Essay Three Part One: How Abstractionism Undermines Language And Science

 

Preface

 

If you are using Internet Explorer 10, you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu). That appears to fix the problem.

 

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The main aims of Essay Three are outlined here.

 

However, the opening sections of this First Part of Essay Three are intended to motivate some of the more important ideas presented in the rest of this site. Several of the things I say below might seem rather dogmatic, but they will be fully substantiated in other Essays -- for instance, Essay Twelve Part One.

 

It is also important to note that phrases like "ruling-class theory", "ruling-class view of reality", "ruling-class ideology" (etc.) used at this site (in connection with Traditional Philosophy and Dialectical Materialism [DM]), aren't meant to suggest that all or even most members of various ruling-classes actually invented these ways of thinking or of seeing the world (although some of them did -- for example, Heraclitus, Plato, Cicero and Marcus Aurelius). They are meant to highlight theories (or "ruling ideas") that are conducive to, or which rationalise the interests of the various ruling-classes history has inflicted on humanity, whoever invents them. Up until recently this dogmatic approach to knowledge had almost invariably been promoted by thinkers who relied on ruling-class patronage, or who, in one capacity or another, helped run the system for the elite.

 

However, this will become the central topic of Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (when they are published); until then, the reader is directed here, here, and here for more details.

 

Incidentally, I have used the word "nominalisation" throughout this Essay; why I have done this is explained here.

 

It is also worth noting that a good 50% of my case against DM has been relegated to the End Notes. This has been done to allow the main body of the Essay to flow a little more smoothly. In many cases, I have added numerous qualifications, clarifications, and considerably more detail to what I have to say in the main body. In addition, I have raised several objections to my own arguments (some of which are rather obvious, many not -- and some that will have occurred to the reader), which I have then answered. [I explain why I have adopted this tactic in Essay One.]

 

If readers skip this material, then my answers to any qualms or objections readers might have will be missed, as will my expanded comments and clarifications.

 

Since I have been debating this theory with comrades for over 25 years, I have heard all the objections there are! (Many of the more recent debates are listed here.)

 

Finally, like Essay Twelve Part One this Essay is in places a little repetitive. It has been my experience that if the points I wish to make aren't repeated several times (maybe from different angles, or expressed in other words), their significance is all too easily lost.

 

As of April 2014, this Essay is just under 76,000 words long; a summary of some of its main ideas can be found here.

 

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The material below does not represent my final view on any of the issues raised; it is merely 'work in progress'.

 

 

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(1)   The Aims Of Essay Three

 

(2)   Closet Idealists

 

(a) So, What Precisely Are Abstractions?

 

(b) Aren't 'Abstractions' Simply Particulars In Disguise?

 

(c) Due Process?

 

(d) Concrete Block

 

(3)   Linguistic Idealism -- 'Superscience' From Language

 

(a) 'Ruling-Class Thought'

 

(i)   The 'Rational Structure Of Reality'

 

(ii)  'Super-Truths' Derived Solely From Jargon

 

(iii)  Linguistic Megalomania

 

(iv)  Universal, Eternal And A Priori Truths

 

(v)   Logic And The Logos Of 'God'

 

(vi)  Subject And Predicate In Indo-European Grammar

 

(vii) Traditional Philosophy: Source Of 'Super-Knowledge'

 

(b) The Fetishisation Of Language

 

(c) The Ideas Of The Ruling-Class Always Rule

 

(4)   Welcome To The Glorious New Abstractor Factory

 

(a) All Truth Is Concrete -- Er..., Except For That Annoying Abstraction

 

(b) The Abstract And The Concrete

 

(c) My Muddle, Or Theirs?

 

(d) Imposed On Nature, Not Read From It

 

(e) The Dialectical Circuit?

 

(5)   DM-Epistemology: Set In Concrete?

 

(a) Dialectics Fails To Make It Out Of The Starting Blocks

 

(b) A Name By Any Other Name Is Still A Name

 

(c) Are Indicative Sentences Just Disguised Lists?

 

(d) Hegel's Hermetic Howlers

 

(e) Identifying The Problem

 

(f) The Poison Seeps In

 

(6)   John And The Entire Universe -- Lenin's Word-Magic

 

(a) No Entity Without Identity

 

(b) Dialectics 'Emerges' From Logical Chaos

 

(c) Theses From Thought, Dogma From Daydreams

 

(d) Mythocondrial John

 

(e) Dialectics Limps Along

 

(f) The Dialectical Menagerie

 

(7)   Guilty As Charged

 

(a) Engels Nails His Colours To An Ideal Mast

 

(b) So Does Lenin

 

(c) Is Reality Plastered With Dialectical Messages?

 

(d) Theism From Thought?

 

(e) Ok, Reach For The Prozac

 

(f) Don't Break The Circle

 

(8)   Hegel Screws Up 1

 

(9)   Hegel Screws Up 2

 

(10) Notes

 

(11) Appendix A: Hegel's 'Argument'

 

(12) Appendix B: DM-Theorists On 'Abstraction'

 

(13) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

 

The Aims Of Essay Three

 

Essay Three will expose (and then demolish) several core principles of DM-epistemology. To that end, in Parts One and Two, I will be examining a thoroughly traditional philosophical 'concept'/'method': the 'process of abstraction'. I hope to show that little sense can be made of either this 'process' or of its alleged results: the various 'abstractions' that have been invented over the centuries -- that is, as they have been understood by Traditional Philosophers and DM-theorists alike.

 

[DM = Dialectical Materialism.]

 

Moreover, following on from the comments made in Essay Two (concerning dialecticians' philosophical traditionalism), we will see that Abstractionism is an ancient doctrine DM-theorists have been only too happy to appropriate and incorporate into Marxism. As we will also discover, the 'process of abstraction' is the source of much of the dialectical confusion that has in its own small way helped cripple revolutionary socialist theory.

 

Comrades with whom I have debated this doctrine (see, for example, here, here and here) in general initially react to my attack on this traditional 'concept'/'process' with incredulity followed by extremely negative, if not highly emotional, irrational and hostile, comments, which places them among the most fervent defenders of this boss-class approach to knowledge. This is hardly surprising given the other things I will be saying about the philosophical opinions held by DM-fans in other Essays published at this site (for instance, here and here).

 

In Part Two of this Essay I will examine in more detail the traditional approach to abstraction, showing that by inserting this notion/'process' into their theory, Dialectical Marxists have invited a Trojan Horse into their midst.

 

In Part Three, I will be analysing the odd idea that certain states/processes of matter and/or 'Mind' "emerge" from other states/processes of matter. In Part Four, I will be looking at how DM-theorists understand truth and falsehood, and how they imagine human knowledge progresses -- this will also include a consideration of how they think their own theory develops out of practice (which will overlap with what I have to say in Essay Ten Part One). In Part Five, I will concentrate on the 'free will' versus 'determinism' debate (but, narrowly constrained by the overall aims of this site -- previews of the approach I will adopt can be found here and here), which is another distinction dialecticians have unwisely imported from ruling-class theory. Finally, in Part Six, I propose to examine the 'Reflection Theory of Knowledge'.

 

 

Closet Idealists?

 

So -- What Exactly Are Abstractions?

 

In Essay Two, we saw that dialecticians are as eager to impose their a priori theses on reality as is any randomly selected Idealist, and this is despite what George Novack had to say about such dogmatism:

 

"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

 

In this Part of Essay Three we will find out exactly how they manage to do this (i.e., how they "proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source"); in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, and Essay Twelve Parts One to Seven, we will discover just why they do it.

 

To be sure, DM-theorists claim that theirs is a materialist theory and they vigorously resist any imputation to the contrary. Far from imposing their theses on nature, DM-theorists argue that scientific knowledge advances because of a dialectical interplay between abstract knowledge on the one hand and practical activity on the other, rendering it increasingly objective over time. [However, as we saw in Essay Two, there is little truth to this tale.]

 

Nevertheless, to state the obvious, without minds to create them there would be no abstractions.1 On the surface, therefore, it would seem that any theory that is committed to the 'objective' existence of 'abstractions' must be Idealist, whatever protestations are made to the contrary. As we will see, even when we go 'below the surface', these Idealist implications are difficult to resist.

 

Alternatively, if 'abstractions' aren't 'objective' -- that is, if they aren't "mind-independent", or if they do not relate to anything that exists in "mind-independent" reality --, then it is difficult to see how they could possibly help in the construction of an accurate account of nature, nor in one that is supposed to be 'objective' itself. And, it isn't easy to see how scientific knowledge could possibly advance by means of abstractions if they are somehow fictional. How could fictional concepts help account for a... -- for want of a better phrase -- ...non-fictional world?

 

Well, perhaps there is a way of interpreting the nature of abstractions (or what they supposedly 'reflect' in the world) that is capable of rescuing them from the world of make-believe. On the other hand, could it be that their only 'legitimate' role is to help maintain the morale of scientists and philosophers? [That is, they 'allow' those who believe in them to construct grandiose theories in the comfort of their own heads.] One suspects so, otherwise much of Traditional Thought could be reclassified as a considerably less entertaining but far more dogmatic version of the Brothers Grimm --, that is, as fantasy fiction on stilts.

 

And yet, if abstractions are objective -- but only minds can construct, or even appreciate them --, questions will naturally arise over what they could possibly reflect in nature. Exactly what corresponds to an 'abstract idea' in the world?1a0

 

Of course, for non-materialists and old-fashioned Realists quibbles like these present few problems --, except perhaps a relatively awkward one over the precise meaning of the word "objective".

 

Indeed, for Traditional Thinkers of this ilk, the ultimate constituents of reality were in the end either mind-like objects or non-material "concepts" and/or "Ideas". In that case, the word "objective" -- that is, before its meaning changed a couple of centuries ago (it used to mean what "subjective" now means, and vice versa; on this see Daston (1994), and Daston and Galison (2007)) -- was for them almost synonymous with what we might these days want to call "Ideal". In fact, old-fashioned Realists are difficult to distinguish from Objective Idealists; indeed, as far as the latter are concerned, the word "objective" clearly does no real work. But, the same could be said of the former, too!

 

Now, the same can't be said of dialecticians, if one accepts their version of their own theory at face value. Nevertheless, and controversially, this can and will be said of those who have promoted 'Materialist Dialectics' --, but only after the tangled undergrowth surrounding it has been cleared away, its main roots in Traditional Thought exposed.

 

Oddly enough, however, we find a DM-classicist of the stature of Lenin arguing along familiar lines, for all the world sounding like a born-again Realist (with added Hegelian spin):

 

"Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract -- provided it is correct (NB)… -- does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, the law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely." [Lenin (1961), p.171. Emphases in the original.]

 

Unfortunately, Lenin forgot to say how any of this is possible if abstractions are nothing but creations of the human mind. If scientific knowledge more truly reflects the world the more that its abstractions are correct, how is this possible if abstractions don't exist 'objectively' in the material world -- in some form or other -- for science to reflect?1a If abstractions don't exist in the outside world then what is there in nature for them to depict, or for them to represent to us?

 

Recall that for Lenin, 'objective existence' is existence exterior to the mind, ratified by practice:

 

"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind." [Lenin (1972), p.311.]

 

"Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., p.312.]

         

"[I]t is the sole categorical, this sole unconditional recognition of nature's existence outside the mind and perception of man that distinguishes dialectical materialism from relativist agnosticism and idealism." [Ibid., p.314.]

 

"The fundamental characteristic of materialism is that it starts from the objectivity of science, from the recognition of objective reality reflected by science." [Ibid., pp.354-55.]

 

This can only mean that DM-abstractions can't be 'objective'. [As we will see, practice can't rescue abstractions from 'subjectivity', either.]

 

On the other hand, and if we ignore these annoying quibbles, if abstractions do exist in the material world, so that abstract general words can and do refer to/'reflect' them, what form do they take and of what are they composed? Worse still, where do they exist and how can they possibly interact with us? Are we somehow mentally linked (or linkable) with them (even though there seems to be no conceivable way they could be physically connected to us)? Do we perceive them by the equivalent of a Third Eye?1b

 

Maybe we see them by a special 'act of cognition', but in no other way. If so, the Idealist implications of such a view would be plain for all to see (no pun intended). Indeed, this notion finds immediate echo in Plato:

 

"If mind and true opinion are two distinct classes, then I say that there certainly are these self-existent ideas unperceived by sense, and apprehended only by the mind; if, however, as some say, true opinion differs in no respect from mind, then everything that we perceive through the body is to be regarded as most real and certain. But we must affirm that to be distinct, for they have a distinct origin and are of a different nature; the one is implanted in us by instruction, the other by persuasion; the one is always accompanied by true reason, the other is without reason; the one cannot be overcome by persuasion, but the other can: and lastly, every man may be said to share in true opinion, but mind is the attribute of the gods and of very few men. Wherefore also we must acknowledge that there is one kind of being which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible, never receiving anything into itself from without, nor itself going out to any other, but invisible and imperceptible by any sense, and of which the contemplation is granted to intelligence only." [Plato (1997c), 51e-52a, pp.1254-55. I have used the on-line version here. Bold emphasis added. The published version translates the highlighted words as follows: "It is indivisible -- it cannot be perceived by the senses at all -- and it is the role of the understanding to study it." Cornford renders it as follows: "[It is] invisible and otherwise imperceptible; that, in fact, which thinking has for its object." (Cornford (1997), p.192.)]

 

For Idealists, this, of course, presents few immediate problems (although, as we will see in Essay Three Part Two (Sections One and Two), this approach to knowledge has fatal defects of its own).

 

But, it leaves dialecticians with a permanent headache.

 

Clearly, in order to make genuine progress here we will need something a little more helpful than Lenin's enigmatic prose. Surprisingly, as we will also see, DM-theorists have to this day remained studiously silent on these issues -- saving, of course, where they have been content merely to repeat Lenin's words in one form or another in the vain hope, perhaps, that repetition generates clarity of its own, or constitutes proof.

 

Traditional Theorists (like Plato) regarded such abstractions as a 'reflection' of, or as expressing, the "essential" features of the world, which, according to them, are inaccessible to the senses, and which lie 'behind' appearances -- this latest metaphor left conveniently obscure. [Later, we will have occasion to question its aptness.]

 

In stark contrast to the particulars we meet in everyday life (individual tables, chairs, animals, friends...), abstractions aren't just universal in form, their content is, or purports to be, general. Indeed, the use of abstract ideas, so we are told, allows human cognition to rise above immediate experience and ascend toward an increasingly universal, law-governed picture of reality, found in science and/or Philosophy. As Fraser Cowley points out:

 

"The notion of a universal and with it the celebrated problem of universals was invented by Plato.... The distinction of particulars and universals is complemented in many doctrines since Plato with the distinction and division of labour between the senses and the reason or intellect, or understanding. According to these doctrines, what is given to the bodily senses is merely particular, and the understanding or reason alone apprehends, or constructs or derives, the universal." [Cowley (1991), p.85. Spelling adapted to UK English.]

 

So, it seems that abstractions are necessary if human beings are to comprehend the generality found in nature, and thus consolidate scientific knowledge. An abstraction is, therefore, like a key that helps unlock secrets that govern the inner workings of the universe, an artefact of thought that connects each theorist with universal principles, which, oddly enough, don't actually exist in the material world!

 

But, to press this point further, if abstractions are general in form, how does this generality actually express itself in reality? Is an abstraction somehow 'spread out' and dispersed, as it were, like a sort of metaphysical oil, liquid, or 'force field' over the concrete particulars that supposedly instantiate it, uniting the diversity we see all around us by some power unbeknown to us?

 

Or, are abstractions merely part of the complex tales human beings tell one another -- subjective stories dressed up in pseudo-objective finery --, which are essential for the progress of theory, but somehow aren't 'real' in themselves?

 

Unfortunately, however, the origin of this approach to knowledge in overtly Idealist philosophies does little to improve its image, nor does it inspire much confidence.1b0 Small wonder then that consistent materialists have regarded abstract ideas as guilty until proven even more guilty.

 

Nevertheless, more work will need to be done before it is clear that such 'principles' aren't simply "useful fictions", handy at least for boosting the morale of scientists -- or for giving dialecticians something terminally obscure over which they can endlessly perseverate --, but for little else.

 

Even so, short of burying this entire topic under several layers of impenetrable Hegelian jargon, dialecticians haven't advanced much beyond this subjective stage. In fact, as we will see, the way that dialecticians describe abstractions and the 'processes' by which they are cobbled-together actually undermines the generality they had been introduced all along to explain. Naturally, that thoroughly compromises this entire approach to scientific knowledge.

 

That ironic 'dialectical inversion', if you like, will be the subject of the rest of this Essay.

 

 

Aren't 'Abstractions' Simply Particulars In Disguise?

 

Admittedly, when viewed in a traditional light, language seems to predispose us to the view that 'abstractions' are universal in form; the words that supposedly denote them appear to be (or to express) general ideas, categories or concepts.1b1

 

Even so, things are rarely this straight-forward. The problem here is that the words Traditional Theorists use to depict/talk about abstractions turn out to be the names of the so-called "Universals" (or, in other cases, of the "Forms", or of "Concepts", "Categories", "Essences", and "Ideas"). Unfortunately, this linguistic move implies that these Universals (etc.) are particulars of some sort, named now by an abstract noun (such as "Manhood", or "Cathood", 'hoodies' which for once do not hide their identity), conjured into existence by the mysterious 'process' of abstraction, a 'process' that defies clear explanation to this day.1b2

 

How, then, is it possible for an abstraction to be both general and particular at the same time?

 

Well, are abstractions like classes? Classes are abstract particulars of a rather peculiar sort: they are singular in form, but supposedly compound in nature, and no less Ideal.1c If Universals are like classes -- which somehow seem to 'exist' anterior to material reality -- it would suggest they are ghostly containers of some sort, but populated by what are supposed to be material objects.1d But, does this intellectualist approach to reality not now commit us to the existence of classes over and above their members? Indeed, is such a 'theory' little more than bargain basement Platonism?

 

Again, as Cowley points out:

 

"The open sentence 'x is a spider' determines a class only because 'spider' signifies a kind of thing. It is by being one of that kind...that a value of x is a member of the class. To identify something as a spider, one must know what a spider is. that is, what kind of thing 'spider' signifies. Kinds of things can come to be or cease to be. The chemical elements, kinds of substances, are believed to have evolved. The motorbike -- the kind of vehicle known as a motorbike -- was invented about 1880. The dodo is extinct. There is no obvious way of producing sentences equivalent to these in terms of classes. The class of dodos and the class of dead dodos are not identical: though all dodos are dead, a dead dodo is not a dodo....

 

"Since a kind is to be found wherever there are particular things of the kind, it can have various geographical locations. The lion is found in East Africa. Lions are found in East Africa. It makes no difference whether we say 'the lion' or whether we say 'lions': what is meant is the kind of animal. To say that it can be seen in captivity far from its remaining natural habitats does not contradict the statement that it is found in East Africa. A kind is not a class: the class of lions is nowhere to be found...." [Cowley (1991), p.87. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

And yet, what are classes apart from their members? Indeed, what were they before their members existed? Was there, for example, a class of tigers existing somewhere, waiting for these magnificent beasts to evolve just to give it some sort of material content --, and, perhaps, to provide theoretical distraction for taxonomists? Does nature plan ahead in this way? For Platonists, maybe so; but for materialists? Surely not.

 

On the other hand, are classes material in form, like tables, chairs, rocks and TV sets? If they are indeed material in some way, of what are they composed? If they are made of something, why call them abstractions? That particular epithet doesn't even look right.

 

Abstractions (or abstract ideas/concepts) are constructed -- so the traditional story goes -- either (1) By means of some sort of mental subtracting process in the course of which theorists progressively ignore certain particular (or general) features of material objects in a their bid to ascend to something more general, or (2) By means of a law-like generalising process which each abstractor applies to reality, a priori -- rather like the "concrete universal" Hegel borrowed from Aristotle.

 

About this, Donald Davidson had the following to say:

 

"Aristotle again and again reverts to the claim that if the forms are to serve as universals, then they cannot be separate from the entities of which they are properties. Aristotle agrees with Plato that universals, like the forms, are the objects of scientific study.... Where Aristotle differs from Plato was in holding that universals are not identical with the things of which they are properties, they exist only by virtue of the existence of the things of which they are properties. If universals existed independently, they would take their place alongside the things that instantiate them. Separate existence is just what would make universals like other particulars and thus no longer universal.

 

"But doesn't this argument show Aristotle to be confused? If universals can be talked about, they can be referred to. Yet whatever can be referred to is a particular. Confusion seems to have set in: universals are both particulars and at the same time necessarily distinct from particulars." [Davidson (2005), pp.89-90.]1e

 

Of course, this simply labels the problem since it is still unclear what one of these "universals" actually is. [I develop these themes throughout this Essay.]

 

Nevertheless, whichever of these is the correct approach to the generation of an 'abstraction', exactly how these highly individualised skills are mysteriously coordinated across an entire population of different abstractors, over many centuries, is an even deeper mystery. No doubt there is an abstraction that covers this, too. [This 'problem' will be the subject of much of Part Two.]

 

But, if (1) were the case, in the limit, one would expect abstractions to be more like Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, not the Old Woman's Shoe -- i.e., empty. As we will see, this is indeed the line of thought that motivated Hegel's own reduction of generality.

 

On the other hand, if (2) were the case, nature cannot be anything other than Ideal (as we will also see, and as Hegel himself maintained).

 

Anyway, if dialecticians are tempted to adopt strategy (2), then they will have to impose their abstractions on reality, something they said they would never do. Indeed, that is precisely why, in these Essays, DM is accused of being an Idealist theory; because dialecticians have in fact imposed an a priori doctrine on nature it couldn't be anything else. [That allegation will be substantiated in detail in Essay Two.]

 

 

Due Process?

 

Maybe these are not even the right questions to be asking? Perhaps the actual process of abstraction can tell us more?

 

The aforementioned process is widely held to a skill that all (or most) human beings are supposed to possess, one that enables those rightly so minded to form abstract ideas almost at will.2

 

One interpretation of this allegedly universal skill involves the further idea that abstractions already exist in reality, there waiting for such mental gymnasts to discover by the operation of Reason alone. But, as noted above, that would make them both 'objective' and 'mind-dependent' all in one go -- an odd combination to be sure, but one we will find resists all serious attempts at clarification, and all known attempts to explain.

 

Anyway, this view suggests that most, if not all, abstractions pre-date human existence, and that they depend on some mind or other to think them into existence. Small wonder then that such abstractions are the proud offspring of the over-ambitious thoughts and theories of assorted Idealists and 'God'-botherers that the class war has inflicted on humanity.

 

Clearly, this is not the right sort of metaphysical company for self-respecting materialists to frequent. Unfortunately, sound advice like this has arrived on the scene far too late, for this is just the sort of company dialecticians have been keeping. But worse, they take great exception if anyone attempts to point its significance out to them.

 

Nevertheless, using their 'natural' abstractive skills, intrepid abstractors are supposed to be able to do one or other of the following:

 

(1) Ignore certain features of material objects, enabling them to form increasingly general ideas or concepts to which wider classes of objects belong.

 

Or:

 

(2) Access the 'abstract concepts' which they (somehow?) already possess, or which 'inhere' in every object of that type -- but, which are only capable of being brought to the surface if 'Reason' is given a free hand. However, by shear coincidence, these 'concepts' emerge in each mind only if exactly the same categories and jargonised-expressions are employed that previous generations of philosophers have dreamt up --, which suggests, perhaps, that novice abstractors weren't in possession of these notions before they were talked into thinking they were by fast-talking traditionalists/Idealists.

 

Either way, abstract ideas emerge in each individual head in miraculously the same way.

 

Nevertheless, whatever their provenance, these creatures of thought can then be used to cast material particulars in a new light.

 

At least, that is what the metaphysical brochure would have us believe.

 

But, materialists should be suspicious of such moves. And for good reason:

 

(1) How could such abstractions be material (in any sense of the word) if adepts have to disregard (or rise above) all aspects of material reality to derive (or ascend to) some idea of them?

 

(2) How could abstractions even be materialist notions if only a select -- nay, exclusive -- group of human beings (of the 'right' class) are capable of 'apprehending' them, or of employing a priori categories/concepts/laws, which allegedly determine the nature of every material object in existence? At the very least, this approach to knowledge implies that material objects in are 'real' only because of the 'existence' of an Ideal world underpinning them, which 'world' is more real than the physical universe, and which is accessible to thought alone.

 

Hence, if, according to Lenin, materiality is bound up with "objective existence" outside the mind, and if it requires the exercise of sophisticated mental gymnastics to conjure abstractions into existence, how could a single one be material? More to the point: how could any of them be "objective" (i.e., be "mind independent") if they are in fact not "mind-independent"?

 

Or, is this just another 'dialectical contradiction' we are supposed merely to "grasp"-- or to 'Nixon' --, and then ignore?

 

 

Concrete Block

 

To be sure, the above fails to take note of at least three key ideas: (1) The distinction between "concrete" and "abstract" universals,2a (2) The flip-side of the dialectical coin, "concrete particulars" (before and after they have been 'dialectically processed'), and (3) The distinction between "subjective" and "objective" dialectics.

 

As far as (2) is concerned: if anything, concrete particulars are even more difficult to understand.

 

Consider a familiar enough feline example: a cat. Is, therefore, a cat a concrete particular? DM-theorists would perhaps want to argue that it isn't until it has been comprehended against a background of all its interconnections, these being infinite in number. But that would surely mean nothing could ever be viewed by us as a concrete particular -- which in turn implies that nothing could be a concrete particular unless an Ideal Observer (or Abstractor) viewed it against just such an infinite back-drop. This now suggests that concrete objects are only concrete in the Ideal limit.

 

"A tumbler is assuredly both a glass cylinder and a drinking vessel. But there are more than these two properties and qualities or facets to it; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world….

 

"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity….

 

"[D]ialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world." [Lenin (1921), pp.92-93. Bold emphases added.]

 

If that is so with respect to the feline part of the universe, the more we know about cats, the more Ideal they would seem to become!

 

That can't be right. And yet it appears to be the implication of this rather odd approach to knowledge. [More on that it in Part Two, and in Essay Ten Part One, where we will see this approach collapse into open scepticism, since the difference between a finite body of information and an infinite amount is itself infinite. That implies humanity will always be infinitely ignorant about everything and anything -- and that includes what Lenin actually had to say!]

 

On the other hand, if it is correct, it looks like the class of concrete objects would (a) only ever have aspiring, but never successful members to boast about, or it would (b) increasingly resemble the Cheshire Cat -- the more we knew about this class, the less substantial it would seem to be. [On that, see below.]

 

Moreover, given this way of seeing things, no abstractor (novice or adept alike) would ever have the remotest idea what could possibly count as the genuine article, since bona fide 'concrete particulars' will only emerge from their Ideal shells at the end of an uncompletable, infinitary exercise in interconnection, as Lenin noted.2b

 

And, as Trotsky confirmed:

 

"Shachtman obviously does not take into account the distinction between the abstract and the concrete. Striving toward concreteness, our mind operates with abstractions. Even 'this,' 'given,' 'concrete' dog is an abstraction because it proceeds to change, for example, by dropping its tail the 'moment' we point a finger at it. Concreteness is a relative concept and not an absolute one: what is concrete in one case turns out to be abstract in another: that is, insufficiently defined for a given purpose. In order to obtain a concept 'concrete' enough for a given need it is necessary to correlate several abstractions into one -- just as in reproducing a segment of life upon the screen, which is a picture in movement, it is necessary to combine a number of still photographs.

 

"The concrete is a combination of abstractions -- not an arbitrary or subjective combination but one that corresponds to the laws of the movement of a given phenomenon." [Trotsky (1971), p.147. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

But, on this account, a fully accurate depiction of the very first 'concrete particular' (in the whole of human history!) will only ever leap from the Ideal page on 'Epistemological Judgement Day', so to speak, at the 'end of time'. Because of this, it looks like no mortal being will ever be in a position to form a clear idea of a single 'concrete particular'. On that score, humanity is doomed never to know what the nature of even one of them is. Indeed, if Lenin is right, humanity will be infinitely ignorant of any and all such particulars. And if we are infinitely ignorant of, say, cats and dogs, could we even say with confidence that they were in fact cats (or dogs)!

 

So, what the dialectics are they?

 

Unfortunately, this now means that abstractions themselves must be based on, or must be applied to nothing at all if they are grounded (as some suppose) on just such 'concrete particulars'. Abstractions must, it seems, be applied, or constructed in almost total ignorance, using ethereal bricks to build this ghostly concrete bunker.

 

In which case, Trotsky's comments are no use at all. If we have no idea what abstractions and concrete particulars are, then it is little help being told that "The concrete is a combination of abstractions." Indeed he might just as well have said: "The schmoncrete is a combination of schmabstractions."

 

[Objections to this unexpected turn of events are defused here and here.]

 

To be sure, dialecticians might take exception to these claims because they ignore not only the dialectical interplay between the knower and the known, but also the link between the abstract and the concrete. They also seem to confuse "subjective" with "objective" dialectics. Naturally, this brings us to items (1) and (3), mentioned above. However, further ruminations on the complex relation between these epistemological Siamese twins (i.e., the abstract and the concrete) will be left for later in this Essay -- and again in Parts Two, Three and Six.

 

The question before us now is: Despite the inversion that Hegel's system is said to have undergone at the hands of dialecticians, does an acceptance of the existence of abstractions mean that DM is little more than an upside down version of Idealism? Is there anything to support this contentious claim?

 

As will soon become apparent, this infant suspicion will not only mature alarmingly throughout the course of this Essay, it will grow into full adulthood throughout the rest of this site.

 

But first, we must take an apparent detour.

 

 

Linguistic Idealism -- Or, SuperScience From Language Alone

 

Ruling-Class Thought

 

There is a very clear thread running through the entire history of Traditional Philosophy, which is that substantive (i.e., non-trivial, metaphysical or necessary) truths about reality can be derived (1) solely from thought and/or (2) exclusively from the meaning of a handful of specially selected words.

 

Few Philosophers would be ready to admit that this is all they ever do (or all they have ever done) -- i.e., spin complex metaphysical tales solely from language. Outside the Rationalist tradition, even fewer theorists would be willing to concede that in so doing they were in effect treating language as a sort of 'Cosmic Code', knowledge of which allowed them to derive profound theses about fundamental features of 'Reality', true for all of space and time -- and sometimes even beyond this, about every possible world -- from thought alone.

 

Nevertheless, this is indeed what every single one has been doing.

 

However, over the last two-and-a-half millennia, and perhaps in order to disguise this fact, this approach to Super-Knowledge has prompted Traditional Philosophers into inventing various subterfuges, ruses and likely stories (there is no suggestion, however, that every single one of them did this duplicitously), aimed at justifying their godlike ability to derive substantial truths about "Being" from the consideration of the supposed meaning of a few carefully chosen/concocted words.

 

Among these are the following (several overlap, of course!):

 

 

The 'Rational' Structure Of Reality

 

(1) The belief/dogma that world was created by a 'Divine Being', 'Person', or 'Mind', or a raft of 'gods'. This handy doctrine 'justified' the nearly universal belief that reality had an underlying, 'rational' structure, which was either a creation, reflection, or "emanation" of this 'Mind'/'Deity'. [Classical examples of the latter theory include: Plotinus, John Scotus Eriugena, and, of course, Hegel.]

 

As I noted in Essay Thirteen Part Three:

 

Umberto Eco points out the following (in relation to the 'western' Christian tradition):

 

"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with (sic) the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status....

 

"In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself....

 

"...Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Language and thought were thus vehicles for the "inner illumination" of the 'soul'; a hot-line to 'God'. Unsurprisingly then, the thoughts produced by countless generations of ruling-class ideologues invariably turned out to be those that 'coincidentally' rationalised and 'justified' the status quo.

 

[On this, see also Bono (1995). More on this in a later Essay (summary here).]

 

 

'Super-Truths' Derived From Specially-Concocted Jargon

 

(2) This in turn meant that only those with the right sort of intellectual skills -- or, more truthfully, only those with the correct social standing, adequate means, indulgent patrons and/or leisure time -- were capable of 'discovering' these 'Super-Truths'.

 

Fortunately enough for these intellectual 'drones', these Super-Theses could be obtained by the exercise of the mind alone; indeed, those capable of performing this impressive trick found that they were able to uncover 'Cosmic Verities' (which forever lie beyond the comprehension of the great 'unwashed') simply by dissecting the supposed implications of their own specially-concocted jargon. Often these verbal tricks would be 'helped along' by the liberal use of stipulative or persuasive definitions.

 

In order to explain and then elaborate upon this impressive skill, Traditional Thinkers invented increasingly arcane and baroque terminology, which was at one time itself widely regarded as a gift from the 'Deity', hence its prolixity. Divinely-inspired jargon 'naturally' gave spurious substance to the highly abstract prose these theorists constantly churned out -- the 'superficial' aspects of the material world having been effortlessly 'abstracted' away, and then dumped as inferior or beneath contempt.

 

Clearly, there is no way that 'surgically-enhanced' jargon like this could have been the product collective labour and communal life (on this, see Essays Three Part Two, Nine Part One and Twelve Part One), nor could it have been grounded either in or on the material world, or have been a product of social practice. Hence, such jargon not only had a strictly limited radius of utility (the latter stretching only as far as other socially-isolated 'thinkers' prepared to play the same game), it enjoyed patronage among a highly exclusive clientele. And deliberately so -- words that alone were blessed with such empyrean pedigrees could possibly act as intermediaries between this select group of 'superior' human beings and the 'Mind of God'. By these means alone were these theorists effortlessly able to uncover 'necessary truths' about "Essence", "Being", and the "Rational Order of Reality".

 

In this way, therefore, theories exploring the relationship between "Thought" and "Being" were often just covert extensions to Theology; indeed, as Marx himself noted:

 

"Feuerbach's great achievement is.... The proof that philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381. I have used the on-line version, here. Bold emphasis and link added.]

 

Lenin also appeared to hold a similar view.2c

 

Of course, these are no mere suppositions; what we know both of the History of Philosophy and the History of Ideas fully supports this deflationary exposé. [On this, see Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here, and here).]

 

Even Hegel admitted as much:

 

"Every philosophy is essentially an idealism or at least has idealism for its principle, and the question then is only how far this principle is carried out." [Hegel (1999), pp.154-55; §316.]

 

In this way, profound secrets could be unmasked by thought alone; no expensive equipment or messy experiments were required; in fact, no real contact with the material world was required, over and above access to a comfortable armchair and writing material. Wealth, patronage, adequate leisure-time, a lively imagination --, and, of course, a flare for inventing jargon -- are all that were needed.

 

This ancient (and originally aristocratic) approach to 'knowledge' has re-surfaced many times, in many disguises, in many forms, in different Modes of Production right throughout human history, 'East' and 'West'. It is indeed the common thread that unites every shade of ruling-class thought, despite the re-packaging it has undergone as and when the class war required.

 

Some might object that philosophical ideas can't have remained the same for thousands of years, across different modes of production; that idea runs counter to core ideas in Historical Materialism. But, we don't argue the same for religious belief. Marx put no time stamp on the following, for example:

 

"The foundation of irreligious criticism is: Man makes religion, religion does not make man. Religion is, indeed, the self-consciousness and self-esteem of man who has either not yet won through to himself, or has already lost himself again. But man is no abstract being squatting outside the world. Man is the world of man -- state, society. This state and this society produce religion, which is an inverted consciousness of the world, because they are an inverted world. Religion is the general theory of this world, its encyclopaedic compendium, its logic in popular form, its spiritual point d'honneur, its enthusiasm, its moral sanction, its solemn complement, and its universal basis of consolation and justification. It is the fantastic realization of the human essence since the human essence has not acquired any true reality. The struggle against religion is, therefore, indirectly the struggle against that world whose spiritual aroma is religion.

 

"Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

 

"The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions. The criticism of religion is, therefore, in embryo, the criticism of that vale of tears of which religion is the halo." [Marx (1975c), p.244. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

The above remarks applied back in Ancient Babylon and Egypt, just as they did in China and India, in Greece and Rome, in the Middle Ages and they have done so right across the planet ever since.

The same is true of the core thought-forms found right throughout Traditional Philosophy -- that there is indeed an invisible 'abstract' world, accessible to thought alone --, especially since, as we have seen, Marx also believed that:

 

"...philosophy is nothing else but religion rendered into thought and expounded by thought, i.e., another form and manner of existence of the estrangement of the essence of man; hence equally to be condemned...." [Marx (1975b), p.381.]

 

Unfortunately, the theses found in DM show similar signs of -- what can only be described as -- linguistic megalomania: the idea that a few words invented on this planet can inform us of the deepest secrets of 'Being' (inaccessible to the senses), and that the human brain lies at the very heart of the 'meaning universe'.

 

 

Linguistic Megalomania

 

(3) In the 'West', since early Greek times, linguistic megalomania of this sort has dominated the thoughts of the elite, their hangers-on and their "prize-fighters" (as Marx once called them) -- manifesting itself as a collection of inter-related philosophical theories that gave expression to the "ruling ideas" of each epoch:

 

"The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance. The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things consciousness, and therefore think. Insofar, therefore, as they rule as a class and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch...." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.64-65, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]

 

Notice how Marx pointed out that:

 

"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.... 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...." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]

 

Hence, they rule also as "thinkers", and they do so in "its whole range".

 

[Similar processes can be found in other class societies; the details of which will be given in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here).]

 

This 'philosophical personality disorder' is indeed part of the wider array of ruling-class 'theoretical characteristics' that have dominated all forms of what is counted as 'acceptable' thought (even among Marxists) ever since.

 

 

Universal, Eternal, A Priori Truth

 

(4) Its most prominent symptom (if that is the right word) takes the form of an over-blown faith in the idea that the Super-Truths, which a few (select) human beings are capable of expressing in language, must necessarily apply to all of reality, for all of time. It thus manifests itself in different forms of LIE, the collective idea that reality is just 'condensed language', the result either of the activities of the 'Word of God', or of some other 'Mind' or 'Will', which 'Mind' or 'Will' just so happened to have authorised/constituted/sanctioned the social order from which these ideas sprang.

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism (to be explained more fully below).]

 

 

Logic And The Logos Of 'God'

 

(5) Logic reflects the essential nature of 'Being'. This notion is coupled with the parallel belief that the 'secrets' underlying reality can be unmasked by an examination of the logical structure of suitably 'doctored' sentences, backed-up with just enough obscure terminology and speculation' to distract the unwary.

 

[Once again, it is no coincidence that the word "speculate" (as in "speculative philosophy") comes from the Latin speculum, or mirror, a term widely used in Hermetic circles.]

 

Not only were Logic and Epistemology viewed as two sides of the same bent coin, the idea also prevailed that Logic was just a higher form of Psychology, the study of the "laws of thought", which really only makes sense if reality is itself viewed as a form of thought.

 

The idea that Logic mirrors the deep-structure of reality also encourages the widespread belief that Logic is also a sort of cosmic Super-Code, a prime source of Super-Knowledge, which can be put to use unmasking reality way beyond the remit of the senses. Small wonder then that the vast majority of Traditional Thinkers appropriated this doctrine, and began to see Logic as the expression of -- or as identical with -- Logos and 'Mind', and thus with a pure reflection of the Cosmic Order.

 

Many still find it impossible to abandon the primitive idea that humanity is situated at the very centre of the meaning universe, the special creation of a 'Super-Logician' or a Super Mathematician2c1 -- or, in its DM-incarnation: a special creation of the NON (as 'Being', 'Nothing' and 'Becoming' form a sort of Logical Trinity) --, so that their thoughts are blessed with cosmic significance. Even today, and even though science has rendered obsolete many ancient and regressive fancies, metaphysicians (and DM-fans, for whom 'Dialectical Logic' runs the entire show) still imagine they can derive Super-Facts from words/thought alone.

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation.]

 

As Umberto Eco noted (my words not his!), these leisure-soaked ruling-class hacks naturally found these views particularly appealing. For obvious reasons, this approach invariably assumed linguistic form. [The reasons for this are explored at length in Essay Twelve (summary here); see also here and here.] Thus, if human beings are of central importance to 'Being'/'God', and if language constituted and now governs both nature and society, then language and thought must be intimately linked to the nature of 'Being' itself.

 

This view in turn underpinned the 'legitimate' authority of the State, which was itself a reflection of the Cosmic Order.

 

"Heraclitus, along with Parmenides, is probably the most significant philosopher of ancient Greece until Socrates and Plato; in fact, Heraclitus's philosophy is perhaps even more fundamental in the formation of the European mind than any other thinker in European history, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. Why? Heraclitus, like Parmenides, postulated a model of nature and the universe which created the foundation for all other speculation on physics and metaphysics. The ideas that the universe is in constant change and that there is an underlying order or reason to this change -- the Logos -- form the essential foundation of the European world view. Every time you walk into a science, economics, or political science course, to some extent everything you do in that class originates with Heraclitus's speculations on change and the Logos....

 

"In reading these passages, you should be able to piece together the central components of Heraclitus's thought. What, precisely, is the Logos? Can it be comprehended or defined by human beings? What does it mean to claim that the Logos consists of all the paired opposites in the universe? What is the nature of the Logos as the composite of all paired opposites? How does the Logos explain change? Finally, how would you compare Heraclitus's Logos to its later incarnations: in the Divided Line in Plato, in foundational and early Christianity? How would you relate Heraclitus's cryptic statements to those of Lao Tzu?" [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The short answer to the above questions is, obviously: The ideas of the ruling-class are in every epoch the ruling ideas!

 

 

Subject And Predicate Of Indo-European Grammar

 

(6) This specially-concocted jargon must therefore be able to connect finite minds with the ultimate/infinite Ground Of Meaning (which was/is the main aim of all mystical thought -- expressed later as part of the "Subject/Object" problematic of German Idealism, and now also of 'Materialist Dialectics'). This implied that an unlimited set of 'truths' could flow solely and legitimately from the meaning of words --, Super-Knowledge accessed with ease in the armchair of one's choice.

 

Clearly, Philosophers were quite happy to cling on to the idea (which they had helped concoct) that human thoughts were universally and eternally significant -- i.e., that what went on in their heads was the best, if not the only guide to Absolute Truth. However, the bottom line was that it was they alone who were capable of deriving necessary truths from their own jargonised terminology, obtaining theses that couldn't fail to be true, and which thus needed no evidence in support --, except, of course, 'evidence' that could be gleaned from yet more jargon. These Super-Verities were indeed self-evident. In fact, it is only "crude materialists" who would think to challenge this convenient and 'self-confirming' approach to knowledge.

 

[The significance of that remark, but with respect to the theories invented by DM-theorists, will become clearer in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

As we will see, all this was merely self-deception; this approach to Super-Knowledge was itself based on the idea that the essential properties of 'Being' were merely a reflection of (what were in fact) contingent features of the logico-grammatical properties of just one family of languages -- the Indo-European --, the language group in which most of these fairy-tales had been spun, and still are.

 

As a result, in Ancient Greece "subjects" and "predicates" suddenly became cosmically significant.2d As we will also see, by means of "abstraction", predicates (which were supposed to allow us to express generality) were turned into singular expressions; in fact this switch was actually the result of the re-configuration of predicate expressions as the names of abstract particulars, compounded by the odd idea that it was possible for an individual to be 'identical' with a 'Universal'.

 

But, whatever their source or provenance, these Ideal Forms were regarded as more real than anything in material reality; indeed, they only served to render material reality somehow 'unreal', inferior, ephemeral, a mere 'appearance'.

 

Nature's secret names (these 'abstractions') thus allowed those who knew of them to forge a mystical, intellectual link with the non-material forces/'essences' that governed the whole of reality. Indeed, many thought that this would assist them gain control over nature itself (which was one of the guiding ideas underlying ancient forms of magic and Alchemy). But, and far more importantly, this 'secret knowledge' helped 'rationalise' state power, and thus the status quo. For if the latter is guaranteed by, and is a reflection of the Cosmic Order, class domination could be 'legitimated' as a necessary component of 'Being' itself. And, in Hegel's case, part of the necessary development of 'Being'.

 

Hence, prolix jargon-juggling would confer considerable prestige -- if not apparent authority -- on those suitably skilled in this 'art form', as the 'legitimators' of elite power.

 

Keith Thomas highlighted a similar tactic among 16th century magicians:

 

"It would be tempting to explain the long survival of magical practices by pointing out that they helped provide many professional wizards with a respectable livelihood. The example of the legal profession is a reminder that it is always possible for a substantial social group to support itself by proffering solutions to problems which they themselves have helped to manufacture. The cunning men and wise women had an undoubted interest in upholding the prestige of magical diagnosis and may by their mere existence have helped to prolong a mode of thinking which was already obsolescent." [Thomas (1972), p.295.]

 

A metaphysical Rumplestiltskin now walked the earth, and was well paid for its services.

 

Traditional Philosophers 'justified' their unique role by suggesting that their thoughts reached right into the heart of 'Being', which linked their theories with the Divinely-Constituted Order Itself. If reality had an a priori structure, which the State also mirrored, then Philosophy and power could be, and were, permanently inter-twined.

 

At least, that is how things seemed at first.3

 

If religious affectation is the opiate of the oppressed, rationalising suffering in its wake, metaphysical abstraction is the analogous opiate of the oppressor -- 'justifying' and rationalising the power and wealth of the very class that helped create the need for such opiates in the first place.

 

As will be demonstrated in this Essay, and throughout the rest of this site (especially here), this aprioristic tradition in 'Western' Philosophy has seduced Marxist dialecticians into thinking that they had successfully flipped Hegelian Idealism -- so that it was now the "right way up" -- allegedly changing it into its materialist, inverted alter ego: 'Materialist Dialectics'.

 

A change of name, perhaps; but a ruse by any other name is still a ruse.

 

 

Traditional Philosophy: Source Of 'Super-Knowledge'

 

(7) Philosophy is the source of a special sort of Super-Knowledge -- knowledge that is anterior, and superior, to the sciences, but which nonetheless present a Super-Scientific picture of reality. "Super-Scientific" in the sense that its theses reveal what are in effect Super-Necessities underpinning 'Being' itself, knowledge of which is attainable by the application of 'Reason' alone.

 

However, as we will see, the origin of these Cosmic verities is rather more mundane: 'philosophical reasoning' turns out to be little more than the creative and idiosyncratic use of a limited number of words specially-invented for the occasion.

 

Naturally, this means that Super-Science like this can only be confirmed by an appeal to Super-Evidence -- obtainable, of course, Super-Naturally (i.e., not from nature) -- but from 'thought experiments'. Not surprisingly then, as noted above, the theses that Traditional Philosophers concocted were incapable of being empirically verified, falsified or confirmed in any other materially-grounded way.3a

 

Perversely, this is still regarded by many as one of Philosophy's greatest strengths -- as these two authors point out:

 

"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 at this site.]

 

Indeed, anyone who raises doubts about the validity of this approach to 'ultimate truth' is automatically classified as a "philistine", a "crude" materialist (or even an "empiricist" or a "positivist"), or simply dismissed out-of-hand. Indeed, even today, anyone who questions the provenance of such semi-divine gems is in danger of putting themselves beyond the pale of 'acceptable' thought. Philosophy -- true Philosophy -- must be prolix, baroque and, wherever possible, incomprehensible. This is one ruling-idea that still rules, and proudly so.

 

The downside, of course, is that if for any reason the special role that Philosophers have arrogated to themselves can be shown to be a fraud --, that is, if it can be shown that the complex, jargon-laden structures Philosophers have concocted are simply "houses of cards" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein) -- then the whole enterprise would cease to have a point. With no reason for its existence, Philosophy would become little more than an endless source of tortured prose, its books fit only for gathering dust in the basement stack of the local library, or, perhaps better still, for providing ample fuel for several large bonfires, as Hume wickedly suggested:

 

"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." [Quoted from here. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

However, few practitioners of this ancient art could afford even to contemplate such an untoward fate -- especially those whose livelihood depended, and still depends, on this ancient art. Closer to home, and for different reasons, this includes those Dialectical Marxists who still refuse to see any link between the superstitious belief that there is a "rational" order to reality and the age-old 'legitimation' of class power.

 

Hence, it was (and still is) just assumed in almost every quarter that Philosophy must have a role to play in the discovery of knowledge, even if this is only to provide employment for those caught up in the time-worn production of jargon-filled books and articles -- the intellectual equivalent of digging holes just to fill them in.

 

If the question is now put: "Why does there have to be a rational order to reality?", there seem to be only three possible answers: (1) To impress the superstitious, and thus 'encourage' deference; (2) To legitimate the status quo; and (3) To provide the select few with an excuse to continue the search for 'Super-Scientific knowledge', and thus provide work for those easily seduced by the invention of aimless prose.

 

This tendency was aptly described by Francis Bacon as the "idols of the market place":

 

"There are also Idols formed by the intercourse and association of men with each other, which I call Idols of the Market-place, on account of the commerce and consort of men there. For it is by discourse that men associate; and words are imposed according to the apprehension of the vulgar. And therefore the ill and unfit choice of words wonderfully obstructs the understanding. Nor do the definitions or explanations wherewith in some things learned men are wont to guard and defend themselves, by any means set the matter right. But words plainly force and overrule the understanding, and throw all into confusion, and lead men away into numberless empty controversies and idle fancies....

 

"The idols imposed by words on the understanding are of two kinds. They are either names of things which do not exist (for as there are things left unnamed through lack of observation, so likewise are there names which result from fantastic suppositions and to which nothing in reality corresponds), or they are names of things which exist, but yet confused and ill-defined, and hastily and irregularly derived from realities. Of the former kind are Fortune, the Prime Mover, Planetary Orbits, Element of Fire, and like fictions which owe their origin to false and idle theories. And this class of idols is more easily expelled, because to get rid of them it is only necessary that all theories should be steadily rejected and dismissed as obsolete." [Novum Organum, quoted from here.]

 

Except, of course, these philosophical gems were not invented by the "vulgar", as Bacon would have it, but by elite thinkers -- and the "market-place" in this case is academia.

 

However, these days, if you are a dialectician, you just do not ask such awkward questions. You do not even allow yourself to think them.

 

For if you do, someone might confuse you with a philosophical radical, and thus with someone who is not content to re-package in a dialectical form yet another container load of ruling-class verbiage.3b

 

Why, you might even be accused of "not understanding" dialectics!

 

 

The Fetishisation Of Language

 

If thought and discourse are intimately connected, and if ruling-class ideology dominates the former of these, it would be reasonable to conclude that alienated thought should be linked somehow to the systematic (and ideologically-motivated) distortion of language. This is indeed the view that Marx took:

 

"The philosophers would only have to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, to recognise it as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

"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...." [Ibid., pp.64-65. Bold emphases added.]

 

If so, and as Marx points out, this won't have taken place in a social and political vacuum.

 

Ordinary language as a social product --, devised by those who interface daily with the material world, and mediated by cooperative labour -- has had to endure many such ideologically-motivated attempts at distortion and denigration. For present purposes, however, the most significant of these arose from the nature and origin of class society.

 

[The details behind the transformation of ordinary discourse (at the hands of Traditional Philosophers) into what effectively became little more than a cosmic code, aimed at representing the secrets of 'Being' in the minds of ruling-class hacks, will be fully exposed in Essays Twelve, Thirteen and Fourteen (summaries here, here, and here).]

 

However, the point worth emphasising here is that what had once been the product of the social relations among human beings (ordinary language) was transformed in the above manner into the real relations between things, or as those things themselves. In this way, discourse became fetishised, and was endowed  with 'magical' powers; those in the grip of linguistic megalomania were thus given a licence to practice.

 

If the "essential" nature of reality is inaccessible to experience, then thinkers had to use "transcendental arguments", the "light of reason", "thought experiments" and specially-concocted jargon to uncover its "hidden secrets". Fetishised in this way, language became a surrogate for objective reality, and talk about talk became confused with talk about things. Only now, language was transformed into an abstract, magical code. Linguistic categories (i.e., 'abstractions') were projected onto the world -- which implied that nature was a reflection of discourse -- rather than the other way round. Traditional Philosophy thus became the prime source of LIE, a doctrine based on the idea that if language contains, or can be used to unmask, profound secrets about 'ultimate reality', nature must be fundamentally linguistic -- constituted by the word of some 'god' or other.

 

[These ideas are developed some more in Part Two, but extensively in Essay Twelve.]

 

 

The Ideas Of The Ruling-Class Always Rule

 

The above summary is but a brief sketch of the nature and provenance of the most abstract versions of ruling-class ideology, which can be found to a greater or lesser extent in all forms of Traditional Philosophy. These ruling ideas rule largely because they are useful to those who rule; they picture the world as the boss class has always seen it; so, for them, 'ultimate reality' is in fact a hidden world underlying appearances governed solely by 'rational principles', useful for rationalising their power and wealth.

 

Over the centuries, the rise and fall of different Modes of Production have had no fundamental effect on this ruling form-of-thought; for well over two thousand years this thought-form was based on a priori concepts and categories, which were themselves built upon increasingly abstract and baroque foundations, all of which amounted to little more than a series of linguistic tricks and dodges, the results of which were then imposed peremptorily on reality. Despite the many changes in content we have witnessed as the social forms of ruling-class power have changed, this form has remained remarkably steady throughout. [These assertions will be substantiated in Essays Twelve, Thirteen, and Fourteen (summaries here, here, and here) -- although anyone who familiar with the History of Philosophy, 'East' and 'West', will know this already even if they might choose to express these facts differently.]

 

Indeed, it will take the eradication of their power and the elimination of class rule before humanity can rid itself of this alien-class thought-form.

 

Unfortunately, this traditional approach to knowledge has found some of its most fervent supporters and stoutest defenders among those who should know better: Dialectical Marxists. [A recent example (from February 2008) can be found here; another, here and here.]

 

[Why this is so will be explored in Essay Nine Parts One and Two.]

 

Indeed, as we saw in Essay Two, dialecticians are quite happy to concoct a priori theories of their own, imposing them on nature just like born-again traditionalists.

 

Because of this, ruling-class ideas have extended their rule, and dominate Dialectical Marxism, too.

 

 

Welcome To The Glorious New Abstractor Factory

 

Of course, serious allegations like these need more support than the flowery rhetoric rehearsed above or they would be worth considerably less than the computer screen on which they now appear. Fortunately, the Essays posted at this site more than make up the deficit.

 

Be this as it may, we first of all need to locate a major source of the abstract ideas found in traditional thought, reveal exactly what motivated their invention, and outline the effect they have had on DM.

 

 

All Truth Is Concrete -- Except For That Abstraction

 

With respect to truth, Lenin famously argued that:

 

"[D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth' is always concrete, never abstract…." [Lenin (1921), p.93.]

 

On the other hand, he also maintained that:

 

"Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract -- provided it is correct (NB)… -- does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, the law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely." [Lenin (1961), p.171. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

At first sight, these two passages do not appear to be consistent. In the first he tells his readers that "all truth is concrete, never abstract"; in the second he informs them that humanity approaches truth via increasing abstraction.

 

Admittedly, in the second, Lenin does go on to mention "practice" as a crucial component in the "cognition of objective reality", but that does not explain how "all scientific…abstractions" could possibly "reflect nature more…, truly", when "truth is always concrete, never abstract" (emphases added). How can practice reconcile a "never" with an "always"? And how can an abstraction like "All truth is concrete" be true itself?

 

Of course, the epistemology outlined in Lenin's work is a little more sophisticated than this initial paradox might otherwise seem to indicate. This suggests that the resolution of this opening difficulty will at least require greater clarity over the meaning of words like "abstract” and "concrete", particularly as they are used by dialecticians.

 

 

The Abstract And The Concrete

 

There appear to be at least two different senses of the terms "abstract" and "concrete" at work in DM.4

 

Abstract, Sense1 -- AB1

 

This sense of "abstract" is somewhat analogous to that found in the traditional, rationalist use of the phrase "abstract universal" -- but, with several major differences.5 Even so, in DM this term is clearly linked to the apprehension (by 'Reason' perhaps) of general concepts that give expression to common elements connecting, underlying, or running-through concrete individuals, or events -- but not 'externally'-connected with them (that is, there is held to be some sort of logical/'internal' connection linking individuals with the 'concept' they supposedly instantiate --, or, rather, with one another).

 

Abstract, Sense2 -- AB2

 

This use of "abstract" emphasises the "one-sided" and "simple" nature of abstractions, how they are "removed from reality", "cut off", "separated or divorced from interconnections", etc. In this case, a subtractive process (involving the mental disregard (abstraction) of the particular features of each item given in experience), or perhaps even a separational exercise, seems to underlie the creation of such abstract general concepts, given this understanding of the term.

 

Concrete, Sense1 -- CON1

 

This sense of "concrete" is clearly linked with AB1 above and appears to involve things in their individuality (that is, as items of a certain type) -- often as they are given in experience -- depending on which part of the dialectical process of cognition they make their appearance.

 

Concrete, Sense2-- CON2

 

Again, this contrasts with its twin, AB2, and serves to emphasise the interconnectedness of objects and processes in reality, their all-round relationship with, and development alongside other objects and processes -- as opposed to their separation in non-, or pre-, dialectical thought.6

 

In the first of the two passages quoted above, Lenin seems to be using "abstract" in sense AB2, but in sense AB1 in the second. This means he must be using "concrete" in sense CON2 in the first. These distinctions might help resolve the apparent inconsistency noted above.

 

However, Lenin only succeeded in confusing things again when he said:

 

"Logical concepts are subjective so long as they remain 'abstract,' in their abstract form, but at the same time they express the Thing-in-themselves. Nature is both concrete and abstract, both phenomenon and essence, both moment and relation. Human concepts are subjective in their abstractness, separateness, but objective as a whole, in the process, in the sum-total, in the tendency, in the source." [Lenin (1961), p.208. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

In this passage, Lenin appears to be using both of these terms in three of the four (or possibly even all four) ways at once.

 

Similarly, John Rees argues that:

 

"[A]ll science generalizes and abstracts from 'empirically verifiable facts.' Indeed, the very concept of 'fact' is itself an abstraction, because no one has ever eaten, tasted, smelt, seen or heard a 'fact,' which is a mental generalization that distinguishes actually existing phenomena from imaginary conceptions. Similarly, all science 'deductively anticipates' developments -- what else is an hypothesis tested by experimentation? The dialectic is, among other things, a way of investigating and understanding the relationship between abstractions and reality. And the 'danger of arbitrary construction' is far greater using an empirical method which thinks that it is dealing with facts when it is actually dealing with abstractions than it is with a method that properly distinguishes between the two and then seeks to explain the relationship between them." [Rees (1998), p.131. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

At the beginning of this passage, Rees appears to be using "abstract" in sense AB1, whereas in the second half he seems to be employing it in sense AB2. In addition, even though he says that "facts" are abstractions, it looks like he is using "fact" in sense CON2, too -- when, for example, he claims that that facts help discriminate among beliefs. They could hardly do that if they were disconnected from other facts. But, who can say? [This passage will be analysed in detail in Essay Three Part Four (when it is unpublished).]

 

 

My Muddle -- Or Theirs?

 

Nevertheless, the loose and ill-defined way these terms are employed in DM-texts mirrors Hegel's own obscure and inconsistent use.7

 

For example, if abstractions are divorced from reality, cut-off and separated from other things, how might they be employed to interconnect concrete objects and processes in nature, as Lenin argued? And, if "concrete" objects and/or processes are interconnected with everything, what makes them anything in particular? What individuates, say, a photon? If all photons are seemingly identical (and on some accounts, they are unchanging, too), and interconnected (in the abstract?), then what right have we to call them either individuals or particulars?8 Depicted this way, photons (but not just photons) look pretty abstract; not only that, they appear to refute Engels's, Trotsky's and Hegel's a priori comments about identity, as well as their ideas about change -- if, that is, photons are "concrete".

 

Moreover, according to Lenin, objects and processes only become "concrete" when they are interconnected with everything else in existence (and perhaps beyond); but if they are to count as "objective" they must already be inter-connected in reality before any sentient being so relates them. But, what in reality could possibly do all this relating and inter-connecting, especially before sentient life evolved?8a Are there non-physical links (of the same kind) between objects, which somehow unerringly manage to pick out every single member of a certain group/category in the entire universe, like some sort of super-efficient bloodhound, or some sort of metaphysical net, never missing or leaving out a single one? And when an object of one category changes into another, are the inter-galactic links which that object has with other objects of that kind altered, or severed, perhaps instantaneously --, so that it can change --, but which also allow it to be inter-linked with all the other objects of the kind it has now developed into, everywhere in the universe, and instantaneously, too? [These problems are explored at more length in Essay Eleven Parts One and Two.]

 

Of course, human beings might not at present know what all these interconnections are, but since humanity will never know what these interconnections are in their entirety, it seems that the objects they interconnect will never become either concrete or objective for us. In that case, how can anyone conclude anything about a single one of them in the here-and-now? Anything said about these alleged interconnections, and these supposed 'concrete' particulars, will be infinitely far from the truth, and must therefore stand almost zero probability of being correct.8b

 

It could be objected at this point that these complaints are academic, at best, thoroughly misguided at worst. The four senses of these two terms (if there are indeed four) should not be thought of as separate or distinct -- as seems to be the assumption motivating the above comments. These concepts must be understood "dialectically".

 

Or so it might be claimed.

 

But, as with many other key DM-concepts, it is difficult to make sense of what DM-theorists might be saying here (if they offered this reply), nor is it easy to form a clear idea of what they might mean when they use words like "concrete", "abstract" and "dialectically". This is not to suggest that DM-theorists have put no effort into writing about these terms, but much of what has been published by them on this issue is about as clear as the Athanasian Creed.9 Hence, the appearance here of yet more quasi-Hegelian jargon (i.e., "dialectically") in no way helps.

 

Anyway, one thing seems reasonably plain: the generalisations dialecticians make (which are connected with the use of these terms) are not based on any sort of evidence. After all, to what might anyone appeal? In that case, what is there here for a consistent materialist to agree with? To be sure, for an Idealist like Hegel, all this makes some sort of crazy sense, but how might we make physical sense of any of it?

 

Since these notions (i.e., "abstract" and "concrete") cannot be read from nature, the only conclusion is that they must have been foisted on it. In fact, not only were these two categories invented by earlier non-Marxists, and non-working class theorists, too, but dialecticians have eagerly appropriated them and have selectively imposed them on reality in like manner. It is clearly impossible to derive either of these two notions from nature, or from any amount of evidence -- as will be argued in Part Two of this Essay.

 

Of course, dialecticians notionally follow Hegel, here -- but they then proceed to ignore the material flip that they say they have performed on his system (in order to put it back on its feet, or the "right way up"). This can be seen from the fact that they view abstractions in the same rationalist light as Hegel, and use many of the same arguments he invented.

 

Or rather, they rely on the same logical blunders.

 

[More on this later.]

 

 

"Concrete" And "Abstract" Imposed On Nature

 

In the past, even before the evidence that we now possess existed, Traditional Philosophers made a conscious decision to use abstract concepts to force knowledge in certain directions.9a Well, we certainly know who made those choices, and they manifestly weren't thinkers known for their lack of sympathy with ruling-class priorities; indeed, they were made by Idealists, Theologians and assorted Hermeticists.

 

Naturally, this only serves to underline the claim made above (and in Essay Two) that dialecticians have not broken with this conservative, philosophical tradition, in this or other areas. In fact, they are only too happy to copy, defend it and even celebrate it:

 

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

[TAR = The Algebra Of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

Worse still, both terms ("abstract" and "concrete") appear to be abstract themselves; neither would pass, for example, TAR's 'gastronomic test': "no one has ever eaten, tasted, smelt, seen or heard" either or both of these concepts. [Rees (1998), p.131.] To be sure, when vocalised or written down, these traditional words are material objects in their own right, but that fact alone cannot ground either of them in material reality, nor can it validate their use. If it could, we should all have to start believing in "God" just as soon as that word had been committed to paper.

 

Indeed, according to Lenin, it now seems that no one could "eat (etc.)" a single concrete object:

 

"But there are more than these two properties and qualities or facets to [any material object]; there are an infinite number of them, an infinite number of 'mediacies' and inter-relationships with the rest of the world….

 

"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely…. [D]ialectical logic requires that an object should be taken in development, in change, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it). This is not immediately obvious in respect of such an object as a tumbler, but it, too, is in flux, and this holds especially true for its purpose, use and connection with the surrounding world." [Lenin (1921), pp.92-93. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

If not even a humble tumbler is concrete unless it has been set against its infinite interconnections, who is there alive that could swear truthfully that a tumbler is in fact concrete? No matter how many inter-connections we set up for it, there will always be an infinite number still left to connect, making any judgement we make about it infinitely far from the truth, with an infinitely high probability of being incorrect.

 

[The response that only 'relevant' connections should be considered in this regard is batted out of the park here.]

 

Clearly, whatever applies to tumblers equally applies to things we think we can eat; perhaps they are not concrete either? In that case, TAR's 'gastronomic, touchy-feely test' fails to pick out even concrete objects! If so, how it can be used to test for 'abstractness' is far from clear, to say the least.

 

Of course, it could be argued that whether we know it or not, concrete objects are still concrete for all that. But are they? Who says? And where is the infinite body of knowledge which would be needed to substantiate a 'cosmically' bold (abstract) claim such as that?

 

For example: Is, say, an apple now actually interconnected with everything in reality? Lest an impatient dialectician is tempted to snap back a hasty "Yes, of course it is!" to such an impertinent question, it is worth pointing out that that fact (if it is one) could never itself be confirmed, but must either be imposed on the said apple, or accepted as an article of faith. In that case, whatever it is that dialecticians now claim they know about allegedly concrete objects like this must, it seems, be foisted on such objects, since no one at present would ever be justified in calling anything "concrete" unless they could point to an infinite amount of "patiently collected" evidence that supported that contention.

 

[This topic is discussed in greater detail in Essay Ten Part One, and Eleven Parts One and Two.]

 

Do we have this much information about apples?

 

Could we cope with it even if we had?

 

As has already been pointed out, both of these words (i.e., "abstract" and "concrete") are age-old philosophical terms-of-art, invented by thinkers keen to rationalise the status quo. However, even though these two words have since become hackneyed by much over-use, DM-theorists have uncritically appropriated them simply because they found them in Hegel, and for no other reason (it seems) -- and he in turn employed them because they had been long-standing entries in the Idealist's Handy Phrase Book.

 

Even worse still, and as far as I can tell, no attempt has ever been made in DM-circles to show precisely how a single abstract 'concept' can be derived from, or even be seen in, concrete particulars -- or from anywhere else, for that matter -- other than, of course, by copying this hyper-bold idea from Hegel. And this is not surprising; no one has been able to demonstrate how this seemingly miraculous trick is humanly possible. To be sure, theorists have dreamt-up countless abstract terms over the centuries, and muttered various incantations over them as they were recruited into traditional philosophical discourse. But materialists should be no more impressed with such rituals than they are with those that supposedly justify belief in God. [This topic is discussed in more detail in Part Two of this Essay.]

 

And yet, for all that, it is possible to show that these strange beings, these 'abstractions'  actually arose as a result of rather more mundane, historically-specific material causes -- and not from an occult 'inner process' of abstraction, rational or otherwise --, causes that were in fact motivated by the ideological requirements of our class enemies, albeit 2500 years ago!10

 

Anyway, and despite this, what we actually find in DM-writings (in place of evidence and supporting argument) are the same old vague attempts at justification; these will be examined fully in what follows, and in later Essays.

 

This means that the entire edifice of DM-epistemology has been built on alarmingly insubstantial foundations -- in fact, as we will see, they are all sand and no concrete.11

 

 

From Concrete To Abstract -- And Back Again

 

In the previous section, it was alleged that the origin and provenance of 'abstract concepts' is highly suspect. This part of the present Essay will examine these seemingly rash charges a little more closely.

 

Consider once again Lenin's attempt to specify what our knowledge of particular objects consists in:

 

"[I]f we are to have true knowledge of an object we must look at and examine all its facets, its connections and 'mediacies'. That is something we cannot ever hope to achieve completely, but the rule of comprehensiveness is a safeguard against mistakes and rigidity…." [Ibid., p.93.]

 

Hence, according to this, a fuller and more complete understanding of any particular must involve a consideration of its wider, perhaps law-governed connections with other particulars. Unfortunately, this is a strategy we will soon find there is good reason to question.

 

The first serious problem this passage poses is that these ever-widening 'law-governed' connections must themselves involve the use of general terms (or "abstractions" -- in sense AB1) right from the start. In that case, it seems that the dialectical process of cognition cannot even begin.

 

It could be replied that the above objection is spurious, since, according to TAR knowledge actually starts with:

 

"…an abstraction from the inessential and accidental features of reality to grasp more clearly its key features…. Constant empirical work is therefore essential to renew both the concrete analyses and the dialectical concepts that are generalized from these analyses." [Rees (1998), p.110.]

 

This suggests that law-governed generalisations are themselves integral to dialectics. This is because human  knowledge has:

 

"[Brought] to it a framework composed of our past experiences; what we have learned of others' experience, both in the present and in the past; and of our later reflections on and theories about this experience…. Concepts and theories are necessary to interpret the world." [Ibid., p.63.]

 

Reference to -- and use of -- general terms ('concepts'?) in the pursuit of knowledge is also required since neither science nor dialectics can rely solely on surface appearances. The idea seems to be that while the latter might relate to our initial view of things, scientific knowledge rightly seeks to locate and integrate nature's underlying law-governed "essences" by the use of further and more refined abstractions (or generalisations), tested in practice.

 

This notion, it seems, can be found in Marx's writings, too:

 

"[S]cience would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956.]

 

All this appears to mean that while scientists/dialecticians might have to begin with what look like concrete particulars given in experience (albeit understood indeterminately, at first), in order to gain genuine knowledge, they must apply abstract concepts to the phenomena (perhaps deploying those that have been inherited from the past -- or those 'critically re-formulated' from whatever resources there are to hand in the present) to interconnect and account for phenomena with increasing accuracy, and in a more all-round, determinate manner.

 

However, except perhaps at the very beginning of human 'consciousness', this process never actually starts from scratch (as it were); we use the gains of previous generations to assist us in the advancement of knowledge. But, even this is not sufficient; abstractions have continually to be referred back to the material world so that they can be tested against further experience and refined in practice (etc.). Even though human beings inherit generalisations and epistemological categories from the past, all of these are revisable. This process of revision constantly shapes and colours the search for knowledge in every Mode of Production, achieving a different expression in each.

 

This appears to be the import of Lenin's words (quoted earlier):

 

"Thought proceeding from the concrete to the abstract -- provided it is correct (NB)… -- does not get away from the truth but comes closer to it. The abstraction of matter, the law of nature, the abstraction of value, etc., in short all scientific (correct, serious, not absurd) abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely. From living perception to abstract thought, and from this to practice, -- such is the dialectical path of cognition of truth, of the cognition of objective reality." [Lenin (1961), p.171. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Indeed, the above passage looks like an embellishment of Marx's own thoughts:

 

"It seems correct to begin with the real and the concrete…with e.g. the population…. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest…. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations…. The latter is obviously scientifically the correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence the unity of the diverse." [Marx (1973), pp.100-01.]12

 

Again, these comments (alongside others that have already been examined) look as if they might help resolve the apparent inconsistency noted near the beginning of this Essay. Hence, it is now clear that the dialectical method at least includes some or all of the following:

 

(1) The search for knowledge must begin at some point with a practical or theoretical interface with the world, interpreted by means of general concepts inherited from previous generations, or fashioned as the need arises.

 

(2) From this point, further abstract general ideas must be extracted from experience, refined, borrowed, applied, deduced, critically constructed or modified (depending on which theory of abstraction one adheres to). Used correctly, these help represent and explain, with increasing accuracy, the essential features that underlie the surface appearances of nature and society --, but only if they are continually tested in practice. In order to do this, general, and poorly understood abstractions must be broken down into their simpler parts, which, when they have been understood aright, are re-combined so that the original abstraction is no longer a chaotic whole, but "a rich totality of many determinations and relations."

 

(3) To that end, newer abstractions must be used to re-interpret concrete particulars, which means that the latter will be more fully understood --  because they will now be much richer and more widely interconnected.

 

(4) Every stage must be checked against reality, as part of revolutionary or scientific practice, and all traces of ruling-class ideology must be exposed and removed.

 

(5) Whatever emerges as a result must always be regarded as tentative and subject to revision.

 

(6) Absolute truth is only ever a theoretical goal, never an actual terminus.

 

Viewed in this way, therefore, what Lenin said appears to be correct: all truth is concrete not abstract. This is because all knowledge-claims must constantly interface with concrete reality, more and more widely understood, against a law-governed background.

 

However, further truths (or, rather, new/refined concepts that are closer to the truth, which in turn allow more concrete truths to be developed and enriched) can only be discovered by means of wider abstractions that refine and correct previous sets of concrete truths (by removing/resolving any contradictions, etc. they might contain). This process helps reveal deeper and broader interconnections, making such truths ever more concrete, which thus yields a more all-rounded picture of objective reality (but, once more, only if the results are constantly tested in practice).

 

Viewed this way, it now looks as if Lenin was right to emphasise both the abstract and concrete nature of scientific truth. This "dialectical interplay" between the abstract and the concrete -- here only superficially outlined (much has been omitted; more details will be given in Part Six of this Essay) -- constitutes the central core of the DM-theory of knowledge. It stands -- or falls -- with it.

 

This seems, therefore, to resolve the apparent incongruity noted earlier.

 

However, the problem is that, despite the fanfare, this DM-bandwagon cannot even get on the road!

 

 

DM-Epistemology: Set In Concrete?

 

DM Fails To Make It Out Of The Starting Blocks

 

The reason why the dialectical juggernaut cannot even begin to roll is connected with the answer to the following question:

 

What would happen if it turned out that instead of beginning with abstract general terms to help refine experience, dialecticians without exception actually started with abstract particulars -- or began with terms that named abstract particulars --, and then attempted to advance from there by the use of even more such particulars, and only ever ended-up with yet more particulars like this?

 

As should seem obvious, an unhelpful answer to that question would deepen the suspicion that DM cannot account for knowledge (since generality will have been abstracted away), and if that is so, not only would DM-epistemology have run off the road and into a ditch, scientific knowledge would be in a hole, too.

 

 

A Name By Any Other Name -- Is Still A Name

 

Readers sympathetic to DM might be forgiven for thinking that this must be wrong; dialecticians certainly do not do this. They do not remain stuck in an abstract/'particularist' rut, as the above insinuates.12a

 

Nevertheless, as will soon become apparent, the process of abstraction, far from assisting in the formation of knowledge of the 'essential' features of reality underlying appearances, actually prevents it. This it does by transforming general terms into singular expressions -- that is, into the names of 'abstract' ideas, categories or concepts.12b

 

If that is so, the claim that DM begins with the general in order to interpret the particular is the opposite of the truth.

 

In fact, what really happens is that DM-theorists begin with the names of abstract particulars (those which they inherited from previous generations of traditional theorists, like Hegel); they then make a ham-fisted attempt to link these with the names of material particulars, all the while failing to note that generality went out the non-dialectical window several centuries ago.

 

It is this serious muddle that stalls the DM-juggernaut on the starting grid.

 

This false step finds DM-theorists -- following on Hegel's example -- interpreting sentences containing subject and predicate (general) terms as disguised identity statements.

 

Because of this, DM-apologists begin by eliminating the general terms they claimed were necessary in order to refine particulars -- and which we're told are essential for anyone who wants to loop the very first dialectical loop --, replacing them with the names of abstract objects. Naturally, this just leaves them with a handful of lifeless singular terms.

 

This they do by re-writing predicative sentences as propositions expressing identity, and it this which transforms the general terms they contain into the names of abstract particulars.13 Hence, as we will see, "man" now serves to name the abstract concept/category, Man; "is the same as" names, Identity; "is not the same as" names, Difference, and so on.

 

This false step then circles back, completely undermining DM-epistemology so that instead of beginning with the general to account for the particular, DM-theorists use the proper names of abstract particulars (i.e., those of classes, universals, categories, 'essences' or concepts) to account for concrete particulars -- an impossible task, even in its own terms.

 

Naturally, this explains the presence of all the convoluted language we find in DM-attempts to outline the "process of cognition"; it cannot fail to be convoluted because of the impossibly difficult problem with which they have saddled themselves.14

 

DM-theorists are of course not the first to have erred in this way; indeed, this fault line runs right through traditional epistemology. Its ubiquity is easily explained since this false step is, it seems, almost impossibly difficult to spot.

 

Well..., not really: it is actually staring us in the face!

 

But, for all the attention traditional theorists (and now dialecticians) have paid to it, one would be forgiven for thinking it was extremely well-hidden. In fact, adepts still continue to ignore it even after it has been pointed out to them!

 

As will be demonstrated presently, familiar and everyday features of language have to be wilfully ignored, distorted or re-configured to make this traditional con-trick work. What had been in full-view all along -- the everyday use of general terms in ordinary language, invented by those who do not make such crass mistakes (i.e., workers) -- highly educated people manage to miss, confuse or deliberately misconstrue all the time. Indeed, the 'higher' the dialectician, the more likely this is to happen, and the more inured the hapless victim becomes to it.

 

[On the different 'levels' in the dialectical pecking order, see here.]

 

As noted above (and as will be demonstrated in Essay Twelve (summary here and here)) this ancient dodge was invented by Ancient Greek theorists. In that case, dialecticians are in eminently bad company -- and, as they should know, bad associations spoil good epistemological habits.

 

It is ironic, therefore, that in order to account for concrete particulars with the use of general terms, this inept dialectical segue perpetrated means that general terms feature nowhere at all in the developed theory.15

 

Hence, in their search for scientific knowledge, all that dialecticians have to hand are two different types of particulars (or the names thereof): the abstract and the concrete. Of course, the latter of the two is now left without the general background that had previously been touted for it; this is because the surrounding context has similarly been transmogrified into a particular itself.

 

Hence, the DM-juggernaut not only lacks a starter motor (i.e., it now has no general terms), its way is blocked by a huge slab of concrete.

 

The rest of this Essay is aimed at explaining and substantiating these seemingly wild allegations.

 

 

Are Indicative Sentences Just Disguised Lists?

 

In order to justify the above claims, it is important to see why such a re-write goes badly wrong, and why it cannot work even after running repairs have been attempted.

 

As we will soon find out, the answer to these questions is connected with the reason why not all words are names and with why indicative sentences cannot be regarded as mere lists.

 

Although DM-epistemology supposedly begins with the general in order to qualify and refine the particular, the way that dialecticians frame their concepts in fact denies their theory the capacity to do either.

 

Before my outline of this novel criticism of DM can begin, we must once again make a small detour, but one that uses a method of analysis that will look rather odd to those unfamiliar with Analytic Philosophy. However, its superiority over traditional methods will emerge soon enough; the reader's temporary indulgence is therefore essential.

 

[Those not particularly interested in the minutiae may skip the next sub-section, and begin again here. However, one or two points made later on (and in other Essays) might not be fully understood by anyone who takes advantage of this shortcut.]

 

--------oOo--------

 

First, a brief word of explanation: expressions such as "ξ is a comrade", or "ξ is a supporter of George Bush" are particularly useful sentence schemas that help illustrate specific features of language -- indeed, features with which we are all quite familiar. So, from such expressions, employing singular terms to replace the gap marker, "ξ", we may form an indefinite number of simple predicative propositions (proposition that say something about an object or individual), some of which will be true, some false (examples below).

 

The gap marker, "ξ", is essential here, for by suitably defining it (in use), legitimate substitution instances may be specified clearly. An actual gap, "   " (or even "...killed...") will not do, since, of course, gaps cannot be defined. So: "   is a comrade" and "...is a comrade" are no good. A gap wouldn't be able to distinguish between sentence patterns like "Brutus killed Caesar" and "Brutus killed himself". [Plainly, both would become "   killed   ", "...killed...".] By using gap markers like these, we can distinguish these two patterns, as follows: "ξ killed ζ" and "ξ  killed ξ".15a

 

Now there is nothing in language or logic that forces this type of analysis on us, it just turns out to have rather useful 'side-effects', as it were, which clearly recommend it (that is, in addition to the more formal advantages it possesses in allowing modern logicians to study inferences more precisely). [More on this later.]

 

So, from this schematic proposition "ξ is a comrade" we can form the following sentences from three names (Ernest Mandel, Tony Cliff and Tony Blair), used successively:

 

F1: Ernest Mandel is a comrade.

 

F2: Tony Cliff is a comrade.

 

F3: Tony Blair is a comrade.

 

And so on. As noted above, some of these will be true, some false. Plainly, these propositions all share a common pattern which is expressed by the "ξ is a comrade" stencil.15b

 

Now, consider an example of an object supposedly given in experience -- one to which Lenin himself referred --, a simple glass tumbler. We might want to say the following of it:

 

E1: This tumbler is made of glass.

 

E1 appears to express a fact about a particular, this tumbler, but the latter is not yet concrete -- or not concrete in the right sort of dialectical sense -- so key features of the dialectical process must be applied to it. According to the above dialectical circuit, we must interconnect this particular with other aspects of reality by employing (or refining) an abstract general concept (or concepts) in relation to it.

 

But, E1 already contains a use of a general concept "ξ is made of glass", which, of course, is not the name of anything, general or particular. Moreover, the sentence formed by combining the singular demonstrative term, "This tumbler", with the concept expression "ξ is made of glass" (i.e., E1) is not a name, either.16

 

In that case, in E1 we do not yet seem to have a particular (or even "individual") upon which we can even begin to inflict some dialectics.17

 

Perhaps the following might suffice:

 

E2: This tumbler is made of this lump of glass.

 

Now, the phrase "lump of glass" still contains a general term, namely, "glass".18

 

Maybe, then the following will work?

 

E3: This tumbler is composed of these n Silicon atoms.

 

Once more, E3 contains general terms (for instance, "atoms").

 

We needn't labour the point; indeed, it is one that dialecticians also accept -- but, alas, only when it is framed in obscure Hegel-speak.

 

There is a fundamental logical principle at stake here that cannot be side-stepped. Whatever is done to try to identify and/or describe a particular, it will always involve the use either of general terms or relational expressions.19

 

Against this, it could be argued that it might be possible to refer to particulars/individuals by means of identifying indexical descriptions, such as the following: 

 

E4: This is a tumbler.

 

But, the problem with E4 is that the word "tumbler" is now a general term.

 

Even a pointing gesture followed by the word:

 

E4a: "Tumbler"

 

would be of no assistance. Unless Proper Names, and only Proper Names, are used to pick out such concrete particulars (but on that, see later), there is no way around this obstacle.

 

[For example, no one supposes that the word "Tumbler" is the name of only that piece of glassware; i.e., that this is that particular tumbler's Proper Name!]

 

This means we face a logical (not an epistemological or ontological) barrier before we can even begin to loop the first dialectical loop -- a logical condition in relation to which DM-theorists display at least a superficial form of adherence.

 

As noted above, one way to avoid this difficulty might be to be to try to represent concrete particulars by the use of Proper Names. Unfortunately, Proper Names only function as such in combination with other linguistic expressions that do not operate in this way. This is because letters or sounds on their own cannot work as names without the right sort of linguistic/social context.

 

[Suppositions to the contrary not only fall foul of Wittgenstein's Private Language Argument, but several comments Marx made about language.]

 

Some readers might find this point difficult to appreciate because, as regular language users, they automatically recognise the use of names in ordinary homophonic settings, and hence they readily spot the occurrence of linguistic expressions conventionally assigned to this grammatical category -- even when they are used in isolation. Many jokes trade on this fact.20

 

However, sounds propagated in the air and marks inscribed on the page cannot count as names when they are totally divorced from the complex linguistic background noted above. Rule-governed, socially-sanctioned sentential contexts are required to turn such uninterpreted marks or noises into words with a specific mode of signification, and thus into names.21

 

Indeed, uninterpreted objects or processes in nature are by themselves incapable of determining the meanings of any marks or sounds we use to talk about whatever we talk about.

 

This is, of course, because such objects and processes lack social organisation, practical skills and intellect.

 

Naturally, that is just a roundabout way of saying that uninterpreted objects and processes cannot determine a rule; only human beings can do that (in practice), since language is a rule-governed feature of our social being, not an aspect of its own syntactical being.

 

Not even a series of Proper Names can pick out anything true or false of concrete particulars. This is because such a series would, at best, constitute a list, not a sentence (still less a proposition). Consider, for example, the following:

 

E5: London, Lenin, Amazon, Venus, Socialist Worker, Coronation Street, Tony Benn, Proxima Centauri.

 

Lists like this say nothing -- even if they have a use, as here, to make that very point! We could, perhaps, imagine a sense for E5, but only by articulating it with general terms or with words that function other than as names.

 

[This might involve reference to a question like "Which eight names and titles appear most often in the novels of Woodruff Durfendorfer?" In such circumstances, E5 would now become something like this "These eight...".]

 

Moreover, even if this list of the Proper Names of objects and/or individuals were replaced by another list formed out of the words we have for concepts or abstract general terms, it would make no difference -- it would still say nothing, as the next two examples illustrate:

 

E6: Identity, Substance, Matter, Form, Flux, Space, Time, Part, Whole, Mode, Particular, Absolute, General, Essence, Trope, Appearance, Entity, Thing-in-Itself.

 

E7: Female, glass, redness, anger, jealousy, knowledge, change, cause, honesty, eigenvector, humanity, justice, isomorphism.

 

E6 and E7 have no sense, and say nothing (in that respect), since they are both lists. To repeat, in order to gain a meaning these terms would need to be articulated with expressions that do not function as names (or as potential names).21a

 

At this point it could be argued once more that we might be able to pick out a targeted particular by the use of a Proper Name, in the following manner:

 

E8: Karl Marx.

 

Undoubtedly, this Proper Name designates the individual Karl Marx, but that is only because of all the socially-sanctioned stage-setting which already surrounds its normal use (and the fact that it is a name for and of a man). That background involves the use of sentences like the following (but, of course, not just these):

 

E9: Karl Marx is the author of Das Kapital, and was born in Trier in 1811…

 

Without this in general, the word "Karl Marx" could be the name of the man at the delicatessen, or of a new brand of Vodka, or even that of the winner of the three-thirty at Newmarket. In fact, it might not even be a compound word, let alone a name.22

 

The detour ends at this point; back to the main feature.

 

--------oOo--------

 

We are now in a position to see why dialecticians turn all predicate expression into the names of abstract particulars and why this transforms sentences into lists, preventing them from saying anything at all.

 

As Essay Twelve Part Six will show, Ancient Greek Philosophers faced a serious problem; it was abundantly clear to them that concepts (although they were not called this then!) -- or the alleged referents of general terms --, could not be picked out in the material world in the same way that the referents of the names of genuine material objects could (again, this is not how they would have put this!).

 

But, it was also clear to them that general terms must represent something, otherwise their use would signify nothing at all; they would be "empty words" (Flatus vocis, as Medieval Nominalist, Roscelin maintained). When we say general things about objects in nature or society we are not simply mouthing empty sounds. So, if someone says "Blair is a man", while "Blair" picks out an identifiable object in material reality, "man" does not seem to designate anything obvious. But, if not, what then does it designate?

 

In spite of the fact that the alleged referents of general terms do not appear to exist in the real world to point to (or to identify in other ways),22aa some sense had to be given to their mode of signification. It seemed natural therefore to model the denotation of general words on something that already worked: on the direct reference provided by the names of concrete individuals. These plainly managed pick out identifiable particulars in reality, so it was tempting to think that the same must be the case with general words. Hence, based on the supposedly successful 'naming relation', and despite appearances to the contrary, general words were believed to work because they actually named something. If such words were capable of representing things to us, they could not be the names of non-existents -- they would have to be the names of 'entities' which must exist somewhere, even if they remained invisible or inscrutable to us.

 

Unfortunately, this syntactical segue now initiated a completely futile and fruitless 2400 year long search to discover the location of these newly invented entities: the referents of general terms --, soon to be called "abstractions", Forms, or Universals. Do these exist in the 'mind', or in 'heaven', or in 'God's Mind', or in some other suitably occult domain?

 

Fortunately for traditional theorists (otherwise the game would have been up on day one), each and every one of these abstractions was completely inaccessible to the senses. Indeed, they were incapable of being accessed by any other material means --, having long ago been emptied of all content, abstracted far away from material reality by an elite group of thinkers, all of whom were as cut-off from everyday life as the abstractions they invented.

 

[The deeper significance of those comments will be explored in Essay Twelve.]

 

So, in short, because general words seemed incapable of picking out examples of 'general objects' in nature (there being no such things, of course -- what would a 'general dog' even look like?), or whatever it was that all dogs held in common (which cannot exist in nature, more on this in Part Two), the assumption that all words were names (of some sort or other) naturally led to the conclusion that general words must refer to or name otherworldly objects -- otherwise they would be empty terms.

 

And that is why Greek Philosophers (almost en masse) turned general words into such names. The theories they subsequently invented to 'justify' such moves were merely window-dressing.

 

Named objects clearly exist (if, that is, we ignore for now the names of the 'gods', mythical and fictional characters, etc.) -- we see them around us all the time. Because of this seemingly incontrovertible fact, the nominalisation (particularisation) of general words appeared to give them some sort of content, or substantiality ('ousia'), allowing them to represent 'things' to us as they are 'in-themselves' (i.e., as they are 'essentially') -- but which 'objects', unfortunately, were now no longer part of the material world.22a0

 

In this way, it appeared to early theorists that some account could be now given of the meaning/denotation of predicative expressions. If these were interpreted as the names of Forms, of Universals, or in some cases of Categories (later, "Concepts" and/or "Ideas"), or were connected with them in some way, propositions containing them could be used to represent the hidden world that such theorists claimed lay behind appearances.

 

Philosophers now awarded themselves a licence to seek out and uncover the "essential", underlying (later a priori) structure of reality by means of 'abstraction', which they proposed to do by means of thought alone.

 

Of course, if a theorist also believed in the existence of a supremely rational 'God' (who, so myth had it, created the world by the word of 'His' mouth), then the temptation became overwhelming to regard the names of 'Concepts'/'Forms' (etc.) as the names of the corresponding 'Ideas' in 'His Mind' -- or, at least as the names of the Forms that resided with 'Him' in 'Heaven'.

 

The second alternative is present in Plato's work; the former features in the work of Christian Platonists -- like, St Augustine, St Anselm, St Bonaventure  -- in the theories of the Neo-Platonists (such as Plotinus, Porphyry and Proclus), and quasi-Platonists like Leibniz, as well as in the ideas of thinkers who, for instance, profoundly influenced scientists like Newton. [On this, see Note 22a.]

 

Subsequently, these Ideas 'came to life' in Hegel as he tried to re-animate them to compensate for the fact that earlier generations of philosophers had killed them stone dead by nominalising (particularising) them all.

 

[This accounts for Hegel's ham-fisted attempt to criticise the LOI, why the 'rational' approach he adopted was so important to him, and why this meant that his entire programme ran into the sand even before he began work on it; more on that later. Traditional Philosophy had left him with lifeless and changeless 'concepts', the LOI seen as the prime culprit. However, in his haste to put this right, he injected even more formalin into these moribund 'concepts', as we will see.]22a

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

Unfortunately, the above re-write of predicates as the names of abstract particulars destroys the capacity ordinary language has for expressing generality (more on this below) --, or, rather, it does so with respect to the jargonised 'language' Traditional Philosophers have generally tried to substitute for it. [No pun intended.]

 

We can actually see this happening in the thought of early Greek Philosophers (details will be given in Essay Twelve (summary here and here)); these theorists found that there were no words available in vernacular Greek that allowed them to speculate about the nature of these newly invented abstractions. Hence, they just concocted their own --, or they borrowed and then transformed jargon from several earlier myths and Theogonies. Consequently, words like "Being", "Logos", "Fate", "The Unlimited", "Nous", and so on, were co-opted and then put to no good.

 

[The ideological motivation for these moves will be exposed in Essay Twelve, too.]

 

However, in order to cope with the many and varied forms of generality there are, these thinkers also found they had to appropriate words that were already in use in ordinary language -- but these they nominalised (particularised) into "Justice", "Knowledge", "Beauty", "The Table", "Man", "Manhood", "The Equal", or "Difference" -- turning ordinary general words into the names of these newly minted abstract particulars.22a1

 

Thus was born the so-called 'problem' of Universals (i.e., the 'problem' of the "One and the Many"), a set of irresolvable conundrums predicated solely on the above distortion of ordinary language -- indeed, as Marx noted.

 

[More about this in Part Two.]

 

 

Hegel's Hermetic Howlers

 

Nevertheless, these seemingly insignificant moves had profound implications for the philosophy of logic which was bequeathed to later generations of boss-class theorists: FL was regarded as an abstract science of sorts -- a formal version of psychology --, which studied the 'laws of thought', a code that either contained or revealed the inner secrets of 'Being'.

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

This ancient, metaphysical pseudo-logic cast a long shadow over much of subsequent thought. The early Greek syntactical error examined in this Essay exercised a profound influence on all subsequent forms of Traditional Philosophy -- thus setting the parameters of 'acceptable' debate and forming the scaffolding around which the "ruling ideas" that Marx spoke about would be built. In addition, this abstract approach to knowledge also had a significant effect on the way scientific theory itself has been interpreted ever since.22b

 

In the end, a couple of thousand years later, it was this grammatical segue which forced the philosophical 'logic' inherited by German Idealists in the direction taken by Kant, Fichte, Schelling, and particularly Hegel. This bowdlerised 'logic' thus appeared to freeze-frame underlying reality into fixed forms (i.e., into a logical straight-jacket formed out of abstract particulars, the nominalised predicates and verb phrases). And, as we will see, this is what motivated Hegel's criticism of the LOI and the view he adopted toward the limitations he claimed to be able to see in Aristotelian Logic. But, if general terms had been obliterated and/or frozen (as a result of an ancient syntactical screw-up), no wonder Hegel saw no 'motion' or change in them -- before he had 'processed' them, that is.

 

Unfortunately, instead of criticising the crass logic that had artificially created these 'changeless forms', he simply compounded the problem with a few novel blunders of his own!

 

However, as things turned out, Hegel's 'analysis' was in effect an unintended reductio ad absurdum of the whole abstractionist project (as the young Marx saw, albeit imperfectly). Hegel thus inadvertently performed a great service for humanity: his system is so obviously based on a series of crass logical blunders -- those inherent in the whole traditional approach to logic and language --, that no one with an ounce of material good sense could ever take them seriously. By inadvertently pushing these errors to their limit, Hegel completely destroyed the credibility of this entire genre of traditional thought/logic, terminating it by peppering it with a few of his own specially-concocted 'internal contradictions'.

 

Dialecticians uncritically appropriated the syntactical mess Hegel dumped on humanity -- except, of course, they thought they had inverted it to yield its inner, materialist, and 'rational' form. But, as should seem apparent (to those with the aforementioned ounce of materialist good sense), an upside-down logical blunder is no less of a blunder. Without giving careful thought to the syntactical origin of this sub-Aristotelian, logical clanger, or any at all, and without considering for one moment the deleterious effect this catalogue of errors might have on HM (outlined below), dialecticians have saddled Marxism with an unworkable 'theory'.

 

Unfortunately, late in life Aristotle began to move in this direction, too, laying the foundations for the so-called Term Logic of the Middle Ages, inflated into a full-blown theory by medieval Roman Catholic Logicians. This theory came to be known as the Identity (or Essential) Theory of Predication.22c

 

[Unfortunately, the above link is now dead, which is unfortunate since there is little else published on the internet that explains this theory in straightforward terms. Hence I have to add this link which connects to a more complex downloadable .doc file.]

 

Now, it is this mis-begotten theory (along with its implications) which lies at the heart of dialectics and much of Traditional (and Modern) Philosophy.

 

It is indeed one of the "ruling-ideas".

 

 

Identifying The Problem

 

So, when dialecticians adopt the analysis of subject/predicate sentences developed within this ancient tradition, they not only succeed in turning their own propositions into lists (we will soon see how this happens), they actually prevent the names they think they are using from being names. This is because this set of moves destroys the capacity language has of expressing generality, which as we have just seen is essential if names are to function as names to begin with.

 

Hence, given the Identity Theory Of Predication, in order to be able to refer to 'concepts' or 'abstractions', theorists found they had to turn predicate expressions into names.22d

 

In that case, a simple sentence like:

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

must now become:

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.23

 

For instance:

 

E11a: Blair is Manhood.24

 

The effect this has can be seen if we examine E11a a little more closely. If both terms ("Blair" and "Manhood") are singular, which they are, then despite appearances to the contrary, no predication can have taken place. That is because individuals cannot be predicated of individuals (or, rather names cannot be predicated of named individuals). Given this view of things, nothing will have been said of Blair.24a0

 

Of course, on the surface it seems that something has been said of Blair, but this is where the Identity Theory kicks in. [More on this presently.]

 

Now, an ordinary predication (like that expressed in E10, which says something of a named individual), seemed to many to be all too insubstantial. As noted above, ascriptions like this do not appear to pick anything out in the material world that is actually attributable to Blair -- that is, nothing that can be pointed at or identified (in any obvious way) which is true of him. So, while on the one hand we have the material object named "Blair", on the other what is said of him seems to be something altogether intangible. Since we can't point to anything in the world called "man", or "Manhood", it looks like E10 is not really saying anything true of Blair! Ordinary language appears to be misleading us, and thus seems defective. In that case, sentences like E10 must be put in the right 'logical order' so that sense can be made of them. Hence, we need a new 'theory' that replaces predication with something a little more substantive. [Of course there were other reason for these moves; they will be examined in Part Two.]

 

However, it is important to note that this quandary has arisen because of the adoption of the primitive idea that words only gain meaning if they are names. [Why this idea was adopted will be examined in Essay Twelve.]

 

So, since "...is a man" is not a name, it cannot be attributing anything to Blair -- unless, that is, it is in fact a disguised name.

 

Because of this seemingly innocuous syntactic segue, there was a pressing need to try to identify the 'something' that could serve as the referent of the predicate "...is a man" (or in traditional logic simply, "a man"). Hence, this general term was particularised so that it could now refer to an abstract idea, or Universal (Man, or Manhood).

 

In this way, propositions like E10 were held to contain two names and a attributing term that supposedly connected them (i.e., the subject term such as "Blair", the 'predicate name', i.e., "a man" or "Manhood". The copula "is" now came to be seen as an "is" of identity (as in E11, and E11a), not one of predication. [Indeed, this came to be known as the "Two-name theory of predication".] More on this presently.

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.

 

E11a: Blair is Manhood.

 

[Paradoxically, both of these terms were sometimes viewed as predicates, too! An example of this sort of confusion can be found here.]

 

However, in order to account for the unity of propositions that contained two names (so that is did not descend into a mere list), something a little more powerful than the copula "is" of predication (used in E10) was needed to link both halves. In addition this new term must also allow propositions like E10 to say something of Blair that we could point to -- at least, internally (in the mind) or abstractly, and later as some sort of Idea, or Concept. This new linking word must relate the subject (Blair) to the named object to which the predicate refers (Man) -- or it must represent this relation to us in language. in that case, E10 would be true if and only if "Blair" referred to one and the same thing as "man" (or Manhood).

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

So, naturally, this new term had to be a relational expression of some sort.24aa

 

This is because, the "is" of predication in E10 is simply that, i.e., it is just an "is" of predication (and of use to us in our endeavour to describe or attribute things). But, in that case, if E10 contained two names, not one, it would seem to be asserting one individual of another (or asserting a name of a named individual) --, that is, "a man" was now being viewed as the disguised name of an abstract particular. So, E10 would be 'asserting' that the object that is the referent of the predicate (Man, or Manhood, in this case) is 'true' of the object that is the referent of the subject (Blair). And yet, no object can be true of another object. So this apparent predication cannot be a genuine predication, it must express a disguised relation between two objects (Manhood and Blair).

 

The former predicate ("  is a man", or traditionally, "a man")) would, under this 'analysis', simply disappear, right before our eyes, its real, 'essential' or 'below-the-surface' nature now exposed as that of a name, not a predicate, with the copula "is" becoming the required relational expression.

 

So, even though your very own material eyes/ears might tell you that "  is a man" is a predicate (used to describe), your mind (suitably 'persuaded') tells you it is a secret name.

 

Such are the intoxicating temptations of Idealist 'Logic'!

 

But, when there is indeed a relation of this sort in ordinary language between two named objects (or between two singular terms, depending on hw we read it) conjoined by an "is" (as we will see is the case in E12 below), we uncontroversially have a statement of identity, not of predication. A false analogy drawn between these two different uses of "is" soon suggested to traditional logicians that the "is" of predication must really be an "is" of identity.

 

Hence, out of twisted grammar like this there arose a new 'theory' -- one that was in fact driven by a more ancient doctrine working in the background: all words are really names, by means of which re-present/mirror the divine order to ourselves by naming its contents, just like Adam named all the animals -- Genesis 2:19.

 

This in turn suggested to traditionalists that although we cannot actually touch, taste or see the things that 'predicate names' reflect or represent to us, this isn't a problem since these 'entities' are hidden 'behind appearances'. From this it was but a short step to the idea that all true knowledge revolves around this secret, non-material world anterior to experience, which is essential, Ideal, accessible to thought alone, and more real that the world we see around us.

 

This occult 'world', of course, was not the concern of common folk, whose 'defective' and materially-grounded language created such 'problems' in the first place. These poor souls were trapped in the world of 'appearances', lost in 'commonsense' and 'formal thinking. In stark contrast, 'true philosophers' were capable of seeing right into the heart of 'Being' thanks to this glitzy new 'theory'.24a

 

So, following on the lead of ancient, medieval and early modern logicians (like Buridan -- and, of course, more overtly, Hegel himself), DM-theorists were persuaded to accept this elitist idea that the articulation of names by the use of the connective "is" (in sentences like E11, and then E11a) in fact expresses a relation between a named individual and another named abstraction, now interpreted as an abstract particular, Manhood.25

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.

 

E11a: Blair is Manhood.

 

Now, since particulars can stand in some sort of relation to one another, this appeared to solve the 'problem' created by the 'disappearing predication' mentioned earlier. And that is why, under Hegel's influence, the "is" of predication came to be the "is" of identity in 'Materialist Dialectics'.

 

[As we shall see, the usual justification given for these moves is little more than a smokescreen.]

 

In order to see how this trick works in more detail, consider the following:

 

E12: Cicero is Tully.

 

E12a: Cicero is identical with Tully.

 

The "is" In E12 is plainly and uncontroversially one of identity; no problem with that. [This is brought out in E12a.]

 

That is, both of these are arguably instances of the relational expression "ξ is identical with ζ".

 

[However, the new and extra "is" in E12a cannot be an "is" of identity on pain of infinite regress, but must be one of prediction. More on that below.]

 

Nevertheless, difficulties soon arise if this relational form is used as an archetype upon which all ('philosophical') subject/predicate propositions should be modelled.

 

When that happens, E10 and/or E11 have to be re-written as:

 

E13: Blair is Manhood.

 

[The other two were:

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.]

 

Which, given this 'theory', would then be interpreted as:

 

E14: Blair is identical with Manhood.

 

In E14, the identity relation alleged to exist between Blair and the abstract particular Manhood is plain to see. The particular (Blair) is now said to be identical with the 'universal' (Manhood), which means that "Manhood" is itself now the name of an abstract particular, according to this doctored sentence, just as "Tully" was the name of a non-abstract particular (in E12).

 

In this way, abstractions could be conjured into existence (when required) as other-worldly correlates either of the abstract nouns found in ordinary language, or of the jargonised terms that Philosophers have been inventing ever since Anaximander was a lad.

 

If names name material particulars, then abstract nouns must name abstractions --, which exist, well..., where?

 

[For Plato this location was perhaps in 'heaven'; for dialecticians -- just don't ask, or you risk being accused of not "understanding" dialectics.]

 

This is the 'reasoning' that initiated the aforementioned futile two thousand five-hundred year search for such alien beings -- motivated, as we will see, by suitably alienated ruling-class thought.

 

However, defective reasoning like this can only be expressed in an Indo-European language (but see the qualifications noted here), where subjects, copulas and predicates abound. Different language groups had to rely on other linguistic tricks to give life to their own versions of parasitic ruling-class ideology. [More on that in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]

 

Unfortunately, as noted above, because of this syntactic segue, generality was eliminated from traditional philosophical 'propositions'. This is because, in E14, we no longer have the general term "ξ is a man", but the name of an abstract particular "Manhood".

 

Indeed, this can be seen from the fact that it would make no sense at all to interpret E10 as expressing an identity relation between Blair and a predicate (or perhaps between his name and a predicate).

 

E14: Blair is identical with Manhood.

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

How could Blair, or his name (if we avoid the 'use/mention' bear trap, here), be identical with a rather minor grammatical feature of the Indo-European family of languages, or what it allegedly stood for? How could Blair/"Blair" be identical with a predicate or even with a universal?

 

But, to many, it did seem to make some sort of crazy sense to see E10 as expressing an identity between Blair and an abstract concept, or an abstract particular, something which the predicate ("a man") is now taken to name.26

 

 

The Poison Seeps In

 

Unfortunately, our consideration of the malign consequences of the idea that all words are names has not yet run its full course.

 

If all words are indeed names, then the "is" of identity must name the identity relation, too. [We can actually see this move actually happening here.] That was the point of the use of the word "attribution" in E11:

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.

 

But, that can't be correct. It does not even look correct. This too can be seen if an attempt is made to treat this controversial "is" as just such a name. In that case E12 would become:

 

E15: Cicero Identity Tully.

 

E16: Cicero Identity Relation Tully.

 

[E12: Cicero is Tully.]

 

[Here, in E15 and E16, the "is" in E12 has been replaced by its supposed name in both cases, and the phrase "some form of attribution" with what "is" supposedly attributes -- in this case "Identity Relation".]

 

As we can now see, E15 and E16 cannot say anything, for they are both lists.27

 

Admittedly, in many contexts, the word "is" works quite happily as a relational expression for identity, as we saw it do in E12. But even then, the "is" of identity names nothing, since it is not a name. Treating all words as names manifestly turns sentences into lists --, as we have just seen --, and since lists say nothing, that move destroys the capacity we have in language for saying anything at all.

 

To sum up: in E10, where a clear predicative use of general terms is expressed, the misreading of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity in fact reveals that an earlier determination to interpret general predicative expressions as names of abstract particulars has already taken place. Any subsequent 'grammatical adjustments' that are made (i.e., re-configuring "is" as relational expression), were deliberately engineered to conform to this earlier metaphysical move.

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

Now, it is this move --, and not an attempt to process particulars by means of 'abstractions' given in thought, nor an endeavour to access or use 'pure' concepts and/or categories of 'reason', nor yet a re-christening of the diminutive verb "is" (as a name of "Being", or of "Identity") --, it is this syntactic segue which kick-started much of classical Philosophy, and thus the sub-literate logic found in Hegel (and now in 'Materialist Dialectics').28

 

 

"John" -- And The Entire Universe

 

No Entity Without Identity

 

Thus, the mythical process of abstraction was motivated by nothing more than a syntactically inept re-write of general terms as the names of abstract particulars, itself based on an earlier move to interpret predicate expressions as the names of abstract particulars (as "Forms" or "Universals" -- later "Ideas", "Categories" and "Concepts"). It was manifestly not based on an uncheckable, occult ability which some claim to possess (i.e., that of being able to process concepts in their heads at the flick of a noun).

 

This false move originally arose from the actual abstraction (removal, cutting-off, or alienation), and thus distortion, of concept expressions from their everyday material and concrete contexts in ordinary sentences, and in ordinary life, as Marx noted:

 

"The philosophers would only have to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, to recognise it as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

By abstracting ordinary predicative expressions from simple propositions like E10, and turning them into the names of abstract particulars, thus distorting them, Traditional Philosophers (and later, dialecticians) were able to conjure a whole new branch of Super-Knowledge (Metaphysics) from less than thin air.

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

Just as scientists study the material world, so Philosophers, it seemed, could study this hidden world of Super-Facts, Super-Laws, 'Essences', and 'Necessities'.29

 

Of course, Traditional Philosophers (and their latter-day conservative progeny, Marxist Dialecticians) paid no heed to the actual use of general words in everyday material contexts. These ancient theorists had excellent, class-motivated reasons for ignoring the vernacular. [What these are is explored in Essay Twelve (summary here).] Unfortunately, DM-traditionalists also had excellent (but this time entirely petty-bourgeois) reasons for aping them. [These are revealed in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

[This ideologically- and politically-inspired 're-analysis' of predicative propositions was in fact something to which the early Marx and Engels themselves drew attention (see Note 30).]

 

Nevertheless, the alleged validity of traditional moves like these were (and still are) 'justified' by the container-loads of essentialist 'knowledge' they seem to deliver. The fact that traditional theorists did this on the cheap --, without having to bother with all those expensive, time-wasting experiments, or with facts that have been compromised by vulgar "appearances", or even the constraints that social life places on discourse -- was, of course, an added bonus.

 

The profound ramifications of this politically-motivated wrong-turn need not concern us here, but it is possible to highlight the effect it had on DM by revealing how this 'error' (i.e., the misconstrual of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity) expressed itself more locally --, on the a priori theses dialecticians en masse impose on the world.

 

In fact, as will soon become clear: this ancient linguistic dodge motivates practically every single DM-thesis.

 

Indeed, this move is the heart of the metaphysical beast -- for here we have located the source of DM's Dilithium Crystals.

 

 

Dialectics 'Emerges' From Logical Chaos

 

First, the Identity Theory of Predication (with added Hegelian spin) features in the Hegel's criticism of the LOI (more details here), where he confused the relation of identity (stated 'negatively') with the truth-functional implications that hold between contradictory propositions (i.e., the LOC). This mix-up allowed Hegel to 'derive' an alleged contradiction from the LOI (stated 'negatively'), and this 'permitted' him to power-up his Ideal universe by means of its double negation. But, these moves were only possible because of the systematic confusion of predicates with relations, names, objects, abstractions, concepts, propositions, and, indeed, a host of other things, too.

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites; LOI = Law of Identity; LOC = Law of Non-contradiction.]

 

If there is no difference between a proposition (or a clause), for instance, and an object -- or, rather, a name for an object -- it would become 'natural' to think that a contradiction (between two propositions, or clauses) also expresses a relation between two objects (or between their supposed names), which could now be seen in 'dialectical union/tension' with each other. Such a crass error is indeed the source of all those DM-contradictions, which are now no longer seen as purely linguistic, but as objects in their own right.

 

Moreover, as we will see, just as soon as predication is confused with the identity relation (or, when the "is" of predication has been re-configured as an "is" of identity), it becomes easy to claim that an object is now only its ('essential') self when it is put into a special sort of relation to its 'other' -- its internally-linked opposite (which often turned out to be whatever was 'named' by the second half of a suitably chosen proposition after it had been 'dialectically' processed).

 

This move would now feed into the belief that reality is fundamentally contradictory (and that everything is a UO of a given object/process and its dialectically-linked 'other'), which would morph into the idea that true knowledge is only of the 'infinite' (expressed by whatever these allegedly 'universal' predicates were now supposed to 'designate'). As we will also see, this not only motivated the thesis that everything is interconnected, but also the doctrine that motion and change are inherent properties of matter, as well as the idea that there are in fact no real falsehoods -- just closer approximations to Absolute Truth --, and thus the doctrine that truth is the Whole, and then finally the claim that freedom is just the dialectical flip-side of necessity.

 

From this seemingly insignificant logical blunder, a whole web of intricately knotted DM-theses were woven into a complex, mystical tapestry by generations of diligent dialectical digits.

 

Behind all this runs the idea that 'the process of abstraction' enables each adept to make a series of surprisingly easy discoveries about fundamental aspects of reality (to which suitably distorted ordinary general words were said to 'refer') from thought alone, without leaving the comfort of the non-dialectical armchair.

 

So, the 'historic' discovery that the universe is populated and powered by 'contradictions' wasn't based on experiment, observation, or on any of the sciences, but on a logical blunder: the confusion of predicate expressions with the names of abstract particulars, and thus the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity.

 

You just couldn't make this up!

 

 

Theses From Thought And Dogma From Daydreams

 

The traditional approach to philosophical 'knowledge' (with added dialectical spin) is based on at least three main ideas:

 

(1) There are aspects of reality called "essences", which are hidden behind appearances, and which underlie every material object and process in nature. The universe has a rational structure -- or it (logically) depends on the over-arching rational structure that underpins all such objects and processes -- which structure can be apprehended by the application of thought alone.

 

(2) When viewed in the 'right way', general terms are in fact disguised names --, concerning which, a select sub-group name these "essences".

 

(3) Ordinary words are unsuitable for expressing deeper, essential, 'philosophical truths' -- even if they dimly hint at them (perhaps to the "abstract understanding"). A more muscular approach to theory is required; "dialectical", then "speculative thought", enables those engaged upon either or both of these to gain (easy) access to hidden secrets governing and inter-linking these "essences", valid for all of space and time. Unfortunately, these cannot be apprehended by the senses, but they nonetheless exist -- or, so Traditional Philosophers tell us. To be sure, their existence cannot be confirmed by any known physical method, but that implies they are more fundamental, and necessary in nature --, and that their actuality must be 'verified' by indirect, purely 'rational' means. While we cannot see them, or detect them in any way, shape or form, the logical structure of our sentences tells us they are more real than any of the objects and processes in the world around us. We know this by a 'law of cognition'.

 

Naturally, this means that these "essences" have to be imposed on nature.30

 

Normally (i.e., to a normal, materially-grounded human being -- like, say, a worker) the occurrence of the word "is" in everyday sentences would usually herald an incipient description, ascription, or predication –- i.e., it would suggest to that ordinary individual that someone was about to say something about someone or something, such as: "The boss is a crook", "This strike is too passive", or "Socialist Worker is out today".

 

Plainly, this does not mean that Socialist Worker is identical with whatever is out today, or that the boss is identical with a crook! (Which one?) Or even that the boss is identical (or, indeed, is and is not identical) with the Essence of Crook!

 

[Resist the temptation to laugh, but one sadly duped dialectical disciple does think this of the boss, (check this out!) and he maintained this odd belied even after he had been told otherwise. And, three years later, he still thinks this! Read this sorry tale here, along with my reply.]

 

But, under the influence of which mind-altering drug would anyone conclude that the second example means that the said strike was identical with whatever is too passive?!

 

Sentences like these would not normally be seen as hinting at the presence a profound philosophical truth hidden somewhere in the linguistic undergrowth, only capable of being uncovered by a posse of suitably-trained philosophical word-meisters and predicate-manglers.

 

Indeed, predication itself would not normally be taken to be about any alleged occult "essences" that supposedly underlie appearances, which may only be picked-out by the use of a super-duper "is" of identity. Of course, that is plainly why no worker would come up with such a implausible 'theory', and it is why, in its modern and most sophisticated form, only an arch Idealist and Hermetic Harebrain (i.e., Hegel) actually did.

 

In stark contrast -- and on the basis of (1)-(3) above --, those who appear to have a far less secure grip on material reality is possessed by ordinary humans (i.e., ruling-class hangers-on, Traditional Philosophers, and, on the 'left' these days, LCDs and HCDs) reckon that with ease they can spot such coded messages mysteriously hidden in our everyday words. All they have to do is "reflect" on them, re-write them in their 'correct' logical form, and the need to test the resulting theses in repeatable experiments can be side-stepped.

 

[LCD = Low Church Dialectician; HCD = High Church Dialectician; follow the links above for an explanation.]

 

Of course, this is easy to do if those who indulge have more leisure time on their hands than is good for any human being.

 

In this way then, it was plain to the select few that each diminutive "is" always hides an identity statement, expressing a relation between an individual and an invisible "essence" -- camouflaged by its otherwise innocent-looking outer façade: a letter "i" and a letter "s".

 

For ease of reference, let us call the above approach to discourse: the "Language Implies Essence" view -- or LIMPE, for short.31

 

 

Mythocondrial John31a

 

The disastrous impact on dialectics of this retreat from the material-world into a LIMPE-esque, parallel universe can best be appreciated by considering the use dialecticians themselves have made of the following overworked example of predication (in this case, taken from Lenin):

 

H1: John is a man.31b

 

Given the truth of LIMPE, H1 is not just saying something of John -- as only the 'vulgar' would rashly conclude. Far from it, it alerts the Philosopher to a relation that exists between two named entities, i.e., John and the abstract universal Man (Humanity, Mankind or Manhood -- depending on which strain of traditional myth-making one believes). But, since it isn't possible to predicate one individual thing of another, the original predication must be re-configured in the above manner, so that it now becomes an ascription of one or more of the following:

 

(A) A class inclusion relation between an individual and a named group, class, category, collection or set.

 

(B) An identity relation between a named individual and another named particular, individual or named 'general' concept, class, category, collection or set.

 

(C) An identity relation between two classes, groups, concepts or ideas.

 

(D) A partial or complete 'containment' relation between subject and predicate terms.32

 

Ever since Plato and Aristotle's day, metaphysicians of every stripe have seized on one or more of the above as the 'correct' analysis of a superficially simple sentence like H1 -- a form of words, it is worth noting, that wouldn't even fool working-class children.32a

 

Indeed, it takes an expensive education and years of training to misconstrue ordinary language so egregiously.

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

For DM-fans, one or more of the above also motivates the allegation that FL is based on the LOI. The reasoning appears to be something like the following:

 

(1) All predications are disguised identity statements.

 

(2) But, identity statements cannot adequately reflect changing reality since they attribute unchanging natures to objects, or at least to the relations that exist between them -- in the present case, this would be the relation that supposedly exists between John and Manhood, or a rose and its Redness. Language and 'formal thought' thus put things into unchanging categories.

 

(3) Ordinary discourse and FL are therefore defective. This is because they are based on the idea that things do not change; they attribute "this" or "that" unchanging property to objects and processes, asserting that, for example, John is identical to a universal.

 

Now, the correct 'dialectical' analysis of such propositions reveals the following deeper truth: ordinary language in fact alludes to an identity between subject and predicate names (or the objects they designate; Hegel continually mixes the two up, and so do his latter-day clones, DM-theorists). That can't be correct, because no particular can be identical to a universal. This then leads "speculative reason" dialectically to the opposite conclusion: that the subject of such an ascription of identity is not (and cannot be) identical with the said predicate (now interpreted as a named abstract particular). So, in reality John cannot be identical with this predicate, or with what it 'names' (i.e., he is not identical with Man, or 'Manhood'). 'Thought' is thus led to the negation of this identity.

 

But, this too can't be the entire truth, since John is essentially a man; in that sense he is identified by his essence. This once more leads 'thought' back to another opposite conclusion, to the negation of the former negation, yielding the final result that John is not not-identical with Manhood, all of which concepts are now understood in a new and more 'determinate' light. This astounding conclusion now expresses an 'essential' truth about John (and, indeed, about everything else in the entire universe, since a similar 'analysis' reveals that every object and process is essentially connected with its own 'other', in a negative, and then in a 'doubly negative', sort of way, along similar lines), which liberating 'analysis' is not available to those who are trapped either by 'formal thinking' or 'commonsense'.

 

During these proceedings, Spinoza's 'principle' is dragged off the bench sent into play, as a result of which we are informed that every determination is also a negation. [On this, see Note 33.]

 

So, not only is "thought" thus driven to opposite poles in its bid to differentiate an object like John from all others (and this necessarily involves negativity -- that is because, clearly, John is not Peter, not Fred, not Tarquin…, neither is he a mountain, a planet, a coffee mug...), "thought" is also forced to conclude that no individual object could be identical with a universal. In that case, John is not mankind. But, as we saw, a further consideration of his 'concept', his 'essence', tells us he is also not not-mankind, and thus his original identity needs revising.

 

John is thus made 'determinate' by negation (as is everything else). The whole here determines the part and the part determines the whole, via negativity.

 

Hey presto, everything in existence has negativity programmed into it (simply because dialectically-'enhanced' language reveals this hidden truth to us), and it is this negativity which powers the universe.

 

The Big Bang from the Big Re-write.

 

[That is why this approach to 'logic' was earlier called the source of the Dialectical Dilithium Crystals: Super-Science from Sloppy-Syntax. No wonder then that certain HCDs think "negativity" has "power" -- indeed, just like Satan, Shiva and Ahriman.]

 

LIMPE thus encourages dialecticians to draw the inevitable conclusion that not only do our words and concepts contain contradictions (John is identical with, not identical with, and then not not-identical with, "Manhood"), concepts themselves clearly change as a result of 'internal development' of this sort, but only if "Reason" is allowed to reprocesses them "dialectically" at a higher level. This 'development' reflects parallel changes in Ideal reality -- or, even better: if this 'development' is given a 'materialist flip', it supposedly reflects the changes that take place in the material world.

 

So, John is now not not-identical with "Manhood"; in fact John is now a NON-person; the NON powers him along, he is now a 'self-developing' being. [On the serious problems this idea creates for dialecticians, see Essay Eight Part One.]

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation.]

 

This means that both 'concepts' and material processes not only have 'negativity' and hence "movement" built into them, they develop as "new content" emerges courtesy of the NON. This further implies that things and processes (now irreversibly confused with words) possess "identity-in-difference" [IED], instead of plain and simple material identity.

 

After having been suitably processed (i.e., dialectically mangled), all our words thus seem to have dialectics built into them. And, it is this that allows dialecticians to impose their doctrines on nature, and then pretend that they haven't just done that!

 

 

John Limps Along

 

However, because ordinary language resists such 'moves' (as we will see), it is accused of being limited, paradox-friendly, dominated by 'commonsense' and  'formal thinking'. [In fact, as we will also see, this is the exact reverse of the truth.]

 

So, if H1:

 

H1: John is a man,

 

is examined in more detail, in a "speculative" sort of way, free from the usual constraints material or social reality place on language -- hence, if 'Reason' is alienated from social being, or if language "goes on holiday" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein) -- we may now 'rightly' conclude that John could not possibly be identical with all men.

 

From here it is but a short step to the derivation of the aforementioned dialectical contradiction, for, according to H1, John both is and is not identical with all men -- the same and yet different from the pack. But, because of the NON, he is also not not-identical with all men; he is thus identical and not identical with his own 'other', his Ideal alter-ego --, which artificial abstraction has no material correlate.

 

This now traps the hapless John in the dialectical machinery that also powers the rest of the entire universe, since he is now a unity of opposites. He must of necessity undergo dialectical change as a result of the logical properties LIMPE has put into him.

 

And this is the key to the self-movement of everything in nature (as Lenin put it).

 

However -- to spoil the metaphysical fun --, the only evidential support this creative word-juggling enjoys is this inappropriate re-write of ordinary language predicate expressions and the verb "to be", the inner 'logic' of which itself is dependent on a crass misreading the surface grammar of a rather unimportant sub-set of sentences found only in the Indo-European family of languages -- and nothing more!

 

 

The Dialectical Menagerie

 

Several other myth-begotten creatures of DM-lore owe their existence to this error of simple syntax, one of these being the quasi-mystical "Totality". A reading of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity motivates the idea that everything must be inter-related.

 

The 'reasoning' runs something like this:

 

If, as in H1, John is both identical and not identical with a universal, and this universal has the infinite built into it (otherwise it wouldn't be a universal), then John is only himself when he is viewed in infinite dialectical connection with everything else of this sort.

 

If John is now put in a similar relation with all the predicates applicable to him (including all the negative ones expressed in propositions like "John is not Blair", or "John is not the Pope", "John is not an interstellar dust cloud"), then he is in fact only an individual of the sort he is because of the seemingly endless and infinite connections he actually has with everything in existence (all those "mediacies" Lenin spoke about), which gives him a 'determinate' nature -- if we but knew what that was in all its infinite glory (which is why Engels said what he did about the "asymptotic" path to knowledge). Moreover, all these things are "internally related" to John -- not externally, or materially, but 'logically' -- all guaranteed by that distorted diminutive verb, "is".

 

H1: John is a man.

 

John thus assumes truly cosmic significance; the whole of reality is linked to him and this makes him what he essentially is. Not only that, but everything else is conditioned in like manner by John in return. John is now at the centre of a web of identities and differences spanning right across all that exists, and for all of time; he is now situated at the very heart the meaning universe -- and so is everyone and everything else. All of 'Being' depends on him to a small extent, and he depends on all of 'Being' in return.

 

All this from a single sentence written in Indo-European grammar!

 

Who'd have thought it?

 

Even so, one small step for John is a huge step for mankind. Innovative logic like this cannot be restricted to just one individual; it has quite expansive, if not imperialist, aspirations as humanity itself now assumes universal significance. The fate of our entire species now takes centre stage in John's meaning universe (and not just his) -- all of which is guaranteed by the semi-Divine Logic built into DL. Thus, whatever happens to John, or to humanity, is interconnected with everything in existence, and vice versa. Indeed, each of us has his or her cosmic role assigned to them by linguistic magic like this: as above, so below:

 

"This phrase comes from the beginning of The Emerald Tablet and embraces the entire system of traditional and modern magic which was inscribed upon the tablet in cryptic wording by Hermes Trismegistus. The significance of this phrase is that it is believed to hold the key to all mysteries. All systems of magic are claimed to function by this formula. 'That which is above is the same as that which is below'...Macrocosmos is the same as microcosmos....

 

"To the magician the magical act, that of causing a transformation in a thing or things without any physical contact, is accomplished by an imaginative act accompanied by the will that the wanted change will occur. The magical act and imaginative act becomes one and the same. The magician knows with certainty that for the change to occur he must will it to happen and firmly believe it will happen. Here it may be noted that magic and religion are akin: both require belief that a miracle will occur.

"To bring about such a change the magician uses the conception of 'dynamic interconnectedness to describe the physical world as the sort of thing that imagination and desire can effect. The magician's world is an independent whole, a web of which no strand is autonomous. Mind and body, galaxy and atom, sensation and stimulus, are intimately bound. Witchcraft strongly imbues the view that all things are independent and interrelated.' These concepts pivot on the belief that all things come from the One Thing, or First Cause, and 'Its power is integrating, if it be turned into earth.'" [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

[DL = Dialectical Logic; LIE = Linguistic Idealism; UO = Unity of Opposites.]

 

Not only is John related to the Whole, he is what he is because this dialectically-'developed' diminutive verb implies he both is and is not identical (and then not not-identical) with an infinite concept.33 Indeed, and in this way, every person, each atom, each speck in the entire universe, and every process in nature, for all of time, has assigned to it its rightful mediated place in the Infinite Whole. Every single object and process is identical with, and not identical with, and then not not-identical with its unique 'other', guaranteed by a 'logic' that smuggled identity into sentences in place of boring old material predication.

 

As Lenin noted:

 

"'This harmony is precisely absolute Becoming change, -- not becoming other, now this and then another. The essential thing is that each different thing, each particular, is different from another, not abstractly so from any other, but from its other. Each particular only is, insofar as its other is implicitly contained in its Notion....' Quite right and important: the 'other' as its other, development into its opposite." [Lenin (1961), p.260. Bold emphasis alone added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Lenin is here commenting on Hegel (1995), pp.278-98; this particular quotation coming from p.285.]

 

Indeed, as Hegel argued, this idea is integral to his doctrine of reflection:

 

"Difference as such contains its two sides as moments; in diversity they fall indifferently apart; in opposition as such, they are sides of the difference, one being determined only by the other, and therefore only moments; but they are no less determined within themselves, mutually indifferent and mutually exclusive: the self-subsistent determinations of reflection.

 

"One is the positive, the other the negative, but the former as the intrinsically positive, the latter as the intrinsically negative. Each has an indifferent self-subsistence of its own through the fact that it has within itself the relation to its other moment; it is thus the whole, self-contained opposition. As this whole, each is mediated with itself by its other and contains it. But further, it is mediated with itself by the non-being of its other; thus it is a unity existing on its own and it excludes the other from itself."

 

"The self-subsistent determination of reflection that contains the opposite determination, and is self-subsistent in virtue of this inclusion, at the same time also excludes it; in its self-subsistence, therefore, it excludes from itself its own self-subsistence. For this consists in containing within itself its opposite determination -- through which alone it is not a relation to something external -- but no less immediately in the fact that it is itself, and also excludes from itself the determination that is negative to it. It is thus contradiction." [Hegel (1999), p.431, §931-933. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

[This is explored in more detail in Essays Seven Part Three and Eight Part Three.]

 

This view of reality thus pictures the logical structure of sentences mirroring the logical essence of 'Being'; everything is simultaneously both at the centre of an infinite web of relations and at its periphery -- all are insignificant and yet all are cosmically important at the same time (a 'unity of opposites'). Part and Whole are thus interlinked and inter-determine one another.34

 

Moreover, while John isn't all of mankind, he is somehow dialectically united with it. This fact allows necessity and contingency to enter into the picture. Hence, John is contingently a man (in that he is a particular person); but he is also necessarily a man because the abstract universal so identifies him as such, and expresses his essence. In fact he is a UO: he is both man and non-man (i.e., while he is plainly not all men, he shares an 'essence' with all men), revealing his 'essence' as identity-in-difference.

 

However, the essential nature of each particular (such as John) isn't immediately apparent to the senses. Despite this, the logical properties fundamental to each individual (predication/identity, unity/difference) still underlie whatever appears to the senses -- as can be seen from the structure of our propositions (which also might appear to be predicative, but which we can now see are identity statements). The former may shine forth through the latter -- but, only to those who have the eyes to see. [Of course, the rest -- those lost in a fog of 'formal thinking' -- just do not "understand" dialectics.]

 

This means that John is in reality other than he seems: John's material properties appear merely to be contingently interrelated to those of other objects and processes around him. This misperception is either the result of a 'commonsense' failure to see things in the abstract -- i.e., essentially --, or because of a failure to connect the abstract with the concrete in dialectical union/tension.34a

 

But, below the surface, where human eyes cannot reach, the necessary connections that exist between individuals and universals may easily be ascertained if they are viewed in the right manner (i.e., 'essentially' and 'dialectically' -- but, manifestly, not materially).

 

Indeed, they are revealed to each adept, not by observation and experiment, but by the 'careful' dialectical analysis of suitably 'doctored' words/sentences about John!

 

In this way, those versed in these esoteric arts are able uncover truths that lie 'below the surface', verities that are unavailable to lesser souls who stumble around, lost in the mists of 'commonsense', whose thought is dominated by that intellectual bully, the "abstract understanding".

 

By these means, the dialectical adept is now able to extrapolate from nouns to necessity, and from concepts to contingency, arguing that necessity and chance govern all of nature because -- sure as eggs both are and are not eggs -- these de-personified Greek gods (the old Moira and Tyche, Fate and Luck, Necessity and Contingency) now emerge from a few words and concepts relating to John and his 'Manhood', and which thus control him, too.

 

In this way, the conundrum that counterposes chance to necessity is at once posed and solved by little other than innovative grammar, which is able to map-out everything in the entire universe using jargon found in a book with no maps, written by that arch-mystic Hegel. John is determined by the 'essences' that control him, but he is nonetheless 'free' because of his subsumption under cosmic 'law' -- this 'contradiction' is apparently 'solved' by its merely being one! [On that, see here.]

 

Through all of this, dialecticians imagine that they are actually examining reality itself, and not just a handful of 'doctored' words/'concepts' supposedly about it. As noted above, and contrary to what one would expect of those who still claim to have the word "materialist" somewhere in their job description, expert 'dialectical insight' like this is not based on careful empirical work; it is the result of the exercise of a rare gift, the ability to view ordinary indicative sentences in two distinct ways, all in one go:

 

(1) Superficially, as composed of a subject and a predicate -- mirroring the surface appearance of things, which is adequate enough for materially-bound individuals, and those who take language at face value -- such as, say, workers -- but not for 'philosophers'.

 

And:

 

(2) More profoundly, as an identity statement that alludes to the underlying identity-in-difference at work in all objects and processes, which reflects the abstract/concrete structure of nature --, knowledge of which is the special preserve of Super-Scientists (i.e., those with the dialectical equivalent of a Third Eye).

 

Hence, a sort of intellectual gestalt-switch operates in the dialectically well tuned mind, which allows those suitably blessed to hop back and forth between two differing interpretations of the word "is" as it features in just a tiny a sub-set of sentences found in just one family of languages.

 

Given the truth of LIE, words thus contain a code that conceals an even bigger cosmic secret -- the DM-equivalent of the Kabbalah.35

 

Dialectics, far from being an "Algebra of Revolution", is much more like its "Abracadabra".

 

 

Guilty As Charged

 

Engels Nails His Colours To An Ideal Mast

 

This subtle grammatical hocus pocus represents the real dialectical "path of cognition" -- the logical pilgrimage to enlightenment along which all aspiring adepts must pass at least once in their lives. It has nothing to do with the inexplicable 'process of abstraction' touted in the glossy DM-brochure.

 

And this is not just my say-so; the above allegations are readily confirmed by a consideration of the following passages:

 

"'Fundamentally, we can know only the infinite.' In fact all real exhaustive knowledge consists solely in raising the individual thing in thought from individuality into particularity and from this into universality, in seeking and establishing the infinite in the finite, the eternal in the transitory…. All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute…. The cognition of the infinite…can only take place in an infinite asymptotic progress." [Engels (1954), pp.233-35. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

"Abstract identity (a=a; and negatively, a cannot be simultaneously equal and unequal to a) is likewise inapplicable in organic nature. The plant, the animal, every cell is at every moment of its life identical with itself and yet becoming distinct from itself.... The fact that identity contains difference within itself is expressed in every sentence, where the predicate is necessarily different from the subject; the lily is a plant, the rose is red, where, either in the subject or in the predicate there is something that is not covered by the predicate or the subject…. That from the outset identity with itself requires difference from everything else as its complement, is self-evident." [Ibid., pp.214-15. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Engels clearly saw no problem with his derivation of what look like scientific conclusions that apply to everything in existence from a re-interpretation of the 'logical' structure of a handful of unrepresentative sentences. He also failed to notice that this conflicted with his other, more modest claims:

 

"All three [laws -- RL] are developed by Hegel in his idealist fashion as mere laws of thought: the first, in the first part of his Logic, in the Doctrine of Being; the second fills the whole of the second and by far the most important part of his Logic, the Doctrine of Essence; finally the third figures as the fundamental law for the construction of the whole system. The mistake lies in the fact that these laws are foisted on nature and history as laws of thought, and not deduced from them. This is the source of the whole forced and often outrageous treatment; the universe, willy-nilly, is made out to be arranged in accordance with a system of thought which itself is only the product of a definite stage of evolution of human thought." [Engels (1954), p.62. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

But, this is precisely where Engels found this example of sub-Aristotelian logic. There is no way he could have deduced these ideas from nature, but only from a tiny sub-class of sentences (the subject-copula-predicate form found almost exclusively in Indo-European languages) analysed idiosyncratically -- the conclusion of which he happily foists on reality!

 

So, while Engels might have thought he was analysing nature in the raw, he was in fact merely reproducing Hegel's own misguided interpretation of the logical properties of a un-important sub-section of Indo-European grammar. He even copied Hegel's examples!

 

The fact that he was deluding himself can be seen from his use of the phrase "self-evident". Substantive truths about the world may be evident following upon an investigation that uncovers the relevant evidence, but they cannot be self-evident -- not unless they can attest for themselves.

 

In that case, Engels's use of the phrase "self-evident" was either hyperbolic, or it was an unconscious give-away. When something is self-evident, it provides evidence on its own behalf. Naturally, that would make such entities auto-interpreting and self-authenticating, implying that they are in fact agents of some sort, and therefore quasi-human. If Engels was serious in his use of this word -- and it must be recalled that this passage comes from unpublished notebooks, so they might not represent his final thoughts --, it would reveal just how deep his Idealism went, as George Novack and Maurice Cornforth note:

 

"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Our party philosophy, then, has a right to lay claim to truth. For it is the only philosophy which is based on a standpoint which demands that we should always seek to understand things just as they are…without disguises and without fantasy….

 

"Marxism, therefore, seeks to base our ideas of things on nothing but the actual investigation of them, arising from and tested by experience and practice. It does not invent a 'system' as previous philosophers have done, and then try to make everything fit into it…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.14-15. Bold emphases added.]

 

Here, Engels he seems to attribute intelligence to linguistic expressions and not just to the humans who use them:

 

"The fact that identity contains difference within itself is expressed in every sentence, where the predicate is necessarily different from the subject; the lily is a plant, the rose is red, where, either in the subject or in the predicate there is something that is not covered by the predicate or the subject…. That from the outset identity with itself requires difference from everything else as its complement, is self-evident." [Engels (1954), pp.214-15. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Self-evidence, of course, emerges (if it does) from a 'conceptual' or linguistic analysis (performed by human beings!) of certain words, phrases or propositions, and for which extraneous evidence is irrelevant (as our use of the phrase itself suggests). Now this strict epistemological condition could only arise from a linguistic expression if it were tautological, where perhaps its content may even strike its appraiser as a trivial, linguistic 'truth'. So, if things were as Engels said, then nature could only contain self-evident truths if it were a huge tautology, or, indeed, if it had trivially-true sentences plastered all over it.

 

However, nature is not made of subjects and predicates, nor has it been fly-posted with trivially-true indicative sentences by a mischievous agent of the Lord. Engels surely knew this. The only conclusion possible therefore is that he too had been seduced by LIMPE, just as it seems to be the case with all subsequent dialecticians.

 

[LIMPE = Language Implies Essence -- explained here.]

 

[Be this as it may, as we will see here, the "self-evidence" to which Engels refers is in fact the exact opposite.]

 

 

And So Does Lenin

 

Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks also contain similar passages that illustrate the 'power' of innovative Hegelian 'logic'. A particularly good example (and one which almost single-handedly commits all of the dialectical sins outlined earlier) is the following:

 

"To begin with what is the simplest, most ordinary, common, etc., [sic] with any proposition...: [like] John is a man…. Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized): the individual is the universal…. Consequently, the opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc. Every individual is connected by thousands of transitions with other kinds of individuals (things, phenomena, processes), etc. Here already we have the elements, the germs of the concept of necessity, of objective connection in nature, etc. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence; for when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other….

 

"Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a 'nucleus' ('cell') the germs of all the elements of dialectics, and thereby show that dialectics is a property of all human knowledge in general." [Lenin (1961), pp.359-60. Emphases in the original.]

 

Admittedly, Lenin did go on to mention the general support the sciences provided for this view (but he forgot to give any details), but he failed to say how that could possibly confirm the truth of any of his sweeping generalisations, nor did he even try to account for the fact that his entire theory is based on a crass misreading of a diminutive verb found almost exclusively in the Indo-European family of languages (which, of course, means this cannot be a "property of all human knowledge in general".)36

 

For example, and linguistic juggling to one side, what confirmatory evidence could there possibly be for the following?

 

"[O]pposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical: the individual exists only in the connection that leads to the universal. The universal exists only in the individual and through the individual. Every individual is (in one way or another) a universal. Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. Every universal only approximately embraces all the individual objects. Every individual enters incompletely into the universal, etc., etc…. Here already we have the contingent and the necessary, the phenomenon and the essence…." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]

 

In fact, Lenin was quite open and honest about the real source of this dialectical chicanery -- it follows from what Hegel thought was true about what we say:

 

"Here we already have dialectics (as Hegel's genius recognized)…. [F]or when we say John is a man…we disregard a number of attributes as contingent; we separate the essence from the appearance, and counterpose the one to the other…. Thus in any proposition we can (and must) disclose as a 'nucleus' ('cell') the germs of all the elements of dialectics." [Ibid. Bold emphases added.]

 

Lenin is quite clear here: dialectics follows from the logical properties of sentences, from what we say (or, rather from what Hegel says we say) -- not from a "careful" study of the world.

 

And, as we can now see, it doesn't even follow from a careful study of what we in fact do say!

 

[The real source of all this Hegelian Hocus Pocus can be found here.]

 

 

Is Reality Covered With Dialectical Messages?

 

It could be objected here that propositions are quite uncontroversially used to convey information; human cognition reflects reality accurately when this information is drawn from nature and tested in practice. Hence, it could be argued that Lenin was simply outlining the consequences of this particular view, pointing out that the logical structure of language could not help but mirror deeper form if language is part of the world. That being the case, human beings may legitimately infer substantive truths about reality from the nature of language, since the dialectical structure of reality will already have been 'programmed' into discourse as a result of the interplay between reflection and practice carried out in countless previous generations.

 

But, if that were so, why all the pretence that DM-theses are only acceptable if they have passed rigorous empirical tests? [On this, see Essay Two.] If truths about nature are so easy to obtain -- that is, if they can be ascertained merely from perusing the structure of sentences --, why all the pointless rigmarole of trying to deny that DM is a "master key" that can open all doors to knowledge?

 

Moreover, why is it that only a sub-set of all the indicative sentences that can be formed, and in just one family of languages, contains these hidden clues? And even then, why does the grammar of these sentences have to be altered (from a predicative to the relational form) to make them say certain things, and in a way that destroys their capacity to say anything at all?

 

To be sure, if language does in fact contain truths about reality (programmed into its structure, say) then it could indeed serve as just such a key, and there would be no quibble. We could then openly admit our Idealism, loud and proud -- an admission that substantive truths are easily obtained from thought alone. It would then be clear that DM is based, not on an inversion of Hegel, but on a wholesale reversion to Hegel.

 

Nevertheless, this picture of the relation between thought and language was in fact committed to canvass long before the required evidence was to hand; metaphysical chicanery of this sort dates back to Anaximander, and it reached classical form in the writings of Greek Philosophers like Heraclitus, Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Proclus, Porphyry, Pseudo-Dionysius and Iamblichus -- the real ancestors of DM. Here, empirical evidence did not (and could not) prompt the idea that reality is mirrored in discourse, nor could it reveal that there were 'essences' in nature, nor even that everything is interconnected, nor yet that everything is a UO, riddled with 'contradictions'. Indeed, only if language is distorted can it be made to say such mystical things.36a

 

However, it is now clear exactly what 'justifies' such dialectical dogmatism: a commitment to LIMPE, motivated by the idea that reality possesses a logical form that just happens to match ancient Greek, and more widely Indo-European grammar. That being the case, the whole sordid affair begins to make a little more sense. The fact that there are clear political and ideological reasons why thinkers who belonged to (or who were dependant on) the various ruling-classes the class war has inflicted on humanity, who were pre-disposed toward making such moves, and whom the dialectical-classicists were only too happy to emulate, only serves to underline this point.37

 

Again, it could be argued that since human knowledge has grown over the centuries, the input of practical activity cannot fail to have been reflected in language. If so, DM-theorists are only extracting from language what had already been put there.

 

This response has the merit of acknowledging the truth of the allegations made above and in Essay Twelve Part One: just like every other metaphysical system, DM is based on a fetishisation of language. That is, it is predicated on the view that language, far from being a means of communication, is really a secret code which has profound truths about nature and society encoded within. In that Essay, this approach to knowledge will be shown to be based on something called the RRT. [Further discussion of that topic will therefore be postponed until then; summary here.]

 

[RRT = Reverse Reflection Theory. To be discussed in detail in Essay Twelve Part Four.]

 

Nevertheless, the situation is far worse than the above might suggest: Lenin made unqualified claims about all of reality for all of time (without exception) based on an examination of a few simplistic and unrepresentative sentences --, and even then he had to mis-describe their grammar to make his ideas 'work'!

 

Even if the labours of previous generations of heroic abstractors had encoded into language all that they knew, or thought they knew, about anything and everything, that would not suffice. Lenin's claims were meant to apply to all of reality for all of time, way beyond the meagre knowledge and intellectual powers of these plucky ancestral abstractors. Plainly, they could not have programmed into language anything of which they were ignorant. So, Lenin's bold, universal extrapolation of dialectics took it way beyond areas our ancestors knew anything about, which means that his words could only amount to an imposition on nature.37a

 

But even worse still: How would it be possible to guarantee that the information allegedly encoded in language is correct if there is no conceivable way of checking it? For all Lenin knew, this inbuilt linguistic 'data' could have been totally wrong. [In fact, given DM-epistemology, there is no way to distinguish truth from error. More on that in Part Four of this Essay.]

 

Practice is no help here; as we will see in Essay Ten Part One, practice cannot distinguish truth from error, either.

 

But, even if it could, no amount of evidence is sufficient to substantiate the sort of claims Lenin made above (or those recorded in Essay Two); the conclusions he drew about the nature of the entire world (from a single sentence-type) were of an order that puts them way beyond any conceivable sort of verification. As such, his theses could only ever have been based on a thoroughly traditional, a priori view of reality, subsequently reflected back onto nature, with just this tiny 'linguistic fig-leaf' of an excuse for cover.

 

Moreover, had Lenin gone about his daily agitational business uttering the kind of sentences he considered metaphysically significant (such as "John is a man"), comrades would rightly have doubted his sanity. Just why such agitationally-challenged sentences were deemed significant is, therefore, something of a dialectical mystery.38

 

 

Theism From Thought, Too?

 

Despite this, there are better reasons for rejecting this view of language. Indeed, it is instructive to compare Lenin's conclusions about "John" with the following sentence, which presumably DM-theorists will want to reject:

 

H2: God is our father.

 

This would perhaps be because H2 expresses an ideologically-motivated belief for which there is not one shred of evidence (and nor could there be). But, if so, and to be consistent, we should repudiate the following sentences (from Lenin) for similar reasons -- i.e., for lack of evidence:

 

H3: The individual is different from the universal.

 

H4: The opposites are identical.

 

[H1: John is a man.]

 

There is no evidence for the truth of either these sentences, or none that is not itself based on an ancient mis-analysis of grammar, and only that.

 

But, of course, a search for 'evidence' would not make it even this far, for the above are pseudo-grammatical/metaphysical statements, the 'truth' of which follows from the alleged meaning of the words they contain. No wonder then that Hegel and Lenin imagined they could extrapolate from H3 and H4 (or from "S is P"-type propositions/"judgements") to theses supposedly true everywhere and everywhen. If, however, these combinations of words possess no sense, then neither H3 nor H4 is capable of being true or false (or even 'dialectically' both). [Why this is so is discussed in detail in Essay Twelve Part One.]

 

Moreover, it is worth recalling that given certain definitions of the word "God", H2 is in fact a tautology. Now, we can be reasonably sure that this imputed logical status of H2 would not be sufficient to force its acceptance as a profound truth. No dialectician in his or her left mind would accept an argument that claimed that the whole truth of theology is contained in such propositions. We would not let assorted priests and mystery-mongers argue that the past endeavours of intrepid abstractors and linguistic pioneers had programmed into language truths about the nature of the 'Godhead', forcing us to accept this example of Divine Logic as super-empirically-true.38a

 

H2: God is our father.

 

Well, the same should be concluded about H1, H3 and H4. In fact, DM-theorists should only feel confident deriving a priori truths from such sentences if they are prepared to acknowledge, say, the validity of Anselm's infamous "Ontological Proof" of the existence of "God", for that 'argument' manages to wring similar verities about divine reality from equally tortured prose.

 

 

OK -- Reach For The Prozac!

 

Nevertheless, there are several serious problems with Lenin's reasoning, which require resolution before questions can even be raised about the support his theses gain from what little 'evidence' there is.

 

H1: John is a man.

 

Lenin clearly interpreted the "is" in H1 as an "is" of identity (and later perhaps as an "is" of class inclusion). But, because it plainly is not one of identity in the vernacular, both Lenin and Hegel were able to 'derive' several counter-intuitive conclusions from the incongruity they had artificially introduced into H1.39 However, instead of concluding perhaps that Hegel's "genius" had misled him -- or that this was not the only way (or even the most obvious, sane or natural way) to interpret such simple sentences -- Lenin proceeded to weave several lengths of dialectical cloth from these few threads of woolly thought.

 

The fact that the "is" of H1 is not that of identity can be seen from Lenin's own use of it. Consider one of his sentences:

 

H5: "[T]he opposites (the individual is opposed to the universal) are identical."

 

From this we can extract two further sentences:

 

H4: The opposites are identical.

 

H6: The individual is opposed to the universal.

 

[H4 plainly contains a cognate of "is" -- namely, the plural "are".]

 

However, if "is" always indicated identity -- and could be interpreted as an expression of the form "ξ is identical with ζ" -- then we should be able to re-write H4 and H6 in the following manner:

 

H7: The opposites are identical with identical.

 

H8: The individual is identical with opposed to the universal.39a

 

[In H7, the verb "are" (from H6), and in H8 the verb "is" (from H6), have been replaced by "are identical with" and "is identical with", respectively, on sound dialectical lines. The reason why these have been underlined will soon become apparent.]

 

It does not take any dialectical logic at all (and certainly no bourgeois prejudice whatsoever) to see what nonsense results from this 'brilliant' Hegelian insight. Nor is it difficult to foresee the infinite task Lenin's 'analysis' holds open as he, or anyone else, tries to say what the meaning of each underlined "is" (or the meaning of each underlined "are") is that recurs in "is identical with" (or in "are identical with") in H7 and H8, now made explicit in H9 and H10:

 

H9: The opposites are identical with identical with identical.

 

H10: The individual is identical with identical with opposed to the universal.

 

Here, the underlined "is" from H8 and the underlined "are" from H7 have been replaced with what we are told it really is, namely "is identical with" and "are identical with", respectively, to yield the nonsensical result we see in H10 and H9. In turn, two more replacements of 'genius' like this with their supposed dialectical equivalents yields these gems:

 

H11: The opposites are identical with identical with identical with identical.

 

H12: The individual is identical with identical with identical with opposed to the universal.

 

And so on to infinity...

 

Lest anyone thinks this unfair to Lenin and/or Hegel, they are invited to try to say for themselves what the "is" in "is identical with" itself means.

 

Neutral onlookers can only wish such hardy souls plenty of luck, and hope they are blessed with boundless patience, limitless supplies of paper and ink -- and, of course, plenty of Prozac.

 

It is worth recalling, though, that this collapse into incoherence has only arisen because dialecticians insist that the "is" of predication is really an "is" of identity -- i.e., that it is the same as "is identical with". In assuming this (again, with no proof), they themselves are forced to use another "is" to reveal this good news to the rest of us -- as in:

 

H13: The "is" of predication is the "is" of identity.

 

But the middle "is" in H13 cannot -- ex hypothesi cannot! -- be one of mere predication. It, too, according the Hegel has to be one of identity. In that case we must obtain these from H13:

 

H14: The "is" of predication is identical with the "is" of identity.

 

And then:

 

H15: The "is" of predication is identical with identical with the "is" of identity.

 

As each alleged "is" of predication is suitably replaced by an "is identical with" that it is supposed to be identical with itself. If anyone wants to go down this route, they will also require copious supplies of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. But, more fool them; they were warned!39b

 

On the other hand, those who hold that the "is" of predication is in reality just that (i.e., an "is" of predication, or better, that "is" is part of the predicate to begin with!) are not faced with such an infinite and morale-sapping task. That is because they seek neither to revise nor to re-write ordinary material language in such Idealist terms, replacing an ordinary "is" with another sort of "is", one that allows metaphysicians to think they can change (or distort) predicates into the names of abstract particulars as and when it suites them.

 

So, when genuine materialists say things like "Blair is a warmonger", they are not saying that Blair is identical to a warmonger (which one?), they are merely saying that the description "warmonger" applies to the individual named "Blair". No "is" anywhere in sight.

 

So, you can put the Prozac away now, comrades.40

 

 

Don't Break The Circle

 

It could be objected that this completely misses the point. DM-theorists do not argue that knowledge begins with the "isolation of particulars in thought"; in the search for knowledge human beings do not have to start from scratch, as the above suggests. On the contrary, as TAR notes:

 

"[I]t is impossible simply to stare at the world as it immediately presents itself to our eyes and hope to understand it. To make sense of the world, we must bring to it a framework composed of elements of our past experience; what we have learned of others' experience, both in the present and in the past; and of our later reflections on and theories about this experience." [Rees (1998), p.63.]41

 

"[A]ll science generalizes and abstracts from 'empirically verifiable facts.' Indeed, the very concept of 'fact' is itself an abstraction, because no one has ever eaten, tasted, smelt, seen or heard a 'fact,' which is a mental generalization that distinguishes actually existing phenomena from imaginary conceptions. Similarly, all science 'deductively anticipates' developments -- what else is an hypothesis tested by experimentation? The dialectic is, among other things, a way of investigating and understanding the relationship between abstractions and reality. And the 'danger of arbitrary construction' is far greater using an empirical method which thinks that it is dealing with facts when it is actually dealing with abstractions than it is with a method that properly distinguishes between the two and then seeks to explain the relationship between them." [Ibid., p.131. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]41a

 

These passages appear to show that the criticisms of the dialectical process presented here are flawed from beginning to end.42 They clearly demonstrate that no dialectician of any intelligence would imagine that, in the search for knowledge, human beings just look at objects and processes divorced from historical, political, social or linguistic contexts, and blurt stuff out. As Engels himself noted:

 

"The identity of thought and being, to express myself in Hegelian fashion, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other but never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. Because a concept has the essential nature of the concept and does not therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it had to be abstracted in the first place, it is nevertheless more than a fiction, unless you declare that all the results of thought are fictions because reality corresponds to them only very circuitously, and even then approaching it only asymptotically." [Engels to Conrad Schmidt (12/3/1895), in Marx and Engels (1975b), p.457.]

 

This means that the dialectical circuit cannot simply be joined at any point -- cut into, as if this were some sort of dance. Hence, it could be claimed that this is where the above analysis goes completely wrong: it assumes that the DM-circuit begins at a particular place, and because it cannot do this the incorrect conclusion is then drawn that DM-epistemology is fundamentally flawed.

 

As a matter of fact -- as this objection might continue --, knowledge arises out of a historical process. Humans do not just go about "identifying particulars" (etc); they use whatever historical, social, linguistic and epistemological resources they have to hand, and they do this in order to advance knowledge and refine technique (a process that is nevertheless distorted by the class struggle, and ruling-class ideology, etc., etc.).

 

To paraphrase Marx: human beings make their own concepts, but they do not do so under social or logical circumstances of their own choosing. DM-theorists highlight this fact; they do not ignore or hide it.

 

Or so this response might go.

 

Unfortunately, this reply is not strictly relevant since it confuses a logical point with what is in fact an epistemological fairytale.

 

The above legend arises out of the mythical nature of the process of abstraction, unfortunately omitted from the volunteered objection outlined in the last few paragraphs. If abstraction cannot take place, or if this process destroys generality, as we have seen, then 'its' results cannot be passed on from one generation to the next, nor can they be built upon by later dialecticians.

 

To put this differently: all that former generations of Idealists can pass on to their equally Idealist descendants is distorted grammar and impenetrably obscure jargon.

 

The myth of the 'original abstraction' (on which this fable depends) -- like Adam's legendary fall from grace -– fails to provide DM-theorists with the explanation they need, since (once again to paraphrase Marx): it itself requires explanation.

 

Hence, the logical points made above cannot be neutralised by a vague extrapolation into the mists of time.

 

To paraphrase once more (but this time Lessing): the accidental truths of history cannot provide secure foundation for those ignoring the normative rules of Logic.43

 

Worse still, even if they could, the chronicles of past heroic abstractions still won't pass muster. This is because this myth is, like other metaphysical yarns, devoid of sense -- as we shall see in the next Part of this Essay, and in Essay Twelve Part One.

 

 

Notes

 

1. Much of this Essay is a development of ideas found in Ryle (1949, 1959), Cowley (1991), and the work of the late Peter Geach, and, of course, that of Frege and Wittgenstein. [On that, see here.]

 

The importance of this subject (i.e., 'Abstractionism') for the history of Traditional Thought is outlined in Davidson (2005), pp.76-140. I distance myself, however, from Davidson's neat 'solution' to this 'problem' (pp.141-63), but this isn't the place to go into such matters.

 

Be this as it may, a perceptive critique of Davidson can be found in Ionescu (2007). This topic is also discussed in detail in Gaskin (2008) and Gibson (2004). See also Note 15a. In additions, cf., Professor E J Lowe's review in the Times Higher Education Supplement, which also contains a useful summary of this 'philosophical problem', and partially quoted here. I will briefly discuss Gaskin's 'solution' to the 'unity of the proposition' conundrum in Part Two.

 

Some of the philosophical and historical background can be found in Tugendhat (1982). There is an excellent survey of where the debate is now situated (concerning the 'reference of predicates') -- or, at least where it was only a few years ago -- in MacBride (2006). Having said that, MacBride doesn't consider the effect the traditional view -- that predicates do refer -- has on the unity of the proposition. [On this, see also Essay Four Part One.]

 

At this point, it is worth emphasising that nothing said here is aimed at criticising the ordinary use of abstract nouns, although it might affect how we interpret them. Rather, these comments are directed at the use of the word "abstraction" (and its cognates) in Traditional Philosophy. [On this, see Cowley (1991), pp.85-116.]

 

Bertell Ollman has recently added a new twist to the 'abstractionist' tale, arguing along more naturalistic lines in order to connect abstraction with a cognitive limiting, or narrowing process, in which he claims we all engage. This novel slant on an ancient fairy tale will also be examined in Part Two of this Essay. [Cf., Ollman (2003), pp.59-110.]

 

In addition, an analysis of the following will be added (in an Appendix to this Essay) at a later date: Evald Ilyenkov's work [Ilyenkov (1975, 1977, 1982)], Alex Callinicos's analysis of the use of Marx's use  of abstraction [Callinicos (1978)], and the brief comments on abstraction found in Sweezy (1970). I will also add some thoughts on Sayer (1992) and Sayer (1988).

 

1a0. I will examine one or two attempts made by DM-theorists to explain how it is that abstractions are capable of reflect anything in reality (when they don't seem to exist!) in a later re-write of this Essay.

 

1a. Traditionally, following Aristotle, the process of abstraction has been defended on the grounds that it enables the construction of scientific and/or general theories of nature, whereas sense experience can only inform us about particulars, about the immediate, about this or that object. In that case, so the argument might go, abstraction was an important and necessary step in the development of human knowledge, one that went beyond the immediate and the particular. But, as we will soon see, this approach to abstract general ideas/concepts in fact does the opposite, it destroys generality, thus wrecking science.

 

Moreover, re-labelling these abstractions "scientific idealisations" is no help at all, for the same awkward questions apply to these mysterious 'entities' as they do to 'abstractions'. As we will see in a later Essay, the traditional view of "idealisation" is no clearer than is that of 'abstraction' -- except, perhaps, the word "idealisation" more plainly gives the game away, openly adverting to its Idealist origin.

 

Again, some might want to appeal to "scientific laws" here to give these inchoate 'concepts' (i.e., "abstraction" and "idealisation") some sort of material/physical bite, but as we will also see, the word "law", as it has traditionally been used, is no less Idealist having been derived from social norms which were then projected onto nature. This theoretical segue was aimed at lending credence to an even more ancient belief that the universe is controlled by a Cosmic Will of some sort, a dogma that was itself motivated by the need to 'justify' and rationalise the power and authority of the State, which was in turn held to represent/reflect the 'Divine Order', or the 'Will of the Gods'.

 

On this, see Milton (1981, 1998), Needham (1951a, 1951b), Ruby (1986), Swartz (1985, 2009), and Zilsel (1942).

 

However, this takes us into areas which overlap with the nature of "thought experiments", a topic which will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two, when it is published.

 

1b. Of course, the answer to such questions has usually been that we ascertain these general concepts/ideas by a 'process of abstraction' (or even 'intuition'). The rest of this Part of Essay Three, and indeed Part Two, will put this 'explanation' under sustained pressure.

 

1b0. On this, see Cornford (1997), pp.191-97, Cowley (1991), and Lazerowitz and Ambrose, pp.145-84.

 

1b1. In fact, in the writings of DM-theorists, since 'abstractions' are supposed to products of the 'mind', it is difficult to see a clear difference between the word "abstraction" -- or other words that designate abstract general ideas (such as "Manhood", "The Population", "abstract labour") -- and whatever these words supposedly refer to, or whatever they allegedly 'reflect' in 'reality' or even in 'the mind'. For example, do phrases such as "Manhood", "The Population", or "abstract labour" refer to ideas 'in the mind' or to something in 'extra-mental reality'?

 

[Of course, this is always assuming that they are referring expressions to begin with.]

 

In which case, at this site, unless I am discussing Plato's 'Forms' -- or I am trying to figure out what these 'abstractions' actually designate in 'the mind' (or, indeed, in 'extra-mental reality') --, I will run-together this word and whatever it is supposed to 'reflect'/'refer to' in 'reality'. This shouldn't create too much confusion since this seems to be what most dialecticians do, anyway -- that is, confuse talk about talk with talk about 'things'.

 

[Incidentally, when I am speaking about these 'abstractions', I will in general put the relevant words in double quotes; when I am speaking about whatever these 'abstractions' supposedly designate, refer to, or 'reflect', I will use 'scare' quotes or no quotes at all.]

 

1b2. On this, see for example, Cowley (1991), pp.85-116.

 

1c. An 'abstract particular' is like a genuine particular (such as the chair you are now sat in (if you are), the screen you are looking at -- or even, you), to which we can, if we so choose, give names, or pick out by the use of a singular term (such as "the screen you are now looking at"), except 'abstract particulars' do not exist in the world around us. They are, however, still picked out by the use of names or other singular terms (such as "The Form of the Good", "Manhood", "The Population"). But, as noted in the main body of this Essay, abstractions are supposed to be general (they allegedly pick out all cats, all dogs, all men/women, the entire population, all electrons, etc.), but they are particular in form (since they speak of Man/Womanhood, or The Population). Unfortunately, while seeking to account for generality, they in fact destroy it, plainly since neither a singular term nor a particular can be general -- the chair you are sat on is not all chairs there are or have ever been, the screen you are now using is not every screen there has ever been or will be. Nor can "the chair you are sat on" or "the screen you are now using" refer to all chairs or screens there are or have ever been. [This idea will become clearer as this Essay proceeds.]

 

1d. I am of course speaking of the sort of collections that are classes of objects found in nature and society (howsoever these are themselves characterised), but not of the classes found in mathematics or any other formal discipline.

 

1e. Indeed, we find dialecticians talking as if the words they use to allude the 'abstractions' they have conjured into existence are names of ideas, concepts, or categories --, or, they are what these names supposedly refer to/'reflect' in the world:

 

"Given the name lion, we need neither the actual vision of the animal, nor its image even: the name alone, if we understand it, is the unimaged simple representation. We think in names." [Hegel (1971), p.220, §462. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"It seems correct to begin with the real and the concrete…with e.g. the population…. However, on closer examination this proves false. The population is an abstraction if I leave out, for example, the classes of which it is composed. These classes in turn are an empty phrase if I am not familiar with the elements on which they rest…. Thus, if I were to begin with the population, this would be a chaotic conception of the whole, and I would then, by further determination, move toward ever more simple concepts, from the imagined concrete towards ever thinner abstractions until I had arrived at the simplest determinations. From there the journey would have to be retraced until I had finally arrived at the population again, but this time not as the chaotic conception of a whole, but as a rich totality of many determinations and relations…. The latter is obviously scientifically the correct method. The concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence the unity of the diverse." [Marx (1973), pp.100-01. Bold emphases added.]

 

"The identity of thought and being, to express myself in Hegelian fashion, everywhere coincides with your example of the circle and the polygon. Or the two of them, the concept of a thing and its reality, run side by side like two asymptotes, always approaching each other but never meeting. This difference between the two is the very difference which prevents the concept from being directly and immediately reality and reality from being immediately its own concept. Because a concept has the essential nature of the concept and does not therefore prima facie directly coincide with reality, from which it had to be abstracted in the first place, it is nevertheless more than a fiction, unless you declare that all the results of thought are fictions because reality corresponds to them only very circuitously, and even then approaching it only asymptotically." [Engels to Conrad Schmidt (12/3/1895), in Marx and Engels (1975b), p.457. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Shachtman obviously does not take into account the distinction between the abstract and the concrete. Striving toward concreteness, our mind operates with abstractions. Even 'this,' 'given,' 'concrete' dog is an abstraction because it proceeds to change, for example, by dropping its tail the 'moment' we point a finger at it. Concreteness is a relative concept and not an absolute one: what is concrete in one case turns out to be abstract in another: that is, insufficiently defined for a given purpose. In order to obtain a concept 'concrete' enough for a given need it is necessary to correlate several abstractions into one -- just as in reproducing a segment of life upon the screen, which is a picture in movement, it is necessary to combine a number of still photographs.

 

"The concrete is a combination of abstractions -- not an arbitrary or subjective combination but one that corresponds to the laws of the movement of a given phenomenon." [Trotsky (1971), p.147. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"[A]ll science generalizes and abstracts from 'empirically verifiable facts.' Indeed, the very concept of 'fact' is itself an abstraction, because no one has ever eaten, tasted, smelt, seen or heard a 'fact,' which is a mental generalization that distinguishes actually existing phenomena from imaginary conceptions. Similarly, all science 'deductively anticipates' developments -- what else is an hypothesis tested by experimentation? The dialectic is, among other things, a way of investigating and understanding the relationship between abstractions and reality. And the 'danger of arbitrary construction' is far greater using an empirical method which thinks that it is dealing with facts when it is actually dealing with abstractions than it is with a method that properly distinguishes between the two and then seeks to explain the relationship between them." [Rees (1998), p.131. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Of course, this is something Marx himself had emphasised in his early work:

 

"Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction -- for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis -- presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that if you leave out of account the limits of this body, you soon have nothing but a space -– that if, finally, you leave out of account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction the only substance left is the logical categories. Thus the metaphysicians, who in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core….

 

"Just as by means of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition -- purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things...." [Marx (1978), pp.99-100. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Hence, it is quite clear that in his early work, Marx identifies abstractionism with linguistic distortion, which is, of course, the line adopted at this site.

 

Indeed, Marx underlines this very point -- that is, that philosophers invent the names of these abstractions -- thereby distorting ordinary language:

 

"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'….

 

"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit.'

 

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975a), pp.74-75. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Marx also explicitly contrasts this approach to 'abstract knowledge' with the way that ordinary human beings talk and think.

 

However, as we will see when we examine the way that DM-theorists analyse predicative sentences, that analysis transforms 'abstract general terms' into the names of abstract particulars. It is here where the aforementioned distortion occurs.

 

2. As we shall also see, the nature of this mysterious process is difficult to describe, even if you believe in it. Here are just a few of the serious problems it faces:

 

(1) How is it possible for each lone abstractor, in the privacy of their own head, to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? No one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, nor has anyone ever been trained to perform this feat correctly. Does a single human being possess so much as a diploma in this mythical skill?

 

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail here, for even on that basis no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of words (or 'concepts' like "Substance", "Being", and "Nothing"). And definitions can't help here, since they also contain 'abstractions' which are subject to the same problems. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she uses without access to her/his mind? Abstractor B can't point to anything which is the meaning of a single abstraction he or she might be trying to define, so he/she can't use an ostensive definition to help Abstractor A understand what he/she means. Other sorts of definition must, it seems, use general words, too, since no particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. If so, the same 'difficulties' will confront these general terms, and so on.

 

And, it is even less use appealing to the 'logic of concepts', which drives 'thought' along, as, say, a follower of Hegel might attempt to do. Not only is it unclear what Hegel's jargon actually means, but even if all he said were crystal clear, since he was the first to dream this process up, 'thought' cannot inevitably be driven along these lines (otherwise we would not need Hegel to deliver the good news). Finally, of course, 'thought' can only take this route if we are prepared to accept without question the logical and classical/Hegelian blunders outlined in this Essay (and here) -- in which case 'thought' deserves all the confusion it attracts to itself as a result.

 

Moreover, even if abstractions were arrived at in a more law-like way, as the 'mind' tries to grapple with scientific knowledge, a là Hegel, it is still unclear how any one mind could possibly check the results of those of any other in order to ascertain if either or both had arrived at the same Ideal result. [This particular argument is pushed much further in Part Two of the Essay.] Indeed, how could one or both decide if they mean the same by "same".

 

(2) To continue elaborating the above objection, if abstractions are produced by some sort of 'subtractive' process (as more and more particular features are disregarded) to derive increasingly general terms, who decides which parts should be subtracted first, second or third? For example, do we start by abstracting a cat's whiskers, its curiosity or its purr? Do we ignore its position or its number? And, if this is done 'in the mind', who is to say that everyone does exactly the same things to exactly the same subtracted parts in the same order and in the same manner as anyone else?

 

Naturally, if 'abstractions' are cobbled-together by a process of generalisation, or law-like development, then the same questions still apply, but in this case perhaps in reverse order. [Again, on this, see Part Two of this Essay.]

 

(3) The actual process of mental subtraction is somewhat difficult to conceive, too. When we ignore the various parts of the objects we are supposedly performing this trick upon, is it like some sort of mental striptease? But, if we take away too much, how might we know whether the rest of this ceremony has been performed on the same 'mental' object with which we began? While we might all start with a chaffinch, say, after its feathers, beak, claws, colour, song, wings, size and number have been stripped away, how might we distinguish the amorphous mass left behind from a similarly processed Axolotl? Or, someone else's grandmother? Or, indeed, from the Crab Nebula?

 

Of course, abstractionists are never quite this crude (at least, not in public); they restrict themselves to rather more well-behaved "concepts", "categories" and refined "ideas", those they trust to 'reason', or better still, to 'dialectical/speculative' thought. But, these shadowy beings are even more obscure. Does, therefore, the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog have legs, a head and a stomach full of worms? If not, then we might wonder if this concept genuinely applies to him. If it does, we might wonder (even more) what the difference between him and his 'concept' is. If there is none, then he must be Ideal. On the other hand, if there is a difference, how do we know this 'concept' belongs to him?

 

[Of course, the fact that Kermit is a puppet does not affect the point; any genuine frog will do.]

 

Worse still, any conclusions drawn about the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog, or indeed amphibians in general, would apply to that 'concept', and not to its supposed slimy external correlate. This would seem to be so unless we are now to suppose that, just like a Black Magic doll, whatever we do to the 'concept', we do to the real object or objects it is said to mirror/represent. Now, Idealists might be unable to distinguish reality from illusion, but materialists would be unwise to follow them into this same dense fog -- or, indeed, adopt a philosophical technique that cannot tell fact from fancy, or frog from fog.

 

Figure One: Dialectics -- Caught On The Hop?

 

And how exactly does one dissect a concept? Do they all have an 'objective' anatomy, which any rank amateur can poke or prod? Are there manuals we can consult, instruction books we can read, experts we can e-mail or meet on Facebook?

 

Nevertheless, this traditional tale is deeply engrained in our culture -- you will even find psychologists who say that all of us can form "abstractions", even if they go rather quiet when asked to fill in the details -- so much so that experience has taught me not try to deny (in polite company) that such 'phantoms' exist, or risk being treated as one who has just confessed to murder. [This comment is especially true of Marxist dialecticians, zealous defenders of traditional jargon.]

 

Nevertheless, this particular Emperor has no clothes, abstract or concrete; indeed there isn't even so much as a single drop of blue blood in 'his' veins -- as both halves of this Essay seek to demonstrate. Worse still: there isn't even an Emperor, clothed or naked.

 

This ruling idea has been sat on its epistemological throne for long enough; time to wheel out a very material guillotine.

 

[Other serious problems associated with this mysterious process will emerge as Part Two of this Essay unfolds.]

 

2a. These obscure terms of art will be examined in Part Six of this Essay.

 

2b. It could be argued that this confuses "individuals" with "particulars", or at least with "concrete particulars". This seemingly minor terminological wrangle will be settled in Part Six of this Essay.

 

2c. Lenin, quoting Dietzgen:

 

"J. Dietzgen had not the slightest doubt that the 'scientific priestcraft' of idealist philosophy is simply the antechamber to open priestcraft. 'Scientific priestcraft,' he wrote, 'is seriously endeavouring to assist religious priestcraft' (op. cit., p. 51). 'In particular, the sphere of epistemology, the misunderstanding of the human mind, is such a louse-hole'...in which both kinds of priests 'lay their eggs.' 'Graduated flunkeys,' who with their talk of 'ideal blessings' stultify the people by their tortuous...'idealism' (p. 53) -- that is J. Dietzgen's opinion of the professors of philosophy. 'Just as the antipodes of the good God is the devil, so the professorial priest...has his opposite pole in the materialist.' The materialist theory of knowledge is 'a universal weapon against religious belief' (p. 55), and not only against the 'notorious, formal and common religion of the priests, but also against the most refined, elevated professorial religion of muddled...idealists' (p. 58).

 

"Dietzgen was ready to prefer 'religious honesty' to the 'half-heartedness' of freethinking professors (p. 60), for 'there at least there is a system,' there we find integral people, people who do not separate theory from practice. For the Herr Professors 'philosophy is not a science, but a means of defence against Social-Democracy...' (p. 107). 'All who call themselves philosophers, professors, and university lecturers are, despite their apparent freethinking, more or less immersed in superstition and mysticism...and in relation to Social-Democracy constitute a single...reactionary mass' (p. 108). 'Now, in order to follow the true path, without being led astray by all the religious and philosophical gibberish..., it is necessary to study the falsest of all false paths..., philosophy' (p. 103)." [Lenin (1972), pp.413-14. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

To be sure, Lenin appears to be referring to the philosophers of his day, but his comments, give or take a few qualifications, apply equally well to the whole profession stretching right back (in the 'West') to the Ancient Greeks. Granted he would have seriously questioned this unqualified extrapolation into the distant past, but, as Essay Twelve shows (summary here), it is no less apt for all that.

 

2c1. On this see Livio (2009).

 

2d. More on this below, but the history of this ancient set of moves can be found in Barnes (2009), and Havelock (1983).

 

3. Substantiation for these sweeping statements will be supplied in Essay Twelve (summary here).

 

3a. These remarks might prompt some readers into accusing me of Positivism, or even Empiricism, but that would be a serious mistake -- on this, see here.

 

3b. It would be instructive at this point to review Marx's opinion of Philosophy:

 

"Now that Critical Criticism as the tranquillity of knowledge has 'made' all the mass-type 'antitheses its concern', has mastered all reality in the form of categories and dissolved all human activity into speculative dialectics, we shall see it produce the world again out of speculative dialectics. It goes without saying that if the miracles of the Critically speculative creation of the world are not to be 'desecrated', they can be presented to the profane mass only in the form of mysteries. Critical Criticism therefore appears in the incarnation of Vishnu-Szeliga ["Szeliga" was the pseudonym of a young Hegelian, Franz Zychlinski -- RL] as a mystery-monger....

 

"The mystery of the Critical presentation of the Mystéres de Paris is the mystery of speculative, of Hegelian construction. Once Herr Szeliga has proclaimed that 'degeneracy within civilisation' and rightlessness in the state are 'mysteries', i.e., has dissolved them in the category 'mystery', he lets 'mystery' begin its speculative career. A few words will suffice to characterise speculative construction in general. Herr Szeliga's treatment of the Mystéres de Paris will give the application in detail.

 

"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then -- in the language of speculative philosophy –- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -– 'Fruit'. I therefore declare apples, pears, almonds, etc., to be mere forms of existence, modi, of 'Fruit'. My finite understanding supported by my senses does of course distinguish an apple from a pear and a pear from an almond, but my speculative reason declares these sensuous differences inessential and irrelevant. It sees in the apple the same as in the pear, and in the pear the same as in the almond, namely 'Fruit'. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance' -- 'Fruit'.

 

"By this method one attains no particular wealth of definition. The mineralogist whose whole science was limited to the statement that all minerals are really 'the Mineral' would be a mineralogist only in his imagination. For every mineral the speculative mineralogist says 'the Mineral', and his science is reduced to repeating this word as many times as there are real minerals.

 

"Having reduced the different real fruits to the one 'fruit' of abstraction -– 'the Fruit', speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from 'the Fruit', from the Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea 'the Fruit' as it is easy to produce this abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction.

 

"The speculative philosopher therefore relinquishes the abstraction 'the Fruit', but in a speculative, mystical fashion -- with the appearance of not relinquishing it. Thus it is really only in appearance that he rises above his abstraction. He argues somewhat as follows:

 

"If apples, pears, almonds and strawberries are really nothing but 'the Substance', 'the Fruit', the question arises: Why does 'the Fruit' manifest itself to me sometimes as an apple, sometimes as a pear, sometimes as an almond? Why this semblance of diversity which so obviously contradicts my speculative conception of Unity, 'the Substance', 'the Fruit'?

 

"This, answers the speculative philosopher, is because 'the Fruit' is not dead, undifferentiated, motionless, but a living, self-differentiating, moving essence. The diversity of the ordinary fruits is significant not only for my sensuous understanding, but also for 'the Fruit' itself and for speculative reason. The different ordinary fruits are different manifestations of the life of the 'one Fruit'; they are crystallisations of 'the Fruit' itself. Thus in the apple 'the Fruit' gives itself an apple-like existence, in the pear a pear-like existence. We must therefore no longer say, as one might from the standpoint of the Substance: a pear is 'the Fruit', an apple is 'the Fruit', an almond is 'the Fruit', but rather 'the Fruit' presents itself as a pear, 'the Fruit' presents itself as an apple, 'the Fruit' presents itself as an almond; and the differences which distinguish apples, pears and almonds from one another are the self-differentiations of 'the Fruit' and make the particular fruits different members of the life-process of 'the Fruit'. Thus 'the Fruit' is no longer an empty undifferentiated unity; it is oneness as allness, as 'totality' of fruits, which constitute an 'organically linked series of members'. In every member of that series 'the Fruit' gives itself a more developed, more explicit existence, until finally, as the 'summary' of all fruits, it is at the same time the living unity which contains all those fruits dissolved in itself just as it produces them from within itself, just as, for instance, all the limbs of the body are constantly dissolved in and constantly produced out of the blood.

 

"We see that if the Christian religion knows only one Incarnation of God, speculative philosophy has as many incarnations as there are things, just as it has here in every fruit an incarnation of the Substance, of the Absolute Fruit. The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of 'the Fruit', this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind. Hence what is delightful in this speculation is to rediscover all the real fruits there, but as fruits which have a higher mystical significance, which have grown out of the ether of your brain and not out of the material earth, which are incarnations of 'the Fruit', of the Absolute Subject. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, 'the Fruit', to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of 'the Fruit' in all the manifestations of its life…that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each of them 'the Fruit' realizes itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of 'the Absolute Fruit'.

 

"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'. And in regard to every object the existence of which he expresses, he accomplishes an act of creation.

 

"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit.'

 

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975), pp.71-75. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

"Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction -- for we have here an abstraction, and not an analysis -- presents itself as a logical category? Is it surprising that, if you let drop little by little all that constitutes the individuality of a house, leaving out first of all the materials of which it is composed, then the form that distinguishes it, you end up with nothing but a body; that if you leave out of account the limits of this body, you soon have nothing but a space -– that if, finally, you leave out of account the dimensions of this space, there is absolutely nothing left but pure quantity, the logical category? If we abstract thus from every subject all the alleged accidents, animate or inanimate, men or things, we are right in saying that in the final abstraction the only substance left is the logical categories. Thus the metaphysicians, who in making these abstractions, think they are making analyses, and who, the more they detach themselves from things, imagine themselves to be getting all the nearer to the point of penetrating to their core….

 

"Just as by means of abstraction we have transformed everything into a logical category, so one has only to make an abstraction of every characteristic distinctive of different movements to attain movement in its abstract condition -- purely formal movement, the purely logical formula of movement. If one finds in logical categories the substance of all things, one imagines one has found in the logical formula of movement the absolute method, which not only explains all things, but also implies the movement of things...." [Marx (1978), pp.99-100. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

So, for Marx, Philosophy had to be "left behind" since it was (1) Based on a distortion of language, and was (2) Full of empty abstractions. Upon reading these passages, DM-fans (in my experience) either ignore them, or they re-interpret them to say the opposite of what they actually say (on a par with the followers of the 'Prince of Peace' (who enjoined them to "love their enemies"), who then attempt to justify war).

 

We have already seen what Lenin thought of philosophy.

 

4. This is not intended to be an exhaustive analysis of these terms; the aim here is simply to try to clarify what DM-theorists might mean when they employ them. As the reader will soon come to appreciate this is an impossible task since DM-theorists themselves do not appear to know what they mean when they use these 'concepts'. [Which is not surprising given the points raised in Note Two, above.]

 

A more detailed analysis of how Lenin and other dialecticians use these terms will be included in Part Six of this Essay. See also Note 11 below.

 

5. See Notes 7 and 11, below.

 

6. The rather schematic presentation here is not meant to suggest that DM-theorists hold that there are no 'dialectical' interconnections between these terms, only that if there are any they have been remarkably coy about precisely what they might be.

 

7. On this see Inwood (1992), pp.29-31, and Cook (1973).

 

8. Physicists tell us that every photon, for example, is identical to every other photon (neatly illustrated here). This is how Steven French puts things:

 

"It should be emphasised, first of all, that quantal particles are indistinguishable in a much stronger sense than classical particles. It is not just that two or more electrons, say, possess all intrinsic properties in common but that -- on the standard understanding -- no measurement whatsoever could in principle determine which one is which. If the non-intrinsic, state-dependent properties are identified with all the monadic or relational properties which can be expressed in terms of physical magnitudes associated with self-adjoint operators that can be defined for the particles, then it can be shown that two bosons or two fermions in a joint symmetric or anti-symmetric state respectively have the same monadic properties and the same relational properties one to another. [French and Redhead (1988); see also Butterfield (1993).] This has immediate implications for Leibniz's Principle of the Identity of Indiscernibles which, expressed crudely, insists that two things which are indiscernible, must be, in fact, identical." [French (2011). Bold emphases added. Referencing altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Of course, French offers his own solution to this difficulty, but it isn't one that challenges the identity of quantal particles, just their lack of individuality. And, Nobel Laureate, Paul Dirac, made a similar point this way:

 

"If a system in atomic physics contains a number of particles of the same kind, e.g., a number of electrons, the particles are absolutely indistinguishable. No observable change is made when two of them are interchanged…." [Dirac (1967), p.207.]

 

However, one might wonder how anyone could possibly know two particles had been interchanged if they are all indistinguishable. On the other hand, Pure Mathematician that he was, Dirac might merely be making a theoretical point on a par with the following: "If we swap one number in this equation for another (identical) number, no change will be observed: 2 + 3 = 5". We can see this perhaps more clearly with this example: "Two plus Three equals Five" is mathematically indistinguishable from "2 + 3 = 5" even though "2" and "Two", for instance, are plainly different.

 

A recent discussion of these issues can be found in French and Krause (2006), Brading and Castellani (2003), and Castellani (1998), Hilborn and Yuca (2002), and  Ladyman and Bigaj (2010). See also the Wikipedia entry here.

 

8a. This topic will be analysed extensively in Essay Eleven, here and here.

 

8b. On this, see Part Three of this Essay; some of this material has been posted temporarily here. See also Essay Ten Part One.

 

9. Anyone who doubts this should flip through Gerry Healy's writings; for example, Healy (1990). For afters, try Dunayevskaya (1982, 2002), James (1980) or Ilyenkov (1982). Indeed, the Mother Lode, in Hegel, is even more bracing.

 

9a. This allegation is substantiated in Essay Twelve (summaries here and here).

 

10. This theme will be thoroughly explored in Essays Nine Part One, Twelve Part One (and other Parts of Essay Twelve) and Fourteen Part One (summaries here, here, and here).

 

11. This is not strictly true. There are a handful of works in the DM-tradition that attempt (albeit unsuccessfully) to clarify these terms. What they have to say will be explored in Essay Three Part Six.

 

12. In fact, Marx does not actually do what he says he does in this passage; he merely gestures at doing it, and his gestures are about as substantive as the hand movements of stage magicians. This is not to malign Marx. Das Kapital is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written; but it would have been an even more impressive work if the baleful influence of traditional thought had been kept totally at bay. More on this in Part Two. [Also on this, see Essay Nine Part One, especially here and here.]

 

More on this passage in Part Two of this Essay, here.

 

[And, I know the passage quoted in the main body of this Essay here comes from the Grundrisse, but that fact does not alter the point made above.]

 

12a. Readers are encouraged to take note of these caveats.

 

As noted above, earlier versions of the main argument outlined in this part of the Essay can be found in Ryle (1949, 1959), and Geach (1968).

 

12b. Readers unfamiliar with this style of argument are prone to respond that this is just "semantics" (or even "pedantry"), but they should try that one out on Marx:

 

"One of the most difficult tasks confronting philosophers is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they were bound to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.

 

"We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers have only to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, in order to recognise it, as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases added.]

 

As he points out, philosophers (and now dialecticians) only seem to get away with the verbal tricks they pull by distorting language.

 

Independently of this, it isn't too clear how such objectors would respond to someone who claimed that, say, Marx's distinction between the "relative" and the "equivalent" form of value is "just semantics", or "arrant pedantry". Or, who said the same of Hegel's distinction between individuals and particulars?

 

Of course, a DM-approach to 'criticising' this doctrine takes the traditional moves themselves seriously, but simply nibbles around the edges to try to show how they are flawed in this or that minor detail, appropriating them anyway.

 

However, if we follow Marx's advice and return to "ordinary" and non-"distorted" language, we can see that the moves themselves are defective. This entire way of theorising is bogus from start to finish; but that's Traditional Thought for you!

 

13. Why this is so will be explained presently. The locus classicus of the modern discussion of this topic can be found in Frege (1892), upon which much of my own thinking has been based.

 

14. Again, anyone who doubts this should flip through Gerry Healy's writings once more -- only this time, as punishment.

 

15. One would like to be able to say what dialectical abstractionists might mean here -- perhaps something like: "Abstract particulars have replaced general…(?)", but language supplies us with no useable terms.

 

One could say that "abstract particulars" have replaced "general particulars", but only at the risk of confusing the reader even more, since the phrase "general particular" is about as clear as "round square".

 

If any dialecticians want to "grasp" this misbegotten phrase, they are welcome to it.

 

[May I suggest firmly round the throat?]

 

15a. Or, we could use Quine's dodge: " killed " and " killed " -- the numerals are in circles to distinguish them from numbers proper.

 

As far as I can tell there are no articles published on the Internet that make this method of analysis easy to follow. However, the best two available are this and this. The first of these unfortunately uses blank spaces for variable gap markers, and so is not entirely rigorous; the second is rather more advanced.

 

Update, August 2011: Alex Oliver has published an excellent article that explains this method of analysis; it can be accessed as a PDF here -- although those new to this way of seeing things will not find it easy. [This has now been published as Oliver (2010).]

 

However, still the best short article on this aspect of Frege's work is Geach (1961), which is not easy, either, but scrupulously accurate and admirably clear.

 

The simplest way of understanding this use of Greek symbols (such as "ξ") is to view them as place holders (the meaning of which is explained below). [I have not used "x" here since this is generally taken to be a bound quantifier variable (e.g., in "For some x, x is a warmonger" (colloquially "Someone is a warmonger") --, or, as the next example shows, a functional variable in mathematics. (However, on the caution we need to observe when we use the word "variable", see here.)]

 

So, the mathematical rule expressed by "f(x) = 2x + 1" (in a suitably defined domain, etc.), maps named numbers (like, say, "3") onto other numbers (in this case "7").

 

In like manner, the linguistic functional expression "ξ is a warmonger" maps ordinary names, not onto numbers, but onto indicative sentences -- which, in this case, would yield true sentences for "Tony Blair" and "George W Bush", taken successively, but a false sentence for "Noam Chomsky":

 

F1: Tony Blair is a warmonger.

 

F2: George W Bush is a warmonger.

 

F3: Noam Chomsky is a warmonger.

 

[This is not to suggest that this is how Frege saw things; I am in fact adapting an idea that Peter Geach floats in Geach (1961). Also see Note 16, below.]

 

There are many advantages to this way of analysing this use of language; some of these will be outlined later on in this Essay. However, for present purposes, the main advantage is that it isn't possible to interpret schemas like "ξ is a warmonger" as a name of anything, least of an abstract particular. It also incorporates the word "is" into the predicate expression (or, better, the linguistic functional expression), short-circuiting questions about whether this "is" is an "is" of identity or an "is" of predication. No less important is the fact that this allows us to drop entirely from logic the words "predicate"/"predication", thereby casting into oblivion over two millennia of wrong turns, wasted effort, and pointless metaphysics -- at the same time as undermining a key argument in Hegel's 'Logic'.

 

The same can't be said for the results of subject/predicate analysis found in traditional logic. For example, the alleged predicate, "a warmonger", looks like it designates or names a class, group or category, which interpretation would simply destroy the generality expressed in the original proposition (for reasons explored in the main body of this Essay).

 

Traditional logicians and philosophers were only too ready to take this wrong turn, using the 'Term Logic' they inherited from Aristotle, which was largely based on such an analysis.

 

[The serious weaknesses of this sort of logic are outlined in Geach (1968, 1969b, 1972b).]

 

For those who want more details, many of the issues raised here are covered with admirable clarity in Gibson (2004). Even more comprehensive is Gaskin (2008) -- however, I have to add that I do not accept Professor Gaskin's 'metaphysical' solution to this supposed problem, but this is not the place to go into such details. I will say more in Part Two, though. [See also, Davidson (2005), pp.76-163, and Noonan (2001). Cf., also Professor Gaskin's on-line article, here, and the review of Gaskin's book, here.]

 

Since writing this, Noonan (2001) has now become available to read on-line; the section on linguistic functions can be accessed here -- although, the author unfortunately uses ordinary gaps (distinguished by the use of different brackets) in place of "ξ" and "ζ".

 

Update August 2011: I have come across a particularly lucid explanation of this way of analysing indicative sentences in Davidson (2005); I'm surprised I didn't use it earlier:

 

"Frege's consuming interest in logic and the foundations of mathematics encouraged him to form a new and clearer view of the nature of predicates. Consider operations like that of adding. This operation is expressed by the plus sign. But a plus sign by itself has no role until numerals are placed on each side of it; then the resulting expression stands for a number, eight, for example, if the numerals are '5' and '3'. This though leads to the realisation that we should think of the plus sign as containing two spaces, one to the left and one to the right, which are really part of the expression. We can write in 'x' and 'y' to keep track of these spaces, but these letters do not name anything: they simply mark the spaces. Being clear about the spaces becomes important when we want to distinguish between, say, 'x times x' and 'x times y': the first expresses the operation of squaring, the second that of multiplication generally. The plus sign and the sign for multiplication are functional expressions, as is the sign for a negative number. The first two express the operation of mapping a number onto their sum and onto their product, and the third expresses the operation of mapping a number onto its negative. Frege called such expressions 'incomplete' or 'unsaturated.' They are incomplete in the sense that they carry blanks or empty spaces with them. They are completed by filling in the blanks.... Needless to say, there are non-mathematical functional expressions like 'the capital of x', 'the father of y', or 'the midpoint between x and y'....

 

"Frege noted that predicates are incomplete in much the way functional expressions are: they contain blanks to be filled in with names or quantified variables. This leads to the simplified notion of a predicate which is current in modern logic: a predicate is any expression obtained from a sentence by subtracting one or more singular terms. Thus predicates are like functional expressions; one gets a functional expression by deleting one or more singular terms from expressions like '5 + 8'. Since '5 + 8' is a complete expression obtained by filling the blanks of a plus sign (a functional expression) with names of numbers, it seemed natural to Frege to propose taking predicates as functional expressions which become complete when the blank or blanks are filled in. This move ensures the unity of the sentence...." [Davidson (2005), pp.131-32. Italic emphasis in the original; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]  

 

Although Davidson proceeds to point out the serious weakness of other things Frege went on to argue, which means that while he sees this as a major advance in our understanding of predication, he rejects Frege's way of looking at predicates. However, I think the modified Fregean view outlined in this Essay (but more fully in the references I have included) succeeds in avoiding Davidson's criticisms. Having said that, it needs to be stressed again that there is nothing that forces us to adopt this or any other view of predication aimed at solving this 'problem' since it isn't a problem to begin with. If human beings have been predicating things for thousands of years, plainly there can be no problem. Difficulties only arise when Traditional Philosophers (and DM-fans) try to turn predicates into the names of abstract particulars, thus creating a spurious 'problem' which then needs 'solving'.

 

Once more, the neo-Fregean view outlined in this and other Essays at this site has the distinct advantage of preventing predicates functioning as names in any shape or form. [Not that ordinary language needs any help at all from this or any other modern approach to predication.]

 

15b. This is not to suggest that only names can replace the "ξ" here.

 

One or two readers might get hung upon the fact that "comrade" is a vague term, in which case, we can change the predicable to "ξ is a city", and the exemplars to:

 

F1a: Rome is a city.

 

F2a: Paris is a city.

 

F3a: Oswaldtwistle is a city.

 

Once more: some of these will be true, some false. Plainly, these propositions all share a common pattern which is expressed by the "ξ is a city" stencil. [Any who now worry that "city" is also vague can console themselves with the thought that just as soon as it is decided what constitutes a city and what does not, a truth-value can be assigned to the above. Of course, if it can't be decided, then the above weren't propositions to begin with. On vagueness see here.]

 

16. As noted above, this analysis depends on a view of propositions that I do not expect DM-theorists to share. Nevertheless, the rationale for this sort of analysis will become clearer as the argument unfolds. [On this, see below, and Note 40.]

 

However, sentences are not names -- this can be seen by the way we comprehend the former but not the latter. This point will be defended in more depth in Essay Thirteen Part Three. In the meantime, see Geach (1972c), and here.

 

In addition, although the main body of this Essay says that "ξ is made of glass" is general in form, it would be more accurate to regard it as the expression of a rule whose proper application is revealed by the open-ended generation of true or false sentences from it by those proficient in a relevant language. [This is a post facto form of representation; it is not assumed that human beings actually proceed this way (although it does help explain how we form certain sentences). The term "form of representation" is explained in Glock (1996), pp.129-35. It is also briefly explained in a later Essay. Its use will be justified in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

[How this would work in a non-Indo-European language I haven't a clue, but since I am not trying to make a metaphysical point here, this isn't an embarrassment to my approach. Unfortunately, it is for the approach adopted by dialecticians, as will be pointed out later.]

 

Once again, this way of viewing predicate expressions might cause some alarm. Not only will it look rather odd to those not versed in modern logic and/or Analytic Philosophy, it might even seem rather perverse, "academic", or "bourgeois". Those who might feel this way should recall that the analysis of propositions which dialecticians have adopted was invented by Medieval Roman Catholic theologians, and introduced into dialectics itself by an eminently bourgeois academic, Hegel. [More on that later.]

 

Despite this, the strength of this modern method of analysing indicative sentences derives from the fact that traditional ways of viewing predicates encouraged their confusion with names, which, as we have seen, destroys the generality implicit in our use of language. In stark contrast, as noted above, it is not possible to confuse "ξ is made of glass", for example, with a name. Furthermore, this way of looking at predicate expressions (which are perhaps better viewed as linguistic functional expressions that map names onto sentences -- on this, see Note 15a) brings out the clear connection they have with rules, and hence with social aspects of language and with publicly performed, verbal skills. This is because, clearly, "ξ is made of glass" is an incomplete expression, and it requires a human being to complete it with an appropriate term. The rule-governed way this is accomplished means that this process is capable of being accessed, and thus studied in the open -- as opposed to it being (allegedly) carried out in an uncheckable, hidden inner world, as traditional ruling-class thought would have us believe is the case with the 'process of abstraction'.

 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that this modern analysis is merely being advocated as one way of seeing how we can form certain sentences; no one is suggesting that this is the only way this can be explicated, nor that it gives a complete view (nor even that it is literally how we do this -- it is merely a way of highlighting clear patterns in the sentences we do in fact form, which factors also help us understand the inferences we make). This is not, therefore, to advance a theory of any sort; it is a defeasible attempt to give a description of the public use of language (which, as I noted above, works as a "form of representation" for our use of language), and which does not neutralise generality. On the contrary, it links our use of language with generality through the notion of a repeatable rule, and one that can be taught (by example, plainly not by instruction), scrutinised and studied in social and historical contexts. Because of that alone, it has everything to recommend it.

 

Clearly, this is not the place to defend such a view of language; but, on this see Note 28 below. However, it is worth adding that the argument presented here does not depend on this method of analysis being either correct or apposite. Indeed, even if this modern approach were completely misguided, it would still be the case that dialecticians follow tradition and transform general words into the proper names of abstract particulars, thus destroying the expression of generality even in their own jargonised, ersatz 'language'.

 

17. It might be wondered why these seemingly irrelevant linguistic concerns have been allowed to distract us when it is perfectly plain that if E1 were true, it would provide us with an example of a particular, namely, the said tumbler -- perhaps picked out by the reference of the indexical phrase: "This tumbler (here)."

 

E1 : This tumbler is made of glass.

 

Whether or not this is so, it can't help us make sense of the dialectical process under review. On its own, and without an elaborate (implied) context and historically-conditioned social background, the phrase "This tumbler" would say nothing. Indeed, it only succeeds in picking out the said tumbler because of the complex social and linguistic practices surrounding its normal use.

 

On the other hand, if this phrase manages to pick out this and only this tumbler, and nothing else, it would be functioning as a Proper Name, or singular designating expression (at best), which point is not being contested (at least, not here).

 

[Of course, the phrase itself may be used to say something when combined with a linguistic, functional expression such as "ξ is made of glass", but that itself would clearly involve the use of general terms again.]

 

However, even if DM-epistemology were correct, the dialectical process cannot begin with bare particulars (whatever these are), as everyone (including DM-theorists) agrees; it requires general terms. That is why the account in the main body of this Essay takes the line it does. It is aimed at demonstrating that no matter how this process is sold to us by DM-fans, no sense can be made of it.

 

Anyway, this topic will be dealt with presently in the main text, and in Note 18.

 

18. Lest anyone be tempted to argue that DM-theorists agree that dialectics begins with the general in order to refine particulars -- and because of that the argument in the main body of this Essay is thoroughly misconceived -- it is worth recalling that the whole point of this exercise is to show that while DM theorists say this is what they do, it is not what they actually do. What they in fact do is re-interpret sentences like E1 as identity statements. This involves the re-configuration of expressions like the following:

 

A1: NN is F.

 

As:

 

A2: NN = F*.

 

[Where "NN" is a name, or singular designating term, and "F*" a nominalised (particularised) predicate expression (like "Man", or "Manhood"). Moreover, in A2, the sign for equality is interpreted either as one of identity, class inclusion or part/whole attribution (or, indeed, all three at once). (I have used an "F*" here, not the more usual "F" to indicate that this use of a predicate letter variable is non-standard/odd.)]

 

As we shall see, this opening distortion allows DM-theorists to derive several counter-intuitive results from ordinary sentences containing perfectly innocent-looking predicates.

 

Moreover, it is this move that saves DM-apologists the job of actually having to abstract anything at all --, which is fortunate in a way since the latter task is impossible to perform, let alone describe (with anything other than empty platitudes). By means of this 're-analysis' of ordinary predicate expressions, dialecticians find they can short-circuit the mythical 'abstractive process' -- all the while claiming that it has been carried out! This 'allows' them to imagine they have accessed a series of abstractions when all they have done is conjure the names of abstract particulars (such as "Man", "Consciousness", "Identity" "The Population", and "Being") out of less than thin air.

 

The names of these particulars are then used to flank, on the right-hand side, a transmogrified "is" (now working as an identity sign), directly facing the original singular term, on the left -- as in A2:

 

A2: NN = F*.

 

This re-write transforms the hackneyed DM-sentence "John is a man" into "John is identical to Man", "John is identical with mankind", or even "John = Man" -- analysed in the main body of this Essay, and below.

 

Hence, the "is" of predication has to be 're-configured' as one of identity in order to hold this implausible theory together and provide some sort of motivation for what supposedly follows from it. [On that, see below.]

 

19. As noted above, DM-theorists of course appear to accept this in principle, but in practice they do the opposite.

 

It is worth adding here that when I say the following in the main body of this Essay:

 

"Whatever is done to try to identify and/or describe a particular, it will always involve the use either of general terms or relational expressions."

 

I am not denying that an ostensive definition can identify a particular, but this will only succeed against an already settled linguistic and social background where singular terms function as such in the way indicated above. This point has in fact been made in the main body of this Essay, but it is worth underlining again.

 

20. An old joke from Mad magazine comes to mind here:

 

J1: He had De Gaulle to Adenauer to his time sheet.

 

Only those long enough in the tooth to know to whom these names refer will perhaps appreciate it -- or maybe not.

 

On this, see Note 22, below. On names in general, see Linsky (1977), and Baker and Hacker (2005), pp.113-28, 227-49. See also Hanna and Harrison (2004), pp.63-158 -- I hesitate to recommend this book since the authors adopt the erroneous 'Causal Theory' of names; despite this, it has many valuable things to say.

 

21. Special cases aside -- such as the reading of a roll call, the dictation of a new telephone directory, or someone demonstrating a feat of memory, etc. --, the utterance of nothing but singular terms would not be understood by anyone. That is not because this would be too difficult for our finite minds to grasp, it is because there would be nothing there to grasp. [For more on the logic of lists, see Geach (1968), pp.168-91 and Geach (1979), pp.62-72.]

 

The linguistic context alluded to in the main body of this Essay need not always be an indicative sentence; it could be a sentence fragment (clause), or one-word sentence. But, even there, these expressions would only make sense because of the longer sentences in which they or their constituent parts could be and typically are embedded.

 

For example, we would fail to understand the phrase "in Das Kapital" if no one had ever used it in a sentence before, if none of its constituent words were ever used in this way, or if there was no place in the language allowing for its use (if say, the use of such titles had never been invented by human beings). Again, on this see Note 22, below.

 

21a. Here, I am deliberately blurring the distinction between the meaning of a word and the sense of a sentence. More about that in Essay Thirteen Part Three.

 

22. That was, of course, the point of Eric Morecambe's old joke:

 

Ernie: "Did you know Marjorie Proops?"

 

Eric: "No, I'm very sorry to hear that!"

 

[For those who do not know, Marjorie Proops was a UK 'agony aunt' a few years back. For those who do not know English too well, the joke revolves around confusing the noun "Proops" with a non-existent verb, "to proop", which, even though it isn't a word in English, suggests something uncomplimentary, or defective, about the individual concerned.]

 

It shouldn't need pointing out, but symbols do not (and cannot) determine their own meanings; clearly, human beings do that. We may only suppose the converse if we are prepared to fetishise words, turning them into agents that are not only capable of explaining themselves to us, but are over time seemingly able to 'recall' their own correct meanings and then impose them on us. While, in the cold light of day, the futility of the idea that they can do this might seem reasonable, the vast majority of philosophers (and all DM-theorists) appear to be oblivious of it, and talk as if they accept this doctrine -- that words can indeed determine what we are constrained to say -- as gospel. How and why they do this will be examined in Essays Nine, Twelve Thirteen Part Three, and Fourteen Part Two.

 

Knowing how to use or understand the use of a word goes hand-in-hand with knowing what sort of word it is -- i.e., what station it occupies in language, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. Eric Morecambe's joke above brings this point out rather well. So do these:

 

1) MN: "Doctor, I think I've got Addison's disease and he's got mine!"

 

2) NN: "I'm going for a walk." MM: "Get me one while you're out."

 

3) Worker: "Boss I deserve a rise. I do the work of two men!"

 

    Boss: "Tell me who the other guy is and I'll sack him!"

 

[Wittgenstein once said that a serious and good philosophical work could be written that consisted entirely of jokes (reported by Norman Malcolm in his memoir of Wittgenstein). Indeed, Wittgenstein also said: "Let's ask ourselves: why do we feel a grammatical joke to be deep? (And that is what the depth of philosophy is.)" (Wittgenstein (2009), §111, p.53e. Italic emphasis in the original.) On this, see Pitcher (1978). See also, here.]

 

For example, the compound name "Karl Marx" only functions as a name because of the way we use it in sentences. It isn't a name because of its reference to Karl Marx. If that were so, it would be a name before it was a name! "Karl Marx" is a name because of the way we use it, and other words like it, in sentences -- and because of the way it was related to Marx during his lifetime and after his death (etc.) -- and, of course, because of the practice we have of naming our offspring, for example.

 

Incidentally, this allows an explanation to be given of how words change their meaning over time. This process wouldn't be under human control (i.e., not always under our conscious control) if the meanings of words were determined by non-social factors. In fact, the way that many theorists account for the meaning of words suggests that there is a sort of permanently fixed 'semantic halo' (as it were) surrounding each word, called its "real meaning", which follows it about everywhere, asserting itself on us whenever we use that word.

 

Wittgenstein used the word "Bedeutungskörper" ("meaning-body") to describe this 'semantic halo'. This is well-expressed in the following passage (taken from a review of Cultural Software, by J M Balkin):

 

"Balkin thinks that he has avoided metaphysical difficulties by locating cultural information at the 'subindividual' level (p. x), but in reality he reifies an entity called 'information' that has an extremely dubious ontological status. Although the author drops Ludwig Wittgenstein's name in several places, his book is a prime example of what Wittgenstein unflatteringly calls the Bedeutungskörper (meaning-body) method of philosophizing (Philosophical Grammar, edited by Rush Rhees and Anthony Kenny [Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978 (referenced in this Essay as Wittgenstein (1974) -- RL)], p.54). In this method, a thinker's intelligence is held captive by the prejudice that behind each sign there must be an invisible nonlinguistic entity called its 'meaning,' even though he can offer no criteria for its existence that are independent of the criteria he uses to ascertain the existence of the sign and what people do with it." [Wolcher (1999), p.297. Quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. The above link is to a PDF.]

 

On names in general, see Harrison (1979), and Hanna and Harrison (2004), pp.63-158 -- although, as noted earlier, the latter makes far too many concession to the Causal Theory of Names. Hence, it should be read in conjunction with Baker and Hacker (2005), pp.227-49, and Linsky (1977). On the "semantic halo" theory, see Glock (1996), pp.239-41, Hacker (2000), pp.83-85, and Shanker (1987), pp.293-99, 316-17.

 

Finally, some might conclude that the comments in the main body of this Essay depend on the so-called 'Cluster Theory' of proper names (the main competitor to the Causal Theory, mentioned above), but this isn't so. I do not propose to substantiate that particular riposte in this Essay, except perhaps to deny that I am offering any theory at all. Why that is so is explained in Essay Twelve Part One, and here.

 

22aa. Of course, in a restricted sense, general terms can be used to talk about groups, complexes or collections -- which is why we have collective nouns, for instance. But, it is a moot point whether general (or common) nouns are 'referring expressions'. I hope to say more about that later in this Essay, and in Part Two.

 

22a0. As noted in the introduction to this Essay, the use of the word "nominalisation" here is slightly misleading, so in many places I have used "particularisation" alongside it.

 

Traditionally, the 'problem' of predication emerged in Plato's work. In the Sophist (261d-264b), Plato considered the simplest form of proposition, comprising a name (onoma) and a verb (rhēma), such as: "Theaetetus runs". If this is put into the (traditional) subject-copula-predicate form -- perhaps "Theaetetus is running", but more likely "Theaetetus is a runner" --, we can see where the nominalisation of the verb ("runs") occurs. [Plato (1997b), pp.284-88. However, despite what Plato said there appear to be languages that manage to cope without a copula, or even an explicit verb, and sentences like "Peter happy" make sense -- Davidson (2005), p.76.] On this, see Note 22a, below.

 

[Unfortunately, too, in the Ancient Greek of Plato's day, there was no distinct word for "word"; "onoma" served doubly for "name" and "word", and "rhēma" for what we would call a verb. This makes it rather difficult to untangle what Plato actually meant by "names", or whether he committed some of the crass errors I have attributed to later theorists. On this see Fine (1977). Whether or not Fine manages to extract Plato from the syntactical blunders I have associated with the philosophical tradition that descended with modification from Aristotle I will leave others to decide. One thing is for sure, Plato certainly confused describing with naming. I will deal with that issue in Essay Twelve Part Five.]

 

In the Sophist, Plato outlines these ideas (for the first time, as far as we know) in a discussion between an Eleatic "Stranger" (who appears to be a follower of Parmenides) and a character called "Theaetetus":

 

"Stranger. Then, as I was saying, let us first of all obtain a conception of language and opinion, in order that we may have clearer grounds for determining, whether not-being has any concern with them, or whether they are both always true, and neither of them ever false.


"Theaetetus. True.


"Stranger. Then, now, let us speak of names, as before we were speaking of ideas and letters; for that is the direction in which the answer may be expected.


"Theaetetus. And what is the question at issue about names?


"Stranger. The question at issue is whether all names may be connected with one another, or none, or only some of them.


"Theaetetus. Clearly the last is true.


"Stranger. I understand you to say that words which have a meaning when in sequence may be connected, but that words which have no meaning when in sequence cannot be connected?


"Theaetetus. What are you saying?


"Stranger. What I thought that you intended when you gave your assent; for there are two sorts of intimation of being which are given by the voice.


"Theaetetus. What are they?


"Stranger. One of them is called nouns, and the other verbs.


"Theaetetus. Describe them.


"Stranger. That which denotes action we call a verb.


"Theaetetus. True.


"Stranger. And the other, which is an articulate mark set on those who do the actions, we call a noun.


"Theaetetus. Quite true.


"Stranger. A succession of nouns only is not a sentence any more than of verbs without nouns.

 
"Theaetetus. I do not understand you.


"Stranger. I see that when you gave your assent you had something else in your mind. But what I intended to say was, that a mere succession of nouns or of verbs is not discourse.


"Theaetetus. What do you mean?


"Stranger. I mean that words like 'walks', 'runs,' 'sleeps,' or any other words which denote action, however many of them you string together, do not make discourse.

 

"Theaetetus. How can they?


"Stranger. Or, again, when you say 'lion,' 'stag,' 'horse,' or any other words which denote agents -- neither in this way of stringing words together do you attain to discourse; for there is no expression of action or inaction, or of the existence of existence [the being of something that is -- RL] or non-existence indicated by the sounds, until verbs are mingled with nouns; then the words fit, and the smallest combination of them forms language, and is the simplest and least form of discourse.


"Theaetetus. Again I ask, What do you mean?


"Stranger. When any one says 'A man learns,' should you not call this the simplest and least of sentences?


"Theaetetus. Yes.


"Stranger. Yes, for he now arrives at the point of giving an intimation about something which is, or is becoming, or has become, or will be. And he not only names, but he does something, by connecting verbs with nouns; and therefore we say that he discourses, and to this connection of words we give the name of discourse.


"Theaetetus. True.


"Stranger. And as there are some things which fit one another, and other things which do not fit, so there are some vocal signs which do, and others which do not, combine and form discourse." [Plato (1997b), 261d-262d, pp.285-86; I have in fact used the online version from here and here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

However, Donald Davidson informs us that in Greek the copula was often incorporated into the noun/verb phrase and counted as a verb:

 

"In the Sophist Plato had limited the discussion to names of human agents and verbs of action, but Aristotle explicitly broadens the scope of both names and verbs. Subject expressions for Aristotle include both common nouns like 'animal' and names like 'Philo'. In the Categories Aristotle provides a list of predicate types (κατηγορίαι -- categories, RL). These comprise the category of substance (man, horse), of quantity (four cubits long), of quality (white, grammatical), of relation (double, half, larger), of location (in the Lyceum, in the agora), of time (yesterday, last year), of posture (lying down, sitting), of dress (shod, in armour), of action (cutting, burning), and of affection (being cut, being burned).

 

"It is not altogether clear whether the predicate (or verb) includes what we express in English by the copula 'is' and its variants. Aristotle says that 'health' is a name, but 'is healthy' is a verb. In Greek 'is healthy' is a single word (ύγιαίνει). This would be right, but he also says verbs are names...." [Davidson (2005), p.91. Italic emphases in the original, bold emphasis added.]

 

Hence, it seems Aristotle nominalised verbs, too.

 

Davidson goes on to point out:

 

"The need to introduce an entity to explain the function of verbs or predicates has been assumed or postulated or argued for by most philosophers who have been interested in the structure of sentences and the thoughts that sentences can be used to express....

 

"It is reasonable to ask why philosophers have not succeeded by now in solving this simple, though absolutely basic, problem." [Ibid., pp.93-94.]

 

This 'problem' is now 2500 years old, and we are no nearer the answer than Plato. Even so, the answer to Davidson's question is pretty clear: this 'problem' is the creation of a crass syntactical error, turning it into a pseudo-problem. Since Hegel was one of the philosophers interested in "the structure of sentences", he is simply a more recent example of this time-worn confusion. The untoward result of this syntactic mess is explained clearly by Professor E J Lowe:

 

"What is the problem of predication? In a nutshell, it is this. Consider any simple subject-predicate sentence, such as..., 'Theaetetus sits'. How are we to understand the different roles of the subject and the predicate in this sentence, 'Theaetetus' and 'sits' respectively? The role of 'Theaetetus' seems straightforward enough: it serves to name, and thereby to refer to or stand for, a certain particular human being. But what about 'sits'? Many philosophers have been tempted to say that this also refers to or stands for something, namely, a property or universal that Theaetetus possesses or exemplifies: the property of sitting. This is said to be a universal, rather than a particular, because it can be possessed by many different individuals.

 

"But now we have a problem, for this view of the matter seems to turn the sentence 'Theaetetus sits' into a mere list of (two) names, each naming something different, one a particular and one a universal: 'Theaetetus, sits.' But a list of names is not a sentence because it is not the sort of thing that can be said to be true or false, in the way that 'Theaetetus sits' clearly can. The temptation now is to say that reference to something else must be involved in addition to Theaetetus and the property of sitting, namely, the relation of possessing that Theaetetus has to that property. But it should be evident that this way of proceeding will simply generate the same problem, for now we have just turned the original sentence into a list of three names, 'Theaetetus, possessing, sits.'

 

"Indeed, we are now setting out on a vicious infinite regress, which is commonly known as 'Bradley's regress', in recognition of its modern discoverer, the British idealist philosopher F. H. Bradley. Bradley used the regress to argue in favour of absolute idealism...." [Lowe (2006). Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

As Davidson pointed out, attempts to solve this artificial problem have, in different ways, motivated all traditional theories of predication since Plato's day, and thus much of logic (ancient  and modern) -- but, particularly the bowdlerised logic taught in universities in Hegel's day, and which he subsequently employed.

 

Having said that, Paul Redding points out (in Redding (2007), pp.85-114) that Kant had been at pains to criticise the Term Logic philosophers had inherited from medieval logicians, and that he distinguished singulars from particulars. A singular is supposedly something given in perception (which Kant confusingly calls an "intuition") before it has been subsumed under a universal (or before it has been conceptualised -- an obscure process that later came to be called the "myth of the given" by Wilfrid Sellars). A singular is thus apparently a bare "this". A particular, on the other hand, is always a "this such" (i.e., an individual of a certain sort), which has been subsumed under a universal and which has therefore been conceptualised. Hegel accepted this distinction but criticised Kant's mishandling of it. For Hegel, apparently, what is given in perception has already been conceptualised (so there are no 'bare particulars' (individuals), to use a more modern phrase), rendering Kant's distinction between immediate intuition and subsequent conceptualisation entirely misguided.

 

However, as argued in this Essay, Hegel's crass analysis of general terms, turning them into the names of Abstract Particulars in a thoroughly traditional manner, undercuts his entire argument, since it destroys the generality he sought in concepts.

 

[Incidentally, this completely undermines Redding's futile attempt to recruit Wittgenstein to Hegel's cause.]

 

Be this as it may, it can be shown (but I will not do so here), that modern attempts to 'solve' this 'problem' (for example, those found in Davidson (2005) and Gaskin (2008)) fall into the same trap. [More on this In Essay Twelve.]

 

[The historical background to all this can be found in Tugendhat (1982).]

 

This is one "ruling idea" that evidently still rules!

 

Of course, the point is that there is no 'problem' of predication. The generality that a sophisticated theorist like Davidson seeks cannot be found in the symbols we use, for they know nothing of the world, nor of how we think. As has been pointed out several times in this Essay and at this site: it is we who supply generality here by the open-ended way we use and receive such words. We bring life to language, not the other way round. To suppose otherwise is to fetishise the products of the interaction between human beings as if they were in charge.

 

As we will see, this is just a carry-over from the ancient idea that the world is 'rational', or is the expression of the word of some 'god', and that language can capture, because it, not matter, constitutes the real essence of the world, and thus that 'rationality' properly belongs to nature, and/or its 'Maker'. The world has a 'logic' and it is the aim of Philosophy (or even science) to uncover it.

 

The original class-motivation for the invention and acceptance of these ancient doctrines will be explored in Essay Twelve (summary here), as will the motivation that still sustains it.

 

22a. On this see Lovejoy (1964); the long sorry tale is spun out in Copleston (2003), especially Volumes One to Seven. For the early modern period, see Bono (1995).

 

See also Gregorios (2002), Guthrie (1986a, 1986b), Wallis (1972).

 

On Plato's discussion of this topic in the Sophist, see Cornforth (1935), pp.165-331, Ackrill (1997b), Brown (2003), and Davidson (2005). [Cf., Note 22a0, above.] Perhaps the best single paper on this is Owen (1966). See also the detailed study in Pelletier (1990), and Kahn (2003).

 

On Leibniz, see Mercer (2001), especially pp.173-78, but this theme runs thread-like, right through Mercer's entire book.

 

On Newton and the "Cambridge Platonists" (specifically More and Cudworth), see Koyré (1957, 1968); see also Dobbs (2002), pp.94-95, et seq.

 

22a1. On this, see for example Havelock (1983). These assertions will be fully substantiated in Essay Twelve (summary here).

 

22b. No attempt will be made here to justify this latest batch of rather bold claims (but see Note 22a); however, a detailed analysis of these and other points, and how they apply to DM, will be undertaken in the remainder of this Essay. Their ramifications will be explored throughout the rest of this site.

 

Finally, the effect on science of this traditional approach to knowledge will be explored in in Part Two of this Essay and in Essay Thirteen Part Two (when it is published).

 

22c. This is most famously attributed to the great medieval logician, Jean Buridan (1300-1358), but the basics of the theory had in been laid down centuries earlier. [There is a useful article on this available as a downloadable file here.]

 

This theory is criticised in Geach (1970), pp.22-46, and Geach (1972b), on which many of my own ideas have been based. As he notes:

 

"Aristotle's fall into the two-term theory was only the beginning of a long degeneration. Aristotle never rejected the distinction between an expression's naming an object and an expression's being truly predicated of an object, though of course his theory committed him to saying that one and the same expression could stand now in one relation, now in the other. But it is a natural further step to identify naming with being predicable of and to declare explicitly that the two terms of a categorical [proposition -- RL] are two names. So we pass from the two-term theory to the two-name theory. This two-name theory is best known in England from John Stuart Mill's Logic; Mill explicitly calls terms 'names', and speaks of many-worded names when he means syntactically complex terms. And Mill's term 'denoting' simply embodies the fundamental confusion of the two-name theory between the relations of being a name of and being predicable of.

 

"Mill was not a very subtle or hard-working formal logician; his main interests lay elsewhere. The two-name theory has had a long history and much stronger representatives than Mill. It was the predominant theory of the Middle Ages, and was expounded by such great men as William of Ockham and Jean Buridan; though there was a minority party of logicians who insisted that naming and predicating were radically distinct, and this minority had the support of Aquinas.... The two-name theory is like the theory that planetary motion has to be reduced to uniform circular motion. Mill's version of the theory is like a crude astronomy in which each planet moves in a simple circular orbit around the Sun; its breakdown is manifest. By increasing the number of logical devices we get something like Copernicus' astronomy, which by assuming considerable complexity of circles would fit the facts with few notable discrepancies. But just as Kepler could sweep away this complexity at the price of introducing a more sophisticated geometrical construction -- an ellipse instead of a circle -- so we get a simpler and more powerful logical theory if we distinguish names and predicables from the outset.

 

"Let us briefly consider some of the special troubles of the two-name theory. If what is predicated has to be a name, we get one or other of two awkward consequences. We may find ourselves recognizing as names what by any decent standard are not names, like 'on the mat', 'going to the fair'. Or we may insist that a predicate-term be properly dressed as a noun-like phrase, that it be 'put into logical form', before we will recognize it as a term, or as a predicate at all. 'Brutus stabbed Caesar' clearly says, predicates, something about Brutus and also something about Caesar. A man who has good logical perceptions will see this directly from the meaning of the sentence. But a two-namer cannot officially recognize that a predication is there at all until he has before his eyes the appropriate pair of names, say, 'Brutus' and 'stabber of Caesar' or 'Caesar' and 'one stabbed by Brutus', Of course, he then owes us an explanation of how such many-worded names as 'stabber of Caesar' and 'one stabbed by Brutus' may be formed from 'Brutus stabbed Caesar'....

 

"If a proposition consists of two names, it must also contain a linking element to hold them together; remember Plato's point that a mere string of names does not make up an intelligible bit of discourse. Two-name logicians in fact assign such a linking role to the grammatical copula, in English the verb 'is' or 'are'. This was a further departure from Aristotle, who held that a proposition may consist simply of two terms. (The verb 'applies to' in the schema 'A applies to B' was meant only to give a sentence a lecturer can pronounce, not to supply a link between 'A' and 'B'.) And so there arose many perplexities as to the import of the copula.

 

"For the two-name theory, the copula has to be a copula of identity. For, in its pure form, the two-name theory says that an affirmative proposition is true because the subject and predicate terms name one and the same thing: 'Socrates is a philosopher' is true because one of the individuals named by the common name 'philosopher' is also named by the proper name 'Socrates'. But it is easy to slide away from this position. On the two-name theory, the common name 'philosopher' is here used as [the] name of every philosopher. But if we express this carelessly in the form

 

The term 'philosopher' denotes all philosophers

 

then it is easy to slide over to the view that what 'philosopher' denotes ...is not any and every philosopher, but rather the class of all philosophers.

 

"By this slide the rake's progress of logic that I have described has reached its last and most degraded phase: the two-class theory of categoricals. The subject and predicate are now said to denote two classes. (The terms are also said to be two classes; for the writers who hold the two-class theory are mostly very neglectful indeed of the distinction between sign and thing signified.)...." [Geach (1972b), pp.51-53. Italic emphases in the original; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. There then follow several rather technical objections to this theory; anyone interested can now read these on-line, here. (This links to a page with a downloadable PDF.)]

 

Incidentally, Geach also uses the word "predicable"; briefly, this is a putative predicate before it is used to predicate anything. It becomes a predicate when it is so predicated.

 

It goes without saying that this over-simplifies this complex question, but this Essay doesn't pretend to be a PhD thesis! A fuller account can be found in Geach (1968).

 

A supporter of this site -- who attended Professor Geach's lectures in the academic year 1977-78 (entitled The Theory of Meaning) -- will be publishing (also at this site in the near future) the comprehensive notes he/she took at the time, which will explain these distinctions more fully -- that is, if permission can be obtained from Professor Geach's literary executors.

 

22d. Of course, in Buridan's logic the usual sorts of abstractions make no appearance (but his theory was far more sophisticated than that might suggest; on this see the link in Note 22c above, and Note 25 below). However, they certainly do feature in Hegel's work, only there they have now become engulfed in an impenetrable fog generated by Hegelian jargon.

 

23. It might be thought that this should be:

 

E11b: Blair is identical with Manhood.

 

This alternative will be considered shortly.

 

As we will soon see, the attributing term here in fact turns out to be 'Identity', itself a nominalisation of the identity relation.

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution] Manhood.

 

24. Again, it could be argued that in a sentence like:

 

E12: Cicero is Tully

 

one particular is being asserted of another. This claim will be dealt with in Note 24a0, and presently in the main body of this Essay.

 

24a0. It might be argued that it is possible to predicate one individual of another -- or, rather, it might be thought that names can be predicated of named individuals --, as in:

 

P1: James is really called Peter.

 

P2: K2 is really called Mount Godwin-Austen.

 

But here, we plainly have two predicates "ξ is really called Peter" and "ζ is really called Mount Godwin-Austen" predicated of other named individuals, not two names predicated of either.

 

Of course, we can say things like this:

 

P3: K2 is Mount Godwin Austen.

 

But this an identity statement. If we want to analyse it as a subject/predicate sentence, then the predicate is "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen", which does not even look like a name.

 

To be sure, modern logicians might want analyse the logical form of P3 as follows:

 

P4: "ξ is ζ",

 

that is, as a two-place **first level predicate, but the word "predicate" is not used in the same way in modern logic as it is in traditional (Aristotelian) logic. This can be seen from the fact that these would be regarded as first level (one-place) predicates in modern logic:

 

P5: "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen."

 

P6: "K2 is ζ".

 

P4: "ξ is ζ".

 

P7: "ξ is ξ".

 

This sort of analysis is not available in traditional logic.

 

Moreover, the "is" in P3 would be treated as an "is" of identity, in the traditional 'logic' under discussion here.

 

Admittedly, we can refashion logic as we see fit, and agree, for example, that in P3, "Mount Godwin Austen" is being predicated of K2, and thus that names can be predicated of named individuals. But if we do that, we will need to distinguish among those predicates that are names and those that are not, for if we don't, then the generality of what we now call predicates would be lost, and propositions would become lists once more. Moreover, the distinction between naming and describing would vanish, too. [There are, of course, other reasons for rejecting this non-standard analysis; they are rehearsed in the main body of this Essay.]

 

**A first level predicate in modern logic is one that can be used to form a proposition with the use of a singular expression (e.g., a name or definite description); so with P5 and "K2" we can form P3. ["One/two-place" simply refers to the number of singular terms the predicate expression will take to form a proposition. Clearly it is one term in P5, but two in P4. More details here.]

 

P5: "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen."

 

P3: K2 is Mount Godwin Austen.

 

P4: "ξ is ζ".

 

24aa. Of course, in the original syllogisms, Aristotle was dealing with propositions that contained what are now called quantifier expressions (e.g., "all", "every", "nothing", "some") --, which were themselves later interpreted as names(!), too --, but his syllogisms did not feature the names of individuals like Blair, or Plato. This however, does not affect the point being made in this part of the Essay, since it soon became commonplace to ignore Aristotle's strictures on the nature of the syllogism, and employ particular (non-quantified) propositions. Indeed, many today quote the following (hackneyed argument) as a paradigm example of an Aristotelian syllogism (when Aristotle himself would have repudiated it):

 

A1: All men are mortal.

 

A2: Socrates is a man.

 

A3: Ergo, Socrates is mortal.

 

[More on this in Essay Four.]

 

However, since the expressions in Aristotle's syllogisms were interchangeable, with subject and predicate terms swapping places, the temptation became irresistible to regard them both as names of some sort.

 

24a. Incidentally, this view also created serious problems understanding the nature of falsehood. If, for example, it is false to say:

 

B1: "Blair is a socialist",

 

then the identity this sentence is alleged to report between "Blair" and "socialist" is rather hard to explain.

 

And it will not do to claim that the above sentence is false because the following is true:

 

B2: "Blair is not identical with a socialist",

 

since the bold and underlined "is" in B2 cannot partake of the same analysis (i.e., that it too must be an "is" of identity) -- or it would risk becoming incomprehensible, as in:

 

B3: "Blair is identical with not identical with a socialist",

 

if the emphasised "is" is in B2 is replaced with what it is supposed to mean, i.e., "is identical with" in B3.

 

[This topic is explored further in Part Four of this Essay, where we will see that this is the source of the problem all forms of idealism (and dialectics) have had with falsehood.]

 

This is quite apart from the fact that both B1 and B2 could both be true together. B1 would be true if say Blair became a socialist, and B2 is true since it is always the case that Blair is not identical with, say, Lenin. The problem is that (given the view being criticised here) the phrase "a socialist" is non-specific, so it could relate to different individuals. Hence, "a socialist" could refer (if it refers!) to any number of people.

 

It could be objected that B2 should be read as follows:

B4: Blair is identical with someone who is not a socialist.

But, this faces the same problems, since if the two occurrences of "is" in B4 are of identity, and stand for "is identical with", we can surely form the following:

 

B5: Blair is identical with identical with someone who is identical with not a socialist.

 

And then:

 

B5: Blair is identical with identical with identical with someone who is identical with identical with not a socialist.

 

Or even:

 

B6: Blair is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is not a socialist.

 

And then:

 

B7: Blair is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is identical with someone who is not a socialist.

 

As each "is" in B4 is replaced with what now seems to be the rule (that is, "is" really is the same as "is identical with someone who is" and not just "is identical with") to give B6, and the same again with each "is" in B6, to yield B7.

 

And so on.

 

As before, only those who do not hold that the "is" or predication is always one of identity can object at this point. Of course, those who hold that the "is" of predication is only sometimes the "is" of identity need to supply criteria that distinguish the one from the other. But even then, such criteria would have to be of the form:

 

B8: The criterion is as follows....

 

From which we can now obtain the following:

 

B9: The criterion is identical with as follows....

 

Or even:

 

B9: The criterion is identical with someone who is as follows....

 

And so on.

 

We hit yet another non-dialectical brick wall.

 

No wonder then that Marx enjoined us to give up philosophy and philosophical language!

 

25. The corruptions introduced into AFL by 'Term Logic' are outlined in Geach (1972b). On the Identity Theory of Predication, see here, and here. On Buridan's influence, see here.

 

[AFL = Aristotelian Formal Logic.]

 

26. It can hardly be:

 

E11b: Blair is man.

 

Unless, of course, "man" is interpreted as a shorthand for all men, or for 'manhood' itself. [Anyway, this is in fact how dialecticians actually interpret such sentences, as we shall see.]

 

27. Lest it be objected that:

 

E16: Cicero Identity Relation Tully,

 

means the same as:

 

E12: Cicero is Tully,

 

it is worth recalling that this would be the case only if E12 were to be read as:

 

E16a: There is an identity relation between Cicero and Tully.

 

But, E16a now works only because of the articulation provided by words that do not function as names, as was argued earlier in the main body of this Essay. [On this, see Long (1984).]

 

28. Of course, this point partially relies on a fundamentally important Fregean distinction drawn between singular terms and predicate expressions (or linguistic functions), which I will not attempt to defend here. [Cf., Beaney (1996), Dummett (1981a, 1981b), Geach (1961, 1972a), Kenny (1995), Noonan (2001) and Weiner (1990, 2004). Although I have referenced Oliver (2010) above, this author makes several serious errors over his interpretation of Peter Geach's work in this area. I do not propose to defend that particular allegation here.]

 

Nevertheless, even if this 'new logic' is wrong in some way, the fundamental distinction we make in language between naming and describing (never mind what logicians tell us) more importantly informs this point. On that, see here.

 

29. From what little of the record we possess, this degeneration can actually be seen happening in Ancient Greece. On that, see Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here and here). See also Note 22a1. [On this in general, see Barnes (2009), Havelock (1983), Kahn (1994, 2003), Lloyd (1971), and Seligman (1962).]

 

30. We will come across this escape clause (i.e., "their existence cannot be confirmed by any known method, so their actuality can only be verified by 'indirect means'") several more times at this site, and in detail in Essay Three Part Four. DM-theorists use this 'get out of jail free card' to try to distinguish themselves from "crude materialists" -- i.e., those who are actually consistent materialists, but who also like to think that science should be based on evidence not on linguistic chicanery, boss-class thought-forms and a priori dogma.

 

In addition, it is worth emphasising that the import of (3) in the main body of this Essay does not find echo in this long quotation from The Holy Family:

 

"The mystery of critical presentation…is the mystery of speculative, of Hegelian construction….

 

"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then -- in the language of speculative philosophy -- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -- 'Fruit'…. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance' -- 'Fruit'….

 

"Having reduced the different real fruits to the one 'fruit' of abstraction -- 'the Fruit', speculation must, in order to attain some semblance of real content, try somehow to find its way back from 'the Fruit', from the Substance to the diverse, ordinary real fruits, the pear, the apple, the almond etc. It is as hard to produce real fruits from the abstract idea 'the Fruit' as it is easy to produce this abstract idea from real fruits. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction….

 

"The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of 'the Fruit', this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind…. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, 'the Fruit', to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of 'the Fruit' in all the manifestations of its life…that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each of them 'the Fruit' realizes itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of 'the Absolute Fruit'.

 

"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'….

 

"It goes without saying that the speculative philosopher accomplishes this continuous creation only by presenting universally known qualities of the apple, the pear, etc., which exist in reality, as determining features invented by him, by giving the names of the real things to what abstract reason alone can create, to abstract formulas of reason, finally, by declaring his own activity, by which he passes from the idea of an apple to the idea of a pear, to be the self-activity of the Absolute Subject, 'the Fruit'.

 

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975a), pp.72-75. Emphases in the original.]

 

I make no apologies for quoting this passage at length since it almost single-handedly demolishes the DM-theory of abstraction. It is a pity that in later life both Marx and Engels seem to have lost the philosophical clarity they reveal in this passage. In many respects this quotation anticipates much of Frege and Wittgenstein's approach to abstract ideas, even if phrased in a completely different philosophical idiom.

 

So, instead of Marx and Engels aping the methods of traditional thinkers, here we find them repeatedly using ordinary terms to ridicule the bizarre conclusions of speculative Philosophers. Indeed, they counterpose everyday language to the obscure terminology these theorists employ.

 

"The ordinary man does not think he is saying anything extraordinary when he states that there are apples and pears. But when the philosopher expresses their existence in the speculative way he says something extraordinary. He performs a miracle by producing the real natural objects, the apple, the pear, etc., out of the unreal creation of the mind 'the Fruit'." [Ibid.]

 

This, of course, echoes another, and even more apposite passage from the German Ideology:

 

"For philosophers, one of the most difficult tasks is to descend from the world of thought to the actual world. Language is the immediate actuality of thought. Just as philosophers have given thought an independent existence, so they had to make language into an independent realm. This is the secret of philosophical language, in which thoughts in the form of words have their own content. The problem of descending from the world of thoughts to the actual world is turned into the problem of descending from language to life.

 

"We have shown that thoughts and ideas acquire an independent existence in consequence of the personal circumstances and relations of individuals acquiring independent existence. We have shown that exclusive, systematic occupation with these thoughts on the part of ideologists and philosophers, and hence the systematisation of these thoughts, is a consequence of division of labour, and that, in particular, German philosophy is a consequence of German petty-bourgeois conditions. The philosophers would only have to dissolve their language into the ordinary language, from which it is abstracted, to recognise it as the distorted language of the actual world, and to realise that neither thoughts nor language in themselves form a realm of their own, that they are only manifestations of actual life." [Marx and Engels (1970), p.118. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

The example set by these two (when their minds were young and strong) I have tried to emulate here. In that case, any readers who find fault with my approach should rather re-direct their fire onto the young Marx and Engels for re-focussing our attention on ordinary language, and away from the distorted abstractions of Philosophers.

 

31. Attentive readers will no doubt have noticed that LIMPE readily collapses into LIE.

 

31a. This is an allusion to "Mitochondrial Eve", the supposed mother of us all. However, in this sense all that has existed or could exist can be spun from John's inner being by the application of just enough dialectical magic. John is indeed a cosmic egg.

 

And so are you! We all are. It is only 'commonsense' and a failure to "understand" dialectics that prevents you, dear reader, from seeing this. Free up your mind. The Doors of Perception are only a mangled verb away.

 

31b. Hegel in fact used the sentence: "The rose is red", among others:

 

"The Judgment is the notion in its particularity, as a connection which is also a distinguishing of its functions, which are put as independent and yet as identical with themselves not with one another.

 

"One's first impression about the Judgment is the independence of the two extremes, the subject and the predicate. The former we take to be a thing or term per se, and the predicate a general term outside the said subject and somewhere in our heads. The next point is for us to bring the latter into combination with the former, and in this way frame a Judgment. The copula 'is', however, enunciates the predicate of the subject, and so that external subjective subsumption is again put in abeyance, and the Judgment taken as a determination of the object itself. The etymological meaning of the Judgment (Urtheil) in German goes deeper, as it were declaring the unity of the notion to be primary, and its distinction to be the original partition. And that is what the Judgment really is.

 

"In its abstract terms a Judgment is expressible in the proposition: 'The individual is the universal.' These are the terms under which the subject and the predicate first confront each other, when the functions of the notion are taken in their immediate character or first abstraction. (Propositions such as, 'The particular is the universal', and 'The individual is the particular', belong to the further specialisation of the judgment.) It shows a strange want of observation in the logic-books, that in none of them is the fact stated, that in every judgment there is still a statement made, as, The individual is the universal, or still more definitely, The subject is the predicate (e.g. God is absolute spirit). No doubt there is also a distinction between terms like individual and universal, subject and predicate: but it is none the less the universal fact, that every judgment states them to be identical.

 

"The copula 'is' springs from the nature of the notion, to be self-identical even in parting with its own. The individual and universal are its constituents, and therefore characters which cannot be isolated. The earlier categories (of reflection) in their correlations also refer to one another: but their interconnection is only 'having' and not 'being', i.e. it is not the identity which is realised as identity or universality. In the judgment, therefore, for the first time there is seen the genuine particularity of the notion: for it is the speciality or distinguishing of the latter, without thereby losing universality....

 

"The Judgment is usually taken in a subjective sense as an operation and a form, occurring merely in self-conscious thought. This distinction, however, has no existence on purely logical principles, by which the judgment is taken in the quite universal signification that all things are a judgment. That is to say, they are individuals which are a universality or inner nature in themselves -- a universal which is individualised. Their universality and individuality are distinguished, but the one is at the same time identical with the other.

 

"The interpretation of the judgment, according to which it is assumed to be merely subjective, as if we ascribed a predicate to a subject is contradicted by the decidedly objective expression of the judgment. The rose is red; Gold is a metal. It is not by us that something is first ascribed to them. A judgment is however distinguished from a proposition. The latter contains a statement about the subject, which does not stand to it in any universal relationship, but expresses some single action, or some state, or the like. Thus, 'Caesar was born at Rome in such and such a year waged war in Gaul for ten years, crossed the Rubicon, etc.', are propositions, but not judgments. Again it is absurd to say that such statements as 'I slept well last night' or 'Present arms!' may be turned into the form of a judgment. 'A carriage is passing by' should be a judgment, and a subjective one at best, only if it were doubtful, whether the passing object was a carriage, or whether it and not rather the point of observation was in motion: in short, only if it were desired to specify a conception which was still short of appropriate specification....

 

"The abstract terms of the judgement, 'The individual is the universal', present the subject (as negatively self-relating) as what is immediately concrete, while the predicate is what is abstract, indeterminate, in short the universal. But the two elements are connected together by an 'is': and thus the predicate (in its universality) must also contain the speciality of the subject, must, in short, have particularity: and so is realised the identity between subject and predicate; which being thus unaffected by this difference in form, is the content." [Hegel (1975), pp.230-34, §§166-169. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphases added.]

 

This passage will be analysed in more detail in Essay Twelve. See also below.

 

I have added a longer passage from Hegel (1999) that goes into this in more detail to the Appendix.

 

32. One or more of these ideas can be found in scholastic texts, as well as in Leibniz, Kant and Hegel's work. Alas, they are still to be found today in the work of modern logicians and philosophers.

 

32a. On this, see here.

 

33. This is because John is not Julius Caesar, not Ghandi, not George W Bush, not the youth at the supermarket checkout, not a vegetable, not a planet, not….

 

Spinoza's greedy principle (henceforth, SGP: "every determination is also a negation" -- this links to a PDF) is now brought into play, and supposedly distinguishes John from everything else in the universe, while connecting him with the rest of humanity. So, the argument seems to be that whatever identifies/differentiates them indirectly identifies/differentiates John, and vice versa. Though fictional, John thus comes to symbolise all that is true of human beings, and indeed, ultimately, all that is true of every atom in the universe.

 

But, the SGP (which was in fact a throw-away line in one of Spinoza's letters!) is "greedy" since its appetite is seemingly boundless and difficult to contain. This is because John is also "not Santa Claus", just as he is "not the first man to eat Madagascar" and "not the saliva on Jabba the Hutt's chin". The SGP now allows us to link John with anything that can be named or described, no matter how strange this might seem, just so long as the negative particle can be glued onto it.

 

[Attempts made by dialecticians to answer this objection will be considered in Essay Three Part Four, and in Essay Eleven Parts One and Two.]

 

Clearly, this has disastrous consequences for the DM-Totality, for on the basis of shaky logic like this (i.e., that every 'determination is also a negation'), the DM-Totality must contain some rather bizarre 'beings' -- in fact, it must contain every weird item imaginable, all of which define John!

 

It could be replied that these determinations do not imply existence, so the SGP does not lead to postulating the existence of the weird and wonderful things mentioned above. However, as we will see in Essays Eight Part Three and Eleven Parts One and Two, the SGP is not so easily tamed.

 

If so, this shows the SGP is a completely useless principle, and inimical to genuine materialism.

 

This is quite apart from the fact that the SGP confuses what we might be trying to say in language with the means by which we say it -- the message with the medium. That, of course, is about as sensible as confusing the food you ate with the frying pan you used to cook it! [More on this, too, in Essay Twelve.]

 

34. Incidentally, herein lie the seeds of the DM-idea that all knowledge is only ever partial, since the individual (John) is here only partially linked (at least in 'subjective dialectics') with the universal, whereas the universal is plainly 'infinite', presumably because it has no 'empirical limitations'.

 

The idea that there are no real or complete falsehoods (just truths that are more-or-less partial) arises from defective logic like this, too, for if propositions are comprised only of names conjoined by the identity sign, then those names cannot fail to name objects, or they would not be names. In that case, they cannot be false of those objects -- to use the jargon for the moment. More details on this will be given in Part Four of this Essay. See also Note 24aa, above. [However, on this see Davidson (2005), pp.76-140.]

 

34a. In fact, this line of argument 'allowed' Hegel to mount what seemed to him to be an effective reply to Hume's criticisms of rationalist theories of causation. More on that in Essay Twelve. [It is also what sinks this theory; on that, see here. Another nice 'unity of opposites', one feels.]

 

35. In Essay Twelve it will be argued that this manoeuvre underpins both the RRT and LIE. It will also be shown (in Essay Nine Part Two) why DM-theorists are especially prone to making this sort of mistake. [Summaries here, here, and here.]

 

[RRT = Reverse Reflection Theory of Knowledge; to be explained in Essay Twelve Part Four (when it is published); LIE = Linguistic Idealism, also explained in Essay Twelve Part Four, and here.]

 

36. This is considered in more detail in Essays Two, Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here).

 

36a. Why this is so will be established in detail in Essay Twelve (summary here). The sordid history of these ideas will be exposed extensively in Essay Fourteen (summary here).

 

37. As Lenin admitted, without even a hint of shame:

 

"The history of philosophy and the history of social science show with perfect clarity that there is nothing resembling 'sectarianism' in Marxism, in the sense of its being a hidebound, petrified doctrine, a doctrine which arose away from the high road of the development of world civilisation. On the contrary, the genius of Marx consists precisely in his having furnished answers to questions already raised by the foremost minds of mankind. His doctrine emerged as the direct and immediate continuation of the teachings of the greatest representatives of philosophy, political economy and socialism.

 

"The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true. It is comprehensive and harmonious, and provides men with an integral world outlook irreconcilable with any form of superstition, reaction, or defence of bourgeois oppression. It is the legitimate successor to the best that man produced in the nineteenth century, as represented by German philosophy, English political economy and French socialism." [Lenin, Three Sources and Component Parts of Marxism. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Once more, exactly why the DM-classicists were only too eager to do this will be revealed in Essay Nine Part Two.

 

In addition, it will be argued in detail later (and, as was pointed out in Note 33, above), the attempt to read fundamental features of reality from language would populate the world with a host of weird and wonderful beings, including the Tooth Fairy and Big Foot. On this basis, too, it would be possible to infer the existence of anything that is expressed by a false proposition! [On this, see Essay Eleven Part One, and Part Four of this Essay.]

 

37a. But, of course, these intrepid ancestral abstractors would have to have been unaware of what they were putting into the grammar of Proto-Indo-European, unless, of course, we are to suppose that ancient tribesmen and women were 'unconscious' dialecticians, who discovered all this stuff long before Hegel succeeded in mangling the German language, but which doctrines these ancient people then managed to encode into a rather minor grammatical form of that language family unhelpfully disguised as predicate expressions -- when what they 'really meant' were identity statements!

 

The fact that this is a minor grammatical feature of Indo-European grammar is easily confirmed by anyone who makes a note of how many times a day, or a week, they hear, utter, read or use the "S is P" form. [How many times in the last month have you, dear reader, said anything like "The rose is red" or "John is a man"?] Of course, school grammar teaches pupils to locate the "subject" and the "predicate" of each sentence, but this is not the same as the "S is P" form. [Recall that for Hegel's trick to work, there has to be an "is" of predication in there somewhere.]

 

To be sure, there are a variety of copulas in Indo-European (which employ verbs other than "to be" -- like "to have", "to want", "to find", some of which are more recent), but it is even more difficult to turn these into the "is" of identity, which is what Hegel requires. [On this, see here and here.] Otherwise he will have little to say about the vast bulk of the sentences we use, even in Philosophy!

 

In that case, as noted several times already, the "S is P" form is a relatively minor part of a sub-category of Indo-European grammar, which would be an odd place for the intrepid abstractors of yesteryear to bury such a profound discovery, to say the least.

 

On the limitations of the "S is P" form, see Geach (1968), and Note 38.

 

It could be objected that this does not matter since philosophers like Hegel are only interested in the "S is P" form. Maybe so, but even then, they found they had to doctor the copulative verb to make their theory work, and they did this in a way that destroys the capacity of language to say anything at all.

 

If DM-fans are happy with that, they can keep it.

 

38. When would such a sentence about John ever be used?

 

By way of contrast, it might be instructive to see if there are any dialecticians on this planet who can milk some dialectics out of any of the following ordinary indicative sentences:

 

M1: John runs the local strike committee.

 

M2: There is something useful to read in John's strike bulletin.

 

M3: Anything the bosses threaten us with, John can outmanoeuvre.

 

M4: Any friend of John's is no friend of management.

 

M5: John is the strike committee now -- since everyone else has been arrested.

 

M6: John gave the leaflets to Rebecca, who handed them to Janet, who posted them to Paul, who left them Miriam on his way to work.

 

M7: Every strike leader like John makes mistakes.

 

M8: John is a real man; that's why comrades respect him.

 

M9: John is in fact now a woman; he had the operation last week, but that should not affect his/her role in the Union.

 

M10: The comrade who paid John is staying with his sister.

 

M11: Anyone who admires John despises all those who agree that the strike committee should recommend acceptance of management's offer to most of those who are still on strike for receiving nothing in this year's pay award.

 

Many of these are not of the simple subject/predicate form beloved of fans of Dialectical/Stone Age Logic. In fact, I defy anyone enamoured of AFL or DL to try to express M10 or M11 in the Stone Age Logic of their choice.

 

To be sure, M11 is a rather extreme example, but even part of it is way beyond the sub-Aristotelian 'logic' Hegel used -- and, indeed, way beyond AFL, too. [How such sentences can be translated into MFL can be found in, for example, Mates (1972).]

 

Although the words "John is staying with his sister" appear in M10, there is no proposition "John is staying with his sister" in M10. Indeed, the phrase "...is staying with his sister" is not true or false of John, but of the individual who paid John. Again, this simple sentence is way beyond traditional logic, let alone the sub-traditional 'logic' Hegel used.

 

[DL = Dialectical Logic; AFL = Aristotelian Formal Logic; MFL = Modern Formal Logic.]

 

But Lenin must have uttered sentences like these many times throughout his life (albeit, not necessarily about John, nor, perhaps, as complex as M11). Why then did he ignore such examples?

 

The answer is clear: he uncritically accepted the word of a card-carrying mystic.

 

Material language like this is not DM-friendly (as Marx indicated).

 

38a. Of course, it could be argued, a là Feuerbach, that theological propositions are in fact a reflection of something -- namely an alienated view that humanity has of itself. In that case, the subject/predicate form contains this ideological 'view' (or, it is expressible by means of it).

 

Maybe so, but no one would argue that just because of that, such sentences are true, or even partially true. Indeed, there would be no point in dialecticians arguing that there is no evidence for believing in the existence of 'God' if all that a 'dialectical theist' had to do was point to the subject/predicate form as proof that 'He' must exist, "since our sentences have had this truth programmed into them by intrepid abstractors in former generations".

 

39. Hegel Screws Up -- 1

 

If the "is" of predication were one of identity, we would be able to argue as follows:

 

 N1: Lenin is a man.

 I.e., Lenin = Man.

 N2: Trotsky is a man.

 I.e., Trotsky = Man.

 N3: Therefore, Lenin is Trotsky.

 I.e., Lenin = Trotsky. 

 

Of course, since Lenin is not Trotsky, this 'contradiction' must mean that either Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov will turn into Lev Davidovich Bronstein beyond the grave, or he will be in eternal struggle with him in Dialectical Heaven. As Plekhanov (and several other DM-worthies) assured us:

 

"And so every phenomenon, by the action of those same forces which condition its existence, sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite…." [Plekhanov (1956), p.77. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

So, since Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov is not Lev Davidovich Bronstein, he must one day turn into him. Is this, therefore, not a sound dialectical proof that there is an after-life?

 

Who can possibly object? It is coded into the logic of our language!

 

Of course, should anyone take exception to this crazy example of sub-Aristotelian 'logic' -- as they should(!!) --, the dotty nature of at least this part of DL should then become clear.

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation; DL = Dialectical Logic.]

 

Nevertheless, someone could argue that the NON really pictures individuals as follows:

 

L1: Lenin is not not-identical with mankind.

 

So, the above 'derivation' (i.e., N1-N3) does not work. Or, so it could be claimed.

 

But, L1 is in fact:

 

L2: Lenin = not not-identical with mankind.

 

[Where this new "is" of predication has been replaced by its 'dialectical alter ego', the "is" of identity, again. Of course, this annoying re-write can only be neutralised by a far more sensible analysis of propositions than is available to Stone Age Logicians. Moreover, my use of sentences like L2 doesn't commit me to the thesis that "Lenin" could sensibly be equated with "not not-identical with mankind", nor the doctrine that a predicable like "...not not-identical with mankind" can operate as a singular/referring term, and thus legitimately flank one side of an "=" sign. I am merely exposing the absurdities of the 'logic' Hegel conned some of his readers into accepting.]

 

Now throw in the following:

 

L3: Trotsky = not not-identical with mankind.

 

And once more we have:

 

L4: Lenin = Trotsky.

 

For those still in thrall to such pre-historic logic, the few avenues available to try to extricate themselves from this dialectical hole are considered below, near the end of Note 40 -- and in Essay Eight Part Three -- and then blocked.

 

Again, in the above 'argument', if anyone objects to the use of the present tense (in, say, N1: "Lenin is a man"), on the grounds that Lenin is now dead, then they would not be able to correct the following false belief:

 

L5: Lenin is a brand of Vodka,

 

with a

 

L6: No, Lenin is a man, sadly now dead.

 

In fact, even on that basis, it could be argued that since Lenin is dead, he is an ex-man -- as indeed is Trotsky, too --; the argument would thus proceed as before.

 

Diabolical Logic like this is not so easily tamed.

 

Consider then this version of the above 'argument':

 

 N1: Lenin is dead.

 I.e., Lenin = Dead.

 N2: Trotsky is dead.

 I.e., Trotsky = Dead.

 N3: Therefore, Lenin is Trotsky.

 I.e., Lenin = Trotsky. 

 

Anyway, for those still not convinced, replace N1 and N2 with the following, the result will be no different:

 

N4: Tony Blair is a man.

 

N5: Bruce Willis is a man.

 

N6: Therefore, Tony Blair is Bruce Willis.

 

There are many more 'dialectical proofs' like this; readers are invited to wile away the hours concocting a few more hair-brained examples of their own.

 

39a. It could be objected that these terms are not being substituted salva congruitate (i.e., replaced in a way that preserves their grammatical or syntactical role); however, the right of DM-fans to lodge that particular complaint was forfeited the moment predicate expressions were deliberately confused with the names of abstract particulars, and the "is" of predication was transmogrified into an "is" of identity.

 

But, the serious answer is, of course: that is what this useless theory of yours implies!

 

Get over it.

 

39b. And it is to no avail to re-write H1 using an "=" sign in an endeavour to forestall this recursive use of "is identical with" in place of the original "is":

 

H1: John is a man.

 

H1a: John = man.

 

H1b: John equals man.

 

This is because the "=" sign in fact reads "is identical with" (even for Hegelians and/or dialecticians), which plainly contains yet another recursive "is".

 

Reading the "=" sign as "equals" (in H1b) is far too weak, as we will discover in Essay Six. But, even if we could do it, this ploy will not work, since in that case the "=" sign will read "is equal to" which will attract its own infinitary recursion. [That thankless task is left to the reader.]

 

Moreover, similar intractable problems will also arise with Lenin's statement:

 

H6: The individual is opposed to the universal.

 

And, by no stretch of the imagination can this be replaced with, or read as:

 

H6a: The individual = opposed to the universal.

 

One benighted comrade has tried to respond to the above with the following argument:

 

On the contradiction implied in "John is a man", we might ask is John the only man? If so, then the correct expression is "John is the man".

 

So, if John is a man, then there are other men. Joe is a man. Jack is a man. Andrew is a man.

 

If John is identical with "a man", and Joe is identical with "a man", and Jack is identical with "a man", then through some kind of transitivity of identities we reach the contradiction that

 

John is Joe. John is Jack.

 

Rosa L will say what is the contradiction in "John is Jack" ?

 

It is that John is not Jack, as stipulated above when we said there are other men besides John. Jack is another man from John is identical with the expression John is not Jack. [This sentence dose not seem to make sense. I suspect there are some missing commas here -- RL.]

 

So directly the contradiction is that we have both John is Jack and John is not Jack at the same time.

 

Now, the main points of my argument were these:

 

1) Traditional theorists treat all words as names or singular designating expressions (i.e., they are all supposed to 'refer' to this or that, and if we can't find a this or a that in this world for them to refer to, 'abstractions' -- or, these days, something from meta-theory -- are invented for them to designate). This is indeed part of Plato's Beard, as Quine called it.

 

2) Unfortunately, this destroys the unity of the proposition, because it turns propositions into lists, and lists say nothing. So, the 'propositions' that dialecticians finally end up with destroy any capacity they have for expressing generality, since this transforms predicate expression into the names of abstract particulars.  [Examples below; a longer explanation can be found above.]

 

3) Dialecticians do this when they turn the "is" of predication into the "is" of identity.

 

4) This is the only way they can 'derive' a 'contradiction'.

 

5) They resist the conventions of ordinary language, since our use of the vernacular prevents this trick from being carried out.

 

The above comrade manages to commit them all. Readers will note that he does not even attempt to justify a key component in this argument (highlighted in bold), namely, that the "is" here is one of identity. Without this, his entire case falls apart.

 

Now, he asserts this:

 

Rosa L will say what is the contradiction in "John is Jack" ?

 

No I won't in fact; I'll merely point out that he has constructed a classic Reductio ad Absurdum [RAA] here, which now allows us to discharge one of the premisses as false. Since we want to hang on to "John is a man", the premiss we must reject as false is the one hidden in here:

 

If John is identical with "a man", and Joe is identical with "a man", and Jack is identical with "a man", then through some kind of transitivity of identities we reach the contradiction that...

 

That is, we must discharge "'John is a man' is an identity statement".

 

So, all this comrade has done is refute his own theory!

 

But, there is more. Even supposing that the "is" here is an "is" of identity, then that can only mean that this proposition:

 

B1: John is a man.

 

Should read:

 

B2: John = a man.

 

But, if John is identical to a man, which man is this? That would be the question we would normally ask upon being told this. The only conceivable answer would be that this man is John. So, this brilliant theory ends up with "John is identical to John"!

 

The comrade might point this out again:

 

On the contradiction implied in "John is a man", we might ask is John the only man? If so, then the correct expression is "John is the man".

 

But, who would ask "Is John the only man?" A visitor from another planet? Someone with amnesia? Someone with learning difficulties?

 

However, let us suppose that we could find a benighted soul somewhere on the planet who would ask this odd question, the natural reply would be "No, there are plenty of other men", which sentence cannot be press-ganged into this comrade's attempt to defend Hegel. I am surprised he failed to consider this more natural response to his question.

 

Even so, the identity relation operates between two names, singular terms or objects (depending on how we interpret it).

 

This forces us to conclude that, as 1) - 5) above predicted, for this comrade "a man" is a name (or some other singular designating expression), and that it names or designates an object, class or category, etc. Indeed, it is quite plain that for him "a man" is a name. This can be seen from the ease with which he slides between "John is a man" and "John is Jack". He clearly sees no difference between a proper name and an indefinite description, or a predicate expression! Hence, the only conclusion is that for him "a man" refers to an object of some sort (or perhaps an abstract particular), just as a proper name refers to its bearer. If so, "a man" no longer functions as a general term since, manifestly, no object can be general.

 

Generality is in fact a feature of our use of language (as I have argued in Part Two of Essay Three). Plainly, this is because, unlike human beings, words have no social life of their own, and are totally incapable of collecting things together in groups or classes. To suppose otherwise would be to fetishise language, misconstruing the communal use of language as if it represented the social life of words.

 

Dialecticians, by assuming that all words are names, end up with the following list:

 

B3: Name/Identity-Relation/Abstract-Noun.

 

Or:

 

B4: John/Identity/Man (Manhood, the Class of Men, etc.).

 

But, lists say nothing, so this comrade's theory falls apart since it is now apparent that dialectical 'propositions' say nothing at all!

 

Instead of asking himself whether it makes sense to say that a name could be identical with a predicate -- or that what either supposedly refers to could be identical with one another --, the comrade swallows this sub-Aristotelian 'logic' without blinking!

 

Now, all this is confirmed in what follows:

 

The contradiction inherent in the verb "to be", "is", can be seen as the same as that found in "self-reference" by modern mathematical philosophers like Russell. Russell's famous paradox derived from the self-reference of "the set of all sets that don't contain themselves".

 

The Wikipedia article on Paraconsistency notes the efforts at avoiding self-reference in the logics after that.

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraconsistent_logic

 

In any sentence with a verb form of the verb "to be" makes a reference, a self-reference, of the subject of the sentence. The subject refers to itself in the predicate.

 

"John is a man", is a reference of John to himself as "a man", a self-reference.

 

It isn't easy to see how or why Paraconsistent Logic is relevant here, but readers will no doubt notice how the word "reference" is indiscriminately thrown about the place as if all words and sentences were denoting expressions; but we are offered no reason to suppose that they all can all be used referentially. Hence, we are simply told, with no argument in support, that:

 

The contradiction inherent in the verb "to be", "is", can be seen as the same as that found in "self-reference" by modern mathematical philosophers like Russell. Russell's famous paradox derived from the self-reference of "the set of all sets that don't contain themselves"....

 

In any sentence with a verb form of the verb "to be" makes a reference, a self-reference, of the subject of the sentence. The subject refers to itself in the predicate.

 

"John is a man", is a reference of John to himself as "a man", a self-reference. [Bold added.]

 

Once more, as predicted in points 1) - 5) above, we see this comrade acknowledging here that a verb actually refers, that is, that it is a name or singular designating expression of some sort! So, his 'propositions' have this form:

 

B5: Name/Singular-Term/Abstract Noun.

 

Or:

 

B6: John/Reference-to-Subject-in-Predicate/Man.

 

But, this is just another list!

 

And, of course, this isn't true:

 

The subject refers to itself in the predicate.

 

The subject in fact refers to John; that is why he was given that name!

 

So ends yet another rather weak attempt to defend the indefensible. [More details here.]

 

40. Hegel Screws Up -- 2

 

It is worth recalling that when interpreted normally an act of predication is merely saying something of a named (or otherwise designated) subject; that is, it is a description (or in some cases an attribution). [Some claim this is an 'essential' predication, or even a (partial) definition of the individual concerned. This claim will be examined below.]

 

So, "John is a man" just asserts something of whoever the name "John" designates -- or, better: "ξ is a man" can be used to form true (or false) sentences if the relevant language has an available name (i.e., "John") conventionally used to pick out men and/or human beings in general, or, in the present case, this man in particular.

 

Alternatively, as Aristotle would have said, the predicate "man" applies to whoever "John" names. Looked at this way, there is no "is" anywhere in sight for dialecticians to magic into an identity.

 

[Other languages that lack the copula "is" also proceed along similar lines. Of course, as with most things connected with Aristotle, his ideas on predication are much more complex than the above might suggest. However, this doesn't affect the truth of the claim I make above about Aristotle's paraphrastic use of "applies". On this, see Robin Smith's article on Aristotle's Logic at The Stanford Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy; i.e., Smith (2011), Section Seven. Since this isn't meant to be an exercise in academic philosophy, I will say no more about this topic here. On this in general, see Modrak (2001).]

 

Readers, however, might wonder how the genuine "is" of identity fares under such scrutiny (on this, see the previous section); must it, too, explode in infinite confusion? So, in relation to sentences like the following:

 

S1: Cicero is Tully,

 

are we forced to explicate this "is" in like manner (as in S2 and S3)?

 

S2: Cicero *is* identical with Tully.

 

S3: Cicero is identical with identical with Tully.

 

And so on? If not, then this cannot be a problem for dialecticians either.

 

Or so a counter-claim might proceed.

 

However, when we say that "the 'is' that appears in S1 *is* one of identity", the asterisked *is* †is† itself one of predication (as +is+ the one following it (i.e., "†is†") -- and the same applies to the one in these brackets (namely, "+is+"), too!), which can be explicated a là Aristotle, and thus isn't essential to predication, along the following lines:

 

S4: Identical with Tully applies to Cicero.

 

Or, perhaps more colloquially: "'Cicero' and 'Tully' are two names of the same individual"; or "Cicero has two names: 'Cicero' and 'Tully'"; or even: "Cicero's other name is 'Tully'".

 

DM-fans can't do this because they maintain that "is" is always one of identity. Hence, their theory collapses in the way I have indicated, whereas the Aristotelian/colloquial account does not.

 

However, Hegel thinks he has a reply to this Aristotelian riposte:

 

"To define the subject as that of which something is said, and the predicate as what is said about it, is mere trifling. It gives no information about the distinction between the two. In point of thought, the subject is primarily the individual, and the predicate the universal. As the judgment receives further development, the subject ceases to be merely the immediate individual, and the predicate merely the abstract universal: the former acquires the additional significations of particular and universal, the latter the additional significations of particular and individual. Thus while the same names are given to the two terms of the judgment, their meaning passes through a series of changes." [Hegel (1975), p.234. Bold emphasis added.]

 

So, Hegel justified his rejection of Aristotle's interpretation on the grounds that this analysis gives us no information about the distinction between a subject and a predicate. But, quite apart from the fact that this way of looking at propositions (or even "judgements") is highly limited in itself (it cannot, for example, cope with complex sentences that Hegel himself used, even in the above passage, let alone throughout the rest of his work), the supposed Aristotelian analysis tells us all we need to know. We can see this from the fact that Hegel, in common with most other pre-modern theorists, readily confused talk about talk with talk about things. For example, he tells us that "the subject is primarily the individual and the predicate the universal", whereas a predicate is a linguistic expression (they do not populate the world!), whereas a "universal" isn't, which is something the analysis to which he took exception makes quite clear.

 

Moreover, we can see once again that Hegel has conflated names with predicates:

 

"Thus while the same names are given to the two terms of the judgment, their meaning passes through a series of changes." [Ibid.]

 

In that case, it is clear that, as confused as Aristotle was over many things, he was a model of clarity next to this Hermetic Harebrain.

 

Furthermore, it is this traditional muddle of talk about talk with talk about things that allowed Hegel to go on to confuse his own obscure thoughts with development in reality (surely the philosophical equivalent of a madman who thinks he is 'God').

 

Or, to put this another way: Hegel's confusion of the "is" of identity with the "is" of predication (or, indeed, his rejection of the significance of this distinction) only makes sense if Reality is Ideal, where it does not really matter if the one is confused with the other, and talk about talk is mixed up with talk about things.

 

Finally, Hegel failed to justify this move:

 

"As the judgment receives further development, the subject ceases to be merely the immediate individual, and the predicate merely the abstract universal: the former acquires the additional significations of particular and universal, the latter the additional significations of particular and individual." [Ibid.]

 

He nowhere explains (in a jargon-free passage) how, for example, the individual "acquires the additional significations of particular and universal", nor how the universal does likewise. The only conceivable way they can do this is if the "is" of predication is re-configured as an "is" of identity -- but, that just assumes what was to be proved, and so cannot be used to criticise Aristotle. Hegel failed to show that Aristotle's analysis is defective (or of limited use), which he needed to do before he could proceed to make his as-yet-unwarranted syntactical switch, not the other way round.

 

[Hegel's other comments on "individuals", "universals", and "particulars" will be destructively criticised in Essay Twelve.]

 

However, this morbid (if not prurient) interest in John's manhood is not confined to Lenin. We find a similar but less cautious version of it in comrade Novack's widely circulated book:

 

"This law of identity of opposites, which so perplexes and horrifies addicts of formal logic, can be easily understood, not only when it is applied to actual processes of development and interrelations of events, but also when it is contrasted with the formal law of identity. It is logically true that A equals A, that John is John…. But it is far more profoundly true that A is also non-A. John is not simply John: John is a man. This correct proposition is not an affirmation of abstract identity, but an identification of opposites. The logical category or material class, mankind, with which John is one and the same is far more and other than John, the individual. Mankind is at the same time identical with, yet different from John." [Novack (1971), p.92.]

 

Contrary to what Novack imagines will be the reaction of "addicts of formal logic", the latter will find little in this passage to worry them or, indeed, prompt them to kick the habit. However, they will find much that will bemuse them, just as they will encounter even more that will put them off Marxism forever -- if this is the best example of 'advanced' logic that dialecticians can come up with!

 

The hackneyed DM-version of the LOI -- i.e., "A equals A" -- will be examined in detail in Essay Six, but Novack's own brand of superior logic immediately changes it into "John is John" (and not even "John equals John"). Novack then reproduces his own version of Hegel's egregious confusion of the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity -- a switch that Novack nowhere justifies or defends. [On that confusion, see below.]

 

It is worth asking therefore whether Novack (or any other dialectician) would try this tactic on the following sentence:

 

N4: John is a centimetre taller than his brother Jim.

 

By no stretch of the imagination could this be read as:

 

N5: John is identical to a centimetre taller than his brother Jim.

 

Or even:

 

N6: John equals a centimetre taller than his brother Jim.

 

[Concerning the obvious objection that N6 is really:

 

N6a: John equals someone who is a centimetre taller than his brother Jim,

 

the reader is re-directed here.]

 

Nor would he (they) try it with the following:

 

N7: John is upset with his boss.

 

If we were to apply 'Novackian logic' to N7, we would get these misbegotten sentences:

 

N8: John is identical with upset with his boss.

 

N9: John equals upset with his boss.

 

Mischievous readers might like to suggest what dialecticians would do with the following:

 

N10: John is taller than Sheila, shorter than Mike, but just as heavy as Simon.

 

N11: John is due to go on strike this week, but he has just been admitted to hospital.

 

N12: John is not himself today; he ate a dodgy curry last night.

 

N13: John is the equal of any comrade in the party.

 

N14: John is unequal to the task set him by the strike committee.

 

N15: John is convinced that dialectical logic is wrong about the copula "is" being an "is" of identity.

 

However, not content with this, Novack pulls an unrelated schematic sentence out of thin air (i.e., "A is also non-A"), which, with respect to John, he immediately mistranslates (recall, this is Novack's own example!).

 

Hence, instead of using "John is also non-John" --, which would have been an obvious absurdity, even though it is a correct translation of his own schematic sentence (i.e., "A is also non-A") -- Novack actually considers a non-equivalent paraphrase of it, namely "John is not simply John". But, the schematically equivalent, non-negated version of that sentence (which is the necessary logical foil that Novack needed to set up a spurious IO) would have been "A is simply A", which nowhere appears in the above passage.

 

Even so, based on what Novack does say, "A is simply A" must have been the version of the LOI he had in mind, given that he then went on to use "John is not simply John" to contradict it. But who apart from John is going to get excited about that version of the LOI? Is there a formal logician this side of the Kuiper Belt who would want to defend "A is simply A" as a legitimate form of the LOI? It isn't a classical example of the LOI. It isn't even Novack's example!

 

[IO = Identity of Opposites; LOI - Law of Identity.]

 

As we delve deeper into the murky depths of Novackian Super-Duper Logic, we find the reasoning becomes even more perplexing. How, it may be wondered, is the simple sentence "John is a man" an instance of an IO? Surely, "John is a woman" would have been a better choice? Or maybe: "John is Peter"? Or perhaps even: "John is an ape-like ancestor of the human race"?

 

But, given the fact that such interconnected objects are supposed to turn into their opposites (witness Plekhanov's clanger above), or that opposite tendencies in objects eventually become apparent in the changes that issue forth (because of the alleged "struggle" that is going on in all things, if Lenin is to be believed) -- doesn't this mean that John is about to become everyone (or perhaps every man?) as he mutates into his opposite? If John is in fact the opposite of all men, then surely he must one day become them all -- and they him. In this universal, futuristic John-like world -- and world-like John --, where everyone is John and John is everyone, all struggle would cease, for then it would indeed be true that John is everything, and everything is John. In Universal-Johnsville, the class struggle would surely come to an end, for then nothing would be the opposite of John, and the universe would be one huge John-centred tautological love-in.

 

Of course, if John is to turn into everything that he is not, then the entire universe will one day become this unfortunate character; Johntology of this sort therefore seems to be the final denouement of the Big Bang. [Wags might even call this the "Johntological Argument".] On the other hand, if John is not supposed to turn into everything he is not, then the Dialectical Gospels must be wrong, for they tell us that everything in the entire universe must inevitably turn into its opposite, and vice versa.

 

Alternatively, back in the real world, John must become a man (as indeed he must if he is the opposite of "a man", as Novack asserts), if he is to turn into his opposite. But then, what is he now? Is he a non-man, a sub-human? It seems he must be if he has to become his opposite -- which opposite DL assures us is "a man". So, despite appearances to the contrary, "John is a man" really means (i.e., as soon as we don our 'dialectical specs' and shun the prejudices of 'commonsense' and "bourgeois formal thinking"): John is (perhaps) an untermensch, for only then could he turn into his opposite, "a man".

 

On the other hand, if John and all men are opposites, and subject to an inner struggle, then it must be the case that all men are opposing or fighting John. Is he therefore a sort of inter-galactic George W Bush, whom all despise and would gladly slap insensible if they got half a chance?

 

If not, then what is the point of all this? Even in DM-terms it makes no sense.

 

Of course, Novack does attempt to substantiate this prize specimen of Super-Dialectical 'logic' by an appeal to the principle of class inclusion (or even of class identity!), in the following manner:

 

H1: John is a man.

 

N16a: John is a member of the class of men. [I.e., paraphrasing Novack's: "The logical category or material class, mankind, with which John is one and the same...."]

 

N16b: John is identical with the class of men. [Alternative paraphrase of "The logical category or material class, mankind, with which John is one and the same...."]

 

If, as appears to be the case, Novack really believed that H1 meant the same as (or implied) N16b, then his understanding of English was seriously defective. Novack never appears to have questioned the sense of asserting that an individual is identical with a class; no ordinary speaker would do this -- nor would anyone still in possession of their sanity. Indeed, if someone were to claim that a certain individual was identical with a class, that might prove sufficient grounds to recommend they urgently seek professional help.

 

Clearly, N16b could only ever be (sort of) true if John was the only man left alive (compare this with M5, above: "John is the strike committee now -- since everyone else has been arrested"). But, even if H1 could be read as a disguised class inclusion statement (i.e., as N16a above would have it), it would still be impossible to extract all that Novack clearly thought he could. Even Novack seems to half-recognise this since he had to substitute the following for N16a:

 

N17: Mankind is at the same time identical with yet different from John.

 

But, the first half of this is false (in fact, it is so bizarre, Novack should have been advised to resume his medication):

 

N17a: Mankind is identical with John.

 

H1: John is a man.

 

Quite apart from the fact that N17a changes the subject of the sentences (from John to Mankind), it is just not true that mankind is identical with John (and H1 can only be made to say so on the basis of yet more 'innovative' grammar; i.e., confusing the "is" of predication with the "is" of identity). Even a New Labour spin doctor would have problems twisting H1 into so grotesque a shape. At the very best, Novack might have been able to argue that John and the rest of 'mankind' share a common humanity, and he might then have been able to infer from this that they are all equally human. But anyone who went down this tortuous route should rightly be nominated for an award for 'Stating the Bleeding Obvious'.

 

On the other hand, any normal person reading H17a would take it to mean that John is perhaps the only survivor of a horrific worldwide catastrophe of some sort, that John was all that was left of mankind -- and that therefore John is mankind (or, humankind) -- i.e., he is its sole representative.

 

But then how are we to make sense the second half?

 

N17b: Mankind is different from John.

 

Again, the only (normal) way to interpret this would be to regard it as suggesting that John might not actually be human, or maybe not fully human. Perhaps he is half-animal, a clone, or maybe an alien? But if so, what is all the fuss about? Indeed, would there be such a fuss if the sentence had been "Joan is a man"?

 

But, shouldn't N17b be:

 

N17c: Mankind is identical with different from John

 

if the "is " of N17b is replaced by "is identical with" as we are assured it should be?

 

Or even:

 

N17d: Mankind is identical with someone who is different from John.

 

If we replace that "is" with "is identical with someone who is", on the lines we saw earlier?

 

But, both of these are susceptible of the infinite regress we also met earlier.

 

Be this as it may, N17 would be re-interpreted -- and far more honestly -- as one or more of the following:

 

N18: John is all that is left of humanity because he is a clone, making him different from other men, and who then wiped out the entire male population of the planet.

 

N19: John is the sole survivor of a nuclear war, but unfortunately the radiation neutered him (making him different from other men).

 

N20: John finally 'came out' and acknowledged he was gay, while the rest of the male population had sex-change operations (making him different from other men), all of whom died as a result.

 

N21: John is the only man left on earth, but he is very popular with the remaining women because of his unique sensitivity, a trait which distinguishes him from all other men, who no longer exist, having been wiped out by their angry womenfolk.

 

[N17: Mankind is at the same time identical with yet different from John.]

 

These (and possibly other alternatives) would be the only way to interpret the odd sentences Novack inflicts on his readers.

 

In that case, the only "horrifying" thing about all this is that Novack imagined such stilted English (compounded by the sort of reasoning that all but the seriously deranged would disown) was anything other than an insult to ordinary workers -- none of whom would ever talk this way, or would even understand a word of it.

 

Finally -– and independently of the above -- Novack failed to inform us precisely what justified him 'deriving' such profound, scientific-looking truths from a few rather odd-looking sentences. Exactly what could possibly sanction the bold theses Novack 'inferred' from these tortured phrases concerning John's identity/sexuality -- that is, over and above an appeal to the existential import of contingent features of a minor aspect of Indo-European grammar (which he misconstrued anyway)?

 

After all, he had argued as follows in another of his books:

 

"A consistent materialism cannot proceed from principles which are validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source. Idealisms may do this. But the materialist philosophy has to be based upon evidence taken from objective material sources and verified by demonstration in practice...." [Novack (1965), p.17. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Has all the supporting evidence Novack collected been lost in the same anti-dialectical fire that seems to have consumed Engels, Plekhanov, Lenin and Trotsky's data?

 

[OT = Orthodox Trotskyist; STD = Stalinist Dialectician.]

 

So much for the use to which John's manhood is put by an OT of Novack's undoubted stature. However, we find John cropping up all over the place; even STDs cannot resist commenting on him and his cosmically-significant sexuality. Here is a passage from a dusty old (but classic) Stalinist text from the 1930s:

 

"The central fallacy involved in all metaphysical reasoning is -- expressed in terms of logic -- the complete confusion of the relations between the categories of Particular and General: of Unique and 'Universal.'

 

"Thus, for instance, if I affirm: 'John is a Man' I affirm that 'John' is a particular specimen of the general (or 'universal') category 'Man'. I understand what 'John' is by subsuming him under (or 'identifying him with') the wider category 'Man'.

 

"Metaphysical reasoning proceeds on the tacit or explicit assumption that the general category 'Man' and the particular category 'John' exist independently of each other: that over and above all the Particular 'Johns' in creation…over and above all particular men, there exists somewhere -– and would exist if all particular men ceased to be, or had never been -– the general category 'Man.'

 

"…The dialectical method traverses this rigid metaphysic completely. The category 'Man' includes, certainly, all possible 'men.' But 'Man' and 'men', though distinct, separate, and separable logical categories, are only so as logical discriminations, as ways of looking at one and the same set of facts. 'Man' -- is -- all men, conceived from the standpoint of their generality -- that in which all men are alike. 'Men' is a conception of the same fact -- 'all men' -- but in respect of their multiplicity, the fact that no two of them are exactly alike. For dialectics, the particular and the general, the unique and the universal -- for all their logical opposition -- exist, in fact, in and by means of each other. The 'Johniness' of John does not exist, cannot possibly be conceived as existing, apart from his 'manniness'. We know 'Man' only as the common characteristic of all particular men; and each particular man is identifiable, as a particular, by means of his variation from all other men -- from that generality 'Man' by means of which we classify 'all men' in one group.

 

"It is the recognition of this 'identity of all (logical pairs of) opposites,' and in the further recognition that all categories form, logically, a series from the Absolutely Universal to the Absolutely Unique -- (in each of which opposites its other is implicit) -– that the virtue of Hegel's logic consists….

 

"Let us now translate this into concrete terms. John is -- a man. Man is a category in which all men (John, and all the not-Johns) are conjoined. I begin to distinguish John from the not-Johns by observing those things in which he is not -- what the other men are. At the same time the fact that I have to begin upon the process of distinguishing implies…that, apart from his special distinguishing characteristics, John is identical with all the not-Johns who comprise the rest of the human race. Thus logically expressed, John is understood when he is most fully conceived as the 'identity' of John-in-special and not-John (i.e. all man) in general.

 

"…When I affirm that 'John is a man' I postulate the oppositional contrast between John and not-John and their coexistence (the negation of their mutual negation) all at once. Certainly as the logical process is worked in my mind I distinguish first one pole, then the other of the separation and then their conjunction. But all three relations -- or better still, the whole three-fold relation -- exists from the beginning and its existence is presupposed in the logical act…." [Jackson (1936), pp.103-06. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Anyone who has struggled through this passage might emerge from the ordeal a little puzzled as to how John is in fact capable of being a "particular specimen of the general (or 'universal') category "Man" -- this worry prompted by the above author's liberal and sloppy use of quotation marks. [The single ones given in the above passage were in fact double quotes in the original.] This is because, once encased in quotes, "John" becomes a word not a man. And "Man" itself is another word, not a category, class or concept. [As we have seen several times, sloppy DM-syntax goes hand-in-hand with the confusion of talk about talk with talk about things.]

 

I have to confess, try as hard as I might, I could not quite see the first word ("John") physically contained in the second term ("Man"), as it seems it should, according to comrade Jackson.

 

Perhaps I do not "understand" dialectics?

 

Even so, my concern is in no way diminished by the author's casual reference to the "category 'Man'" to which "John" supposedly belongs, since it is even more difficult to see how a word like "Man" can be both a category and a word all in one go. On the other hand, if the word "John" is in fact an example of the category named by "Man", it must include both men and words as exemplars -- which might explain John's continual oscillation between the two.

 

And, it won't do to complain that comrade Jackson was merely retailing the traditional "metaphysical" analysis of this overworked sentence, since not only does his negative argument depend on these fine points, his 'dialectical analysis' does, too.

 

This careless use of language and quotation marks (and the continual confusion between use and mention) is of course not unrelated to the innovative reasoning this passage contains, the most startling example of which is the turn toward the "concrete" near the end:

 

"Let us now translate this into concrete terms. John is -- a man. Man is a category in which all men (John, and all the not-Johns) are conjoined. I begin to distinguish John from the not-Johns by observing those things in which he is not -- what the other men are. At the same time the fact that I have to begin upon the process of distinguishing implies…that, apart from his special distinguishing characteristics, John is identical with all the not-Johns who comprise the rest of the human race. Thus logically expressed, John is understood when he is most fully conceived as the 'identity' of John-in-special and not-John (i.e. all man) in general." [Ibid., p.105.]

 

But, it might well be wondered how could it have come about that all men have been successfully conjoined in the one category Man? That category is surely abstract -- it does not walk the earth, breathe, or even work for a living. And yet all men do most of these things at some time in their lives. In what sense then are all men thus embroiled in this abstraction?

 

Is it a sort of 'ethereal club' that all males sign up to at birth? Or do they all get metaphysically conscripted, as it were, at the moment of conception -- their membership receipt perhaps taking the form of certain sorts of chromosomes? Or, are they only honorary members, waiting patiently in line for recruitment until some bright spark (like comrade Jackson) helpfully remembers to abstract them into it?

 

If so, what are they in the meantime? 'Limbo men'? Or, just plain, unvarnished ordinary men -- i.e., males, but now without the quotation marks, and thus as naked as the day before they were unceremoniously 'abstracted' without their consent?

 

As seems clear, comrade Jackson was relying on his own understanding of a few ordinary words in order to derive several counter-intuitive theses, following on Hegel and Lenin's lead. But, if he was being sincere in what he wrote, then, like Novack, his comprehension of English appears to be about as defective as his logic. Are we really supposed to believe (could anyone believe -- did this comrade actually believe!?) that we may only begin to distinguish characters like John from all the "not-Johns" by observing "those things in which he is not -- what the other men are"? Imagine, then, this author meeting, say, the real John for the first time. Would he have to wait until he had considered all the "not-Johns" (who "comprise the rest of the human race") before he could distinguish John from anyone else? But if so, how on earth could he even begin?

 

Until he had met every other member of the human race, given this view, he would not be able to tell any of these uncategorised, shapeless entities apart --, for the same rigmarole must surely apply to all these "not-Johns", too. With respect to any one of them, therefore, this comrade would not be able to distinguish such formless shadows from the rest until he had also distinguished them from the "not-not-Johns". In turn, he could not do that until he had examined all of these amorphous spectres and distinguished them from…, well what? Even worse, he would not be able to call either of these ghostly classes "the not-John group", or "the not-not-John category" until he knew who John himself was (and for similar reasons). But, ex hypothesi, this he could not do until all the others had been identified..., and so on and so forth.

 

Neither side of this dialectically bent coin is identifiable without the other; indeed, they both fall flat together. In which case, the dialectical spin that John is allegedly locked into cannot be made determinate at any point -- despite the fact that comrade Jackson assures us that these relations are somehow objectively there before we even begin to think about them.

 

Lest the reader concludes that this comrade is right, and that we do indeed need to be able to distinguish John-like characters from what they are not, before we can know who or what John is, let us consider a slightly less pragmatically-challenged sentence about him.

 

J1: John is the first comrade to win the lottery jackpot.

 

Do any of us have to meet a single lottery jackpot winner (let alone all of them!) to know what this is telling us? Do we really need to be introduced to every comrade who hasn't won the jackpot? What about every non-comrade who has? Or, indeed, every non-comrade who hasn't?

 

Perhaps this example is not of the right type, in that it does not use a genuine universal term. Consider then the following:

 

J2: John is not an insect.

 

Lest again it be thought that we would have to meet every single insect before we knew who or what John is, we only need recall that according to David Attenborough's recent BBC TV programme on these beasties, there are 200,000,000 of them for each one of us.

 

Good luck to any dialecticians who think they are up to that challenge!

 

Again it might be thought that J2 is not a positive affirmative universal proposition. Well, putting to one side the hopelessly confused notion of "positive affirmative propositions" beloved of obsolete logic texts, consider this:

 

J3: John is not a non-mammal.

 

This is not a negative proposition (or if it is, its two negatives 'cancel', to use the obsolete jargon, here), but it is universal. Now, just try and work out the introductory protocols one would have to observe to be able to distinguish John from all those non-mammals, if comrade Jackson is to be believed. Dialectical sleuths would have to visit the outer fringes of the universe and meet every single proton (surely these are non-mammals?), just to be able to figure out who John was.

 

Is he really worth all this trouble?

 

And what about this recalcitrant example?

 

J4: John is everything that Tony Blair is not.

 

Is this positive, negative, affirmative, universal, singular...? While we wait for a reply to that unanswerable question, bored readers might like to figure out who they would have to bump into to understand it.

 

Nevertheless, an earlier paragraph in the above passage claimed that the ability to distinguish John from other men must be understood in the following way:

 

"We know 'Man' only as the common characteristic of all particular men; and each particular man is identifiable, as a particular, by means of his variation from all other men -- from that generality 'Man' by means of which we classify 'all men' in one group." [Ibid., p.104. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Once more, the careless use of quotation marks (e.g., in the use of the word "Man" (as noted earlier, that word was in double quotation marks in the original) to express the "common characteristic of all particular men") only succeeds in prompting the following question: Do all men actually share in common the letters "M", "a" and "n", as the emphasised clause suggests? [That is because it concerns the word "man".] Are we now to conclude that every man has a sort of metaphysical tattoo etched onto him at birth, or at conception? Is this what the following implies?

 

"But all three relations -- or better still, the whole three-fold relation -- exists from the beginning and its existence is presupposed in the logical act…." [Ibid., p.106. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Does this mean that in the beginning was the word "Man"? Is this, therefore, the Logical Adam that gave life to us all?

 

This example of 'path-breaking logic', courtesy of comrade Jackson, appears to suggest that we can infer substantive truths about reality from the logical relation (or from that which is "presupposed in the logical act") which allegedly holds between concepts, or perhaps between words.

 

If so, this might help explain why this comrade thought it unnecessary to mention any of the evidence that must exist (somewhere?) that substantiates this latest example of LIE. Where, then, are the autopsy reports that confirm that all of humanity (including women) are branded with the mystic letters "M", "a", and "n"? Where, too, is the data from astronomy that verifies the fact that alongside the primeval goop that comprised the material of the Big Bang (if it contained any, and if there was one) there was indeed this Dialectical Trinity, a "whole three-fold relation" that "exist[ed] from the beginning"?

 

Perhaps this is unfair; maybe the word "Man" is meant to refer to a characteristic that all men share? But, that means "Man" must be the Proper Name of that characteristic -- so it can't be a characteristic itself. Anyway, do women possess this trait? Or, are we to suppose that the latter have "Woman" in common? What about transsexuals? Are these individuals born with a sort of spelling mistake? Indeed, if someone had a sex change operation, would that mean that the surgeons involved had to erase -- and then add back in -- a few marks to this patient's 'metaphysical bar code'?

 

Of course, the real reason this author had to employ such stilted and wooden English (peppered with incautious quotation marks) -- which is thus easy to lampoon as a result -- is that if he had tried to use ordinary language (as Marx suggested he should) he would not have been able to serve to his readers this bowl of dialectical goulash. That is why, as soon as he translated what he fancied he thought he meant into the specialised terminology he lifted from Hegel, his reasoning became incoherent.

 

No wonder DM has never actually seized the masses if this is the gobbledygook militants used to -- and still do -- dish up!

 

We have already encountered the next example of Dialectical Legerdemain in Essay Two, but it is worth repeating it here if only because it spares us yet more gossip about John:

 

"This law of the permeation of opposites will probably be new to you, something to which you have probably not given thought. Upon closer examination you will discover that you cannot utter a single meaningful sentence which does not comprehend this proposition.... Let us take a rather common sentence: 'The lion is a beast of prey.' A thing, A, the lion is equated with a thing B. At the same time a distinction is made between A and B. So far as the lion is a beast of prey, it is equated with all beasts of that kind. At the same time, in the same sentence, it is distinguished from the kind. It is impossible to utter a sentence which will not contain the formula, A equals B. All meaningful sentences have a form which is conditioned by the permeation of opposites. This contradiction [is] contained in every meaningful sentence, the equation and at the same time differentiation between subject and predicate...." [Thalheimer (1936), pp.168-69.]

 

As noted in Essay Two, Thalheimer has clearly allowed DL to corrupt his memory, since it prompted him to forget about the countless sentences that are not of the form that he assures us we cannot avoid using.

 

It might be interesting therefore to consider how comrade Thalheimer would have interpreted this sentence:

 

T1: Thalheimer is one cent short of a dollar.

 

Is he really identical with "one cent short of a dollar"?

 

And what of the following?

 

T2: Thalheimer is not the comrade I was referring to.

 

Good luck to anyone who wants to translate that into orthodox dialectical gobbledygook.

 

Of course, the ancestral source of this family of errors is Hegel's Logic. Here is a passage we met earlier:

 

"The Judgment is the notion in its particularity, as a connection which is also a distinguishing of its functions, which are put as independent and yet as identical with themselves not with one another.

 

"One's first impression about the Judgment is the independence of the two extremes, the subject and the predicate. The former we take to be a thing or term per se, and the predicate a general term outside the said subject and somewhere in our heads. The next point is for us to bring the latter into combination with the former, and in this way frame a Judgment. The copula 'is', however, enunciates the predicate of the subject, and so that external subjective subsumption is again put in abeyance, and the Judgment taken as a determination of the object itself. The etymological meaning of the Judgment (Urtheil) in German goes deeper, as it were declaring the unity of the notion to be primary, and its distinction to be the original partition. And that is what the Judgment really is.

 

"In its abstract terms a Judgment is expressible in the proposition: 'The individual is the universal.' These are the terms under which the subject and the predicate first confront each other, when the functions of the notion are taken in their immediate character or first abstraction. (Propositions such as, 'The particular is the universal', and 'The individual is the particular', belong to the further specialisation of the judgment.) It shows a strange want of observation in the logic-books, that in none of them is the fact stated, that in every judgment there is still a statement made, as, the individual is the universal, or still more definitely, The subject is the predicate (e.g. God is absolute spirit). No doubt there is also a distinction between terms like individual and universal, subject and predicate: but it is none the less the universal fact, that every judgment states them to be identical.

 

"The copula 'is' springs from the nature of the notion, to be self-identical even in parting with its own. The individual and universal are its constituents, and therefore characters which cannot be isolated. The earlier categories (of reflection) in their correlations also refer to one another: but their interconnection is only 'having' and not 'being', i.e. it is not the identity which is realised as identity or universality. In the judgment, therefore, for the first time there is seen the genuine particularity of the notion: for it is the speciality or distinguishing of the latter, without thereby losing universality....

 

"The Judgment is usually taken in a subjective sense as an operation and a form, occurring merely in self-conscious thought. This distinction, however, has no existence on purely logical principles, by which the judgment is taken in the quite universal signification that all things are a judgment. That is to say, they are individuals which are a universality or inner nature in themselves -- a universal which is individualised. Their universality and individuality are distinguished, but the one is at the same time identical with the other.

 

"The interpretation of the judgment, according to which it is assumed to be merely subjective, as if we ascribed a predicate to a subject is contradicted by the decidedly objective expression of the judgment. The rose is red; Gold is a metal. It is not by us that something is first ascribed to them. A judgment is however distinguished from a proposition. The latter contains a statement about the subject, which does not stand to it in any universal relationship, but expresses some single action, or some state, or the like. Thus, 'Caesar was born at Rome in such and such a year waged war in Gaul for ten years, crossed the Rubicon, etc.', are propositions, but not judgments. Again it is absurd to say that such statements as 'I slept well last night' or 'Present arms!' may be turned into the form of a judgment. 'A carriage is passing by' should be a judgment, and a subjective one at best, only if it were doubtful, whether the passing object was a carriage, or whether it and not rather the point of observation was in motion: in short, only if it were desired to specify a conception which was still short of appropriate specification....

 

"The abstract terms of the judgement, 'The individual is the universal', present the subject (as negatively self-relating) as what is immediately concrete, while the predicate is what is abstract, indeterminate, in short the universal. But the two elements are connected together by an 'is': and thus the predicate (in its universality) must contain the speciality of the subject, must, in short, have particularity: and so is realised the identity between subject and predicate; which being thus unaffected by this difference in form, is the content."  [Hegel (1975), pp.230-34, §166-169. A copy is available here. Italic emphasis in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site]

 

[This passage in fact continues on the same theme for several more pages, but my anti-Idealist, but very material fingers simply refuse to copy any more of it. There is a more involved and detailed passage like the above in Hegel's Science of Logic (i.e., Hegel (1999))reproduced in the Appendix to this Essay.]

 

As the reader will no doubt have noticed, these comments are considerably more complex than those found in the poor relation that goes by the name "materialist dialectics" -- even if it is no less incomprehensible.

 

At least Hegel was a competent mystic, who could knit-together impenetrable jargon with the best of them. In fact, he could have confused for his country.

 

Nevertheless, in this passage Hegel appears to limit positive judgements to what others have called "universal affirmative propositions", and then to confine propositions to what others have called "singular affirmative propositions". This is not a happy distinction. [Of course, this is not to suggest Hegel restricted himself only to positive forms of either. On this see, Inwood (1992), pp.151-53.]

 

Although Hegel adapted mediaeval and Kantian ideas in this area, he superimposed his own idiosyncratic views on the distinction between a mere "satz" (sentence/proposition) and an "urteil" (a judgement) -- which will be examined in more detail in Essay Twelve.

 

However, because Hegel based his theories on such ancient and highly limited logical distinctions, much of what he had to say is of little value. [In fact, that comment praises his work far too highly.] As we will see in Essay Twelve, this ancient 'syntax' is of little use to scientists and mathematicians -- least of all philosophers --, since it is far too crude and restrictive.

 

For example, how would the following be classified?

 

H1: Every sailor loves a girl who reminds him of anyone other than his mother.

 

H2: Anyone who knows Marx's work will conclude that he is second to none in his analysis of all the economic forces operating in Capitalism and most of those constitutive of other Modes of Production.

 

H3: Any prime factor of an even number between two and one hundred is less than a composite number not equal to but greater than fifty.

 

H4: Most of those who admire some who do not despise themselves often avoid sitting opposite any who criticise those who claim membership of the minority break-away faction of the Socrates Appreciation Society.

 

H5: Today, Blair met several activists who think his policy on Iraq is a betrayal of his few remaining socialist principles.

 

Are these universal, particular, negative, or positive? Are they judgements or propositions? But these sort of propositions (and worse!) appear in mathematics and the sciences all the time (to say nothing of everyday speech, excepting perhaps H4). Indeed, the serious limitations of the restrictive old logic, with its incapacity to handle complex sentences in mathematics, inspired Frege to recast the entire discipline in its modern form over a hundred and twenty years ago. [On that, see Essay Four.]

 

Of course, the banal "judgements" that Hegel himself considered only serve to confirm this conclusion, too; which scientist for goodness sake is going to get excited over "The rose is red"? And although "Gold is a metal" appears in textbooks of Chemistry, only a ten year-old would learn much from it.

 

[To be sure, many of the counter-examples considered below do not apply directly (or in any straight-forward sense, either) to issues of concern to Hegel, since they are not "judgements", but propositions. (And yet, what is "The rose is red"? It certainly looks like a proposition not a "judgement".) However, as we will also see in Essay Twelve, the distinction Hegel draws between the former and the latter is unsustainable anyway. Until that is published, the reader should consult Rosenthal (1998), pp.111-36.]

 

However, easily the best article I have so far encountered (and studied) in my attempt to find out if anyone knows what a 'dialectical contradiction' is (i.e., Lawler (1982)) also tries to defend the above reading of the "is" of predication as the "is" of identity -- as it appears in sentences like "Socrates is mortal" and "Socrates is the man who drank the hemlock".

 

It will soon become apparent that Lawler has himself confused what Hegel said about "judgements" with what he said about "propositions" (but since what Hegel wrote on this is thoroughly confused, this is hardly Lawler's fault). Now, because this Essay is about "materialist dialectics", and not the Über-Mystical version of this theory found in Hegel, I will confine my response to what Lawler has written, and not the linguistic spaghetti Hegel inflicted on his readers. [Nevertheless, relevant aspects of Hegel's work will be discussed in Essay Twelve (summary here and here).]

 

Referring to Bertrand Russell's criticism of Hegel (which is vaguely similar to the line adopted in these Essays), Lawler claims that:

 

"Russell accuses Hegel of confusing these two different uses of 'is'. It is not necessary to deny the distinction made by Russell in order to see that his argument misses the point. In the example of an identity statement, in Russell's terms, there is still the 'difference' indicated by Hegel. We do not interpret identity as requiring us to say 'Socrates is...Socrates.' To say that Socrates is 'the man who drank the hemlock' is to assert something different in the predicate from what was asserted in the subject. In the process of knowledge, assuming that the sentence is informative, we are told that 'Socrates,' some individual vaguely or incompletely known, is indeed 'the man who drank the hemlock.' Socrates' 'identity' is established by our being told something 'different,' and knowledge develops through a process of moving from vague, 'undifferentiated' knowledge, to more specific knowledge. In this respect there is no difference between this proposition and the other, presumably also informative, assertion that 'Socrates is mortal' -- not a Greek god, but a human being." [Lawler (1982), p.25. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Now, this 'argument' only works if it is accepted that the word "Socrates" asserts something, which Lawler just assumes to be the case. If, however, the word "Socrates" asserts nothing, then this entire argument falls flat.

 

Well, the whole point of having predicates is that they are used to assert things of the individuals named by subject terms. So "Socrates" would be used to assert something only if it too were a predicate expression, which, I take it, all (other than perhaps Quine -- but even he has to re-write names as obvious predicates, which only serves to underline this syntactic distinction, anyway), all are agreed that it is not. And the fact that the word "Socrates", operating as a name, cannot assert anything can be seen from the additional fact that we have to attach predicates to it in order to assert something of the individual named by that word.

 

So, if someone just said "Socrates" they would not be asserting anything (i.e., they would be making no assertion) -- unless it was in answer to a question such as "Who was Plato's teacher?" Then it would of course be contextually short for "Socrates was Plato's teacher."

 

In addition, Lawler completely biases his argument by considering an example of a predicate that also works as an identifying (definite) description. It won't work with sentences such as "Socrates is running after the man who gave him the hemlock", since the predicate "ξ is running after the man who gave him the hemlock" in no way identifies Socrates (indeed, if anything, it identifies his quarry), it merely says something of him.

 

And if, for some odd reason it is still thought that this sentence does succeed in identifying Socrates, then it might be worth considering a proposition like this: "Socrates is unrecognizable" --, or even perhaps, "Socrates is now impossible to identify". Are these identifying Socrates?

 

Notwithstanding this, Lawler has an additional argument in answer to the above. It goes as follows:

 

"Moreover, it seems that a 'predicative' relation, such as 'Socrates is mortal' can be readily turned into an 'identity' statement: 'Socrates is that particular mortal man'." [Ibid., p.25.]

 

[Interestingly, this is a dodge that Jean Buridan also tried to pull; on that see here.]

 

However, even if this translation were acceptable (which it isn't since the two sentences do not mean the same, and they are true/false under different circumstances; for example "Socrates is that particular mortal man" might be false if "that particular man" isn't Socrates, but, say Alcibiades; whereas "Socrates is mortal" would still be true), one would want to know precisely what this identity is meant to be. Surely Lawler is not suggesting that Socrates is identical to "that particular mortal man". If he is then this argument would be sound:

 

L1: Plato is mortal.

 

L2: Socrates is mortal.

 

L3: Therefore, Plato is Socrates.

 

If L1 and L2 both pick out "that particular mortal man" then Plato and Socrates must be one and the same.

 

Of course, it could be objected that the phrase "that particular mortal man" refers to someone different in each case, so L3 does not follow from L1 and L2.

 

Well, that is quite easy to fix:

 

L4: Plato is mortal = Plato is that particular mortal man1.

 

L5: Socrates is mortal = Socrates is that particular mortal man2.

 

If so, these will immediately follow:

 

L6: "...is mortal" = "...is that particular mortal man1."

 

L7: "...is mortal" = "...is that particular mortal man2."

 

L8: So, "...is that particular mortal man1" = "...is that particular mortal man2."

 

L9: Therefore, Plato is Socrates.

 

Plainly, the sort of 'logic' that permits, if not encourages, a sloppy use of words like "different" and "identical", and which treats predicate expression as demonstratives, cannot, it seems, tell Plato from Socrates!

 

But, even if the above were rejected for some reason, Lawler's sentence presents its own problems (of the sort we have already met several times):

 

A1: "Socrates is that particular mortal man."

 

If the "is" highlighted in green is one of identity, and stands for "is identical with", then we would have yet another incipient infinite regress. Replacing the highlighted "is" in A1 with what we are told it means yields the following:

 

A2: "Socrates is identical with that particular mortal man."

 

But, the same surely applies to the new "is" (highlighted in turquoise) in A2. If we now replace it with what we are told it means (i.e., "is identical with), we obtain this meaningless sentence:

 

A3: "Socrates is identical with identical with that particular mortal man."

 

And, if we do the same again, we obtain:

 

A4: "Socrates is identical with identical with identical with that particular mortal man."

 

And so on.

 

Of course, this can only be forestalled by those who deny that "is" is always an "is" of identity in such contexts.

 

But, what about the following?

 

"We do not interpret identity as requiring us to say 'Socrates is...Socrates.' To say that Socrates is 'the man who drank the hemlock' is to assert something different in the predicate from what was asserted in the subject. In the process of knowledge, assuming that the sentence is informative, we are told that 'Socrates,' some individual vaguely or incompletely known, is indeed 'the man who drank the hemlock.' Socrates' 'identity' is established by our being told something 'different,' and knowledge develops through a process of moving from vague, 'undifferentiated' knowledge, to more specific knowledge." [Ibid., p.25.]

 

No one doubts that predicate expressions are often physically different from names, but this difference is logically irrelevant. This can be seen if we consider this sentence:

 

L10: Socrates is Socrates.

 

Here the **alleged predicate "...Socrates" is not different from the subject in any relevant way. Naturally, it could be objected that L10 is not informative. But it could be. Sentences like L10 are used all the time; they tell us that the named individual is rather unique, or that he or she behaves in a quirky, characteristic sort of way, or that whatever happens can't be changed for better or worse -- for example, "Boys will be boys", "Whatever will be, will be" (which was also a Doris Day hit song in the 1950s; "Que sera, sera"), "A rose is a rose", or "Business is business" (supposedly a Mafia cliché, used in gangster films all the time). Indeed, one can imagine someone saying "Well, Socrates is Socrates. What else do you expect?" upon being asked why Socrates did not attempt to escape his execution when he had the chance.

 

Moreover, someone could say "Best is best" (meaning that the late George Best is the best footballer), just as they could assert "Sharp is sharp" (meaning that someone called "Sharp" was quick-witted), "Down is down" (meaning that the price of duck feathers has fallen), and "Dopey is dopey" (meaning that the famous dwarf from Snow White is indeed slow-witted) -- or, as a horse trainer said in the run up to the 2012 London Olympics (in relation to how horses behave): "Horses are horses". To be sure, the second word in each case isn't a name (and yet it is in "Socrates is Socrates"), but these examples have only been quoted to illustrate the fact that the alleged predicate can be informative even if it doesn't look or sound different from the subject.

 

Even President Obama, during the 2012 election campaign, found he had to point out that "Rape is rape" in response to Republican candidate for the Senate race in Indiana, Richard Mourdock, who came out with the outrageous comment that he was opposed to abortion even when a woman had been raped, saying "when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen" (quoted from here). [Ashley Judd also uses this phrase, about 08:10 into this video.] An expression used in urban slang also illustrates this point: "It is what it is" -- which, we are told, means "It ain't gonna change, so deal with it or don't".

 

Update 11/04/2013: Toward the end of the Europa League soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Rubin Kazan a sports commentator was heard to say, in response to the idea that the Final of the Europa League isn't to be compared with the Final of the Champions League, "A European Final is a European Final." We all know what he meant. 

 

And dialecticians had better hope that no one is ever named, say, "Arthur Man" (i.e., "A Man") or the following reactionary and thoroughly un-dialectical sentence could truthfully be uttered:

 

A1: "A Man is a man".

 

Lest anyone think that the capital letters make much of a difference, A1 could be spoken, or typed wholly in capitals, thus:

 

A2: "A MAN IS A MAN",

 

-- or even written a là e e cummings as:

 

A3: "a man is a man".

 

[**The reference above to the "alleged" predicate was deliberate; Lawler pointedly leaves out the copula "is" when quoting predicate expressions -- note his reference to "the man who drank the hemlock", for instance. The serious misuse to which this can be (and is often) put was noted earlier. That is why when predicative expressions are mentioned here, they are expressed as follows: "ξ is the man who drank the hemlock" -- unless, of course, Lawler's own misuse is being quoted, etc. There is no way functional expressions like these can be misconstrued as objects capable of being put in an identity relation with anything.]

 

It could be objected that the above examples are not predicative, and so do not count. But, dialecticians like Lawler turn predicative propositions into identity statements themselves, so they are hardly in a position to complain. Anyway, it isn't true that the above are not predicative; "Best is best" is -- and so are "A Man is a man", "Business is business", and "Rape is rape".

 

Alternatively, it could be argued that in the above examples, something different from the subject is being asserted from that which is asserted in the predicate, which is all Lawler needs. But, this isn't true with respect to "Socrates is Socrates". Anyway, and more importantly, if nothing is being asserted by the word "Socrates" in "Socrates is mortal" (as we have seen) -- since it is a name, not a predicate expression --, then no comparison of sameness or difference between what is or is not asserted by "Socrates" and any predicate applicable to him can be sustained. Because only predicates (relational expressions and assorted descriptions, etc.) can be used to assert things of named individuals, this response fails.

 

In that case, the only distinction Lawler could be alluding to is an alleged physical or spatio-temporal difference between subjects and predicates, the first of which we have seen is not logically significant.***

 

So, what about the spatio-temporal differences in predicative propositions, where the predicate and subject terms are located on different parts of the page (even if they occur close together), or where the predicate has to be uttered at a (slightly?) different time from the subject expression? Again, these are logically irrelevant. It would surely be confusing, but logically possible to reconfigure L2 to read as follows:

 

L2: Socrates is mortal.

 

L2a: Sioscmorartteals.

 

Where the inserted letters (coloured differently -- "is" is in green and "mortal" is in blue. [Of course, the underlined occurrence of "is" (found in the previous sentence), employed to say all this, cannot be one of identity (for obvious reasons!).] These inserted letters represent the copula and the predicate expression all in one go, and they can all be read at the same time as the subject term. It is also possible for someone to record themselves saying "is mortal" and then replay it at the same time as saying "Socrates".

 

It could be objected that this jumble does not in fact say anything, but that would be a mistake. It is only an accident of history that our written words are not concatenated as follows:

 

L2b: Socrates/is/mortal.

 

L2c: Socratesismortal.

 

And spoken languages run words together all the time, as do codes. In fact, Semitic languages, such as Arabic, use the device (recorded in L2a) all the time. After noting that such languages use (a root formed of) three consonants to say things, Guy Deutscher makes the following point:

 

"But how can a vowel-less group of three consonants ever mean anything if it cannot even stand up on its own three legs and be pronounced unaided? The answer is that such roots do not have to be spoken by themselves, because the root is an abstract notion, which comes to life only when it is superimposed on some templates: patters of (mostly) vowels, which have three empty dots for the three consonants of the root. To take one example, the Arabic template ΟaΟiΟa forms the past tense (in the third person 'he'), so if you want to say 'he was at peace', you must insert the root s-l-m ('be at peace') into that template to get:

 

Root:     s-l-m

            ↓ ↓

Template: ΟaΟiΟa

                                                 s a l i m a ('he was at peace')

 

[I will reproduce Deutscher's actual graphics here at a later date -- RL.]

 

"And if you want to form the past tense of another verb, say, 'wear', you take the root l-b-s, and insert it into the same template, to get labisa ('he wore')." [Deutscher (2006), p.37.] 

 

So, the above suggestion isn't all that fanciful; indeed, Semitic speakers have been speaking this way for centuries.

 

Furthermore, the same message could be communicated in many ways; it would just take a little practice to decipher them with ease. So, we could have a code that used the following rule:

 

L2d: Socrates.

 

L2e: Rule: Any name that has been struck through means that the named individual is mortal.

 

[Which adapts a suggestion Wittgenstein published in the Tractatus.]

 

Sure, the contingent features of the subject-predicate form make it easier for us to read/hear what is said (though this is merely a by-product of familiarity), but that fact is logically irrelevant, even if it is psychologically important.

 

In that case, the same information could be conveyed in a number of different ways, many of which do not fall foul of Hegel's logically irrelevant criterion (if, that is, this was his criterion -- who can say?).

 

Now, if we look at a wider set of examples than dialecticians usually consider, the above objections become much easier to accept. Imagine someone pointing to the following example, and saying:

 

L11: L11 isn't an example Lawler should have ignored.

 

Since the sentence says this of itself, what it says of itself isn't different from what it says of itself, and, even worse, it occupies the same spatio-temporal zone as it itself occupies.

 

Less contentious examples than the above might seem to be, which address an earlier point (i.e., ***), include, perhaps, the following:

 

L12: Not saying anything is not saying anything.

 

L13: Half empty is half full.

 

L14: Six is six plus zero.

 

L15: Cicero admires all whom Tully admires.

 

L16: Ken and John are fighting each other.

 

L17: Socrates said the same about himself last week.

 

L18: And so did Plato.

 

Here, what is being said is plainly not different from what it is said about. [In fact, as has been pointed out several times already, the sub-Aristotelian 'logic' DM-fans inherited from Hegel cannot cope with such sentences. Small wonder then that Hegel and his ilk ignore them.]

 

As Wittgenstein noted, Metaphysics is an intellectual disease brought on by a one-sided diet of examples:

 

"A main cause of philosophical disease -- a one-sided diet: one nourishes one's thinking with only one kind of example." [Wittgenstein (1958), §593, p.155e.]

 

The perverse examples on offer above (a tiny sample of the many that could be have been used) show that what Wittgenstein said isn't all that wide of the mark.

 

So, it is what we do with our words that distinguishes prediction from naming. Physical shape and spatio-temporal location are only of psychological importance.

 

However, Lawler's abbreviation allows him to nominalise expressions to order (and in this he follows the well-worn tradition examined earlier in this Essay, one that Hegel helped turn into an art form). This can be seen by the way he talks about the "predicative relation", above. Objects, ink marks on the page, and the alleged 'referents' of nominalised words can be put into a relation of sorts, but not predicates and subjects -- unless, of course, we wish to turn predicates into objects, destroying not only the unity of the proposition, but generality into the bargain. A predicate says things truly or falsely of whatever it is that is designated by a subject expression (or, perhaps better, predicates can be used to form true or false sentences when combined with names or other designating expressions). If predicates are nominalised (particularised) they cannot do this (since that would turn a sentence into a list, as we saw earlier).

 

[Even so, we will see Lawler try to do just this, below -- and then again later, where he attempts to clarify Hegel's obscure phrase, "dialectical contradiction" -- in Essay Eight Part Three.]

 

We are now in a position to see the point of all the seemingly pedantic detail given near the beginning of this Essay (i.e., about sentences and lists (etc., etc.)), which was aimed at neutralising this ancient error.

 

Naturally, only those still in the grip of dialectics, and the sloppy 'logic' upon which it thrives, will fail to appreciate this.

 

Lawler continues:

 

"However, this is not the meaning of 'identity' which Hegel attempted to formulate. It is not the dialectical identity which Hegel wished to contrast with 'abstract' identity. In his interpretation of Hegel, Russell mistakenly understands 'identity' only within the framework of abstract identity.

 

"If it seems reasonable to distinguish the kind of 'identity' statement which Russell described from other 'predicative' uses of the connective 'is', one would still like to understand what in fact is asserted when one predicates some general attribute or quality, such as mortality or humanity, of some individual. There seems to be some sense in calling this one of 'identity,' for Socrates' mortality is intrinsic to Socrates' being Socrates. This problem is not one resolved by asserting that Socrates is one member of the class of mortal things. But, if we interpret mortality realistically we are still faced with the ontological problem of the relation of an individual to its properties." [Ibid., pp.25-26.]

 

Unfortunately, in this passage, we see one of the most common mistakes committed by Traditional Philosophers again rear its over-exposed head; in this case, it is the spurious 'problem' of the 'relation' between a subject and its properties. If properties do not exist as objects (i.e., if they aren't objects, and can only be turned into such by nominalising (particularising) them in ways highlighted earlier), then they cannot stand in a relation to anything. Hence, this is just another classic example of a bogus "ontological" problem conjured into existence by a clumsy re-write of predicative expressions.

 

Furthermore, if Socrates does indeed belong to the class of mortal beings -- and that is it, if this is all there is to him --, then comrades like Lawler will just have to get used to it. Lawler certainly cannot appeal to Hegel's mutant 'logic' to bully nature into acceding to the demands the latter tries to foist on her.

 

Moreover, as Hegel saw things, Socrates's mortality was considered part of his essence for theological reasons (in that it was an aspect of the latter's finitude, set over and against the 'Infinite'/'the Absolute'):

 

"The being of something is determinate; something has a quality and in it is not only determined but limited; its quality is its limit and, burdened with this, it remains in the first place an affirmative, stable being. But the development of this negation, so that the opposition between its determinate being and the negation as its immanent limit, is itself the being-within-self of the something, which is thus in its own self only a becoming, constitutes the finitude of something.

 

"When we say of things that they are finite, we understand thereby that they not only have a determinateness, that their quality is not only a reality and an intrinsic determination, that finite things are not merely limited -- as such they still have determinate being outside their limit -- but that, on the contrary, non-being constitutes their nature and being. Finite things are, but their relation to themselves is that they are negatively self-related and in this they are negatively self-related and in this very self-relation send themselves away beyond themselves, beyond their being. They are, but the truth of this being is their end.

 

"The finite not only alters, like something in general, but it ceases to be; and its ceasing to be is not merely a possibility, so that it could be without ceasing to be, but the being as such of finite things is to have the germ of decease as their being-within-self: the hour of their birth is the hour of their death." [Hegel (1999), p.129, §248-249. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphases added. I have used the on-line version here.]

 

Even so, that is surely no reason for materialists to tail-end such mysticism. Indeed, the nature of any man/woman is an empirical, not a logical issue.

 

Well, it is at least for us anti-Idealists.

 

And there is no way that this view of "finitude" can be eradicated by putting Hegel "back on his feet". [On this, see Rosenthal (1998).]

 

At this point, some readers might object to the way that propositions have been analysed in this Essay. If so, let's put it to one side. Even then, the question would still remain: How is it possible for an analysis of propositions to justify the imposition of its alleged results onto nature and society?

 

To be sure, such an imposition could only be justified if language implied essence (LIMPE), and the nature of reality was in some way linguistic (LIE) -- and its deep structure fortuitously matched contingent features of a minor sub-category of Indo-European Grammar!

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism. This is explained above, and in more detail In Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Lawler's theory not only relies on a re-write of a simple word (i.e., "is"), it requires the nominalisation (particularisation) of predicates into the bargain (thus destroying generality). Hence, even if the neo-Fregean reading of predicates employed here is rejected, Lawler's account would still be unacceptable to materialists.

 

Frege or no Frege, predicates are not names -- and even if they were, that alleged fact would have empirical consequences only for Idealists.

 

Fortunately, however, as already noted, the neo-Fregean approach adopted at this site prevents this slide into Idealism.

 

That alone should recommend it to the aforementioned materialists.

 

Finally, immediately after the passage quoted above, Lawler argues as follows:

 

"There is no 'pure' individual which is not some kind of thing. There is only an individual with certain specific properties and powers, common to those of other individuals.... Russell's various attempts to solve the problem of universals and his admitted failures suggest that the real solution involves more than making a simple distinction between the 'is' of identity and the 'is' of predication." [Ibid., p.26. Emphasis in the original. Lawler also references Fisk (1979) in support. Fisk's arguments will be discussed in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Whatever one thinks of the claim that there are no "pure individuals", one thing is clear, the dialectical analysis of predicative propositions destroys our capacity to speak in general about anything whatsoever, let alone these odd "individuals", for it re-configures general terms as the names of abstract particulars. In that case, howsoever badly Russell failed in his attempt to solve the spurious problem of "Universals", dialectics fares far worse -- since it destroys them.

 

Of course, if we widen the linguistic net a little and use examples of everyday language that dialecticians seldom consider (because that is what Traditional Philosophers have always done, downplay, ignore or depreciate genuine material uses of language, like those given below -- hence, dialecticians are merely aping a well-entrenched, conservative thought-form, as Marx himself noted) --, Lawler's 'analysis' becomes all the more absurd. Consider the following example:

 

L19: What is Socrates doing?

 

Using superfine DL we might re-write this as:

 

L20: What is identical with Socrates doing?

 

Whereas:

 

L21: Why is Socrates drinking the hemlock?

 

would have to become:

 

L22: Why is identical with Socrates drinking the hemlock?

 

Finally:

 

L23: Is Socrates going to drink the hemlock?

 

would become:

 

L24: Is identical with Socrates going to drink the hemlock?

 

Diabolical Logic like this needs preserving for posterity as a warning to future generations.

 

Should anyone object, and claim, for example, that L20 should be:

 

L20a: What is identical with whatever Socrates is doing?

 

then, in having to explain the new and underlined "is" in L20a, that objector would face the infinite regress we have met several times already (most recently, for example, here).

 

Naturally, it could further be objected that the last few examples are inapt since they are questions, not propositions, and still less are they Hegelian "judgements", so they do not count. Even so, they were specifically chosen to expose the narrow use of language that dialecticians consider.

 

Moreover, it isn't easy to see what the difference is between the letters "i" and "s" when they constitute the word "is" in "What is Socrates doing?" and then in "Socrates is the man who drank the hemlock" (especially since the latter would not, I think, have been classified by Hegel as a "judgement"). To be sure, the word "is" can function in several different ways, but that is precisely the point. This verb is not exclusively one of identity. When used predicatively, it can only be transformed into an "is" of identity by ignoring these other uses, thereby also destroying generality.

 

Now, it is quite plain what Hegel was attempting to do here -- that is, he was trying to distinguish what one might call "contingent propositions" from those that seem to be 'essential' -- or perhaps even 'necessary' --, when faced with the fact that language (or, at least the Indo-European family of languages) uses the verb "is" somewhat indiscriminately. Hegel clearly wanted to distinguish the employment of this verb when it is employed in the latter sense from its use in the former. Unfortunately, he imposed a bogus metaphysic on this entirely legitimate linguistic concern/distinction, which only resulted in the destruction of a key feature of language, one that he himself relied upon: its capacity to express generality.

 

We will examine this serious error later (in Essay Twelve), and explore the fatal effect it had on his thought, and on DM in general. [Of course, much of this will merely be a continuation and elaboration of the points made earlier in this Essay, as well as here and here.]

 

Unfortunately, Hegel also buried this legitimate concern under several layers of impenetrable jargon, and this too was forced on him because of the woefully inadequate resources supplied to him by the ancient logic he inherited, and the ruling-class tradition within which his work was situated. As a matter of course, this tradition ignored, undervalued or otherwise disdained the rich conceptual resources found in ordinary material language (again, as Marx argued). [More on this in Essay Twelve, too (summary here). See also here.]

 

However, it wouldn't be difficult to find other examples that Lawler's theory cannot handle:

 

L25: Socrates gives at least as good as he gets in Plato's dialogues.

 

L26: Socrates never loses and argument.

 

L27: Socrates is made of flesh and bone.

 

L28: Socrates is no more.

 

L29: Socrates is a creation of Plato's fertile imagination.

 

L30: Socrates is in fact someone else.

 

L31: Socrates is not a man to be trifled with.

 

L32: Socrates sits next to Alcibiades whenever he can.

 

L33: Socrates is in a hurry.

 

L34: Socrates is incensed with himself.

 

L35: Socrates is asserting nothing.

 

L36: Socrates is the like of no one else.

 

L37: No one who emulates Socrates is bound to reject the opinions of anyone who agrees with Protagoras.

 

And so on.

 

If we now use a wider range of examples drawn from the vernacular (but still restricted to the use of "is"), the woeful inadequacy of Hegel's theory becomes even clearer:

 

L38: This strike is too passive.

 

L39: No answer is also an answer.

 

L40: Everything in the sale is half-price.

 

L41: Hegel's Logic is difficult to understand.

 

L42: The emancipation of the working class is an act of the working class.

 

L43: The average cat is twice as fast as the average mouse.

 

L44: Scabbing is nothing to be proud of.

 

L45: An unknown assailant is being sought by the police.

 

L46: Sugar is fattening.

 

L47: If the weather forecast says it will rain then it is wrong.

 

L48: This is not what management promised.

 

L49: If this march is about anything, it's about the right of the majority of workers to decide who legitimately represents them.

 

L50: Anywhere is better than here.

 

L51: Something in the bank is better than nothing.

 

This list of course could easily be extended until it contained countless thousands of sentences with which we are all familiar. Even so, none of the above can be re-written with an "is" of identity -- while remaining comprehensible. For example:

 

L43a: The average cat is identical with twice as fast as the average mouse.

 

L48a: If the weather forecast says it will rain then it is identical with wrong.

 

L51a: Something in the bank is identical with (something?) better than nothing.

 

Once more, it could be argued that these examples could be re-written in the following way:

 

L46a: Sugar is identical with something that is fattening.

 

We saw Lawler try to pull this dodge earlier. But, even if L46 and L46a meant the same (which they do not; for example, it implies that sugar could be identical with potatoes, whereas L46 does not), awkward questions would once again arise over the nature of the new "is" (highlighted in green). That cannot be an "is" of identity (we saw what supposing otherwise led to earlier), and once that is conceded, the rationale for replacing the "is" of predication in this way simply vanishes.

 

An exposé of the origin of this strain of "bad old logic" can be found in Peter Geach's article 'History Of The Corruptions Of Logic', in Geach (1972a), pp.44-61. See also, Geach (1968), pp.22-46.

 

On this topic in general, see Kneale and Kneale (1962).

 

Benson Mates (in Mates (1979) claims that the two main senses of "is" (i.e., predication and identity) are really one. I will be looking at relevant aspects of his argument in a later re-write of this Essay.

 

[See also here, where it seems the bad old logic might be trying to make a limited come-back. However, I suspect that this is because traditional 'logic' makes it easier to defend certain forms of mysticism; in this case it might help Roman Catholic theologians defend the  doctrine of transubstantiation -- which is ironic in view of these comments.]

 

January 2009: I have just come across a sophisticated defence of relevant aspects of Hegel's work in Dulckeit (1989). I will respond both to her criticisms of Russell and her attempt to defend Hegel In Essay Twelve Part Six.

 

41. It isn't easy, however, to agree with this passage from TAR:

 

"[I]t is impossible simply to stare at the world as it immediately presents itself to our eyes and hope to understand it. To make sense of the world, we must bring to it a framework composed of elements of our past experience; what we have learned of others' experience, both in the present and in the past; and of our later reflections on and theories about this experience." [Rees (1998), p.63.]

 

For one thing, how could later generations build a "framework" out of the experiences of earlier times? Even if the latter were accessible to anyone else (but, are the central nervous systems of our ancestors open and available for inspection?), how could they build "experiences" into "frameworks"? Does this require some sort of training -- or are we all supposed to be natural 'epistemological architects'?

 

Of course, it could be argued that Rees meant that later generations learn from the reported experiences of former generations, but even then we would still have the problem of how these are built into "frameworks".

 

And, who exactly does the building? Do we all have to rebuild from scratch -- single-handedly, using the entire body of human experience -- in effect re-inventing the epistemological wheel? Or do we accomplish this in groups, collectively?

 

The latter option would seem to be the one favoured by anyone committed to the social nature of language and knowledge. But, even then, how does this work? Do we possess a sort of collective consciousness that enables us all to gain access the latest updates, and examine each other's 'inner representations' so we can compare notes? Do we intuit new knowledge and install it in our brains as a group directly, as a sort of job lot?

 

The above is in fact another way of expressing a point made more fully in later Parts of Essay Three: DM-theorists have devoted little thought to the implications of their avowed belief in the social and historical nature of language and knowledge -- over and above constantly repeating the classic 'dialectical' formulations of either or both. Given the way dialecticians actually picture knowledge and language, it would be a minor miracle if a single one of us ever formed the same idea as anyone else about anything whatsoever. Given the DM-view of the LOI, no one could do this anyway. [More on this in Part Two.]

 

In fact, lone 'abstractors' would be able to create concepts which only coincidentally agreed with those of others  -- if, that is, the process of abstraction were itself viable to begin with. And, even if there were such a coincidental overlap, it would be impossible to confirm it, just as it would also be impossible to confirm whether we all shared the same understanding of the word "confirm", let alone of the word "same" -- or even of the word "word"! [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

41a. This passage from TAR is rather odd in itself; it will be subject to detailed analysis in Part Four of this Essay.

 

42. Admittedly, John Rees is here criticising Hegel's theoretical approach to knowledge. But, as we shall see in other Essays posted at this site, the simple inversion of Hegel's system (to form 'Materialist Dialectics') -- even if this were augmented with continual checks against reality, constantly tested in practice  -- would not alter its Idealist form.

 

43. Lessing actually wrote (in connection with the (then) controversy over the 'historical' Jesus, with one Reimarus): "Accidental truths of history can never become the proof of necessary truths of reason".

 

 

Appendix A

 

Here is Hegel's longer argument, which seeks to establish some of the points criticised in this Essay.

 

(a) The Positive Judgment
 
§1362

 

1. The subject and predicate as we have remarked, are in the first instance names, which only receive their actual determination through the course of the judgment. However, as sides of the judgment, which is the posited determinate Notion, they have the determination of moments of the Notion, but by virtue of their immediacy, the determination is still quite simple: for it is not enriched by mediation, and also, in accordance with the abstract opposition, it is determined as abstract individuality and universality. The predicate, to speak of this first, is the abstract universal; since this abstract is conditioned by the mediation in which the individual or particular is sublated, this mediation is so far only presupposition. In the sphere of the Notion there can be no other immediacy than one in which mediation is essentially and explicitly a moment and which has come to be only through the sublating of that mediation, that is, the immediacy of the universal. Thus even qualitative being, too, is in its Notion a universal; but as being, the immediacy is not yet so posited; it is only as universality that it is the Notion determination in which is posited the fact that negativity essentially belongs to it. This relation is given in the judgment in which it is the predicate of a subject. Similarly, the subject is an abstract individual, or the immediate that is supposed to be as such, and therefore the individual as a something in general. Thus the subject constitutes the abstract side of the judgment according to which the Notion has in it passed over into externality. As the two Notion determinations are determined, so also is their relation, the is or copula; it too can only have the significance of an immediate, abstract being. On account of the relation which as yet contains no mediation or negation, this judgment is called the positive.

 

§1363

 

2. The immediate pure enunciation of the positive judgment is, therefore, the proposition: the individual is universal.

 

This enunciation must not be put in the form: A is B; for A and B are entirely formless and consequently meaningless names; the judgment as such, however, and therefore even the judgment of existence, has Notion determinations for its extremes. A is B can represent any mere proposition just as well as a judgment. But in every judgment, even in those with a more richly determined form, there is asserted the proposition having this specific content: the individual is universal; inasmuch, namely, as every judgment is also in general an abstract judgment. With the negative judgment, how far it likewise comes under this expression, we shall deal presently. If no heed is given to the fact that in every judgment -- at least, to begin with, every positive judgment, the assertion is made that the individual is a universal, this is partly because the determinate form whereby subject and predicate are distinguished is overlooked -- the judgment being supposed to be nothing but the relation of two notions-and partly, probably, because the rest of the content of the judgment, Gaius is learned, or the rose is red, floats before the mind which is busy with the representation of Gaius, etc., and does not reflect on the form although such content at least as the logical Gaius who has usually to be dragged in as an example, is a much less interesting content and, indeed, is expressly chosen as uninteresting in order not to divert attention from the form to itself.

 

§1364

 

In its objective signification, the proposition that the individual is universal connotes, as we previously had occasion to remark, on the one hand the perishableness of individual things, and on the other hand their positive subsistence in the Notion as such. The Notion itself is imperishable, but that which comes forth from it in its partition is subject to alteration and to return into its universal nature. But conversely, the universal gives itself a determinate being. Just as essence issues into a reflected being [Schein] in its determinations, ground into the manifestation of Existence, and substance into the revelation of itself, into its accidents, so the universal resolves itself into the individual; and the judgment is this explication of the universal, the development of the negativity which it already is in itself. The latter fact is enunciated by the converse proposition, the universal is individual, which is equally enunciated in the positive judgment. The subject, which in the first instance is the immediate individual, is related in the judgment itself to its other, namely, the universal; consequently it is posited as the concrete; in the sphere of being as a something of many qualities, or as the concrete of reflection, a thing of manifold properties, an actuality of manifold possibilities, a substance of such and such accidents. Since these manifold determinations here belong to the subject, the something or the thing, etc., is reflected into itself in its qualities, properties or accidents; or it continues itself through them, maintaining itself in them and equally them in itself. The positedness or determinateness belongs to the being-in-and-for-self. The subject is, therefore, in its own self the universal. The predicate, on the other hand, as this universality which is not real or concrete but abstract, is, in contrast to the subject, the determinateness and contains only one moment of the subject's totality to the exclusion of the others. By virtue of this negativity which, as an extreme of the judgment, is at the same time self-related, the predicate is an abstract individual. For example, in the proposition: the rose is fragrant, the predicate enunciates only one of the many properties of the rose; it singles out this particular one which, in the subject, is a concrescence with the others; just as in the dissolution of the thing, the manifold properties which inhere in it, in acquiring self-subsistence as matters, become individualised. From this side, then, the proposition of the judgment runs thus: the universal is individual.

 

§1365

 

In bringing together this reciprocal determination of subject and predicate in the judgment, we get a twofold result. First that immediately the subject is, indeed, something that simply is, an individual, while the predicate is the universal. But because the judgment is the relation of the two, and the subject is determined by the predicate as a universal, the subject is the universal. Secondly, the predicate is determined in the subject; for it is not a determination in general, but of the subject; in the proposition: the rose is fragrant, this fragrance is not any indeterminate fragrance, but that of the rose; the predicate is therefore an individual. Now since subject and predicate stand in the relationship of the judgment, they have to remain mutually opposed as determinations of the Notion; just as in the reciprocity of causality, before it attains its truth, the two sides have to retain their self-subsistence and mutual opposition in face of the sameness of their determination. When, therefore, the subject is determined as a universal, we must not take the predicate also in its determination of universality -- else we should not have a judgment -- but only in its determination of individuality; similarly, when the subject is determined as an individual, the predicate is to be taken as a universal.

 

§1366

 

Reflection on the above mere identity yields the two identical propositions:

 

The individual is individual,


The universal is universal,

 

in which the sides of the judgment would have fallen completely asunder and only their self-relation would be expressed, while their relation to one another would be dissolved and the judgment consequently sublated. Of the two original propositions, one, the universal is individual, enunciates the judgment in respect of its content, which in the predicate is a singled out determination, while in the subject it is the totality of them; the other, the individual is universal, enunciates the form which is stated immediately by the proposition itself. In the immediate positive judgment the extremes are still simple: form and content are, therefore, still united. In other words, it does not consist of two propositions; the twofold relation which we found in it directly constitutes the one positive judgment. For its extremes appear as (a) self-subsistent, abstract sides of the judgment, and (b) each side is determined by the other, by virtue of the copula connecting them. But for that very reason, the difference of form and content is implicit in it, as we have seen; to wit, what is implied in the first proposition: the individual is universal, pertains to the form, because it expresses the immediate determinateness of the judgment. On the other hand, the relationship expressed by the other proposition: the universal is individual, that is to say, that the subject is determined as universal, but the predicate as particular or individual concerns the content; for the sides of the judgment arise only through the reflection-into-self whereby the immediate determinatenesses are sublated, with the result that the form converts itself into an identity that has withdrawn into itself and persists in opposition to the distinction of form: that is, it converts itself into content.

 

§1367

 

3. Now if the two propositions, the one of form and the other of content:

 

Subject       -      Predicate


The individual is universal

 
The universal is individual,

 

were, because they are contained in the one positive judgment, to be united, so that both subject and predicate alike were determined as unity of individuality and universality, then both subject and predicate would be the particular; and this must be recognised as implicitly their inner determination. Only, on the one hand, this combination would only have been effected by an external reflection, and, on the other hand, the resultant proposition, the particular is the particular, would no longer be a judgment, but an empty identical proposition like those already derived from the positive judgment, namely, the individual is individual, and the universal is universal. Individuality and universality cannot yet be united into particularity, because in the positive judgment they are still posited as immediate. In other words, the judgment must still be distinguished in respect of its form and content, just because subject and predicate are still distinguished as immediacy and something mediated, or because the judgment, according to its relation, is both self-subsistence of the related sides and also their reciprocal determination or mediation.

 

§1368

 

First, then, the judgment considered in respect of its form asserts that the individual is universal. But the truth is that such an immediate individual is not universal; its predicate is of wider scope and therefore does not correspond to it. The subject is an immediate being-for-self and therefore the opposite of that abstraction, of that universality posited through mediation, which was supposed to be predicated of it.

 

§1369

 

Secondly, when the judgment is considered in respect of its content, or as the proposition, the universal is individual, the subject is a universal of qualities, a concrete that is infinitely determined; and since its determinatenesses are as yet only qualities, properties or accidents, its totality is the spuriously infinite plurality of them. Such a subject therefore is, on the contrary, not a single property such as its predicate enunciates. Both propositions, therefore, must be denied and the positive judgment must be posited rather as negative.

 

(b) The Negative Judgment

 

§1370

 

1. We have already referred above to the prevalent idea that it depends merely on the content of the judgment whether it be true or not, since logical truth concerns only the form and demands only that the said content shall not contradict itself. The form of the judgment is taken to be nothing more than the relation of two notions. But we have seen that these two notions do not have merely the relationless character of a sum, but are related to one another as individual and universal. These determinations constitute the truly logical content, and, be it noted, constitute in this abstraction the content of the positive judgment; all other content that appears in a judgment (the sun is round, Cicero was a great orator in Rome, it is day now, etc.) does not concern the judgment as such; the judgment merely enunciates that the subject is predicate, or, more definitely, since these are only names, that the individual is universal and vice versa. By virtue of this purely logical content, the positive judgment is not true, but has its truth in the negative judgment. All that is demanded of the content is that it shall not contradict itself in the judgment; but as has been shown it does contradict itself in the above judgment. It is, however, a matter of complete indifference if the above logical content is also called form, and by content is understood merely the remaining empirical filling; in that case, the form does not imply merely an empty identity, the determinate content lying outside it. The positive judgment has, then, through its form as positive judgment no truth; whoever gives the name of truth to the correctness of an intuition or perception, or to the agreement of the picture-thought with the object, at any rate has no expression left for that which is the subject matter and aim of philosophy. We should at least have to call the latter the truth of reason; and it will surely be granted that judgments such as: Cicero was a great orator, and: it is day now, and so on, are not truths of reason. But they are not such not because they have, as it were contingently, an empirical content, but because they are merely positive judgments that can have and are supposed to have no other content than an immediate individual and an abstract determination.

 

§1371

 

The positive judgment has its proximate truth in the negative: the individual is not abstractly universal -- but on the contrary, the predicate of the individual, because it is such a predicate or taking it by itself apart from its relation to the subject -- because it is an abstract universal, is itself determinate; the individual is, therefore, in the first instance a particular. Further, in accordance with the other proposition contained in the positive judgment, the negative judgment asserts that the universal is not abstractly individual, but on the contrary, this predicate, just because it is a predicate, or because it stands in relation to a universal subject, is something wider than a mere individuality, and the universal is therefore likewise in the first instance a particular. Since this universal, as subject, is itself in the judgment determination of individuality, the two propositions reduce to one: the individual is a particular.

 

§1372

 

We may remark (a) that here the predicate proves to be in the determination of particularity of which we have already made mention; but here it is not posited by external reflection, but has arisen by means of the negative relation exhibited by the judgment. (b) This determination here results only for the predicate. In the immediate judgment, the judgment of existence, the subject is the underlying basis; the determination seems therefore to run its course at first in the predicate. But as a matter of fact this first negation cannot as yet be a determination, or strictly speaking a positing of the individual, for the individual is the second negation, the negative of the negative.

 

§1373

 

The individual is a particular, is the positive expression of the negative judgment. This expression is not itself a positive judgment, for the latter, by reason of its immediacy, has only abstractions for its extremes, while the particular, precisely through the positing of the relation of the judgment presents itself as the first mediated determination. But this determination is not to be taken only as moment of the extreme, but also -- as it really is in the first instance -- as determination of the relation; in other words, the judgment is to be regarded also as negative.

 

§1374

 

This transition is based on the relationship of the extremes and their connection generally in the judgment. The positive judgment is the relation of the immediately individual and universal, therefore the relation of things, one of which at the same time is not what the other is; the relation is, therefore, no less essentially separation or negative; that is why the positive judgment had to be posited as negative. It was, therefore, unnecessary for logicians to make such a fuss over the not of the negative judgment being attached to the copula. In the judgment, what is determination of the extreme is no less a determinate relation. The judgment's determination, or the extreme, is not the purely qualitative determination of immediate being which is supposed to confront only an other outside it. Nor is it determination of reflection, which, in accordance with its general form, has a positive and negative bearing, each being posited as exclusive, and only implicitly identical with the other. The judgment's determination, as determination of the Notion, is in its own self a universal, posited as continuing itself into its other determinations. Conversely, the relation of the judgment is the same determination as that possessed by the extremes; for it is just this universality and continuation of them into one another; in so far as these are distinguished, the relation also has negativity in it.

 

§1375

 

The above-stated transition from the form of the relation to the form of the determination has for its immediate consequence that the not of the copula must no less be attached to the predicate and the predicate determined as the not-universal. But by an equally immediate consequence the not-universal is the particular. If we stick to the negative in the completely abstract determination of immediate not-being, then the predicate is only the completely indeterminate not-universal. This determination is commonly treated in logic in connection with contradictory notions and it is inculcated as a matter of importance that in the negative of a notion one is to stick to the negative only and it is to be regarded as the merely indeterminate extent of the other of the positive notion. Thus the mere not-white would be just as much red, yellow, blue, etc., as black. But white as such is a notionless determination of intuition; the not of white is then equally notionless not-being, an abstraction that has been considered at the very beginning of the logic, where we learned that its proximate truth is becoming. To employ as examples, when treating of the terms of the judgment, such notionless contents drawn from intuition and pictorial thinking, and to take determinations of being and reflection for terms of the judgment, is the same uncritical procedure as the Kantian application of the notions of the understanding to the infinite Idea of reason or the so-called thing-in-itself; the Notion, which also includes the judgment that proceeds from it, is the veritable thing-in-itself or the rational; those other determinations, however, are proper to being or essence and have not yet been developed into forms which exhibit them as they are in their truth, in the Notion. If we stop at white and red as sensuous images, we are giving, as is commonly done, the name of Notion to what is only a determination of pictorial thinking; in that case the not-white and not-red are of course not positive predicates, just as also the not-triangular is something completely indeterminate, for a determination based on number and quantum is essentially indifferent and notionless. But this kind of sensuous content, like not-being itself, must be conceptually grasped and must lose that indifference and abstract immediacy which it has in blind, static, pictorial thinking. Already in determinate being, the meaningless nothing becomes the limit, through which something does, after all, relate to an other outside it. But in reflection, it is the negative that essentially relates to a positive and hence is determinate; a negative is already no longer that indeterminate not-being; it is posited as existing only in so far as the positive is its counterpart, the third member of the triad being their ground; the negative is thus confined within an enclosed sphere in which, what the one is not, is something determinate. But more than this, in the absolutely fluid continuity of the Notion and its determinations the not is immediately a positive, and the negation is not merely a determinateness but is taken up into the universality and posited as identical with it. The not-universal is therefore immediately the particular.

 

§1376

 

2. Since the negation affects the relation of the judgment, and we are dealing with the negative judgment still as such, it is in the first place still a judgment; consequently we have here the relationship of subject and predicate, or of individuality and universality, and their relation, the form of the judgment. The subject as the immediate which forms the basis remains unaffected by the negation; it therefore retains its determination of having a predicate, or its relation to the universality. What is negated, therefore, is not the universality as such in the predicate, but the abstraction or determinateness of the latter which appeared as content in contrast to that universality. Thus the negative judgment is not total negation; the universal sphere which contains the predicate still subsists, and therefore the relation of the subject to the predicate is essentially still positive; the still remaining determination of the predicate is just as much a relation. If, for example, it is said that the rose is not red, it is only the determinateness of the predicate that is negated and separated from the universality which likewise belongs to it; the universal sphere, colour, is preserved; in saying that the rose is not red, it is assumed that it has a colour, but a different one. In respect of this universal sphere the judgment is still positive.

 

§1377

 

The individual is a particular -- this positive form of the negative judgment enunciates immediately that the particular contains universality. But in addition it also expresses that the predicate is not merely a universal but also a determinate universal. The negative form implies the same; for though for example the rose is not red, it must not merely retain the universal sphere of colour for predicate but must also have some other specific colour; thus it is only the single determinateness of red that is negated; and not only is the universal sphere left but determinateness, too, is preserved, though converted into an indeterminate or general determinateness, that is, into particularity.

 

§1378

 

3. The particularity which we have found to be the positive determination of the negative judgment is the mediating term between individuality and universality; thus the negative judgment is now, in general, the mediating term leading to the third step, to the reflection of the judgment of existence into itself. It is, in its objective significance, merely the moment of alteration of the accidents-or, in the sphere of existence, of the isolated properties of the concrete. Through this alteration the complete determinateness of the predicate, or the concrete, emerges as posited.

 

§1379

 

The individual is particular, according to the positive enunciation of the negative judgment. But the individual is also not a particular, for particularity is of wider extent than individuality; it is therefore a predicate that does not correspond to the subject, and in which, therefore, it does not yet possess its truth. The individual is only an individual, the negativity that relates not to an other whether positive or negative, but only to itself. The rose is not a thing of some colour or other, but has only the specific colour that is rose-colour. The individual is not an undetermined determinate, but the determined determinate.

 

§1380

 

Starting from this positive form of the negative judgment, this negation of it appears again as only a first negation. But it is not so. On the contrary, the negative judgment is already in and for itself the second negation or the negation of the negation, and what it is in and for itself must be posited. That is to say, it negates the determinateness of the predicate of the positive judgment, the predicate's abstract universality, or, regarded as content, the single quality which the predicate contains of the subject. But the negation of the determinateness is already the second negation, and therefore the infinite return of individuality into itself. With this, therefore, the restoration of the concrete totality has been achieved, or rather, the subject is now for the first time posited as an individual, for through negation and the sublating of the negation it is mediated with itself. The predicate, too, on its side, has herewith passed over from the first universality to absolute determinateness and has equated itself with the subject. Thus the judgment runs: the individual is individual. From the other side, inasmuch as the subject was equally to be taken as universal, and as the predicate (which in contrast to that determination of the subject is the individual) widened itself in the negative judgment into particularity, and as now, further, the negation of this determinateness is no less the purification of the universality contained in the predicate, this judgment also runs: the universal is the universal.

 

§1381

 

In these two judgments, which we had previously reached by external reflection, the predicate is already expressed in its positivity. But first, the negation of the negative judgment must itself appear in the form of a negative judgment. We saw that in it there still remained a positive relation of the subject to the predicate, and the universal sphere of the latter. From this side, therefore, the negative contained a universality more purged of limitation than the positive judgment, and for that reason must be all the more negated of the subject as an individual. In this manner, the whole extent of the predicate is negated and there is no longer any positive relation between it and the subject. This is the infinite judgment.

 

(c) The Infinite Judgment

 

§1382

 

The negative judgment is as little a true judgment as the positive. But the infinite judgment which is supposed to be its truth is, according to its negative expression, negatively infinite, a judgment in which even the form of judgment is set aside. But this is a nonsensical judgment. It is supposed to be a judgment, and consequently to contain a relation of subject and predicate; yet at the same time such a relation is supposed not to be in it. Though the name of the infinite judgment usually appears in the ordinary logics, it is not altogether clear what its nature really is. Examples of negatively infinite judgments are easily obtained: determinations are negatively connected as subject and predicate, one of which not only does not include the determinateness of the other but does not even contain its universal sphere; thus for example spirit is not red, yellow, etc., is not acid, not alkaline, etc., the rose is not an elephant, the understanding is not a table, and the like. These judgments are correct or true, as the expression goes, but in spite of such truth they are nonsensical and absurd. Or rather, they are not judgments at all. A more realistic example of the infinite judgment is the evil action. In civil litigation, something is negated only as the property of the other party, it being conceded that it should be theirs if they had the right to it; and it is only the title of right that is in dispute; the universal sphere of right is therefore recognised and maintained in that negative judgment. But crime is the infinite judgment which negates not merely the particular right, but the universal sphere as well, negates right as right. This infinite judgment does indeed possess correctness, since it is an actual deed, but it is nonsensical because it is related purely negatively to morality which constitutes its universal sphere.

 

§1383

 

The positive moment of the infinite judgment, of the negation of the negation, is the reflection of individuality into itself, whereby it is posited for the first time as a determinate determinateness. According to that reflection, the expression of the judgment was: the individual is individual In the judgment of existence, the subject appears as an immediate individual and consequently rather as a mere something in general. It is through the mediation of the negative and infinite judgments that it is for the first time posited as an individual.

 

§1384

 

The individual is hereby posited as continuing itself into its predicate, which is identical with it; consequently, too, the universality no longer appears as immediate but as a comprehension of distinct terms. The positively infinite judgment equally runs: the universal is universal, and as such is equally posited as the return into itself.

 

§1385

 

Now through this reflection of the terms of the judgment into themselves the judgment has sublated itself; in the negatively infinite judgment the difference is, so to speak, too great for it to remain a judgment; the subject and predicate have no positive relation whatever to each other; in the positively infinite judgment, on the contrary, only identity is present and owing to the complete lack of difference it is no longer a judgment.

 

§1386

 

More precisely, it is the judgment of existence that has sublated itself; hereby there is posited what the copula of the judgment contains, namely, that the qualitative extremes are sublated in this their identity. Since however this unity is the Notion, it is immediately sundered again into its extremes and appears as a judgment, whose terms however are no longer immediate but reflected into themselves. The judgment of existence has passed over into the judgment of reflection. [Hegel (1999), pp.631-43. I have used the online version here. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

 

Appendix B: DM-Theorists On 'Abstraction'

 

In addition to the material already posted in the main body of this Essay I will be adding to this Appendix what other DM-theorists have had to say about the mythical 'process of abstraction'.

 

To be posted in the next few days...

 

 

References

 

Ackrill, J. (1997a), Essays On Plato And Aristotle (Oxford University Press).

 

--------, (1997b), 'Plato And The Copula: Sophist 251-259', in Ackrill (1997a), pp.80-92, and in Allen (1965), pp.207-18.

 

Adelmann, F. (1975) (ed.), Philosophical Investigations In The USSR (Martinus Nijhoff).

 

Allen, R. (1965) (ed.), Studies In Plato's Metaphysics (Routledge).

 

Anscombe, G., and Geach, P. (1961), Three Philosophers (Blackwell).

 

Ayer, A. (1959) (ed.), Logical Positivism (The Free Press).

 

Baker, G., and Hacker, P. (1988), Wittgenstein. Rules, Grammar And Necessity, Volume Two (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).

 

--------, (2005), Wittgenstein: Understanding And Meaning. Volume One Of An Analytic Commentary On The Philosophical Investigations. Part One: Essays (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).

 

Barnes, J. (2009), Truth, Etc. Six Lectures On Ancient Logic (Oxford University Press).

 

Beaney, M. (1996), Frege. Making Sense (Duckworth).

 

Bono, J. (1995), The Word Of God And The Language Of Men, Ficino To Descartes, Volume One: Interpreting Nature In Early Modern Science And Medicine (University of Wisconsin Press).

 

Brading, K., and Castellani, E. (2003) (eds.), Symmetries In Physics. Philosophical Reflections (Cambridge University Press).

 

Brown, L. (2003), 'Being In The Sophist: A Syntactical Enquiry', in Fine (2003b), pp.445-78.

 

Callinicos, A. (1978), The Logic Of Capital. Unpublished D.Phil. Thesis, Oxford University.

 

Castellani, E. (1998) (ed.), Interpreting Bodies. Classical And Quantum Objects In Modern Physics (Princeton University Press).

 

Cook, D. (1973), Language In The Philosophy of Hegel (Mouton).

 

Copleston, F. (2003), A History Of Philosophy, Eleven Volumes (Continuum Press).

 

Cornford, F. (1935), Plato's Theory Of Knowledge (Routledge).

 

--------, (1997), Plato's Cosmology. The Timaeus Of Plato (Hackett Publishing Company).

 

Cornforth, F. (1976), Materialism And The Dialectical Method (Lawrence & Wishart, 5th ed.). [A copy of the 1968 edition is available here.]

 

Cowley, F. (1991), Metaphysical Delusion (Prometheus Books).

 

Daston, L. (1994), 'Baconian Facts, Academic Civility, And The Prehistory Of Objectivity', in Megill (1994), pp.37-63.

 

Daston, L., and Galison, P. (2007), Objectivity (Zone Books).

 

Davidson, D. (2005), Truth And Predication (MIT Press).

 

Desmond, W. (1989) (ed.), Hegel And His Critics. Philosophy In The Aftermath Of Hegel (State University of New York Press).

 

Deutscher, G. (2006), The Unfolding Of Language. The Evolution Of Mankind's Greatest Invention (Arrow Books).

 

Dilman, I. (1984) (ed.), Philosophy And Life (Kluwer Academic Press).

 

Dirac, P. (1967), The Principles Of Quantum Mechanics (Oxford University Press, 4th ed.).

 

Dobbs, B. (2002), The Janus Face Of Genius: The Role Of Alchemy In Newton's Thought (Cambridge University Press).

 

Dulckeit, K. (1989), 'Hegel's Revenge On Russell: The "Is" Of Identity Versus The "Is" Of Predication', in Desmond (1989), pp.111-31.

 

Dummett, M. (1981a), Frege. Philosophy Of Language (Duckworth, 2nd ed.).

 

--------, (1981b), The Interpretation Of Frege's Philosophy (Duckworth).

 

Dunayevskaya, R. (1982), Philosophy And Revolution (Humanities Press, 2nd ed.). Several chapters of this can be found here.

 

--------, (2002), The Power Of Negativity. Selected Writings On The Dialectic In Hegel And Marx (Lexington Books).

 

Eco, U. (1997), The Search For The Perfect Language (Fontana).

 

Engels, F. (1954), Dialectics Of Nature (Progress Publishers).

 

Fann, K. (1978) (ed.), Wittgenstein: The Man And His Philosophy (Harvester Press).

 

Fine, G. (1977), 'Plato On Naming' Philosophical Quarterly 27, pp.289-301; reprinted in Fine (2003a), pp.117-31.

 

--------, (2003a), Plato On Knowledge And Forms (Oxford University Press).

 

--------, (2003b) (ed.), Plato 1: Metaphysics And Epistemology (Oxford University Press).

 

Fisk, M. (1979), 'Dialectic And Ontology', in Mepham and Ruben (1979), pp.117-43.

 

Frege, G. (1892), 'On Concept And Object', in Geach and Black (1980), pp.42-55.

 

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French, S., and Krause, D. (2006), Identity In Physics: A Historical, Philosophical And Formal Analysis (Oxford University Press).

 

Garber, D., and Ayers, M. (1998) (eds.), Cambridge History Of 17th Century Philosophy, Two Volumes (Cambridge University Press).

 

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Geach, P. (1961), 'Frege', in Anscombe and Geach (1961), pp.142-62.

 

--------, (1968), Reference And Generality (Cornell University Press, 2nd ed.).

 

--------, (1969a), God And The Soul (Routledge).

 

--------, (1969b), 'Form And Existence', in Geach (1969a), pp.42-64.

 

--------, (1972a), Logic Matters (Blackwell).

 

--------, (1972b), 'History Of The Corruptions Of Logic', in Geach (1972a), pp.44-61. [This links to a PDF.]

 

--------, (1972c), 'Why Sentences Are Not Names', Studia Semiotyczna 3, pp.13-21.

 

--------, (1979), Truth, Love And Immortality. An Introduction To McTaggart's Philosophy (University of California Press).

 

Geach, P., and Black, M. (1980), Translations From The Philosophical Writings Of Gottlob Frege (Blackwell, 3rd ed.).

 

Gibson, M. (2004), From Naming To Saying. The Unity Of The Proposition (Blackwell).

 

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Gregorios, P. (2002) (ed.), Neoplatonism And Indian Philosophy (State University of New York Press).

 

Guthrie, W. (1986a), A History Of Greek Philosophy. Volume Four: Plato: The Man And His Dialogues (Cambridge University Press).

 

--------, (1986b), A History Of Greek Philosophy. Volume Five: The Later Plato And The Academy (Cambridge University Press).

 

Hacker, P. (2000), Wittgenstein. Mind And Will. Volume Four, Part One (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).

 

Hanna, P., and Harrison, B. (2004), Word And World. Practice And The Foundations Of Language (Cambridge University Press).

 

Harrison, B. (1979), An Introduction To The Philosophy Of Language (Macmillan).

 

Havelock, E. (1983), 'The Linguistic Task Of The Presocratics', in Robb (1982), pp.7-82.

 

Healy, G. (1990), Materialist Dialectics And The Political Revolution (Marxist Publishing Collective).

 

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--------, (1975), Logic, translated by William Wallace (Oxford University Press, 3rd ed.).

 

--------, (1999), Science Of Logic, translated by A V Miller (Humanity Books).

 

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--------, (1977), Dialectical Logic (Progress Publishers).

 

--------, (1982), The Dialectics Of The Abstract And The Concrete In Marx's Capital (Progress Publishers).

 

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Ionescu, S. (2007), 'Davidson And The Problem Of Predication'. As far as I know, this is only available on-line. [This links to a PDF.]

 

Jackson, T. (1936), Dialectics (Lawrence & Wishart).

 

James, C. (1980), Notes On Dialectics (Allison & Busby).

 

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--------, (2003), The Verb 'Be' In Ancient Greek (Hackett Publishing).

 

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Klima, G. (No Date), 'The Essentialist Nominalism Of Jean Buridan'. [This links to a PDF.]

 

Kneale, K., and Kneale, M. (1962), The Development Of Logic (Oxford University Press).

 

Koyré, A. (1957), From The Closed World To The Infinite Universe (The John Hopkins University Press).

 

--------, (1968), Newtonian Studies (University of Chicago Press).

 

Knuuttila, S., and Hintikka, J. (1986) (eds.), The Logic Of Being. Historical Studies (Reidel).

 

Ladyman, J., and Bigaj, T. (2010), 'The Principle Of The Identity Of Indiscernibles And Quantum Mechanics', Philosophy of Science 77, 1, pp.117-36.

 

Lawler, J. (1982), 'Hegel On Logical And Dialectical Contradictions, And Misinterpretations From Bertrand Russell To Lucio Colletti', in Marquit, Moran, and Truitt (1982), pp.11-44.

 

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Lepore, E., and Smith, B. (2006) (eds.), The Oxford Handbook Of Philosophy Of Language (Oxford University Press).

 

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--------, (1961), Collected Works, Volume 38 (Progress Publishers).

 

--------, (1972), Materialism And Empirio-Criticism (Foreign Languages Press).

 

--------, (1980), On The Question Of Dialectics (Progress Publishers).

 

Linsky, L. (1977), Names And Descriptions (University of Chicago Press).

 

Livio, M. (2009), Is God A Mathematician? (Simon & Schuster).

 

Lloyd, G. (1971), Polarity And Analogy. Two Types Of Argument In Early Greek Thought (Cambridge University Press).

 

Long, P. (1984), 'Universals: Logic And Metaphor', in Dilman (1984), pp.271-89; reprinted in Long (2001), pp.93-106.

 

--------, (2001), Logic, Form And Grammar (Routledge).

 

Lovejoy, A. (1964), The Great Chain Of Being (Harvard University Press).

 

Lowe, E. (2006), 'Take A Seat, Then Consider This Simple Sentence', Times Higher Education Supplement, 07/04/06.

 

MacBride, F. (2006), 'Predicate Reference', in Lepore and Smith (2006), pp.422-75.

 

Marquit, E., Moran, P., and Truitt, W. (1982) (eds.), Dialectical Contradictions And Contemporary Marxist Discussions. Studies in Marxism Volume Ten (Marxist Educational Press).

 

Mates, B. (1972), Elementary Logic (Oxford University Press).

 

--------, (1979), 'Identity And Predication In Plato', Phronesis 24, pp.211-29, reprinted in Knuuttila and Hintikka (1986), pp.29-47.

 

Marx, K. (1973), Grundrisse (Penguin Books).

 

--------, (1975a), Early Writings (Penguin Books).

 

--------, (1975b), Economical And Philosophical Manuscripts, in Marx (1975a), pp.279-400.

 

--------, (1975c), A Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel's Philosophy Of Right, in Marx (1975c), pp.243-57.

 

--------, (1978), The Poverty Of Philosophy (Foreign Languages Press).

 

--------, (1981), Capital Volume Three (Penguin Books).

 

Marx, K., and Engels, F. (1968), Selected Works In One Volume (Lawrence & Wishart).

 

--------, (1970), The German Ideology, Students Edition, edited by Chris Arthur (Lawrence & Wishart).

 

--------, (1975a), The Holy Family (Progress Publishers, 2nd ed.).

 

--------, (1975b), Selected Correspondence (Progress Publishers, 3rd ed.).

 

Megill, A. (1994) (ed.), Rethinking Objectivity (Duke University Press).

 

Mepham, J., and Ruben, D-H. (1979), (eds.), Issues In Marxist Philosophy. Volume One: Dialectics And Method (Harvester).

 

Mercer, C. (2001), Leibniz's Metaphysics. Its Origins And Development (Cambridge University Press).

 

Milton, J. (1981), 'The Origin And Development Of The Concept Of The "Laws Of Nature"', Archives Europeénes De Sociologie 22, pp.173-95.

 

--------, (1998), 'Laws Of Nature', in Garber and Ayers, Volume One (1998), pp.680-701.

 

Modrak, D. (2001), Aristotle's Theory Of Language And Meaning (Cambridge University Press).

 

Needham, J. (1951a), 'Human Laws And Laws Of Nature In China And The West (1)', Journal of the History of Ideas 12, 1, pp.3-32; revised version reprinted in Needham (1979), pp.299-331.

 

--------, (1951b), 'Human Laws And Laws Of Nature In China And The West (2)', Journal of the History of Ideas 12, 2, pp.194-230; revised version reprinted in Needham (1979), pp.299-331.

 

--------, (1979), The Grand Titration. Science And Society In East And West (University of Toronto Press).

 

Noonan, H. (2001), Frege. A Critical Introduction (Polity Press).

 

Novack, G. (1965), The Origins Of Materialism (Pathfinder Press).

 

--------, (1971), An Introduction To The Logic Of Marxism (Pathfinder Press, 5th ed.).

 

Oliver, A. (2010), What Is A Predicate?, in Potter and Ricketts (2010), pp.118-48. [This links to a PDF.]

 

Ollman, B. (2003), Dance Of The Dialectic. Steps In Marx's Method (University of Illinois Press). Several chapters of this book can be found here.

 

Owen, G. (1966), 'The Platonism Of Aristotle', Proceedings of the British Academy 51, pp.125-50; reprinted in Owen (1986), pp.200-20.

 

--------, (1986), Logic, Science And Dialectic. Collected Papers In Greek Philosophy (Duckworth).

 

Pelletier, F. (1990), Parmenides, Plato And The Semantics Of Not-Being (Harvard University Press).

 

Pitcher, G. (1978), 'Wittgenstein, Nonsense And Lewis Carroll', in Fann (1978), pp.315-35.

 

Plato, (1997a), Complete Works, edited by John Cooper (Hackett Publishing).

 

--------, (1997b), Sophist, in Plato (1997a), pp.235-93.

 

--------, (1997c), Timaeus, in Plato (1997a), pp.1224-91.

 

Plekhanov, G. (1956), The Development Of The Monist View Of History (Progress Publishers). This is reprinted in Plekhanov (1974), pp.480-737.

 

--------, (1974), Selected Philosophical Works, Volume One (Progress Publishers, 2nd ed.).

 

Potter, M., and Ricketts, T. (2010) (eds.), The Cambridge Companion To Frege (Cambridge University Press).

 

Redding, P. (2007), Analytic Philosophy And the Return Of Hegelian Thought (Cambridge University Press).

 

Rees, J. (1998), The Algebra Of Revolution (Routledge). [This links to a PDF.]

 

Robb, K. (1983) (ed.), Language And Thought In Early Greek Philosophy (Monist Library of Philosophy).

 

Rosenthal, J. (1998), The Myth Of Dialectics (Macmillan).

 

Ruby, J. (1986), 'The Origins Of Scientific Law', Journal of the History of Ideas 47, pp.341-59; reprinted in Weinert (1995), pp.289-315.

 

Ryle, G. (1949), 'A Review Of Meaning And Necessity By Rudolf Carnap', Philosophy 24, pp.69-76, reprinted as 'Discussion Of Rudolf Carnap: Meaning And Necessity' in Ryle (1971a), pp.225-35.

 

--------, (1959), 'Philosophical Arguments', in Ayer (1959), pp.327-44, reprinted in Ryle (1971b), pp.194-211.

 

--------, (1971a), Collected Papers Volume One: Critical Essays (Barnes & Noble Inc.).

 

--------, (1971b), Collected Papers Volume Two: Collected Essays 1929-1968 (Barnes & Noble Inc.).

 

Sayer, A. (1992), Method In Social Science. A Realist Approach (Routledge, 2nd ed.).

 

Sayer, D. (1987), The Violence Of Abstraction (Blackwell). [Chapters Two and Three can be accessed here and here.]

 

Seligman, P. (1962), The Apeiron Of Anaximander. A Study In The Origin And Function Of Metaphysical Ideas (The Athlone Press).

 

Shanker, S. (1987), Wittgenstein And The Turning-Point In The Philosophy Of Mathematics (State University of New York Press).

 

Smith, R. (2011), 'Aristotle's Logic', The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2011 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

 

Swartz, N. (1985), The Concept Of A Physical Law (Cambridge University Press).

 

--------, (2009), 'Laws Of Nature', Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

 

Sweezy, P. (1970), The Theory Of Capitalist Development (Monthly Review Press). [This links to a PDF.]

 

Thalheimer, A. (1936), Introduction To Dialectical Materialism. The Marxist World-View (Covici Friede Publishers).

 

Thomas, K. (1973), Religion And The Decline Of Magic (Penguin Books).

 

Trotsky, L. (1971), In Defense Of Marxism (New Park Publications).

 

Tugendhat, E. (1982), Traditional And Analytic Philosophy (Cambridge University Press).

 

Wallis, R. (1972), NeoPlatonism (Charles Scribner's Sons).

 

Weiner, J. (1990), Frege In Perspective (Cornell University Press).

 

--------, (1999), Frege (Oxford University Press).

 

--------, (2004), Frege Explained. From Arithmetic To Analytic Philosophy (Open Court); this is a revised edition of Weiner (1999).

 

Weinert, F. (1995) (ed.), Laws Of Nature: Essays On The Philosophical, Scientific And Historical Dimensions (Walter de Gruyter).

 

Wittgenstein, L. (1958), The Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe (Blackwell, 2nd ed.).

 

--------, (1974), Philosophical Grammar, translated by Anthony Kenny (Blackwell).

 

--------, (2009), Philosophical Investigations, translated by G. E. M. Anscombe, revised by Peter Hacker and Joachim Schulte (Blackwell, 4th ed.).

 

Wolcher, L. (1999), 'A New And Superior Theory Of Ideology?', The Independent Review 4, 2, pp.291-302. This is available here as a PDF.

 

Zilsel, E. (1942), 'The Genesis Of The Concept Of Physical Law', Philosophical Review 51, pp.245-67; reprinted in Zilsel (2000), pp.96-122.

 

--------, (2000), The Social Origins Of Modern Science (Kluwer Academic Press).

 

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