Jurriaan Throws His Toys Out Of the Pram
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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, 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 thirty years ago.
The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.
Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism
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Debating with Dialectical Mystics is, alas, as boringly predictable as it is tediously repetitive, and this latest example is no different. A rather emotional and irascible character, Jurriaan Bendien, has taken it upon himself to put me in my place. [Readers can access the original debate here.]
In that debate, I noted the following:
How Not To Argue 101
The above page contains links to forums on the web where I have 'debated' this creed with other comrades.
For anyone interested, check out the desperate 'debating' tactics used by Dialectical Mystics in their attempt to respond to my ideas.
You will no doubt notice that the vast majority all say the same sorts of things, and most of them pepper their remarks with scatological and abusive language. They all like to make things up, too, about me and my beliefs.
25 years (!!) of this stuff from Dialectical Mystics has meant I now take an aggressive stance with them every time -- I soon learnt back in the 1980s that being pleasant with them (my initial tactic) did not alter their abusive tone, their propensity to fabricate, nor reduce the amount of scatological language they used.
So, these days, I generally go for the jugular from the get-go.
Apparently, they expect me to take their abuse lying down, and regularly complain about my "bullying" tactics.
So, these mystics can dish it out, but they cannot take it.
Given the damage their theory has done to Marxism, and the abuse they all dole out, they are lucky this is all I can do to them.
Notice that once i have been verbally abused I invariably go for the jugular in response. No less so here.
So, what do we find in this sad mystic's attempt to kick some life into his defence of DM? Yes, you guessed it: yet more abuse -- but little else (that is, if we ignore the waffle and the diversionary tactics):
Rosa Lichtenstein, Whoever you are, it's fine if you want to vent bile about dialectics behind the safety of a pseudonym (your "post office box socialism" is rather cowardly though, to say the least, particularly when you boast about your Phd thesis without anybody being able to refer to it), but I never gave you permission to publish my text on your website, and I think you should at least do me the courtesy of asking me for approval. If you are going to publish my stuff, then at least do me the courtesy of publishing the complete text of what I wrote, or alternatively, provide a link to where the complete text is available and was originally published.
Of course, we all know that Jurriaan didn't complete his PhD thesis, so that rather large chip on his shoulder is understandable.
He complains, however, that I didn't ask permission to publish his words at my site -- and yet he was happy to post them on the Internet, where all is fair game. And for some reason he thinks I failed to publish his entire missive, but he neglected to say which bits I left out. [None at all, in fact -- but we already know that Jurriaan can't cope with detail.] And, of course, I did provide a link. Perhaps, as a result of this latest tantrum, Jurriaan forgot to put his glasses on?
I regret to say
I cannot help you with your quest to define the meaning of dialectics out of
existence, since, I think, as long as people find utility in the notion, they
will continue to use it anyway. You'd be better off studying philosophers such
as Charles Taylor, Kozo Uno, William Stace or Mario Bunge who explored the
notion of dialectics in some depth, with a more profound knowledge of this
intellectual tradition. I'm not saying BTW I necessarily agree with any or all
of what these authors argue, but at least they grappled with dialectical ideas
in a more serious manner than most Marxist-Leninist bureaucrats did.
Well, we already knew that! In fact, as my last reply to him revealed, since Jurriaan seems not to understand his own 'theory', he is the last person one should look to for help in this regard.
But wait! Where have I tried to do the following?
[D]efine the meaning of dialectics out of existence....
Nowhere, in fact, and that is why Jurriaan failed to quote me to that effect, or anything like it. Well, once more, we already know he likes to make stuff up, so we can award him full marks for consistency, even if only here.
[Is he eager to become known as the Enid Blyton of dialectics? Seems so.]
Be this as it may, we ought to thank him for posting what must be his entire reading list in philosophy:
I think, as long as people find utility in the notion, they will continue to use it anyway. You'd be better off studying philosophers such as Charles Taylor, Kozo Uno, William Stace or Mario Bunge who explored the notion of dialectics in some depth, with a more profound knowledge of this intellectual tradition.
And yet, not one of these characters was able to tell us what a 'dialectical contradiction' is -- or if they could, they kept that fact remarkably well hidden. And, it is no use looking to our irascible friend, for Jurriaan doesn't know either. So, all his in depth reading was to no avail; not even he seems to know what a 'dialectical contradiction' is.
If you are wondering about the meaning of "tautology", I use it in the basic sense of a proposition which is true by definition, in virtue of the meanings of terms. Stating a tautology means stating something which must be true by definition (under all conditions and valuations). I am of course aware that more technical definitions are mooted in propositional logic by various philosophers, and that the tautological nature of certain kinds of logical propositions is contested, but anyway the universe of tautologies is potentially infinite. The real point of me mentioning this is in what I wrote, that if something is true by the definition of terms used, then everything depends on whether discussants accept the terms used. If discussants don't accept the terms, then asserting a tautology in a discussion is merely a petitio principii, a question-begging statement which already assumes which has to be proved or demonstrated.
Readers can check for themselves, but I expressed no worries about not understanding what a tautology is, hence, much of the above was yet more wasted effort.
I did, however, wonder about the phrase "tautological definition", even asking, politely, what the term meant, but Jurriaan chose not to address my query -- so, he is no help comprehending even his own 'ideas'!
Wittgenstein, in the tradition of analytical philosophy, seems to have believed that he could devise logical demarcation criteria which could rule in or rule out statements as meaningful or meaningless. But this idea assumes that something can be meaningful only if it satisfies certain preferred logical criteria. In reality, however, meaningfulness does not even absolutely require logicality, however defined, since something can be meaningful simply in virtue of a non-logical association, which could in fact be very vague (as is evident from the use of language and linguistic symbols).
Once more, Jurriaan's weekend-long 'research' on Wittgenstein has led him to confuse the latter's discussion (in his early work) of nonsensical (Unsinnig) pseudo-propositions with senseless (Sinnlos) propositions, and then with the meaning (Bedeutung) of sentences, in his later work. As readers can check for themselves, Wittgenstein offered no "logical" criteria that would or could demarcate or "rule in or rule out statements as meaningful or meaningless". And, as if to compound his gaffe, Jurriaan seems also to have confused Wittgenstein with the Logical Positivists. In fact, there is no 'seems' about it; he has.
Alas, the other things he says are far too vague to do anything with -- except, perhaps, ignore.
Despite this, what, if anything, has the above got to do with my reply to him? Nothing at all, it seems, but there is yet more of it:
The basic, most elementary associative processes used by sentient organisms for creating meaningful significance are those of identifying, distinguishing and generalising stimuli in some way. These are abilities which exist in a variety of living organisms to some or other degree, and what (mainly) humans add to this, almost from birth or perhaps even before it, is the capacity to reflect consciously on these meanings, create new meanings and objectify (objectively express) those meanings to a far greater extent than any animal can, and consequently with a much greater behavioural flexibility. Indeed, Viktor Frankl, the inventor of logotherapy, regarded the ability of humans to create their own meanings as being essential to human nature, and to human freedom and dignity. But this does not require by necessity that those meanings are logical, merely the detection of a "pattern" of some kind.
Readers who managed to make it to the end of this passage without dropping off can comfort themselves with the thought that Jurriaan (mercifully) didn't go on at greater length, even as they might ask themselves "But how does this help us understand what a 'dialectical contradiction' is?"
Well, you tell me!
Perhaps this is all an elaborate smokescreen to hide the fact that this 'expert' logician doesn't know? Reluctant as I am to draw this increasingly obvious conclusion, it seems inescapable. After several attempts to elicit a reply from him, all we have been given in response is a meandering account of the 'logotherapy' of Viktor Frankl. What next? The thoughts of Sarah Palin?
Oh dear, I was wrong! There is more. The Waffle-Meister strikes back:
One may for example attach a meaning to a certain work of art, or a location, or a person, without the association being "logical" in any sense, merely associative. Indeed the utility of logical thought is partly to help clarify the meaning of something which is part of a semantic universe containing both logical and non-logical meanings, as well as meaningless utterances. Part of dialectical thought is the idea that something can be positively defined only by showing both what it is and what it is not (the synthesized meaning of something then contains both its affirmation and its negation). By exploring this, we deepen our understanding of what something identifies and means. That is why I think your assumption that dialectics is meaningless nonsense cannot be proved conclusively, since it would require a proof both of what it means and what it doesn't mean.
And yet, for all this verbiage, we still do not know what a 'dialectical contradiction' is! Someone should perhaps advise Jurriaan to look up the meaning of "relevant", or even "stick to the point". However, I fear that if they were to do this, they'd only receive a response that banged on about the demise of Mayan culture or the median price of beef in Spain in 1487.
Stay awake at the back, there! The prophet is speaking!
Some People Have No Respect!
And here are yet more wise words for the ignorant and the uninitiated:
But -- leaving aside that your focus is entirely on what it cannot mean - such an absolute proof cannot be provided, because a naive concept of meaning is being used according to which meaningfulness can be definitively demarcated from meaninglessness once and for all, in virtue of certain logical rules -- analogous to a computer which converts observations into binary code. Since however meaning is context-dependent, often reflexive and need not display logicality, the most you can achieve is a proof that some statements are meaningful or meaningless in a limited number of contexts. You are just left with Popperian skepticism to the effect that there are always more illusions that you can ever hope to demolish. Unfortunately skepticism provides little positive orientation for behaviour, and is therefore ultimately debilitating and demeaning for a human being. One ought to be able to have one's doubts about matters, sure, but not to the extent that the meaning of everything at issue is put in question, since this only adds creates confusion rather than clear it up. You do not, in other words, clear up confusions about dialectics simply by ostentating endlessly that dialectics is meaningless. From a dialectician's point of view, the very fact that there are confusions and controversies about dialectics is itself significant, and can be viewed as a determinate symptom if viewed in a broader context.
Now, I pointed this out in Essay One:
Apart from those listed...above, the most common reactions to my work (from comrades who have 'debated' this with me on the internet, or elsewhere) are the following...
(6) The attribution to me of ideas I do not hold, and which can't reasonably be inferred from anything I have said or written -- e.g., that I am a "postmodernist" (which I am not), an "empiricist" (same comment), a "Popperian" (I am in fact an anti-Popperian), that I am a "sceptic" (this slur is cast simply because I challenge accepted dogma, when Marx himself said we should doubt everything, and Lenin declared that all knowledge is provisional), that I am an "anti-realist" (when I am in fact neither a realist nor an anti-realist -- with respect to philosophical theories, I am in fact a "nothing-at-all-ist" -- however, this mustn't be confused with Nihilism!), that I am a "positivist" (same reply!), that I am a "reformist" (when I am the exact opposite), or that I am a "revisionist" (when Lenin enjoined us all to question accepted theory, and Mao himself rejected the NON). Here is just the latest slur, where a desperate DM-fan alleges that I promote "the sophist confusions of Wittgenstein, as if this is going to lead to the emancipation of the working class" even though, facing him on the very same page is my signature: "The emancipation of the working class will be an act of the workers themselves."
Once more, these are often advanced by comrades who haven't read a single one of my Essays (but that doesn't prevent them from being 'experts' about me and my work, or from making things up about me) -- either that, or they have merely skim-read a few random, isolated passages. Naturally, they would be the first to complain if anyone else were to do the same in connection with, say, the writings of Marx, Engels, or Lenin. [This is just one of the latest examples. Here is another.]
Indeed, Engels himself waxed indignant with Dühring over precisely this point:
In connection with Herr Dühring's examination of the Darwin case, we have already got to know his habit, 'in the interests of complete truth' and because of his "duty to the public which is free from the bonds of the guilds", of quoting incorrectly. It becomes more and more evident that this habit is an inner necessity of the philosophy of reality, and it is certainly a very 'summary treatment'. Not to mention the fact that Herr Dühring further makes Marx speak of any kind of 'advance' whatsoever, whereas Marx only refers to an advance made in the form of raw materials, instruments of labour, and wages; and that in doing this Herr Dühring succeeds in making Marx speak pure nonsense. And then he has the cheek to describe as comic the nonsense which he himself has fabricated. Just as he built up a Darwin of his own fantasy in order to try out his strength against him, so here he builds up a fantastic Marx. 'Historical depiction in the grand style', indeed! [Engels (1976), p.159. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted here.]
Dühring was pilloried for doing this, but apparently it is OK for dialecticians to do the same to me!
[It is worth adding that I'm not complaining about this, I expect it. I am merely highlighting it in order to expose the intellectual bankruptcy displayed by rather too many fans of 'the dialectic'.]
So, it is interesting to see that Jurriaan has fallen into the same trap.
Mercifully, we are nearing the end:
There is a sense in which Wittgenstein is just as tyrannical and totalitarian as a Stalinist bureaucrat, insofar as he seeks to impose criteria for meaningfulness, ruling out vast swathes of meaning and ruling in others, according to the logical rules, he, Wittgenstein, has devised for it. In contrast, the root meaning of dialectics is dialogue (Greek: dialogos). If you enter into dialogue about the meaning of dialectics, you have already conceded that dialectics is meaningful in some way, and therefore can be meaningfully questioned, and in that sense you have lost your argument about the claim that it is meaningless already at the start. But if you simultaneously deny dialectics can be meaningful under any conditions, i.e. you accept this proposition explicitly or implicitly as a tautology, you simultaneously rule out any genuine dialogue about it. That is an eminently "dialectical" contradiction of your own thinking: your attempt at "dialogue" consists of denying the validity and meaningfulness of what your partner in dialogue about dialectics has to say, generating mere irritation.
1) We have already seen that the 'Wittgenstein' Jurriaan refers to is a figment of his Hermetically-compromised 'brain'.
2) I have nowhere said that dialectics is 'meaningless' (although I have asserted it contains meaningless terms) -- what I have alleged is that it makes no sense at all, and what Jurriaan has posted in return amply confirms that judgement -- for not even he (our very own Guru-in-Waiting) can tell us what the phrase "dialectical contradiction" means -- and neither can anyone else!
Meaning and sense for Wittgensteinian were totally different concepts as we have seen. Jurriaan's confusion clearly arises from the fact that all along he has run together "meaningless", "nonsensical" and "senseless", errors compounded by the fact that he won't be told -- he is far too busy waffling.
But, what about this?
[Y]ou have already conceded that dialectics is meaningful in some way, and therefore can be meaningfully questioned....
Unfortunately, the word "meaning" itself has many meanings. Here are a few:
(1) Personal Significance: as in "His Teddy Bear means a lot to him."
(2) Evaluative import: as in "May Day means different things to different classes."
(3) Point or purpose: as in "Life has no meaning."
(4) Linguistic meaning: as in "'Vixen' means 'female fox'", "'Chien' means 'dog'", or "Recidivist" means someone who has resumed their criminal career.
(5) Aim or intention: as in "They mean to win this strike."
(6) Implication: as in "Winning this dispute means that management won't try another wage cut again in a hurry."
(7) Indicate, point to, or presage: as in "Those clouds mean rain", or "Those spots mean you have measles."
(8) Reference: as in "I meant him over there", or "'The current president of the USA' means somebody different at least once every eight years."
(9) Artistic or literary import: as in "The meaning of this novel is to examine political integrity."
(10) An indication of conversational focus: as in "I mean, why do we have to accept a measly 1% rise in the first place?"
(11) An expression of sincerity or determination: as in "I mean it, I really do want to go on the march!", or "The demonstrators really mean to stop this war."
(12) The content of a message, or the import of a sign: as in "It means the strike starts on Monday", or "It means you have to queue here."
(13) Interpretation: as in "You will need to read the author's novels if you want to give a new meaning to her latest play", or "That gesture means those pickets think you are a scab."
(14) Import or significance: as in "Part of the meaning of this play is to change our view of drama", or "The real meaning of the agreement is that the bosses have at last learnt their lesson."
(15) Speakers' meaning: as in "When you trod on her foot and she said 'Well done!' she in fact meant the exact opposite."
(16) Communicative meaning: as in "You get my meaning", or "My last letter should tell you what I meant", or "We have just broken their secret code; the last message meant this..."
(17) Explanation: as in "When the comrade said the strike isn't over what she meant was that we can still win!"
[The above comes from here. This isn't to suggest that several of these don't overlap, or that there aren't other meanings of "meaning".]
Now I am prepared to admit that dialectics has meaning in sense (1), and perhaps even (2), but that is all. [The reason why that is so is explained in detail in Essay Nine Part Two.] But, I have never yet made this point to Jurriaan, so where he got the above idea from beats me. Except he added this:
[Y]ou accept this proposition explicitly or implicitly as a tautology, you simultaneously rule out any genuine dialogue about it.
Well..., er, no. I accepted no such thing; it was Jurriaan who introduced the word "tautology", not me.
And where have I "ruled out any genuine dialogue"? Nowhere, that is where. Indeed, over the last five years, at RevLeft alone (this was written in 2010, but RevLeft has recently -- i.e., February 2019 -- become almost totally defunct; many of the links i have used will no longer work), I have engaged in dialogue with countless Dialectical Mystics, in over 16,000 posts. And I have engaged with others at the MHI site, too. A list of some of these debates (at RevLeft and elsewhere) can be found here.
That is an eminently "dialectical" contradiction of your own thinking: your attempt at "dialogue" consists of denying the validity and meaningfulness of what your partner in dialogue about dialectics has to say, generating mere irritation.
Well, I'd like to agree with Jurriaan, but we don't as yet understand the phrase "dialectical contradiction", so I can't. And, it seems Jurriaan is intent on keeping us that way.
At last, the end!
A dialogue with Rosa Lichtenstein about dialectics is thus a fruitless pseudo-dialogue, because there isn't any shared premiss in the dialogue about dialectics, and there is evidently nothing that would shift Rosa's opinion in any way. At best one could say, "well I find dialectics a meaningful concept, although Rosa doesn't" but since we already knew this, the dialogue adds nothing new, and is a complete waste of time. I do not hope to persuade you in saying this, that it is a waste of time, but merely that I find it a waste of time, and therefore do not intend to pursue it, it would just be a useless distraction from constructive activities in which, as I mentioned, creative dialectical insights are a normal everyday occurrence.
Well, no one asked Jurriaan to stick his waffling face in here; he volunteered his 'historic' thoughts. If he can't hack it, that is his problem.
I do not hope to persuade you in saying this, that it is a waste of time, but merely that I find it a waste of time, and therefore do not intend to pursue it, it would just be a useless distraction from constructive activities in which, as I mentioned, creative dialectical insights are a normal everyday occurrence.
I respectfully accept your capitulation.
Next dialectical numpty, please...
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