Summary Of Essay Eight


Parts One And Two


This material is now badly out-of-date. Visitors are encouraged to read the updated summaries of Essay Eight Parts One and Two, here and here.


Part One -- Change Through 'Internal Contradiction' Riddled With Contradictions


In this Essay the claim that change is the result of "internal contradictions" is critically examined.


Lenin depicted things this way:


"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement', in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites…. [This] alone furnishes the key to the self-movement of everything existing….


"The unity…of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute…." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Bold emphasis alone added.]


This is a rather odd passage since it suggests that things can move themselves. If so, much of modern mechanics will need to be re-written. Presumably, then, on this view, when someone throws a ball, the action of throwing does not really move the ball. On the contrary, the ball moves itself, and it knows exactly where it is going and how to get there. Intelligent balls like this, it seems, need no guidance systems -- they happily 'self-develop' from A to B like unerring homing pigeons. It is to be wondered, therefore, why the US military do not invest in such smart projectiles, and save themselves billions of dollars.


Thank goodness those at the Pentagon do not 'understand' dialectics!


Nevertheless, this probably explains the origin of the following 'joke':-


Q: How many dialecticians does it take to change a light bulb? A: None at all; according to Lenin, they change themselves.


Unfortunately, however, Lenin failed to note the origin of ideas like these. Hermetic Philosophy is based on the belief that the universe is alive; indeed it is a cosmic egg -- which notion was later transmogrified by Hegel into a Cosmic Ego. Since eggs appear to develop all of their own (i.e., to those who know nothing of heat and oxygen etc., fed externally into eggs), and just as Hegel's immaterial cosmic Ego self-develops too, it seemed natural for Lenin to think this of physical reality.


Nevertheless, not even eggs develop of their own; in fact, it is hard to think of a single thing in the entire universe (of which we have knowledge) that develops of its own, or moves itself. Not even Capitalism does. Switch off the Sun and watch American Imperialism fold a whole lot quicker than Enron.


But, based on the bird-brained ideas of ancient mystics, and no evidence at all, we find Lenin yet again propounding cosmic laws that do not make sense even in DM-terms -- and ones that not even chickens observe.


However, if Lenin were correct, and everything were self-moving, no object in the universe could interact with any other (since that would amount to external causation, and objects would not be self-motivated). Self-motivated beings are causally isolated from their surroundings, it would seem. Clearly that would mean that, despite appearances to the contrary, nothing in reality could interact. This would, of course, make a mockery of the other DM-thesis that everything in reality is interconnected.


The only way to avoid such dialectically unhelpful conclusions would be to argue that interconnection does not imply causation. However, as far as I am aware, no dialectician has been able to explain how every particle in nature can be interconnected and yet be causally isolated from every other. Are they telepathically linked (the atoms, not the dialecticians)?


Or is this just another contradiction that just has to be "grasped"?


On the other hand, if external causation is to be permitted, as part of a 'dialectical' fudge of some sort, there would seem to be no point in appealing to "internal contradictions" and "self-development" to account for change.


In Essay Eight Part One, several fall-back options are examined and all are shown either to collapse into CAR (i.e., Cartesian Reductionism), or inflate alarmingly into HEX (i.e., Hegelian Expansionism).


HEX itself implies that if the nature of each part is determined by the whole, and the interconnections enjoyed by whole and part are infinite (according to Engels and Lenin), then no part may be known as a part (indeed nothing could be known about anything) until everything was known about everything. Since that will never happen, the former cannot be known. And if that cannot be known, then the whole cannot either (since knowledge of the whole arises from knowledge of the parts).


In that case, on this view, human knowledge is going nowhere, having begun from nothing, using no known methods, and employing only guesswork along the way.


Of course, in Hegel's system this is all catered for with a few handy neologisms and some 'innovative reasoning'; but materialists cannot be so cavalier. We cannot 'intuit' the whole since, without complete knowledge of it, it might not be the whole (or even a whole), it could just be a large part. Indeed, it might be the wrong whole, or there could be thousands of the beggars out there, or none at all. But, until we know that 'whole' (absolutely), if there is one, we can know nothing for sure, about anything -- and that includes the nature of any part. But, since we will never know that whole (or even anything remotely close to it, should there be one), we will never know anything for sure -- not even this!


Furthermore, since the nature of any part is dependent on an infinite number of interconnections, no part could have a nature (whether we knew what that was or not), since infinite totalities are uncompletable (by definition).


In addition, one of the widely touted advantages of DM-inspired internalist explanations of change is that they undercut appeals to supernatural external causes to account for origins -- as indeed TAR points out with respect to other theorists who adopt various forms of externalism, they:

"…often find themselves courting semi-mystical explanations of original cause." [Rees (1998), p.78.]

Thus is because externalists hold that:


"…the cause of change [lies] within the system…and it cannot be conceived on the model of linear cause and effect…. If change is internally generated, it must be a result of contradiction, of instability and development as inherent properties of the system itself." [Ibid., p.7.]


[TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998); STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]


But, if change is now to be regarded as the result of a 'dialectical' interplay between internal and external causes (which Bukharin, for one, certainly believed; indeed, more recent STD's seem to be fond of this cop-out, too -- on this see Essay Eight Part One), that would surely allow room once more for an external (hence supernatural) cause of the universe, and dialecticians would not only have to ignore Lenin's "absolute" dialectical caveat, recorded above, they would have to join the externalists and admit to their own "bad infinity", which, according to Rees:

"…postulates an endless series of causes and effects regressing to 'who knows where?'" [Ibid., p.7.]

Thus, the motivating point of DM-Holism would disappear, for change neither to system nor individual would be explicable solely internally -- nor by an appeal to purely natural causes.


In the event, it is shown in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two (as well as in Essay Five), that "internal contradictions" (if they exist) cannot account for change anyway; at best, they merely re-describe it. Exactly why anything would change into its opposite, or how an opposite can make anything change, is left entirely mysterious in DM. Dialecticians leave this verbal tangle to explain itself, assuming that just because we can depict things as turning into "what they are not", this "what they are not" must have caused it. [This example of dialectical licence is picked apart in Essay Seven.]


Of course, not only do things turn into "what they are not" they also turn into "what they are" (hence, whatever a cat turns into, it is what it is; anyone who does not agree this verbal trick should now appreciate why us genuine materialists eschew all such linguistic chicanery, not just the bits we do not like). Why the one is given precedence over the other is left for the bemused reader to work out for herself. And precisely how a neat verbal formula can so easily be turned into yet another a priori superscientific thesis, true for all of time and space, is passed over in silence. And no wonder, that would reveal the Idealism implicit in DM a little too starkly.


With that, the alleged superiority of DM over its rivals disappears. Of these, Rees concludes that:


"...[they offer a] mere description, not explanation; the what, but not the how or the why." [Ibid., p.7.]


Well, it now seems that DM cannot do this either.


[The claim that forces are the physical correlate of contradictions, and hence cause change, is examined below.]


In conclusion, it is pertinent to ask: how could DM-theorists possibly know that change is always and only the result of "internal contradictions"? Clearly, unless they are semi-divine beings, they could not possibly know this. The dogma itself certainly cannot have been derived from experience since it is not possible to observe or confirm the existence of real contradictions (the claim that these are physically "real" (or have real correlates) is examined in detail in Essays Four, Five, Seven, Eight Part One and Part Two, and Eleven Part One), which means that they cannot have been obtained by 'abstraction' from experience. In that case, this DM-thesis (like all the others) must have been imposed on nature.


The thesis that change is the result of "internal contradictions" is thus revealed for what it is: another piece of a priori Superscience, only this time one based on a series of dubious metaphysical 'thought experiments', a revealing array of anthropomorphic concepts, and no evidence at all.


Again, from mere words we get SuperFacts.



Part Two -- Forces and Contradictions


This material is now badly out-of-date. Visitors are encouraged to read the updated version of the summary of Essay Eight Part Two, here.


In this part of Essay Eight it is argued at length that there is no way that "contradictions" can be interpreted as "opposing forces".


In fact, since most of the motion in the universe is governed by the action of only one central force (i.e., in classical Physics, the force of gravity which governs the motion of planets around stars, and stars around galactic centres of mass, etc.), classical DM cannot account for most of the bulk changes that take place in nature. Now, even if these are regarded as the result of the complex inter-relation between gravitational fields, change in motion would still be caused by only one force: the resultant. No contradiction has just one term.


Of course, if General Relativity has its way (where gravity has been replaced by the motion of bodies along geodesics and world-lines, forces having been edited out of the picture) most of the bulk motion in the universe would take place under the action of no forces at all. Naturally, that would mean that most of the changes of this sort could not be the result of "contradictions" -- if the latter are still to be regarded as opposing forces.


Nevertheless, let us assume that two forces (say, F1 and F2) do in fact 'contradict' one another; if so, one of the following options would, it seems, have to obtain: (1) F1 must prevent F2 from acting, or (2) F1 must impede F2, perhaps stopping it from producing its usual effects.


In the first case, F2 must either: (1a) cease to exist, or (1b) confront F1 directly (as force on force) while it exists -- if it is to be affected by F1, or if it is to be prevented from operating. However, if in (1a) F2 ceases to exist, it cannot contradict or be contradicted by anything, since it would no longer exist to do anything.


Assuming, on the other hand, that F2 is contradicted by F1 up until it ceases to exist, then option (1a) would become (1b). In the latter case, therefore, the alleged contradiction between F1 and F2 must see these forces as directly oppositional in some way. If so, these two forces must confront one another as forces of attraction and/or repulsion (or as a 'dialectical' mix of the two).


But, once again, it is not easy to see how this configuration could be a contradiction in anything other than a figurative sense. If a literal interpretation were still insisted upon here (although it is impossible to see how that would work: since to contradict literally means "to gain-say", then are we to imagine that forces engage in conversation, or in argument?), this sort of confrontation between forces could only take place if they were particulate in some way -- that is, if they registered some sort of resistance to one another. If, on the other hand, they are not particulate, it is equally hard to see how they could interact at all, let alone 'contradict' each other. Continuous media have no rigidity and no impenetrability to exert forces of any sort (except, of course, as part of a figurative extension to particulate interaction, after all).


Now, there are well-known classical problems associated with the idea that forces are particulate (these are fully referenced in Essay Eight Part One and Part Two) -- not the least of which is that if forces are particulate then they could only interact if they exerted still other forces (contact forces, cohesive forces, forces of reaction, and so on) on other particulates, initiating an infinite regress. That is, in order to account for the ability of particles to resist one another, we would need to appeal to forces internal to bodies to do that, to stop one body penetrating the other, or to prevent distortions tearing that body apart, etc. But, if the forces internal to bodies are particulate too, we would thus need further forces to account for the coherence of these new particles, and so on. Alternatively, If they are continuous, they would not be able to provide such inner coherence.


In the end nothing would be accounted for, since at each level there would be nothing to provide the required resistance/coherence.


So, reducing the interaction between forces to that between bodies means that particles could not 'contradict' one another without exerting non-particulate forces on their operands -- which would once again mean that such entities were incapable of exerting forces, having no rigidity to do so.


[Even the exchange of particles (in QM) would succeed in exerting forces only if there were reaction forces internal to bodies which were themselves the result of rigidity, cohesion, contact, etc. Of course, Physicists appeal to Fields, energy gradients and the like, but if these are continuous, the above problems just re-emerge. If they are particulate, this merry-go-round merely takes another spin around the floor. Some Physicists recognise this problem; many just ignore it.]


[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]


Of course, it could be objected that the above adopts an out-dated mechanistic view of interaction, and hence is completely misguided. However, the 'modern' mathematical approach surrenders any possibility of giving a causal, or physical account of forces, or at least one that does not depend on a figurative use of verbs we use in everyday life to give such an account in the macro-world. So, if a particle is seen as a 'carrier of a force', and that 'force' can be given no 'physical bite', but it is still regarded as being capable of making things happen, forcing particles to divert their course of action (etc.), then these words must lose contact with words like "make", "force", "divert" as they are used to depict macro-phenomena. Now there is no problem with this, but then such an account would become merely descriptive (or at best predictive). Differential equations and vectors cannot make things move, or alter their paths. (More details on this can be found in the full Essay.)]


If problems like these are put to one side for the moment, it would seem that forces could interact only by affecting the motion of bodies that are already under the control of other forces. In that case, (1b) would now reduce to the action of F1 on the effects of F2, or vice versa -- thus becoming option (2).


That being so, these forces would 'contradict' one another by preventing the normal effects of one or both of them from occurring. But, once more, if the latter are prevented from happening, they would not exist to be contradicted, and we would be back at square one.


If this set of inferences is rejected for some reason, then if F1 does indeed succeed in 'contradicting', say, the velocity of any body under the control of F2 (call this velocity V2), we would have a conflict between two unlike terms: F1 and V2. Clearly, given this scenario, the original contradiction between two forces will have disappeared to be replaced by a new relationship between a force and a velocity (which cannot by any stretch of the imagination be called "contradictory", since the operating force merely alters a velocity -- in many cases it might even augment it, or merely deflect it).


Nevertheless, for a force to alter the velocity of a body, the force would have to be particulate, too, meaning that inter-particulate forces would come into play once again. As already noted, continuous media have no inner coherence to alter anything -- save they are viewed as particulate, once more. This would then collapse this scenario back into option (1) once more, with all its associated classical/figurative problems. Either way, the alleged contradiction here would evaporate for want of terms.


This criticism would still apply if the word "contradiction" were replaced by "conflict"; clearly, things cannot conflict if they don't exist, nor can they conflict with what they have prevented from taking place.


Also, the word "conflict" lacks the logical multiplicity that the word "contradiction" possesses. [What exactly is the 'inner conflict' here that supposedly makes things move? A metaphysical motor of some sort?] The whole point of using the word "contradiction" in DM is to emphasise the limitations of FL, which then allows dialecticians to argue that contradictory states of affairs can exist simultaneously. That was the thrust of the DL-claims examined earlier that "A and not A" could be true. In this case, since "A" and "not A" are logically connected (in that, if propositional, ordinarily the truth of one would imply the falsehood of the other), which allows dialecticians to point to the superiority of DL over FL.


[FL = Formal Logic; DL = Dialectical Logic.]


If now the meaning of the word "conflict" is imported to do duty in place of "contradict", that logical connection would be severed, and the alleged superiority of DL over FL would vanish, since no Formal Logician of any sense would deny that things can conflict -- nor indeed reject the claim that two propositions expressing conflict cannot both be true (or false) at once. [Indeed, that would be tantamount to them admitting that "conflict" was not synonymous with "contradict".]


On the other hand, if the old logical connections possessed by the word "contradiction" were exported and glued onto the word "conflict", then the meaning of the latter must change accordingly. In that case, this particular DM-thesis would have been made true solely as a result of yet more linguistic tinkering, and that would mean that another DM-'fact' had been created by linguistic fiat, confirming DM's status as a form of LIE.  Thus from (doctored) language, superscientific 'truths' would have followed once again.


[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]


And finally, since only agents are capable of conflicting, this term may be used literally by those prepared to personalise nature.


[This topic is discussed at more length in the full version of Essay Eight Part Two. Also, see here, and here.]


That might help explain why Engels modified his ideas, declaring that:


"It is expressly to be noted that attraction and repulsion are not regarded here as so-called 'forces', but as simple forms of motion." [Engels (1954), p.71.]


In other words it seems that forces should be regarded as "useful fictions". Engels was aware of the anthropomorphic origin of the scientific concept of force. So, for once his scientific intuitions seem to have been working correctly.


But, even if this were a viable option, it is not easy to see how on DM-grounds one form of motion could in fact 'contradict' another form of motion. Classically, if one body alters another's motion, it would have to exert a force on it, which would introduce the very things Engels tried to eliminate.


So, despite what Engels said, DM needs forces; it cannot do without them. It requires them to provide the dialectical 'connective tissue' (as it were) and the motive power of the universe; without them there would be nothing internal to bodies which would be able to connect their motion to that of others, and nothing to interlink processes in the "Totality". In their absence, DM would look little different from "crude materialism". Indeed, without forces, dialecticians could not even pretend to explain why things moved.


In that case, dialecticians cannot afford to take heed of this rare example of Engelsian good sense.


On the other hand, if we accept that forces do in fact exist -- that is, that they are more than just the complex ways of speaking about the interaction of bodies (and thus if we reject Engels's advice) --, then the DM-account would still not work. This is because changes are in fact produced by a single resultant force operating in the system, not by two contradictory forces.


In that case, if nature must be populated with forces -- and if the present author is allowed for a moment to indulge in some insincere a priori Superscience of her own --, change would then be the result, not of struggle, but of the cooperation, unity and harmony between forces as they naturally combine to produce change, helpfully assisting particles on their way. If so, we should rather raise an analogy here with logical tautologies -- not contradictions -- and argue alongside other ancient mystics (following the excellent precedent set by Hegel) that nature is indeed governed by forces of empathy, affection and love.


The conclusion seems quite plain: since resultant forces cause every change in nature (given the truth of the classical account), movement in general must be the result of dialectical tautologies. This new 'theory' has at least the advantage of being consistent with classical Physics, and every known observation. The same cannot be said of DM.


[Naturally, those critical of this particular flight-of-fancy would do well to turn an equally sceptical eye on the similarly suspect anthropomorphic moves made by dialecticians all the time.]


Alternatively, if it is now argued that both of the 'contradicted' forces (i.e., F1 and F2) still exist even while they interact with one another, change would then be the result of the operation of at least three forces (the original two and the resultant); that would, of course, create energy from nowhere.


[Needless to say, if this is so, there is a pressing need for revolutionaries to identify this 'third force' since (on this view) it seems to be the one that will put paid to Capitalism.]


Of course, all this depends on whether the equation of forces with contradictions makes any sense to begin with. Clearly, the forces that operate in Capitalism are not vectors. It makes little sense to suppose that the forces of production are, say, orthogonal to the relations of production, or that the 'contradiction' between use- and exchange-value has an inner product, or even a div, curl and grad. If not, it is difficult to see why anyone would want to call such things (or the relations between them) "forces" (or even less, "contradictions"). What do they have in common with the forces found in Physics?


In that case, it would seem that the word "force" -- as it is used in DM-propositions -- must be figurative, too. It thus seems that DM can only be made to work if we adopt a poetic view of nature.


On the other hand, if it should turn out that these forces are reminiscent of those found in mystical religious systems (which personify 'god', or carry out 'His' orders (in ancient astronomy, these were the angels who supposedly pushed the planets about the place; in Newton they were the direct action of 'God'), etc.) then it would make eminent good sense to suppose they could 'contradict' one another (i.e., 'argue' among themselves).


It is no surprise, therefore, to find once again that this is precisely from where this 'dialectical' notion was lifted. This we know for a fact. [On this, see Essay Fourteen (summary here).]


As such, DM clearly represents the re-enchantment of nature and society. Modern science banished will and intelligence from nature; DM simply re-introduced them.


Furthermore, it is difficult to picture any of the above elements as opposites; the forces of production, it would seem, are no more the opposite of the relations of production than a diesel engine is the opposite of the person using it.


Up until now DM-theorists have been more intent on merely asserting that forces are contradictory than they have been with providing any evidence or argument to show that they are -- or with clarifying what it could possibly mean to assert that they are. Once again, it is clear that DM-theorists have been quite happy to derive yet more a priori Superscience from a set of inappropriate concepts and dubious analogies, compounded by a poetic view of the assorted antics of ancient mystical intelligences, all subsequently confused with a precise logical principle.


Standard examples DM-theorists regularly wheel-out to illustrate the analogy between forces and contradictions are considered in detail in Essay Seven and shown to be misconceived. For instance, the alleged UO between the north and south poles of a magnet (or even that between positive and negative electrical charges) fails to illustrate the opposition between attractive and repulsive forces. In a magnet, two north poles, or two south poles (i.e., two likes), repel -- whereas two opposites (a north and a south pole), attract. So, if anything here, non-opposites 'contradict' (i.e., 'conflict' -- two Norths or two Souths repel each other), while actual opposites do not (North and South attract). Instead of struggle between opposites here we see harmony once more, confirming that change is indeed the result of those aforementioned 'internal tautologies'.


[UO = Unity of Opposites.]


Finally, several examples of "real material forces" supposedly at work in Capitalism are considered in detail in Essay Eight Part Two. Under close scrutiny none of them turn out to be contradictions in any meaningful sense of the term. In fact, they all turn out to be one or more of the following: discursive paradoxes, unexpected events, complex inter-relationships, injustices, irrationalities, contraries or mistakes.


Of course, if DM-theorists intend the word "contradiction" to be taken in a special sense, all well and good (but see below); however, to date, they have signally failed to say clearly what this 'special' sense is. Or, perhaps more accurately, they have in fact sought to equate it with "conflict", which verbal 'solution' does at least have the advantage of making overt the covert animism in DM -- for only if inanimate matter were sentient or intelligent could it enter into conflict with itself (internally), or with anything else (externally).


As will be argued in detail in Essay Twelve (summary here), the tendency to see conflict in linguistic, moral or conceptual terms (in traditional thought) was a direct consequence of the way that leisure-dominated Greek Philosophers fetishised both language and the natural world, populating it with surrogate discursive terms to give sense to their own mode of being. No surprise, therefore, to see this traditional view reappear in DM.


On the other hand, if DM-theorists aim to re-define the word "contradiction" as "conflict" then their theory would merely be a form of stipulative conventionalism -- since there is nothing in the meaning of either the everyday word "contradiction", or in its logical twin, that remotely suggests such a connotation; nor is there vice versa with "conflict".


In that case, it is now clear that this word has been re-defined just to make DM work. But, we should be no more convinced of the acceptability of that manoeuvre than we would be if, say, an apologist of Capitalism 'defined' it as "natural" and "beneficial to all". If the re-definition of terms provided a "royal road" to truth, those with the best dictionaries would surely win Noble Prizes.


To be sure, one online dictionary says the following sort of thing:


"contradiction, n 1: opposition between two conflicting forces or ideas..."


However, it is worth recalling that dictionaries are repositories of usage, and are neither normative nor prescriptive. Indeed, they 'define' many things dialecticians would disagree with. For example:

"God: A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.


The force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being.

A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality.

An image of a supernatural being; an idol.

One that is worshiped, idealized, or followed: Money was their god...."



"negation n 1: a negative statement; a statement that is a refusal or denial of some other statement 2: the speech act of negating 3: (logic) a proposition that is true if and only if another proposition is false."


No mention here of "sublation" or the NON, but does that force dialecticians into accepting this 'definition'? Of course not; they pick and choose when it suits them.


[NON = Negation of the Negation.]


In that case, dictionaries record ideology as much as they record use or meaning. Here, the writers of this dictionary have recorded the animistic use of this word as employed by DM-fans.


As the above shows, since no literal sense can be made of the equation of forces and contradictions, dialecticians should not believe all they read in dictionaries.



Back To The Main Index


Word Count: 5,100



© Rosa Lichtenstein 2016


Hits Since April 2007:

web site counter
Buy Vitamins