "Redness applies to the rose", for example. There's no "is" here anywhere in sight to be magicked into an identity.
If every journey starts with a small step, this particular mystery tour began with this simple misreading, or distortion, of a diminutive word (i.e., the "is" of predication). Traditional Philosophers (as well as their latter-day clone, Hegel) have been doing this sort of thing for centuries.
Over time, linguistic tricks like these, alongside their 'justification', became more complex and increasingly baroque --, their content modified as each Mode of Production required. Throughout all this their form remained largely the same: 'fundamental' and abstract truths about reality can be derived from thought or from language alone.
Dialecticians, are thus mere parvenus in this regard; late-comers who have slotted rather nicely into this quintessentially conservative groove.
In fact, you can't even see the join.
So, if discourse ('properly understood') has dialectics programmed into it, then no language-user could possibly deny the 'truths' DM-theorists have so effortlessly wrung from mere words. Super-verities like these can now be pulled straight out of Hegel's Hermetic Hat since they are all buried in our predicative sentences. DM can now legitimately be read into nature (on the pretence that it hasn't), because it is already there! -- and this can be sold to the gullible as a 'materialist inversion' of Hegel, because any reading of anything must have dialectics built into it. The need for supporting evidence can be waved aside since the seemingly obvious nature of the 'truths' obtained from linguistic magic like this is all the proof anyone could possibly require.
Mickey Mouse Science now had a licence to practice.
This helps account for the relaxed ease with which all dialecticians slip into the a priori mode-of-thought, and why they all fail to notice when they are doing it -- even after it has been pointed out to them!
It all looks so 'obvious', so 'self-evident'-- so traditional.
To spoil the fun, the down-side here is that the 'process of abstraction' destroys the capacity language has for expressing generality. It does this by turning propositions into lists of names conjoined by the misconstrued identity sign (the hapless "is", once more).
To see this, consider again the sentence, "John is a man". Here, just as "John" undoubtedly names John, "man" supposedly either names all men, or the abstract universal, Manhood. However, both this category (men) and that abstract universal (Manhood) are now singular in nature, having had the generality that the ordinary predicate -- i.e., "...a man" -- formerly expressed, neutralised. Singular terms -- obviously -- aren't general.
To compound the problem, the participle "is" (of the verb "to be") was also transmogrified into an expression naming, or designating 'the identity relation' (or, for Hegel, 'Identity-in-Difference').
So, "John is a man" thus became "John, Identity, Man."
Clearly, this can't be "John is Identity Man", or even "John is identical with all men", without awkward questions being asked about the nature of the extra (and this time irremovable) "is" (highlighted in red) that would be required to make this very point. Now that "is" can't be one of identity, for obvious reasons.
If it were, "John is identical with all men" would have to become "John is identical with identical with all men", as the underlined italicised "is" is itself replaced by an "is identical with", which this theory tells us it must be. In turn, the bold "is" (in "is identical with") must now itself suffer a similar fate, and the whole thing would quickly spin off into infinity: "John is identical with identical with identical with all men", and so on.
Nevertheless, we have here two terms (John and Manhood), one of which is supposedly abstract and has been conjured into existence simply by a determination to do just this. [That is, these abstract particulars (e.g., Man/Manhood) were invented in order to provide a referent for these abstract terms (e.g., "man").] These terms are supposedly related to one another in an ethereal sort of way, inaccessible to the senses.
[Well, can you see the identity here between John and Manhood? Can it be photographed, weighed, timed or painted? Hence, this abstract particular (i.e., Manhood) is now thoroughly Ideal.]
This 'analysis' now turns propositions into lists of concatenated names -- "John, Identity, Man") -- preventing them from saying anything true or false. That is because, of course, lists say nothing at all. By re-interpreting the "is" of predication as an "is" that names abstract identity, nothing at all can now be said of John, or of anything whatsoever. Hegel's defective 'logic' thus denies such propositions (and, of course, this includes DM-propositions of this form) a sense, preventing them from communicating anything at all.
In that case, they aren't even propositions.
As Professor Lowe pointed out:
"What is the problem of predication? In a nutshell, it is this. Consider any simple subject-predicate sentence, such as..., 'Theaetetus sits'. How are we to understand the different roles of the subject and the predicate in this sentence, 'Theaetetus' and 'sits' respectively? The role of 'Theaetetus' seems straightforward enough: it serves to name, and thereby to refer to or stand for, a certain particular human being. But what about 'sits'? Many philosophers have been tempted to say that this also refers to or stands for something, namely, a property or universal that Theaetetus possesses or exemplifies: the property of sitting. This is said to be a universal, rather than a particular, because it can be possessed by many different individuals.
"But now we have a problem, for this view of the matter seems to turn the sentence 'Theaetetus sits' into a mere list of (two) names, each naming something different, one a particular and one a universal: 'Theaetetus, sits.' But a list of names is not a sentence because it is not the sort of thing that can be said to be true or false, in the way that 'Theaetetus sits' clearly can. The temptation now is to say that reference to something else must be involved in addition to Theaetetus and the property of sitting, namely, the relation of possessing that Theaetetus has to that property. But it should be evident that this way of proceeding will simply generate the same problem, for now we have just turned the original sentence into a list of three names, 'Theaetetus, possessing, sits.'
"Indeed, we are now setting out on a vicious infinite regress, which is commonly known as 'Bradley's regress', in recognition of its modern discoverer, the British idealist philosopher F. H. Bradley. Bradley used the regress to argue in favour of absolute idealism...." [Lowe (2006). Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted here.]
So, despite what they say, dialecticians don't in fact start with general terms in order to extend knowledge, they begin with the names of abstract particulars. This stalls the dialectical juggernaut on the starting grid, turning DM-propositions into lists.
In Essay Three Parts One and Two, the 'process of abstraction' is subjected to detailed, sustained and destructive criticism. Not only is this 'process' psychologically impossible to carry out -- and in principle impossible to check inter-subjectively --, its supposed results are incomprehensible. That is because, once again, abstraction undermines generality, producing only the names of abstract particulars wedged into pseudo-propositions, concatenated with other transmogrified terms -- which prevents language from being used to say anything whatsoever.
The young Marx and Engels are also recruited in support of these claims because of their remarkably similar views in this area.
Finally, it is worth adding that the Essays posted at this site aren't aimed at showing that DM is false, only that it is far too vague and confused for it to be assessed for its truth or its falsehood. It doesn't make it that far. What is more, in relation to the subject of this Summary, it is incoherent, to boot.
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Latest Update: 29/03/17
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