Summary of Essay Twelve: Metaphysics -- The Ideology of The Oppressor
This Essay is now badly out-of-date and so is being entirely re-written. The first part has already been published here.
These are Introductory Essays, which have been written for those who find the main Essays either too long, or too difficult. They do not pretend to be comprehensive since they are simply summaries of the core ideas presented at this site. Most of the supporting evidence and argument found in each of the main Essays has been omitted. Anyone wanting more details, or who would like to examine my arguments and evidence in full, should consult the Essay for which each is a précis. [Apart from Essay Twelve Part One, these have yet to be published.]
Non-Empirical Propositions Masquerading As Super-Empirical Theses
This Essay contains the main thrust of the anti-metaphysical ideas advanced at this site, and hence some of my principle objections to DM.
[Essay Twelve Part One has now been published; it covers the same ground as the first third of this Essay, only in far more detail. You can read it here.
Incidentally, the characterisation of Metaphysics found here is consistent with the way Marx and Engels depicted it in their early work.]
In MEC Lenin quotes the following words from Engels:
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
Here, Lenin is making a typically metaphysical statement. Naturally, DM-theorists will reject this assertion; nevertheless, it is the aim of this Essay to substantiate this claim and to explore the effect that other metaphysical theses have on DM as a whole.
[MEC = Materialism And Empirio-Criticism.]
It is worth noting at the outset that theses like M1 purport to inform us about fundamental aspects of nature, albeit in this case disguised as part of Lenin's admission of his own incredulity. Nevertheless, we are not to conclude from M1 that Lenin was merely recording his own personal views. On the contrary, Lenin certainly believed that matter and motion were fundamental aspects of "objective reality"; that they were inseparable and that this was a scientific fact. Moreover, like Engels, he held the view that motion was a form of the existence of matter -– that is, he believed that matter could not exist without motion, and vice versa. Motion was thus one of the ways in which matter expressed itself.
Now, the metaphysical nature of Lenin's declaration can be seen by the way that it obviates the need to find any supportive evidence. Even if humanity had access to information about motion and matter many orders of magnitude greater than is available today, it would still not be enough to show that the separation of matter from motion was unthinkable. No amount of data could substantiate that.
But, as we will see, Lenin's declaration has much more serious problems to contend with than lack of supporting evidence.
However, the superficially-profound nature of theses like M1 derives from something rather more mundane --, that is, from certain features of the language in which they have to be expressed: the main verb they use is invariably in the indicative mood. Sometimes this is beefed-up with modal qualifiers (such as "must" and "necessarily") -- which, incidentally, help create even more of a false impression. In fact, this misleadingly innocent-looking outer facade masks a deeper logical form -- something that becomes plain only when such propositions are examined more closely.
As noted above, sentences like these look as if they expressed profound truths about reality since they resemble empirical propositions, which also use the indicative mood; in the event, they turn out to be nothing like them.
Consider an ordinary empirical proposition:
T1: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra Of Revolution.
Compare this with these similar-looking indicative sentences:
T2: Time is a relation between events.
T3: Motion is inseparable from matter.
In order to understand T1, it is not necessary to know whether it is true or not. However, the comprehension of T2 and T3 goes hand-in-hand with knowing either or both are true (or, conversely, knowing either or both are false). The truth of T2 and T3 seems to follow directly from the meaning of the words they contain, which now links their alethic status with meaning, but not with material confirmation/confutation, hence not with a confrontation with reality.
In contrast, understanding T1 is independent of the evidence that could or would confirm or refute it -- indeed, it would be impossible to confirm or confound T1 if it had not already been understood. Empirical propositions are typically like this; they have to be understood first before they can be confronted with the evidence that would fix their truth-status.
However, and conversely, T2 and T3 need no evidence in their support; their truth-values follow from the meaning of the words they contain (or from certain definitions -- i.e., from yet more words). Hence, their truth-status is independent of the evidence.
The implication of these observations will now be spelt-out in more detail.
Here, we have two sorts of indicative sentences, each with a radically different relation to reality. In the first sort (i.e., those like T1), their understanding is independent of their truth-status, but their actual truth or falsehood depends on the state of the world. In the second (i.e., those like T2 or T3), their truth or falsehood is not dependent on the state of the world, but follows from the words they contain.
Indeed, metaphysical theses (like T2, and, as will be agued, T3) are deliberately constructed to transcend the limitations of the material world, but which tactic is excused on the grounds that it allows the aspiring metaphysician to uncover "underlying essences", revealing nature's "hidden secrets". Theses like these are necessarily true (or necessarily false), and are thus held to reveal genuine knowledge, unlike contingent propositions whose truth can alter with the wind. Traditionally, this meant that empirical propositions like T1 were not considered capable of revealing authentic knowledge. Indeed, philosophical knowledge (secure knowledge) has always been held to be of the sort delivered by T2 or T3-type sentences: necessary, a priori, non-contingent, and generated by thought alone.
Metaphysical propositions thus masquerade as especially profound super-empirical truths, which cannot fail to be true (or cannot fail to be false, as the case may be). They do this by aping the indicative mood, but they go way beyond this. Thus, what they say does not just happen to be this way or that, as with ordinary truths -- these propositions cannot be otherwise. The world must conform to whatever they say. All this helps account for the use of modal terms (like "must", "necessary" and "inconceivable") if and when their status is questioned for whatever reason --, or, of course, whenever someone is trying to sell them to us.
Conversely, if anyone were to question the truth of T1, the following response: "Tony Blair must own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution" would be highly inappropriate -- unless T1 itself was the conclusion of an inference, such as: "Tony Blair told me he owned a copy, so he must own one", or it was based on a direct observation statement, perhaps. But even then, the truth or falsehood of T1 would depend on an interface with material reality at some point.
In such cases, reality would be dictating to us whether what we said was true or false -- we would not be dictating this to nature by our own use of words, in the way that metaphysicians do.
With respect to T2 and T3, things are radically different; the second option above applies, for their truth-values (true or false) can be determined independently -- and in advance -- of the way the world happens to be. Here, the essential nature of reality can be ascertained from words alone. Such Super-Truths (or Super-Falsehoods) are derived solely from the alleged meaning of the words that sentences like T2 and T3 contain (or from the 'concepts' they somehow express). In that case, once understood, metaphysical propositions like T2 and T3 guarantee their own truth or their own falsehood. They are thus true a priori.
So, with a metaphysical thesis, to understand it is to know it is true or to know it is false. That is why, to their inventors, metaphysical propositions appear to be so certain and self-evident. Questioning them seems to run against the grain of our understanding, not our experience. Moreover, they appear to be self-evident precisely because they need no evidence to confirm their truth-status; they provide their own evidence, and testify on their own behalf -- their veracity follows from the alleged meaning of the words they contain. They, not the world, guarantee their own truth (or falsehood).
Unfortunately, this divorces such theses from material reality, since they are true or false independently of any apparent state of the world.
In that case, any thesis that can be judged true or false on conceptual grounds alone cannot feature in a materialist account of reality, only an Idealist one.
This might seem to be a somewhat dogmatic statement to make, but as we shall see, the opposite view is the one that is dogmatic, since it is based on a ruling-class view of reality (and one whose validity is not sensitive to empirical test).
Nevertheless, it is now possible to see exactly why DM-theses can be (and are) so readily imposed on nature (as we saw was repeatedly the case in Essay Two): their internally-generated certitude means that no material fact could possibly controvert them. But this also implies that they cannot be read from nature, since that would undermine their status, turning them into ordinary, common-or-garden empirical propositions, demoting them from super-duper truths to boring material facts.
This is why they have to be based on linguistic resources that have been deliberately divorced from material reality -- that is, on non-material abstractions, jargonised expressions and bogus terminology, on entities that inhabit an inner, immaterial or merely 'mental world', like the 'gods' of old -- just as we saw in Essay Three Part One and Part Two.
In like manner, the truth of DM-propositions is ascertainable from the alleged meaning of the words they contain, not from the way the world happens to be. Naturally, this accounts for the easy slide into apriorism witnessed among metaphysicians and DM-theorists alike, highlighted in the Essays posted at this site.
For instance, the conclusions Engels drew about motion command assent from the supposed meaning of words like "move", "same time" and "place", and they can be safely extrapolated to all of reality because they guarantee that Engels's conclusions apply to every single example of motion in the entire universe, past, present and future.
That is why, if pressed on this, dialecticians cannot appeal to evidence to support this thesis (as we saw in Essay Five, no evidence could show that an object is in two places in the same instant), but must rely on the meaning of the words Engels (or Hegel, or Zeno) used.
This also explains why dialecticians find it hard to disagree with Engels, Lenin or Hegel; this is because their conclusions are based on (alleged) meanings, not on evidence. Hence, the rejection of what, for example, Engels said seems to conflict with fundamental aspects of language (which in turn makes their opposites "unthinkable") -- except, of course, dialecticians see his words as picturing fundamental aspects of reality, not language about it, having now thoroughly confused linguistic theses with empirical truths.
We will soon be in a position to see how and why this occurs, and what it is that prompts all traditional thinkers to do likewise.
Similarly, Trotsky was able to refer to the "axiom" that things are never equal to themselves because of the logical properties supposedly built into words like "equal", "change", "same" and "different". Indeed, Hegel was able to do something even more impressive by considering a few transmogrified "concepts" (such as 'Being' and 'Nothing'), and what they allegedly implied as they "developed".
In Essays Three to Six (and in more detail here), we will see that this thesis follows from Hegel's idiosyncratic analysis of subject/predicate propositions, wherein the subject is allegedly different from the predicate, which meant to Hegel that our words/concepts had alteriety or difference (and hence negativity) built into them. [Certain modern French Philosophers make a big deal of this too (following Heidegger) -- likewise confusing a contingent linguistic fact with a profound ontological 'truth'.]
Hence, from words and/or concepts alone we get SuperFacts. All thoroughly Idealist, all thoroughly traditional.
Lenin, too, felt he could declare that motion without matter was "unthinkable", and well in advance of the unimaginably large body of empirical evidence that would be needed to justify even a weaker form of this thesis -- and he was able to do this because matter and motion are inter-defined in DM (the latter being a "form" of the former). So, from a definition, super-empirical truths suddenly began to flow, by-passing the empirical checking stage.
As is abundantly clear from the record, Lenin did not review the evidence in favour of his thesis (that motion without matter is "unthinkable") before he delivered this semi-divine pronouncement, he dictated what he thought the world must be like, deriving this idea from what he took the words "matter" and "motion" to mean, or from what the DM-tradition stipulates they must mean.
We have also seen that Lenin was able to ascertain from a simple sentence about "John" most of the deep structure of reality. This is an impressive magical skill dialecticians may claim for themselves because of the social space that traditional thought has opened up for them -- and which, because of their own class position, predisposes them to use it. [More on this below and in Essay Nine (summary here).] So, DM-acolytes are playing an age-old game according to the rules, deriving a priori theses from words alone.
The only problem is that these rules were laid down by our class enemies.
Hence, Lenin and other DM-theorists could safely ignore any evidence that disconfirmed their theses, since they weren't empirical to begin with -- despite their indicative veneer.
Unfortunately, as noted above, this means that dialectical-metaphysical theses can form no part of a material account of reality, and hence cannot be used to change the world. They follow from abstract ideas, and are thus thoroughly Idealist; no amount of spin can give them the radical or materialist make-over dialecticians allege for them.
This also explains why DM-theorists to this day ignore anything (material) that contradicts their theses (in fact, like the benighted souls in Galileo's day, who would not even look down his telescope, many simply refuse to read these Essays -- exactly why this is so will be explored in Essay Nine (summary here)). This also accounts for their cavalier approach to FL, the ideas of their opponents and the watery-thin evidence they offer in support of their 'laws'. This is because, if DM-theses are self-evident (or follow from the sort of immanent 'logic' one finds in Hegel), then it licences the knee-jerk high-handedness practically all dialecticians display. Since nothing materially-based can count against their theory -- it is indeed hermetically sealed-off from the world --, anyone who dares to produce evidence against it can safely be ignored, abused for their pains, and dismissed with the hackneyed judgement that they do not "understand" dialectics. [This alone shows that Materialist Dialectics (MAD, for short) is not based on evidence, but on how certain words must be "understood.]
In fact, this attitude of mind is somewhat reminiscent of the theologically-motivated arrogance displayed by certain Protestants sects. Anyone who has met, say, a devout Protestant from Northern Ireland will know of what I speak -- there is more than a superficial resemblance between born again DM-fans and such born-again Christians.
Thus, if your beliefs have been sanctioned by the impenetrable logic found in Hegel, or indeed the equally impenetrable will of God, you are going to think and act as if you are special.
Now, this helps account for the sectarianism dialectics encourages in all who allow it to colonise their brains. [More on this in Essay Nine (summary here).]
Since DM-theses are not materially-based, nothing in material reality could possibly disconfirm them. That is why dialecticians consider it a waste of time reading demolition-jobs like this. Once saved, always saved.
As is well-known, every single DM-thesis owes its life to the Idealist speculations of anti-materialist thinkers like Hegel, not to empirical research. [On this, see Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
That is why DM-theses fall apart so quickly when confronted with materially-grounded language and materially-based evidence -- and it is also why DM-theorists have to denigrate (or ignore) the vernacular to protect their ideas.
In this way -- and as with other forms of ruling-class, anti-materialist thought --, DM is just another form of Idealism. To be sure, this is what Hegel himself said of all philosophical theories:
"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle…." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55.]
That rare moment of clarity needs no spinning to put it back on its feet.
If Reality Is Fundamentally Linguistic, Then Of Course It Can Contradict Itself
However, in spite of the rich metaphysical pickings that this a priori approach to knowledge seems to bring in its train, the search for apodictic 'certainty' of this sort is invariably done on the cheap, as it were. No expensive equipment is required, no elaborate or time-consuming experiments need to be performed. Anyone with a flair for jargon, spiced-up with a love of prolixity perhaps --, and, of course, sufficient leisure time --, can do it. Even better: no empirical evidence is required to substantiate the bold theses that effortlessly roll off the page, since these can be condensed from thought alone.
Metaphysical theories were originally invented by thinkers who (in the main) displayed an aristocratic contempt for ordinary language and empirical knowledge -- and hence for the manual labour on which both are based. [There is an excellent account of this in Conner (2005).] Ordinary language and empirical knowledge are grounded in communal life, which means that they are ultimately based on collective labour and common understanding.
Traditional thinkers were indirectly alienated from this communal aspect of the human condition by the social division of labour that scarred nascent class society. Early thinkers were quite open in their contempt for the 'semi-animal' existence they attributed to working people, and the superiority of their 'culture'. [There is a very clear echo of this in Plato's Republic.]
In that case, the universal inclination that DM-theorists display for wanting to derive substantive truths about reality from language alone (i.e., from 'thought experiments', or from a priori theses and trite maxims, etc.) is no surprise. Philosophical theorists have been doing this sort of thing for millennia; this practice is now part of the philosophical furniture. Since ruling-class hacks have always done this in their contribution to traditional thought, when DM-theorists copy it, it seems to them (because of their own class origins) a perfectly normal way to think and to theorise -- so normal that no one (until recently) has either noticed it or analysed its ideological provenance.
[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
Their appropriation of traditional thought-forms (outlined throughout this site) thus locates DM-theorists in a philosophical current possessed of excellent ruling-class bona fides, one consequence of which is that DM is itself a form of LIE.
LIE, is in fact a family of doctrines which share many things in common:
A distortion of the vernacular; the distillation of substantive theses about nature from 'thought experiments' alone; the promulgation of what seem on the surface to be empirical propositions, but which are not, since they are applicable throughout all of reality, for all of time on the say-so of the promulgator; the invention of empty neologisms and abstract terminology, where words drawn from everyday language will not do; the derivation of 'necessary truths' that supposedly reveal the "essential" aspects of "Being", but which have been obtained from words alone; the confusion of rules of grammar and logic with empirical propositions (which allows theorists to 'derive' 'scientific-looking' laws from what are in fact contingent features of language, which, more often than not, is Indo-European); hasty generalisations based on a strictly limited number of examples (all of which are unrepresentative, distorted, or specially-selected); the 're-interpretation' of everything else to fit this a priori picture.
Metaphysicians (and DM-theorists) not only take it for granted that reality has an underlying rational structure, they arrogate to themselves the sole right to uncover its hidden secrets and inform the rest of us of the eternal truths they have thus exposed.
As noted above, the truth-values of ordinary empirical propositions can only be determined by an interface with material reality; their truth-status is materially-driven.
With metaphysical theses, on the other hand, the opposite is the case: the underlying state of the world is determined by what they say. They do not reflect the world -- the world reflects them: reality is a reflection of what they declare to be the case. The way the world has to be is determined by their content; they stand out as philosophical pictures, delineating the conceptual boundaries of reality (or 'Being'), as lone theses or foundational principles, which trace out the logical or essential form of any possible world. That is why no evidence is needed, and none is ever really sought. No world is conceivable in which they do not apply.
That is of course why Lenin considered the opposite of Engels's thesis about matter and motion so "unthinkable".
Which is also why such theses can safely be imposed on nature.
In fact, it would be unthinkable not to.
Lenin Thinks The Unthinkable
In order to substantiate these allegations, we need to examine Lenin's claim in more detail:
M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318.]
As we will now see, this collapses into incoherence: even though Lenin had to think these very words (i.e., "motion without matter") -- to make the point that they were "unthinkable" --, that did not stop him from concluding that what he himself had just done (i.e., think these very words) could not in fact be done by anyone -- which clearly must have included himself!
In purporting to deliver a particularly profound truth about matter and motion (the adamantine nature of which is such that its opposite is not just false, it is "unthinkable" -- i.e., no world is imaginable where there is motion without matter), Lenin had to engage in a practical refutation of his own words. So 'profound' were they that in communicating them to us Lenin had to do the opposite of what he himself said could not be done!
This shows that it is not possible to relate the content of Lenin's claim to anything that could be found (or that could occur) in material reality, since it was based on concepts knitted together in defiance of material reality and of the language derived from our complex relation to it (on which topic, see below).
The paradoxical nature of Lenin's words illustrates the ineluctable slide into non-sense that all theorists must undergo whenever they try to undermine either the vernacular or the logical and pragmatic principles on which it is based -- ones, for example, that ordinary speakers regularly use to state contingent truths or falsehoods about the world without such a fuss.
Intractable logical problems soon begin to emerge with such putatively empirical propositions if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities associated with empirical propositions: truth and falsehood. This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical proposition is declared to be only true or only false (or, more pointedly, necessarily the one or the other) -- as a "law of cognition", perhaps -- or, more likely, when a necessary truth or falsehood is mis-identified as a particularly profound sort of empirical thesis. As we will soon see, this tactic results in the automatic loss of both options, and with that goes any sense that the original proposition might once have had.
This is because empirical propositions leave it open as to whether they are true or false; that is why their truth-values cannot simply be read-off from their content, why evidence is required in order to determine their semantic status, and why it is possible to understand them before their truth of falsehood is known. If that were not so, it would be impossible to ascertain their truth-status.
When this is not the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, when propositions are said to be 'necessarily' true or 'necessarily' false -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant. Thus, whereas the truth or falsehood of an empirical proposition cannot be ascertained on purely linguistic (or syntactic) grounds, either or both of these appear to be ascertainable in this way if the proposition is metaphysical.
Conversely, this means that if the truth or falsehood of a proposition is capable of being established by such structural factors alone (i.e., from the supposed meaning of its constituent terms/concepts), it can't have been empirical to begin with -- nor can it relate to the material world or anything in it, nor can it help change reality. Otherwise the truth or falsehood of that proposition would be world-sensitive, not solely meaning- or concept-dependent. And that explains why the comprehension of a metaphysical proposition goes hand in hand with knowing its 'truth' (or its 'falsehood') -- it is based on thought/language alone, and not on the material world.
[Of course, it could always be claimed that such thoughts 'reflect' the world, which nullifies the above comments. But, if thought reflects the world, it must be possible to understand the propositions that allegedly express this in advance of knowing they are true, otherwise confirmation in practice, or by comparing them with the world, becomes an empty gesture. If the truth of a thought/proposition can be ascertained from that proposition itself (if it is 'self-evident'), then the world drops out, and that just means that that thought/proposition cannot be a reflection of that world. Indeed, and quite the reverse: reality becomes, in effect, a reflection of that thought/proposition -- something I have called the "Reverse Reflection Theory" [RTT] --, which theory implies the world is thought/language-like, and not physical. The world thus takes on the (hidden) contingent features of thought/language, which are themselves an expression of social relations. These are then read into nature, thus anthropomorphising it. More on this below, and in the full Essay.]
It is now possible to see why Lenin's claim about matter and motion encounters serious problems. In this instance, in order to declare a proposition containing the phrase "motion without matter" necessarily (and always) false, the possibility of its truth must first be entertained, even if this is immediately rejected. This is because, if the truth of this claim is to be permanently excluded (by holding it as necessarily false), whatever would have made it true has to be ruled out conclusively.
But, that just means that whoever propounds such a thesis would have to know what "motion without matter" rules in so that he/she knows exactly what it rules out as always and necessarily false. And yet, this is precisely what cannot be done if "motion without matter" is "unthinkable".
If a proposition containing the phrase "motion without matter" is necessarily false (i.e., if its truth "unthinkable") a logical charade of this sort cannot even begin, because it would be impossible to say (or to think) what could possibly count as making it true (since the words used cannot even be 'mentally-processed' -- they have been declared off-limits).
However, because the truth of the content of the original proposition (i.e., perhaps: "There is motion without matter") cannot even be conceived, anyone propounding it would now be in no position to say what was being excluded by declaring it "unthinkable". But, if it is impossible to say under what conditions such a proposition could be true, then it is equally impossible to say what would make it not true -- for what is being ruled out cannot be specified since, once more, it has just been declared "unthinkable".
Unfortunately, this now prevents any account being given of what would make a proposition containing "motion without matter" false, let alone necessarily false, or "unthinkable". Because no account can be given of what would make it true, none can be given of what would make it not true (i.e., false).
Hence, such a proposition would be necessarily false if and only if it was not necessarily false -- that is, only if what would make it true could not in fact be entertained just in order to rule that option out!
According to Lenin, the conditions that would make this defective proposition true cannot even be conceived, so this train of thought cannot be joined at any point. And, if its truth -- or the conditions under which it would be true -- can't be conceived then neither can its falsehood, for we should not know what was being excluded (since those words have been "withdrawn from circulation", as it were, to quote Wittgenstein).
In that case, the negation of this defective proposition can neither be accepted nor rejected, for no one would know to what its content committed anyone in order that it might be accepted or rejected. Hence, this proposition would lose any sense it might once seem to have possessed, since it could not under such circumstances be true or false -- nor would it be capable of being entertained so that these might be ascertained.
Alas, such Super-Empirical theses collapse under the weight of their own defective use of language.
[An appeal to the falsity of the LEM here (as a way of diffusing these dialectically-disconfirming conclusions -- since that 'law' might seem to have been used above, as in "Either M1 is true or it is false") would be of little help, for not even Lenin would have accepted that it is both true and false to say that "motion without matter is unthinkable". Nor could he, since in order to do so he would have to have thought the very same words he proscribed!
[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]
The same slide into incoherence can be demonstrated with respect to each and every metaphysical thesis (but not on the same lines as the above, of course); this will not be demonstrated anywhere in this project since it is not relevant to my overall aims. However, each and every DM-thesis of any significance has been shown to so disintegrate.]
Another odd feature of such theses is worth underlining: since the truth-values of defective sentences like these are plainly not determined by the world, they have to be given a truth-value by fiat. They have to be declared necessarily true or necessarily false (which declaration will have unavoidably been 'derived' from the supposed meanings of the words they contain -- and this is plainly because their truth cannot be derived from the world, with which they cannot now be compared).
Or, more grandiloquently, their opposites have to be pronounced "unthinkable" by a sage-like figure -- a Philosopher, or perhaps a Dialectical Magus of some sort. Metaphysical decrees of this sort are as common as dirt in traditional thought -- and, alas, also in dialectics, as we can now see.
So, the truth-value of metaphysical theses is not determined by the way the world happens to be, which is why it has to be bestowed on them by their inventors. Isolated theses like these have truth or falsehood granted them as a gift. In that case, instead of being compared with material reality to ascertain their truth-status, they are merely compared with other related theses (or more often, they are compared with yet more terminology) as part of a jargon-dominated gesture at 'verification'. Their bona fides are thus thoroughly Ideal, and 100% bogus.
The normal cannons that determine when something is true or false (i.e., a comparison with reality) have to be set aside, and a spurious 'evidential' ceremony substituted for it -- which in DM is often carried out after the event, and even then only a very narrow range of examples are considered (as we found with Trotsky's 'analysis' of the LOI and Engels's account of motion, etc.) -- or, if it is carried out in advance, it is performed in the head as a 'thought experiment', or perhaps as part of a very hasty and superficial consideration of the 'concepts' involved.
As far as traditional Philosophy (Metaphysics) is concerned, we know this is precisely what has taken place as the subject developed. But with respect to DM, its class-compromised origins mirror this ideological degeneration. As is well-known, dialectical doctrines were lifted from Hegel (and allegedly given a materialist spin), but Hegel's ideas were not based on experimentation of any sort, nor were they derived from material reality. He openly borrowed them from earlier mystics (as we will see in Essay Fourteen (summary here)), while attempting to justify them with some of his own 'innovative' word-juggling.
So, it is only after the event that evidence is sought by dialecticians to substantiate their a priori theses -- and, as we will see in the Essays posted here, this 'evidence' is not only wafer-thin, what little there is does not support DM anyway.
In this way, therefore, DM-theses are quintessentially Idealist and thoroughly anti-materialist.
Unfortunately, Engels went further than Lenin:
"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.]
However, in this particular case, not only is it easy to speak about motionless matter (using materially-grounded ordinary language -- several examples of this are given in Essays Five and Twelve) -- up until recently, human beings actually managed to think about it. Indeed, motionless matter was a fundamental tenet of Aristotelian Physics.
Beware Greek Philosophers Bearing Metaphysical Gifts -- Or Why Words Have Power
DM is thus situated in an ancient metaphysical tradition, one that was (and still is) based on the systematic misuse and denigration of ordinary material language. The vernacular was (and still is) variously regarded as theoretically limited, paradox-friendly, the repository of unreflective 'commonsense', ideologically-compromised, and subject to the appearance/reality dichotomy.
The original, ideologically-motivated attack on 'vulgar' speech began with the inception of class society. From the historical record (in Essay Twelve) I show how Greek thinkers incorporated abstract terms into their theories because they could not make ordinary words say what they wanted them to say. In so doing they were quite open about their aims just as they were about their contempt for ordinary human beings, their language, beliefs, experience and culture. The class-confidence of these early thinkers meant they did not have to hide their ideas behind too much metaphysical spin; in fact their thoughts began life ad-mixed with several genuine scientific concepts.
The scientific study of nature, and how to control it, began long before developed forms of class society reared their ugly heads (on this see Conner (2005)), but once the latter emerged, science became all too easily overlaid with the results of Idealist speculation.
Nevertheless, with the development of technique, when more practically-orientated human beings started to take an increasingly careful note of the material world, and also of the physical constraints this imposed on speculation (i.e., when they began to experiment, test and dovetail their theories with observation and improved technique, etc.), science was able to make steady progress and break free from most of the effects of this murky past, pulling itself out of this intellectual quagmire. However, in order for this to work, scientists have had to take material reality (and hence contingency) into account. Traditional Philosophy could not do this. Hence, science was able to distinguish itself from the Idealism that surrounded it on all sides by its increasing contact with the material world and with developing technology.
[Of course, the situation here is vastly more complex than the above suggests, but this is a summary Essay! More details will be published in the Additional Essays section at a later date.]
However, the first traditional 'philosophical' exercise in 'linguistic surgery' (that we know of in the West) was undertaken in ancient Greece, and it was carried out in order to transform earlier, aristocratically-motivated myths and theogonies into secular and/or metaphysical 'truths', so as to provide a de-personalised (but now rational) legitimacy for the new forms of state power emerging in and beyond the sixth century BC.
Taking one specific example: this process is illustrated in detail in relation to the autocratic, antidemocratic and violent politics found in Pythagorean society (situated in Southern Italy in the sixth century BC). Ideologically, this social form was based on the notion that nature is governed by rational, mathematical and hierarchical principles, ones that the Pythagoreans alone understood. That, naturally, justified their contempt for democracy. This particular case is important because of the profound influence Pythagorean concepts had on Plato, Neo-Platonists and thus on more recent Platonists (such as Galileo, Hegel and in some respects, Lenin), and hence on much of Western thought. This includes the way that Mathematics and Physics have been widely interpreted since; they are, by-and-large, still understood in a thoroughly Pythagorean or Platonic manner.
Indeed, as fate would have it, the first use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (that we know of) was directed by the Pythagoreans of Croton on the hapless people of Sybaris, a neighbouring city in Southern Italy. In 510 BC Pythagorean forces diverted the River Crati into Sybaris, wiping out a whole community, killing tens of thousands.
The links between Philosophy and violent, anti-democratic state power were less difficult to see in those days.
[It is worth recalling here that Stalin's criminal invasion of Finland (in November 1939) was justified by dialectical philosophy of similar murderous insincerity (as was the Hitler/Stalin pact). That invasion was an unforgivable attack, and, hard though it is to believe, was defended by Trotsky(!), who, although a principled anti-Stalinist, supported this action by the Red Army on sound dialectical grounds. Socialism spread by tanks, justified by dialectics? Substitutionism -- courtesy of DM.
The result? Tens of thousands of dead workers, and a breathing-space for Hitler. It is now perhaps a little easier to see why workers hate Dialectical Marxism. But, you can still find dialectically-deadened comrades who defend this attack (but who also fail to note how impressively unsuccessful they are at attracting workers to their ranks -- not making the obvious connection, so dialectically myopic have they become).]
Such traditional notions merely helped justify the formation and reproduction of ruling-class hegemony: if the latter rule "reflects" the underlying rational/'objective' order of reality (as ruling-class hacks have generally claimed, albeit modified to suit the needs of each Mode of Production, and each ruling elite), then all opposition to the state can be condemned as irrational, against "the natural order", and thus "evil". The moral order could thus be linked to the rational order of reality. Indeed, the ethical state of the soul and the orderly nature of the State were not just accidentally linked in Plato, they were constitutive of the whole cosmos and of rightful governance on earth. The same was true (but in a different idiom) of the rational principles mined from thought alone by other ruling-class thinkers.
Early Philosophers were in fact quite open about this; it is only recently that these notions have retreated into the background. However, they are now making a strong come-back, and just in time for a new wave of Imperial aggression in the Middle East. Now we have "Islamofascists" where once there were "Barbarians".
Of course, the principles behind -- and the intentional objects of -- these theoretical flights-of-fancy are, and always were, and always will be, inaccessible to sense perception, 'commonsense' and ordinary material language/evidence.
And rightly so: only in a genuine democracy would mundane things like these really count for much.
Social Being Creates The Philosophy Of 'Being'
Superimposed on all this were a few rather more contingent factors, themselves a spin-off from class division: the extrapolation from language to truths about the world was an extension of, and justification for, each traditional theorist's own idiosyncratic take on reality. These were en masse derived from an alienated view of 'Being', ultimately predicated on an earlier division of labour in nascent class society.
As is well-known by Marxists, in their attempt to free themselves from the constant oppression of nature, humanity found that it not only had to enslave itself to political and social forms over which it lost control, it also had to submit to ideologies that parasitized and rationalised this alienation. Ruling-class ideas thus came to rule because there was no material counter-weight to their Ideal view of reality.
Superscientific truths derived solely from the meaning of words thus matched the intellectualist view of nature adopted by this new layer of theorists in ancient Greece, just as they reflected their daily experience of class society. In this way, their mode of being mirrored their view of 'Being'. The life of these idlers was largely one of leisure bought at the expense of the necessary labour-time of those whose language and experience they denigrated. In order to give expression to this form of estrangement, these theorists developed an anti-materialist language deliberately set in opposition to the 'debased' language of those who had to work for a living.
In ancient Theogonies, conflict was inter-personal between the 'gods', whose verbal wrangles became the model upon which later Hermetic thinkers based their ideas. In this way, such anthropomorphic notions assumed cosmic significance.
Unfortunately for humanity, this also meant that it became 'natural' for later theorists (like Anaximenes, and Heraclitus) to see conflict in conceptual, logical and linguistic (but not material) terms. [This is indeed from where Hegel got these notions.]
That, of course, set this new form of discourse in direct opposition to the material language of everyday life. This alienated thought-form was bequeathed to all subsequent generations of thinkers, since they largely shared the same privileged material conditions, and hence the ideological predispositions that came with this slice of the intellectual territory.
In this artificial world inhabited by indolent thinkers, words appeared to carry with them a hidden form of authority: commands, edicts and orders seemed to possess their own secret power (which, of course, accounts for the ancient and early modern search for the original language 'God' gave to mankind; on this see Eco (1997)).
Words were, after all, capable of moving slaves, servants, and workers effortlessly about the place; codified into law, words also appeared to possess genuine coercive power, which masked the class domination on which this parasitic social form was based. Naturally, this superficial aspect of official language would blind those who benefited from these social forms to its material roots in class society. They would thus begin to confuse a conventionalised social form with a secret code necessary to grasp the essential aspects of 'Being'.
The spurious power that words seemed to possess would naturally suggest to these theoretical 'drones' that if certain forms of language underpinned both their own authority and, more importantly, that of the State, and if the State mirrored Cosmic Reality, then the universe itself must run along discursive lines.
In that case, such theorists would 'naturally' see reality as not just rational, but ultimately as linguistic, constituted by the word of some 'god', or other. In the act of creation, the 'Deity' spoke and everything not only sprang into existence, it jumped to attention, too. Hence, on this view of things, seemingly inert matter had the capacity to obey orders (when addressed with the right sort of language), as if it were intelligent and possessed of a will. Nature was thus an enchanted 'Being', and because of this distorted view of language, all this could be directly or indirectly linked to the 'legitimacy' of Class Power.
Indeed, as early theorists saw things, nature was powered by opposing forces: good and evil, light and dark, order and chaos, love and hate, hot and cold -- all were either personified (as good/evil intelligences) or were viewed as discursive principles (i.e., as 'logical' laws, which were not just 'laws of thought', but laws governing reality, and which were derived from the supreme Logos, who made everything in 'His' image).
Ideas like this appear in all ancient creation myths, in Greek Philosophy, and in Buddhist and Chinese thought (in the latter as Yin and Yang, for instance; more examples here). The inner source of universal movement and/or development was thus linguistic, governed by these discursive opposites; either that, or it was based on intelligence/will (and thus on language again), and, once more, all of this was directly or indirectly linked with class hegemony.
Matter was thus not so much congealed energy as condensed language, equally the slave of 'God' as human servants were slaves/subjects of the state. These ruling ideas were thus derived from the alienated ideas of those who ruled, and they were believed to rule the universe solely because of that: ruling ideas ruled society just as they supposedly ruled the world. As above, so below; the microcosm mirrored the macrocosm.
Few traditional thinkers have strayed far from these ancient thought-forms, even if they expressed these guiding principles in different idioms as each Mode of Production changed, and as each ruling-class altered its own legal form.
All this represented perhaps one small ideological step for alienated mankind, but a major step backward for oppressed humanity.
This is because it carved ruling-ideas into the fabric of the heavens. And there they still remain.
Feuerbach's Half-Finished Project
In that case, Feuerbach uncovered only half the truth: it's not just 'God' who is an alienated projection of human nature. The classical view of the cosmos is in fact a projection of alienated human society, purposely carried out by the ideologues of those whose interests this manoeuvre served. Such dead creations have weighed on the brains of the living ever since -- as both tragedy and farce.
As this view depicted things, the real universe (i.e., that which underpinned 'appearances') was in effect an externalisation of the hierarchical relations of power and authority (either apparent or masked) in class society. In this way, the specially-codified language that was used was intimately linked to the continuing order of the Cosmos and thus of the many forms of the State which the class war has thrown-up.
For example, in early Greece, Justice became a cosmic issue, but linked to the alleged affairs of human beings. At the same time, and then later, property, exchange, debt, ransom, value, law, conflict, legal argument, and much more, all assumed metaphysical significance.
In Hegel, of course, the latter two notions resurfaced as "contradictions" -- and so it was that an anthropomorphised verbal expression came to power the universe.
All of these 'insights' were justified by an a priori argument of some sort, coupled with an innovative use of jargon, because this is the only way these can be made to work.
As Marx argued:
"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. For instance, in an age and in a country where royal power, aristocracy, and bourgeoisie are contending for mastery and where, therefore, mastery is shared, the doctrine of the separation of powers proves to be the dominant idea and is expressed as an 'eternal law.'" [The German Ideology, quoted from here.]
Often these ostensively secular doctrines were overlaid with overtly religious themes -- just think of the concepts that Christians use: inherited sin, ransom, debt owed to 'God' (since all are 'His' slaves), redemption, 'mediation', and so on. Discourse like this (of a mystical and legalistic drift) had a magical quality imputed to it; language powered the world, just as it supposedly ran the State.
Hence, a superficial social form (i.e., the ability to issue orders, to promulgate and enforce laws, or to prosecute a legal argument, etc.) was inverted so that it became a 'logical' device 'allowing' philosophers to unmask the secrets that underpinned surface 'appearances' -- and thus the master key capable of unlocking the essential structure of 'Being'.
In later metaphysical systems, this open mysticism became hidden behind an overt reference to the logical principles that 'must' underlie all of nature, and every 'possible world' -- depersonalised now as cosmic "essences", "dialectical logic", "natural law", or "necessary truth". The Logos became Logic, and Logic ran the world.
This being so, it would be 'natural' for such theorists to conclude that not only is logical, rational, and conceptual analysis capable of revealing genuine truths about reality, nothing else could. In that case, only a priori knowledge was real knowledge; it alone was reliable. Anything else was not 'proper Philosophy', and so fit only for derision.
This approach to 'knowledge' is well summarised by these two authors:
"Empirical, contingent truths have always struck philosophers as being, in some sense, ultimately unintelligible. It is not that none can be known with certainty…; nor is it that some cannot be explained…. Rather is it that all explanation of empirical truths rests ultimately on brute contingency -- that is how the world is! Where science comes to rest in explaining empirical facts varies from epoch to epoch, but it is in the nature of empirical explanation that it will hit the bedrock of contingency somewhere, e.g., in atomic theory in the nineteenth century or in quantum mechanics today. One feature that explains philosophers' fascination with truths of Reason is that they seem, in a deep sense, to be fully intelligible. To understand a necessary proposition is to see why things must be so, it is to gain an insight into the nature of things and to apprehend not only how things are, but also why they cannot be otherwise. It is striking how pervasive visual metaphors are in philosophical discussions of these issues. We see the universal in the particular (by Aristotelian intuitive induction); by the Light of Reason we see the essential relations of Simple Natures; mathematical truths are apprehended by Intellectual Intuition, or by a priori insight. Yet instead of examining the use of these arresting pictures or metaphors to determine their aptness as pictures, we build upon them mythological structures.
"We think of necessary propositions as being true or false, as objective and independent of our minds or will. We conceive of them as being about various entities, about numbers even about extraordinary numbers that the mind seems barely able to grasp…, or about universals, such as colours, shapes, tones; or about logical entities, such as the truth-functions or (in Frege's case) the truth-values. We naturally think of necessary propositions as describing the features of these entities, their essential characteristics. So we take mathematical propositions to describe mathematical objects…. Hence investigation into the domain of necessary propositions is conceived as a process of discovery. Empirical scientists make discoveries about the empirical domain, uncovering contingent truths; metaphysicians, logicians and mathematicians appear to make discoveries of necessary truths about a supra-empirical domain (a 'third realm'). Mathematics seems to be the 'natural history of mathematical objects' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.137], 'the physics of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1976), p.138; however these authors record this erroneously as p.139, RL] or the 'mineralogy of numbers' [Wittgenstein (1978), p.229]. The mathematician, e.g., Pascal, admires the beauty of a theorem as though it were a kind of crystal. Numbers seem to him to have wonderful properties; it is as if he were confronting a beautiful natural phenomenon [Wittgenstein (1998), p.47; again, these authors have recorded this erroneously as p.41, RL]. Logic seems to investigate the laws governing logical objects…. Metaphysics looks as if it is a description of the essential structure of the world. Hence we think that a reality corresponds to our (true) necessary propositions. Our logic is correct because it corresponds to the laws of logic….
"In our eagerness to ensure the objectivity of truths of reason, their sempiternality and mind-independence, we slowly but surely transform them into truths that are no less 'brutish' than empirical, contingent truths. Why must red exclude being green? To be told that this is the essential nature of red and green merely reiterates the brutish necessity. A proof in arithmetic or geometry seems to provide an explanation, but ultimately the structure of proofs rests on axioms. Their truth is held to be self-evident, something we apprehend by means of our faculty of intuition; we must simply see that they are necessarily true…. We may analyse such ultimate truths into their constituent 'indefinables'. Yet if 'the discussion of indefinables…is the endeavour to see clearly, and to make others see clearly, the entities concerned, in order that the mind may have that kind of acquaintance with them which it has with redness or the taste of a pineapple' [Russell (1937), p.xv; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v, RL], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted here.]
This is one of the reasons why the attack on the roots of all forms of Western thought (mounted at this site) is so difficult for comrades to accept (or even to grasp): in their heads ruling ideas are still dominant -- in this case in the shape of dialectical 'logic'. And they fail to see this, even after it has been pointed out to them, because they accept as 'natural' this traditional, a priori approach to knowledge --, as, indeed, the only way to think rationally about reality. Hence, for them, only a priori speculation (backed up with little or no evidence) can possibly qualify as genuine philosophical truth. Materially-based scientific knowledge is not enough; Marxism needs a Philosophy. This idea is so firmly lodged in comrades' heads that it rules almost by divine right. Why this is so will be examined more fully in Essay Nine (summary here).
In this way, ruling-class ideas have come to rule militant minds.
However, rationally obtained knowledge (of this sort) is far removed from material reality -- in fact it has been abstracted away from it, and is thus conveniently hidden far beneath surface appearances, and is hence safe from material confutation. This underlines the further idea that such knowledge is occult, mystical, and esoteric -- which helps account for the popularity of occult thought among traditional thinkers (and, indeed, among many individual members of the ruling-class -- for example, these days the Masons). This includes, of course, Hegel, a Hermetic thinker of the worst possible kind.
The original ideological turn to this new conception of reality clearly mirrored the pseudo-democratisation that took place classical Greece in and around the fifth century BC -- based as the latter was on slavery.
It was now expedient to transform the earlier personified powers of the 'gods' into impersonal 'forces' and 'laws' in order to provide a more relevant and persuasive rationale for these new forms of class domination (wherein Kings and Queens no longer ruled, these having been replaced by Oligarchies, dictatorships, or by early forms of Republican government). Warring, envious and capricious gods had to be tamed and thus turned into impersonal forces, principles and laws (but, where necessary, these were still under the control of a single supreme 'Deity', or supreme rational principle, an Absolute). Naturally, a properly ordered Polis had to reflect a similarly rational cosmic order.
Nevertheless, this change still preserved the anthropomorphic and animistic overtones of the old way of seeing things --, even if this was now much harder to see.
This novel and class-motivated world-view was clearly aimed at demonstrating why nature and society had to be the way they were, linking the power of the State to the necessary structure of 'Being'.
Hegemony so easily derived from Hermeneutics.
[It is worth recalling here that Hermeneutics is derived from the Greek God Hermes, the founding figure of Hermetic Philosophy -- the system that Hegel bequeathed to our movement. Hermes was 'himself' based on the Egyptian god Thoth, who supposedly invented language and Philosophy (aka 'wisdom') -- and who, incidentally, made the world out of language --, from whom the Greeks derived their word for 'God' (Theos -- and hence Theology), and we our word "theory".
Ruling ideas, based on ruling words.]
Ordinary Language -- Denigrated By Class-Conscious Theorists
As a result, not only did the first wave of ruling-class warriors find that they had to dismantle primitive communism physically, their ideological "prize-fighters" also had to mount a pincer assault on communal language and the common experience of ordinary human beings, centuries later. This is no mere invention; the historical record fully supports this observation. [Details will be given in the full Essay, when it is published.]
They were forced to do this because the vernacular does not allow the formation of a single coherent metaphysical thought (for reasons outlined above, and explained in detail in several of the Essays posted at this site), and it cannot be used to confirm the a priori theses metaphysicians invent as the ideological mood takes them.
This accounts for the need to create 'abstract ideas' to help rationalise those newly emerging class hierarchies. [This can be seen in the work of early Greek thinkers, and they were quite open about what they were doing.] Of course, this move became the norm in later thought, and thus did not require such open ideological justification.
If 'concepts/categories' control all of reality, or all of thought (or both, as in Hegel), even though it is not possible to detect a single one of these by any means whatsoever, then no ordinary human being could possibly challenge their legitimacy. If anyone were foolish enough to try to do so, that would be evidence enough that they did not "understand" the precursor to dialectics -- i.e., the Neo-Platonic/Hermetic ideas that would later help sink Hegel (and thus Marxism) into a dogmatic slumber.
In the West, this ancient, aristocratic world-view found expression in the use of specially-tailored jargon -- wherein nature became a reification of contingent features of Indo-European grammar. As a result, subjects, predicates, and practically any vaguely relevant word -- especially participles of the diminutive verb "to be" (i.e., "is" and "being") --, were imbued with profound ontological significance. The superficial grammatical structure of a few specially-selected sentences was thus considered capable of revealing the underlying structure of the entire universe.
In these new social settings, the analysis of specially modified linguistic forms was not only metaphysically revealing, it was financially rewarding; patronage was available only to those who theorised along the 'right' lines and who drew the most useful conclusions.
Abstract thought could thus find a home for itself in a world where those who performed material work could find none -- for their thoughts and experiences were denied a 'legitimate' home.
The material language of those who had to work to stay alive was thus doctored and distorted, since it represented the 'debased' experience of those directly alienated by these new social forms (but whose self-organisation could still threaten the "rational order", the "fabric of society" -- or, again of late, "Western values").
Hence, not only was materialism regarded as a dangerous ideology, the material language by means of which it alone can be expressed had to be continually denigrated.
In any subsequent rebellion against the State, however, the material language of everyday life rapidly became a focus for expressing the grievances and pressing the demands of those thrown into revolt. To be sure, the justification for the latter was often couched in religious terms (a classic example being the work and activity of Thomas Müntzer), but the demands and tactics of such groups had to be expressed in everyday words if support were to be won among ordinary folk. No matter how fervent one's belief in 'God', without the right tactics, weaponry and means of communication -- all of which are material constraints --, no revolt could be prosecuted.
In this way, struggle from below (especially in the last few centuries) has gradually inverted the Ideal forms of domination that have been imposed on the majority for thousands of years, thus making the social world increasingly subject to material and collective control. Again, while this might have been expressed in religious terms centuries ago, it has emerged these days in more overtly materialist language.
That is, of course, why revolutionary papers have to use ordinary language.
And it is also why the present age is unique; we now possess a material counter-weight to Idealism, one that can help bring an end to the domination of ruling-ideas: an international working-class.
Indeed, the ideas represented here were only made possible because the working-class entered the stage of history as a material force.
This explains why the larger the working-class, the less relevant dialectics becomes, and the smaller the impact Dialectical Marxism has on it.
However, the tide of history has changed; dialecticians, with their heads deep in the sand, have yet to register this blindingly obvious fact.
True, in Hegel's work, the Ideal stands proudly on its feet, Absolute master of all. But it wasn't the work of comrades like Engels, Lenin or Trotsky that up-ended it, putting it the 'right way up' (as dialecticians often claim). If anything, they put it on a cart and paraded it about the place, celebrating it as the work of "genius".
On the contrary, it was the material struggle of ordinary working people that has helped cut this metaphysical Frankenstein off at the knees, for they alone provide the material counterweight to the Idealism that gives it life.
Marxist intellectuals and/or activists (no matter how devoted they are to the revolution) cannot of themselves do this, and for obvious reasons (these are spelled out in Essay Nine, Parts One and Two): in general they are almost exclusively petty-bourgeois, and are thus 'naturally inclined' toward the Ideal.
Ordinary Language And Workers
In that case, no revolutionary movement can succeed without employing the material language of ordinary life, ditching the Ideal. Revolutionaries who think otherwise not only align themselves with those who still, to this day, benefit from class rule, they guarantee the further alienation from Marxist politics of those already estranged by the ideologically-motivated deformation of their lives, language and experience: the majority of workers.
As Marx noted, in all ages the ideas of the ruling-class rule --, but it helps significantly if erstwhile radicals internalise the elitist thought-forms encapsulated in DM, parrot it back at workers, and attempt to substitute it into their heads. Indeed, those who have adopted this tactic have merely help spread and confirm alien-class hegemony over 'radical' thought.
Clearly, this makes the defence of ordinary material language a class issue.
Alienated Thought -- Fetishised Language
Everyday language had originally been developed by ordinary human beings who interfaced with one another and with the material world in collective labour. In contrast, ruling-class ideology encapsulated in traditional Philosophy is suffused with the sort of jargon that can only interface with yet more jargon.
Indeed, in such circumstances systematic jargon-juggling (aka Metaphysics) has become the norm, with traditional thought resembling what one might imagine a long and detailed commentary on the nature, temperament and predilections of the Jabberwocky itself looks like.
[This accusation can be levelled, too, but with more justification, against much that passes for academic Marxism. Small wonder then that it has so far had no detectable impact on the class struggle (that is, other than a negative one). On this, see Essay Nine, Parts One and Two.]
In this way, traditional theorists readily mistook a social form (language) for the material world itself, inverting the products of social relations until they began to mirror, and then constitute in a suitably Ideal form reality itself, one that reflects in turn their own mode of being.
As a result, these theorists developed an alienated and fetishised view of language. In that case, what had once been the product of the relations between human beings thus became inverted in an ideological form as an expression of the real relation between things, or even as those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx).
This inversion has real material roots in the alienation from collective labour (and the language that arises from it) that class division forced on ruling-class hacks -- and, indeed, on contemporary Dialectical Marxists.
For traditional thinkers, the proper function of language is representational: it must picture "Being", and it must re-present hidden essences as inner certainties -- thus assisting class-ideologues in their rationalisation of the 'social order'. There would be no point to Metaphysical language if it could not do this.
Theoretical and philosophical language thus became a specialised code that could represent to 'consciousness' the essence of metaphysical reality. This accounts for the need for all that jargon -- and then more jargon to 'explain' the original jargon -- and, of course, to ensure that this mutant medium remained the exclusive property of elite 'thinkers'. This is indeed one of the central tenets of Hermetic thought; just as Hermes interpreted the 'Gods' to the select among us, so a suitably arcane language could help interpret/represent 'God's' thoughts' to similarly exclusive sections of humanity. In this way, the inner linguistic microcosm could represent the outer Ideal macrocosm of the few.
Hence, discourse was not seen as a social tool created by ordinary human beings in order to facilitate communal life and collective labour; no, its primary function was higher, it was aristocratic, its primary function was to represented reality directly, but only as this was captured by the 'concepts', categories and ideas formed in the heads of those with far too much leisure time on their hands than was plainly good for the rest of us.
Intellectualist metaphors connected with sight thus came to dominate theory; you either 'saw' the truth (by "intuition", or by divine illumination), or you were part of the problem -- or, latterly: you did not "understand" dialectics. Hence, ideas linked to special forms of perception (particularly the hidden, inner sort -- speculative thought for Hegel -- and it is worth recalling that "speculate" comes from the Latin speculum, "to mirror", a thoroughly Hermetic notion) seeped into all areas of traditional epistemology as representational theories swept the board; they were the only game in town.
Representationalism and the Inner Bourgeois Individual
However, if only small sections of the population were capable of representing divine ideas to themselves, then that automatically excluded the majority from genuine knowledge, and thus from power. As is well-known, the ruling-class has always preferred secrecy and mystery. No less so here.
On the other hand, if language is in fact primarily communitarian (and hence, if its main function is communication), mystery-mongering like this becomes impossible. Everything would be open to view; nothing would be hidden (to paraphrase Wittgenstein, once more).
Nevertheless, according to the metaphysical/representational view of language, human beings have first to learn to represent the world to themselves before they can communicate their ideas to anyone else. Naturally, this makes this theory anti-communal, since it is predicated on exclusivity and individualism. It is also why ideas that allow for the existence of a priori theses have always appealed to philosophical traditionalists (and dialecticians).
Hence, propositions whose truth-values flow from the alleged meaning of words (which notion is based on the idea that language can directly represent to certain minds those parts of reality that cannot be communicated, or accessed by empirical means, rendering this form of knowledge esoteric and exclusive) --, will always appeal to such traditionalists. Representationalism, Metaphysics and Dialectics thus go hand in hand.
Representationalism, of course, has became more overt in its early modern incarnation, concocted at or about the time of the last major change in class power, in the 17th and 18th centuries. This view of language and mind now dominates traditional thought (indeed, it typifies the bourgeois/individualist view of 'mind', which has hardly advanced or changed much in the last 300 years).
But, if representationalism is correct, accounting for communication becomes problematic. How would it be possible, for example, to explain the meaning of a newly invented piece of jargon if that jargon only represents things in its inventor's own head? Others may pretend to follow what is said (or imagine that they can), but beyond that, what content would there be to such pretence? [More on this in Essay Three Part Two.]
Representationalism thus threatens not just the status of knowledge, it undermines socially-conditioned meaning. The communicational model does not do this. There, meaning emerges from social interaction, not isolated mental processing.
Just as labour creates value, socialisation based on collective labour creates meaning.
Of course, representationalism not only makes it impossible to account for the social nature of knowledge, it helps create the spurious 'problem' of other minds -- for it now becomes obvious that, short of a miracle, no two individuals could share the same ideas about anything, or even so much as a single "abstraction". Far worse: no one could share the same idea about the 'same idea'.
In contrast once more, by its very nature material language is communitarian; only during (but mostly after) socialisation is it possible for human beings to begin to form beliefs about the world, or express them in a comprehensible form (even to themselves). Hence, children have to be taught language by parents, carers and peers communicating with them; only after they have been successfully inducted into a speech community is it possible for them to represent anything to themselves.
In contrast to this, abstract metaphysical language is individualistic, divisive, atomistic and representational; if language were primarily of this nature --, as already noted --, communication would be impossible. Language, instead of being a free medium of exchange, would thus become a prison trapping thought in a solipsistic dungeon. In fact no thoughts could be formed given this view. [Why this is so will be explained in a later Essay, where the above claims will be defended in depth.]
Hence, according to the traditional view (in its modern form), it is almost as if there were a surrogate inner bourgeois in us all. Representationalism itself suggests that we all have an 'inner spectator' in our heads; how else could we make sense of these 'inner representations' to 'consciousness'? What is the point of using the word "represent" if there is no one to whom things are represented? If this word means what we ordinarily take it to mean (that is, if we do not misrepresent its meaning!), then the use of this word depends on an homunculus theory of mind. The verb "to represent" is after all transitive.
At this point, the atomistic nature of this traditional line of thought should become more obvious, for the 'explanatory' core of this approach to language presents us with what looks suspiciously like an isolated individual -- beloved of bourgeois thought -- lodged in each head. This oracular cranial 'lodger' -- who differs from the Cartesian soul in name only -– is, on this account, far removed from the affairs of communal life. Such a speechless atom would have no need of a public language -- nor would it require socialisation. Its 'discourse' (if such it may be called) could not therefore be social, just inner and private. However, private property in the means of mental production sits rather awkwardly with an avowedly Marxist account of language.
Moreover, in order for it to work, representationalism has had to anthropomorphise the human brain, installing an inner bourgeois social atom in every head.
Thus, the individual strikes back and is living in a skull near you.
Small wonder then that ruling-class ideas have always ruled; every head contains its very own bourgeois ideologue. Or, rather, all who swallow this tale are led to believe they form their own ideas as separate, isolated individuals, only later to share them with others. These days, this seems so natural (even to Marxists) that few question it. DM-epistemology merely reinforces this misconception.
Thus was born Engels's classic 'problem' of the relation between "thinking and being" [Engels (1888), p.593], which is in fact a 'problem' only for those who accept the validity of representationalism.
In stark contrast to the traditional view of language, the vernacular is already part of the material world; hence any thoughts expressed in ordinary language need no further relating to material reality -- the vernacular is thus able to capture real life in all its accessible forms.
Seen this way, another classic 'problem' simply evaporates.
The Ideological Heart Of The Heartless World
Nevertheless, as a result of profound changes that took place in parts of Southern Europe in the sixth century BC, Metaphysics emerged as an alienated form of ruling-class consciousness: the theory that gave heart to those who ran this heartless world, the ideology that rationalised power and served as an intellectual source of the opiate of the oppressor.
To bring this condition to an end will require the end of the conditions that created it. The criticism of Metaphysics thus becomes one with the criticism of the ideas of those who have imposed their system on the rest of us -- and one with the criticism of the ruling ideas that have been imported into Marxism (in the form of dialectics).
To be sure, this criticism must assume material form in the class struggle, but that cannot possibly succeed if those who claim to be its most focussed cadres ape these alien thought-forms. Instead of dialectical comrades trying to reform this condition, occupying it and altering it from within -- as they have hitherto tried to do, concocting their own version of traditional thought (this being the philosophical equivalent of Reformism) --, Marxist theoreticians should aim rather to smash it.
There is thus no room in revolutionary socialism for any form of Philosophical Entryism.
This Ideal Tiger cannot be de-clawed one clause at a time.
In view of the above, the aim must now be to return Marxist Philosophy to its roots in the material language of working people; that is, to the language developed by that section of humanity that interfaces with material reality every day.
This accounts for the heavy emphasis placed on the vernacular in these Essays -- and hence, too, this explains its implacable opposition to all forms of traditional Philosophy.
The language used by traditional thinkers (like Hegel) actually insulates the mind from material reality (since it is not based on a material interaction with it -- either in communal life or in collective labour), just as it insulates the minds of comrades who to this day still think Marxism is a ringing success.
That's how good a job it has done on them!
As the historical record shows, Hegel's impenetrable jargon was cobbled-together from (im)material supplied to him by theorists and mystics working within this ancient metaphysical tradition -- but plainly not from those who interacted with the physical world in communal labour.
Traditional theorists interface with material reality only in their spare time (and seldom in communal labour); most of the time they enjoy the communion of books, Ideas and Concepts. Small wonder then that such thinkers had to develop a specialised vocabulary --, one that is suffused with words that have no material roots --, in order to give expression to their own particular alienated form of life.
Over the last 2500 years, such theorists have developed and elaborated upon this Ideal view of reality, one that is based on a systematic attempt to derive "necessary truths" from the alleged meaning of a few words (such as, "Being", "mediation", "cause", "contradiction", "substance", "reality", "infinite", etc., etc.). This approach to theory underlies all forms of ruling-class thought, in every Mode of Production, achieving a different form-of-expression in each.
This being so, there can be no philosophical theory that is not Ideal (here, at least, Hegel was right), and there can be none that is free from ruling-class concepts and priorities. These sweeping claims are not left as bald assertions, they are thoroughly substantiated in the Essays posted at this site.
Hermetic 'Genius' Derives Everything From A Participle Of The Verb "To Be"
One particular 'argument' is of special interest here; it is found in several places in Hegel's work, and it attempts to connect "Being" with "Nothing" and then with "Becoming", by 'deriving' all three from the verb "to be".
Amazingly, this 'argument' was praised by Lenin and Trotsky [Lenin (1961), p.110; Trotsky (1986), p.103; echoed in Rees (1998), pp.49-50], even though this prize piece of Jabberwocky Lore sits right at the heart of the Ideal monster. Rees summarises thus 'argument' in the following way:
"The 'Science of Logic' begins with the most abstract of all human ideas, Being. This is the bare notion of existence shorn of any color (sic), size, shape, taste or smell. This first concept is also, in its way, a totality. Although Being reveals no characteristics or distinguishing marks, it does, nevertheless, include everything. After all, everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, 'This is --,' even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being…. But Being also contains its opposite, Nothing. The reason is that Being has no qualities and no features that define it. If we try to think about pure Being…we are forced to the opposite conclusion, Being equals Nothing.
"But even Nothing is more than it seems. If we are asked to define Nothing, we are forced to admit that it has at least one property -– the lack or absence of any qualities…. This presents us with a strange dilemma: being is Nothing and yet Nothing is something. Hegel, however, is not so stupid as to think that there is no difference between being and Nothing, even though this is what our logical enquiry seems to suggest. All that this contradiction means is that we must search for a new term that…can explain how Being and Nothing can be both equal and separate (or an 'identity of opposites'…). Hegel's solution is the concept of Becoming." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50.]
Because of its centrality, this 'argument' is systematically taken apart line by line in Essay Twelve, and shown to fail even in its own terms.
There is no way that these concepts ("Being", "Nothing" and "Becoming") could have been derived from "careful empirical work", nor can they be "tested in practice" -- let alone abstracted from anything recognisably material.
In the end, the fact that erstwhile materialists (like Lenin and Trotsky) praised this prime example of linguistic mystification is not the least bit puzzling -- once their own ideas are viewed against the class-compromised background of traditional thought.
This is how Trotsky characterised this 'argument':
"The identity of Being (Sein) and Nothingness (Nichts), like the contradictoriness of the concept of the Beginning, in which Nichts and Sein are united, seems at first glance a subtle and fruitless play of ideas. In fact, this 'game' brilliantly exposes the failure of static thinking, which at first splits the world into motionless elements, and then seeks truth by way of a limitless expansion [of the process]." [Trotsky (1986), p.103.]
Whereas Lenin thought it was:
"Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear dead and shows that there is movement in them." [Lenin (1961), p.110.]
Of course, all this is unsurprising given what has gone before.
However, at no point do Rees and other DM-fans repudiate this style of reasoning, only some of its 'Ideal' implications -- which, coupled with the praise Lenin and Trotsky heaped on this 'argument', indicates that dialecticians' rejection of Hegelian AIDS is purely formal. By no stretch of the imagination have any of the above conclusions been drawn from an "analysis of real material forces", or anything even remotely like one. The fact that leading DM-classicists could claim to learn anything about the nature of "static thinking" from such woefully defective logic reveals how superficial their frequent and vociferous rejections of AIDS really are. The 'logic' of this passage is entirely bogus and thoroughly Idealist. The concepts it employs are the result of grossly exaggerated abstractions, tortured 'logic' and terminally dubious assertions.
[AIDS = Absolute Idealism; LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]
In fact, this Hegelian 'derivation' has set a new gold standard for all forms of LIE, for from it everything in existence -- every speck, object, thought and process -- can be 'derived' miraculously from the verb "to be".
Indeed, to misquote Berkeley here: "to be" is to be blamed.
In order to uncover its well-concealed truths, this innocuous verb had to be transformed into the noun "Being" -– which, now re-born, supposedly names 'everything that exists'. This grandiose 'concept', stripped of all its 'properties', suddenly becomes 'identical' with "Nothing", which in turn immediately and magically produces "Becoming". The entire Trinity from a diminutive "is"; seldom can so much be owed by so few to so little.
First of all, Rees claims that: "The most abstract of all human ideas [is] Being...", but he forgot to say how anyone could possibly know this for sure. Does anyone this side of the Kuiper Belt own an 'abstractometer' calibrated accurately enough to measure the exact level of abstractness possessed by any given word or concept? Does "Being" come supplied with its own metaphysical quality control certificate that declares the extent to which it has been removed from the material world? Is there a cosmic version of the Guinness Book of Records that catalogues this and other rival champion concepts? If so, Rees was remarkably quiet about it.
Far worse, Rees omitted the carefully collected, materially-based evidence (in the shape of a survey, perhaps, of novice and experienced abstractors alike) that supports this brave conclusion about what human beings can or can't do with their brains.
To be sure, Rees's claim was predicated on the exercise of thought, not on evidence. The idea seems to be that if anyone were to think about things long enough -- forcing the verb "to be" through enough hoops -- they would arrive at a similar result. But, what if they don't? What if someone discovered an even more abstract idea than this one, perhaps as a result of more prolonged and intense meditation? How could Rees rule this out?
Fortunately, we need not wait for the results of experiments or surveys designed to test that brave supposition; several Philosophers have already pulled off the trick. According to them, there is something even more abstract than "Being": their undefeated world champion, Mega-Abstraction is Meinong's "Subsistence". This remarkable word/concept, we are told, nets not only things that actually exist, but also things that do not -- as well as things that cannot -- exist.
Luckily, no concrete evidence is required to substantiate this major advance in human knowledge; in fact all that any future contender for the title of "Champion Abstractor" need do to win this prize is summon up a greater determination to invent jargon, or fiddle with diminutive verbs, than Hegel and Meinong managed.
Of course, Meinong's 'discovery' means that, with respect to Discursive Magic, Hegel was decidedly second rate.
Well, what proof are we offered in support of the bold conclusions so easily obtained in the above passage? How much carefully gathered experimental evidence is there that substantiates these momentous results? What exhaustive analyses of real material forces are we presented with? Where is the practice that verifies all this innovative 'science'?
To be sure, Rees did offer the following 'proof' (and no doubt the evidence in support will appear in the second edition of TAR):
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, "This is --," even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50.]
One small nagging problem; several in fact: despite these claims, the reader is offered no grounds at all for supposing that "existence" and "Being" are connected, or that they are the same -– or, that "Being" is "shared" by everything which partakes of existence -– or, even that the one so much as suggests the other. There is no argument here either to show that "Being" is a quality, or even that it can be shared. Worse still, no reason is given for believing that there is such a thing as "Being" to begin with --, whether or not it is a quality, object, property, process, state or activity.
Admittedly, there is a word in the English language (viz.: "being"), which variously functions as a participle, or as part of a compound noun (as in "human being"). But, what is this new term "Being" supposed to be? We are not told. And if we are not told, how are we supposed to agree that everything shares 'it'? On the contrary, we are simply left to assume that "existence", "being" and "Being" are one and the same, or that they are connected in some way. Presumably this is because these words look similar, or they seem to mean the same thing, or that traditionally they have been interconnected by previous thinkers (with no proof that they are linked in any way).
This is not a promising start to an analysis of a concept that is supposed to be "the most common of all human ideas" -- neither is it an entirely convincing way to demonstrate Hegel's "brilliance".
Thus, the 'evidence' connecting "Being" and "existence" amounts to little more than the superficial typographical similarity between "being" and "Being". The former is a present participle (possibly), while the latter is supposed to be that "quality that is shared by everything that exists". But, how could such an unremarkable auxiliary verb come to imply so much?
Nevertheless, it seems that this "quality" ("Being") arises only if something already exists, for as Rees indicates:
"Everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists." [Ibid.]
This clearly says that before anything can take on any "particular characteristics" -- such as the quality of "Being", one presumes -- it must already exist. So "Being" cannot be the same as "existence", since the former is acquired by 'things' that already exist -- a fact conceded by Rees's use of the word "before" --, but which bare 'things' presumably have as yet no qualities (or "characteristics"). "Being" must be a "quality" that 'things' which already exist later go on to acquire -- that is, of course, unless a "quality" here is not a "characteristic". Once again, we are left in the dark.
[Further ruminations on this 'argument' can be found in Essay Twelve.]
Philosophical Language -- Not Of Merchantable Quality
The claim that ordinary language cannot cope with change is also subjected to detailed refutation. In fact, and on the contrary, it is Hegelian jargon that cannot account for the dynamism we find in material and social reality -- it spectacularly fails to do what had been advertised for it all along. If there were a Sale of Philosophical Goods Act, Hegelian jargon would be Exhibit A for the prosecution.
Ordinary language contains countless words that express every conceivable sort of change, in whatever level of detail is required; practically every verb and adverb stand as clear testimony to that fact. [A long list of such words is given in Essay Six, with more detail in Essay Four.]
In contrast, Hegelian jargon is wooden, opaque and lifeless, having had its spirit removed without anaesthetic during abstraction.
Unfortunately, DM-theorists have been more intent on repeating the ill-considered criticisms of the vernacular found throughout traditional philosophy; their reliance on the opinions of a card-carrying mystic and purveyor of ruling-class forms-of-thought (i.e., Hegel) as justification for their denigration of ordinary material language thus implicates them in a metaphysical tradition which includes in its ranks some of the very worst apologists of class rule.
The LIE Detector At Work
In the event, I explain why DM suffers from all the failings of any metaphysic based on a ruling-class view of reality. The latter is in fact a family of views whose denizens contain several things in common; as already noted, chief among these is the belief that reality is 'rational', controlled by a 'Mind' (of some sort), or by mind-like 'laws', or it is 'governed' by mysterious forces that only the initiated are capable of understanding. For its successful depiction, this approach requires a specialised and impenetrable vocabulary, whose terms work rather like the words of the old Latin Mass: they are intended to mystify, thus guaranteeing exclusivity for the elite.
This esoteric language allegedly enables those engaging in 'conceptual analysis' (or, more accurately, the systematic production of empty jargon) to un-mask the hidden "essences" that lie 'behind' appearances, way beyond the reach of the "common herd". Naturally, the superscientific theses that traditional thought manages to weave together are incapable of being confirmed by mere mortals --, which fortunately renders them safe from refutation, and thus beyond democratic control.
Although others have argued along apparently similar lines (pointing out the implications of the traditional idea that reality is rational, etc.), the emphasis placed in these Essays is somewhat different. Here the assertion that reality is rational and its denial are criticised; both are metaphysical theses based on Ideal forms-of-thought.
The upshot of this approach is that the last 2500 years of traditional thought (i.e., Metaphysics) is little more that ruling-class hot air.
These Essays supply the reader therefore with a rather large material pin.
Wittgenstein's method is then enlisted to assist in the removal of this Hermetic poison (DM) from HM. His approach, despite what many of Wittgenstein's epigones claim for it, is neither relativist nor anti-realist. This is because Realism, Relativism, and anti-Realism are all metaphysical, and hence are equally non-sensical (i.e., they are all based on non-materially-grounded language).
The tactic adopted here thus seeks to destroy Metaphysics in order to make scientific knowledge possible (to paraphrase Kant). In Marxist terms, I do not aim to reform traditional Philosophy from within, but terminate it.
This therefore brings to a close the work Feuerbach initiated, for now it is possible to see all forms of alienated human thought for what they really are: the product of a fetishised view of class society -- one based on the assumed powerlessness of working people (the more to keep them that way).
If the challenge posed here is correct, revolutionaries are forced to adopt other criteria for truth. To that end, a particularly successful criterion (consonant with HM) is suggested -- one that classifies rival theories as defective because they all collapse into non-sense at some point. This is because they all depend on language that has not been derived from material interaction with the world, nor on communal life, but on jargon borrowed from fetishised forms of discourse which reflect ruling-class experience, priorities and interests.
It is also shown in detail how and why attempts to undermine ordinary language will always backfire on its would-be critics (as, for example, we saw happen to Lenin's attempt to declare motion without matter "unthinkable").
Furthermore, ordinary language is to be distinguished from "commonsense" (a distinction most theorists deliberately ignore, fail to notice or misunderstand).
Ordinary language cannot be the same as "commonsense" because every claim expressed in the latter can easily be contradicted in the former. [That argument is expanded upon here.]
Why All This Now?
Finally, it is also argued that the emphasis placed on ordinary language by certain Analytic Philosophers (up until a few generations ago, at least) was not unconnected with the rise of the working class as a political force in history. The latter-day demise of this tradition in Analytic Philosophy (and the resurgence of Metaphysics, and particularly Hegelianism) is also linked to the change in the balance of class forces that has taken place over the last thirty years or so.
In fact, the modern home of 'monetarist' economic theory (the USA) was also the source of the most determined attacks on Ordinary Language Philosophy (OLP). Over the same period, we have witnessed a resurgence of a plethora of right-wing ideas in science (for example, the rise of Sociobiology in the 1970's, which later transmogrified into 'Evolutionary Psychology' in the 1990's, and arguably the re-emergence of the BBT). No coincidences these.
[BBT = Big Bang Theory.]
This is not to suggest that those working in OLP were revolutionaries, or that they saw things this way. It is to assert however that their emphasis on ordinary language had material roots, and that did not just emerge out of thin air. In fact, many of these thinkers were socialists of one sort or another. For example, the vast majority of Wittgenstein's friends were Communists or were sympathetic to Trotskyism. Wittgenstein himself wanted to move to the USSR in the mid-1930's, and was offered the professorship at Kazan University (Lenin's old College), which tenure the Stalinists of the day would hardly offer to an anti-red.
This, of course, makes the work of the most important philosopher working in OLP (i.e., Wittgenstein) crucially important for the defence of working-class politics. [Although it is not maintained here that he saw things this way!]
So, why all this now?
The working class in previous centuries was far too small and weak to provide a materialist counter-weight to the Idealism found in all forms of ruling-class thought. This is no longer the case.
The larger the working-class has become, the less impact Dialectical Marxism has had on it.
Now we can see why.
These Essays perhaps represent the first attempt in the modern age to reshape working-class thought de novo, and thus Marxist Theory in toto.
In which case, the Owl of Minerva can get stuffed.
[For those who do not know what the dialectics that is about, Hegel wrote in the Preface to his Philosophy of Right: "The owl of Minerva flies only at dusk" ([Hegel (2005), p.xxi] -- my paraphrase), meaning that philosophical wisdom will only appear at the end of a certain period of history; more details here, here and here.
The last link contains the full quotation.
The Owl of Minerva is also the official journal of the Hegel Society of America, and Minerva was the name of the Masonic journal (which preached radical French Jacobin ideas) that Hegel read in Berne in 1794 -- according to a letter he wrote to Schelling, 24/12/1794. There is no evidence that Hegel became a Mason, but he was employed at that time by a prominent Mason, Jean Gogel, to tutor his children -- and many of his friends were Masons, as were those who influenced him. It is worth noting that Masonic lodges, especially those in Germany, were heavily steeped in Hermetic Philosophy. More on this in Essay Fourteen (summary here).]
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© Rosa Lichtenstein 2008
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