Essay Three Part One: How Abstractionism Undermines Language And Science

 

Preface

 

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The main aims of Essay Three are outlined here. The opening sections of this Part of Essay Three are intended to motivate several of the more important ideas presented in the rest of this site. However, one or two of the things I say below might seem to some to be rather dogmatic, but they will be fully substantiated in other Essays -- for example, Essay Twelve Part One.

 

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As is the case with all my Essays, nothing here should be read as an attack either on Historical Materialism [HM] -- a theory I fully accept --, or, indeed, on revolutionary socialism. I remain as committed to the self-emancipation of the working class and the dictatorship of the proletariat as I was when I first became a revolutionary nearly thirty years ago. [The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.]

 

It is 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 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 intended 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 either 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 pointing out 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 they 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 rather 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 November 2014, this Essay is just under 98,000 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 of 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) 'Abstract General Terms' Simply The Names Of 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' Can Be Derived From Language Alone

 

(iii)  Linguistic Megalomania

 

(iv)  Universal, Eternal And A Priori Truth

 

(v)   Logic And The Logos Of 'God'

 

(vi)  Subject And Predicate In Indo-European Grammar

 

(vii) Traditional Philosophy: An Age-Old 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 Sad Demise Of Generality

 

(g) 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) George Novack's Descent Into Syntactic Confusion

 

(11) Comrade Jackson's Hare-Brained Assault On Language

 

(12) Thalheimer's Dialectical Disaster

 

(13) Lawler's Lame Attack On Bertrand Russell

 

(14) Notes

 

(15) Appendix A: Hegel's Actual 'Argument'

 

(16) Appendix B: Assorted DM-Theorists On 'Abstraction'

 

(a) Alexander Spirkin

 

(b) Bertell Ollman

 

(c) Andrew Sayer

 

(d) Woods And Grant

 

(17) Appendix C: The Arabic System

 

(18) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

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 the latter 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 -- and hence revolutionary socialist practice.

 

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 remarks, which response 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 incorporating 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 appropriated 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, 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" despite their protestations to the contrary); 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 invent 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' (or "real 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 and/or society -- 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)) -- the word "objective" 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 at face value their version of their own theory. 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/valid, 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 the pit of '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, or could interact with 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 emphases added. The published version translates the third set of 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), their approach to knowledge possesses 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 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 even when used by avowed materialists.]

 

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. [DM-theorists merely add that their theory allows them properly to understand the 'concrete'.] 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's mind with universal principles, which, oddly enough, don't actually exist anywhere in the world!

 

But, to press this point further, if abstractions are general in form, and do in fact exist in the world, how does this generality actually express itself? 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 conceive of abstractions and the 'processes' by which they are cobbled-together undermine the generality they had been introduced all along to explain. Naturally, that thoroughly compromises this entire approach to knowledge.

 

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

 

 

'Abstract General Terms' Simply The Names Of Particulars In Disguise

 

Admittedly, when it is 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 instances, of the "Forms", or of "Concepts", "Categories", "Essences", and "Ideas"). Unfortunately, this linguistic segue implies that these Universals (etc.) are in fact particulars of some sort, named now by an abstract noun (such as "Manhood", or "Cathood", "The Population"), 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, supposedly compound in nature, but no less Ideal.1c If Universals are like classes -- which somehow seem to 'exist' anterior to material reality -- it would seem to suggest that they are ghostly containers of some sort, but populated in same way by what are supposed to be the material object they collect together.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 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.1d1

 

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. Compare this with calling what we now know is Oxygen, "dephlogisticated air". That, too, simply labelled a problem in 18th century Chemistry, which, fortunately, the scientists of the day didn't try to solve by inventing yet more jargon. [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 diverse abstractors, over many centuries, is an even deeper mystery. No doubt there is an abstraction that covers this, too. [This 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 of all content. As we will see, this is indeed the line of thought that motivated Hegel's 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 was substantiated 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?

 

Abstraction is widely held to be a process that all (or most) human beings are capable of accessing, one that enables those so minded to form 'abstract ideas' almost at will.2

 

One interpretation of this allegedly universal skill involves the additional belief that abstractions already exist in reality, there waiting for intrepid 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.

 

Of course, this particular 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 hardly 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, these comrades take great exception if anyone attempts to point the significance of this out to them.

 

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

 

(a) Progressively ignore certain features, properties, or aspects of material objects, enabling them to form increasingly general ideas or concepts.

 

Or:

 

(b) Access the 'abstract concepts' which they (somehow?) already possess, or which 'inhere' in every object of a given 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 had been dreamt up by previous generations of philosophers (such as "Being", "Nothing", "Becoming", and "Substance"). This seems to suggest that these 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.

 

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

 

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

 

(c) 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?

 

(d) 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 the entire universe and for all time? 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 Ideal world 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 of them be material? More to the point: how could any of them be "objective" (i.e., "mind independent") if they aren't in fact "mind-independent"?

 

Or, is this just another 'dialectical contradiction' we are supposed merely to "grasp", and then sweep under the non-dialectical carpet?

 

 

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 this 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.

 

[There is more on this it in Part Two, and in Essay Ten Part One, where we will see that this approach collapses into open scepticism, since the difference between a finite number of facts and an infinite number is itself infinite. Naturally, that implies humanity will always be infinitely ignorant about everything and anything.]

 

On the other hand, if this approach is correct, it looks like the class of concrete objects would (i) only ever have aspiring, but never successful members to recruit, or it would (ii) look increasingly ephemeral, resembling a metaphysical version of the Cheshire Cat -- the more we know about this class, the less substantial it would seem to be. [On that, see below.]

 

Furthermore, given this way of seeing things, no abstractor (novice or skilled 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 dungeon 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, given this view, 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 is of even one of these obscure 'entities'. Indeed, if Lenin is right, humanity will be infinitely ignorant of any and all such particulars. Worse still, if we are infinitely ignorant of, say, cats and dogs, could we even say with confidence that they were in fact cats (or dogs)!

 

Unfortunately, this means that abstractions themselves are 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 each ghostly concrete bunker.

 

In which case, Trotsky's enigmatic comments are no help at all. If we have no idea what abstractions or concrete particulars are, and never will, then it is little use 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 will take exception to these claims because the latter 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 (or even refute) this contentious allegation?

 

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 an easily identifiable thread running through the entire history of Traditional Philosophy: the idea 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/doctored words.

 

Few Traditional Theorists might be willing 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 thousand years, 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 aimed at 'justifying' their semi-godlike ability to derive substantial truths about "Being" from the consideration of the supposed meaning of a few carefully chosen/concocted words.

 

[There is no suggestion, however, that every single one of them did this duplicitously.]

 

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

 

 

The 'Rational' Structure Of Reality

 

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

 

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 Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

 

'Super-Truths' Can Be Derived solely 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, and a flair for inventing jargon -- 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 will forever lie beyond the comprehension of the great 'unwashed') simply by dissecting the supposed implications of their own specially-invented jargon. [Often these verbal tricks would be 'helped along' by the liberal use of stipulative and/or persuasive definitions.]

 

In order to elaborate upon this impressive skill, Traditional Thinkers invented increasingly arcane and baroque terminology, which jargon 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 in the material world, or have been a product of social practice. Hence, this jargon not only had a strictly limited radius of utility (the latter stretching only as far as the work of other socially-isolated 'thinkers' eager to play the same game), it enjoyed patronage among a highly exclusive clientele. And deliberately so; only words that were uniquely blessed with an such empyrean pedigree 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 an extension 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 that, 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 uncovered by the exercise of thought alone; no expensive equipment or messy experiments were required. In fact, no real contact with the material world was required --, that is, over and above ready 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 and 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 exigencies of 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 itself runs counter to core ideas in HM. 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 that is more real than the material world we see around us --, 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: i.e., the idea that (i) a few words invented on this planet can inform us of the deepest secrets of 'Being' -- which are also inaccessible to the senses --, and that (ii) the human brain lies at the very centre of the 'meaning universe'.

 

 

Linguistic Megalomania

 

(3) In the 'West', since early Greek times, linguistic megalomania of the above sort (whereby universal and necessary truths can be obtained from thought alone) has dominated the minds 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, this class and their ideologues also rule as "thinkers", and this they do in "its whole range".

 

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

 

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

 

 

Universal, Eternal, A Priori Truth

 

(4) Its most noticeable symptom (if that is the right word) takes the form of an over-blown faith in the idea that the Super-Truths invented by boss-class hacks must of necessity apply to all of reality, for all of time. This 'trait' manifests itself as different forms of LIE, and includes the archaic idea that reality is just 'condensed language', the result either of the activities of the 'Word of God', or of a 'Mind' or 'Will' of some sort. By sheer coincidence, the philosophical gems concocted as a result 'justified' and/or rationalised the social order which benefited and served the interests of the ruling-classes humanity has had inflicted upon it for far too many centuries.

 

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

 

 

Logic And The Logos Of 'God'

 

(5) Logic is an expression of 'the laws of thought' which somehow reflect the 'essential nature' of 'Being'. This ancient idea was allied with the parallel belief that the 'secrets' that underpinned reality could be unmasked by an examination of the logical structure of suitably 'doctored' sentences -- laced with just enough obscure terminology, impenetrable jargon and speculative flights-of-fancy to distract/confuse the unwary. [Or, these days, just enough to impress Marxist 'intellectuals'.]

 

[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. On 'Laws of Thought', see my comments over at Wikipedia.]

 

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 which logic is supposed to reflect.

 

The idea that Logic mirrors the deep-structure of reality also encourages another widely held belief that Logic is a sort of cosmic Super-Code, a key source of Super-Knowledge, which can be put to use unmasking nature's 'hidden secrets' 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 an expression of -- or even as identical with -- the Logos and/or 'God's' 'Mind', and thus with a reflection of the underlying '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 (with 'Being', 'Nothing' and 'Becoming' forming 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 fancies, metaphysicians (and DM-fans, for whom 'Dialectical Logic' runs the entire Universe) 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 leisured. ruling-class hacks naturally found such views particularly appealing. For obvious reasons, this approach invariably assumed linguistic form. [These 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 originally 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 was put to use 'legitimating' the 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.]

 

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

 

 

Subject And Predicate In Indo-European Grammar

 

(6) This specially-concocted jargon must therefore be able to link the finite minds of their inventors 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 later also a central concern 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 fabricate) 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 they alone had exclusive access this superhighway into the heart of 'Being', deriving necessary truths from their own jargonised terminology, philosophical theses that couldn't fail to be true, and which thus needed no evidence in their support --, except, of course, 'evidence' that could be gleaned from the use of yet more jargon. These Super-Verities were indeed self-evident. In fact, only "crude materialists" would think to challenge this convenient and 'self-confirming' approach to knowledge.

 

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

 

As we will see, all this was merely self-deception; this highway 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 built into one particular 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 their provenance, these Ideal Forms (or what they supposedly reflected) were regarded as more real than anything found 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 and more modern forms of magic and Alchemy). But, and far more importantly, this 'secret knowledge' helped 'rationalise' state power, and thus the status quo. For if they are guaranteed by, and are 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, those skilled in the art of prolix jargon-juggling could confer on themselves considerable prestige -- if not apparent authority -- as 'legitimators' of elite power.

 

Keith Thomas highlighted a similar tactic adopted by 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 pre-eminent role by suggesting that their thoughts could reach right into the heart of 'Being' Itself, which linked their theories with the Divinely-Constituted Order. 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, the power to summon metaphysical abstractions at will forms part of an 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: A 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 presents it adepts with 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-Scientific Knowledge 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 Super-theses that Traditional Philosophers concocted were incapable of being empirically verified, falsified or confirmed in any 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. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Indeed, anyone who raises doubts concerning the validity of this approach to 'ultimate truth' will automatically be classified as a "philistine", a "crude" materialist (or even an "empiricist" or a "positivist"), or they will simply be dismissed out-of-hand. This is, of course, one of the reasons why the ideas of the ruling-class always rule. Those who challenge them are vilified. 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 over the centuries 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 it. 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.

 

[As we will see in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, this link was maintained in the state ideology adopted by the new ruling classes of the former 'really existing socialist states' (in E Europe and the former Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and elsewhere) -- except this time it took the shape of DM itself. (What was that again about the ideas of the ruling class...?)] 

 

Hence, it was (and still is) just assumed in almost every quarter that Philosophy must have a role to play in the pursuit of knowledge, even if this is only to provide employment for those caught up in the production of jargon-choked 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 weren't 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 DM-theorist, you just do not ask such awkward questions. You do not even allow yourself to think them.

 

For if you do, someone might classify you as a philosophical radical, and thus confuse you with someone who isn't content merely to re-package in 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 first 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.]

 

As Marx points out, this domination and distortion doesn't take place in a social and political vacuum.

 

Ordinary language as a social product --, devised by those who interface daily with the material world and one another, 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 re-presenting the secrets of 'Being' in the minds of generations of ruling-class hacks, will be fully explored 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 into the real relations between things, or as those things themselves. In this way, discourse was fetishised, endowed  with 'magical' powers; those in the grip of the linguistic megalomania (outlined in earlier sections) were thus given a licence to practice.

 

If the "essential" nature of reality is indeed inaccessible to experience, then thinkers have had to employ the "light of reason", "intuition", various "transcendental arguments",  assorted "thought experiments" and, of course, specially-concocted jargon in order to uncover its "hidden secrets". Fetishised in this way, language became a surrogate for objective reality, and talk about talk became systematically confused with talk about 'things'. Language was thus transformed into an abstract, magical code. Linguistic categories (i.e., 'abstractions') were projected onto the world -- which carried with it the covert implication that 'reality' 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 uncover profound secrets about 'ultimate reality', nature must be fundamentally linguistic -- constituted by the word of some 'god' or other.

 

[These ideas are developed 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 form of ruling-class ideology, which can be found to a greater or lesser extent in all strains of Traditional Philosophy. These ruling ideas rule largely because they are not only useful to those who rule, but they also picture the world as the boss-class have always wanted to see it. So, for them, a hidden world underlying appearances, governed solely by 'rational principles', constitutes 'ultimate reality'. If the state reflects this hidden world, and if the latter is in turn the product of some 'god', then  their rule will have been 'legitimated' at the highest level.

 

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. In fact, there was no need to impose these ideas on reality; as we will see, they constituted reality. So, instead of these ideas reflecting the world, the world reflected these ideas. They dictated to reality what it must be like and what it must contain.

 

Despite the many changes in content we have witnessed as the social forms of ruling-class power changed, its form has remained remarkably constant 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. Any who think this violates certain principles enshrined in HM should read this and then perhaps think again.]

 

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

 

Unfortunately, the 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; others 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 as if they were born-again traditionalists.

 

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

 

 

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 disastrous 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, that "all scientific...abstractions reflect nature more deeply, truly and completely."

 

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 concerning 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). [On this, and the material posted under next three sub-headings, see Appendix B.]

 

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 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 individuals 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 (or that of our theories about them -- these two are often run-together in DM-circles), 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.

 

Unfortunately, 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 us discriminate among our beliefs. They could hardly do that if they were disconnected from other facts.

 

Who can say?

 

[The above passage will be analysed in more detail in Essay Twelve 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 tries to relate 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 '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 enjoys 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?

 

Of course, human beings might not at present know what all these interconnections are, but since humanity will never know what all these interconnections are, 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 at best merely academic, at worst thoroughly misguided. The four senses of these terms (if there are indeed four) shouldn't 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 the above 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 isn't 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 advance (which are connected with the use of these terms) aren't 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 Hermetic Mystics.

 

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

 

"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 phrase 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 with it, leaving any judgement we make about it stranded 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 aren't 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 whether something is 'abstract' 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 apple 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 time-worn philosophical terms-of-art, invented by thinkers keen to rationalise the status quo. However, it is plain that, even though these two terms have since become hackneyed by over-use, DM-theorists 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 enjoyed their status as long-standing members of the Idealist's Phrase Book.

 

Even worse still, and as far as I can tell, no attempt has ever been made by DM-theorists 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 ancient idea from Hegel. And this isn't 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 verbal gymnastics like this 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 emerged out 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 priorities 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 disappointingly 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, these 'foundations' 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 section 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 Lenin, 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 faces 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. That 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 idea, 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 isn't 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 further search for knowledge, achieving a different expression in each Mode of Production.

 

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 one or more of the following:

 

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

 

(2) From there onwards, further abstract general ideas must be extracted from experience, or refined, borrowed, applied, deduced, critically constructed or modified by thought (depending on which theory of abstraction one adheres to). Used correctly, abstractions help reflect, 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 because they are 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) As a result, 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. That 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, newer/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).

 

In this light, 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 Appendix B) -- constitutes the central core of the DM-theory of knowledge. It stands -- or falls -- with it.

 

The above comments seem, therefore, to resolve the apparent incongruity noted earlier.

 

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 that might be given to the following question:

 

What if it should turn 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 of these particulars, and only ever ended-up with yet more particulars?

 

As should seem reasonably obvious, an unhelpful response to that question would deepen the suspicion that DM cannot account for knowledge (since generality will have been abstracted away, even destroyed), 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 discovery of knowledge concerning the 'essential' features of reality that underpin 'appearances', it 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 genuinely material particulars (such as a tumbler), all the while failing to note that generality went out the non-dialectical window a couple of thousand years ago.

 

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

 

This (inherited) 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 were 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, everyone in a given society becomes "The Population", and so on.

 

The results of false steps like this circle 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., the names of classes, universals, categories, 'essences' and 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 describe the "process of cognition"; it cannot fail to be convoluted because of the insoluble problem with which they have saddled themselves.14

 

DM-theorists aren't of course 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, 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 this false move was extremely well-hidden. In fact, DM-adepts continue to ignore it even after it has been pointed out to them!

 

As will be demonstrated presently, familiar, 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 dodge was invented by Ancient Greek theorists. In that case, dialecticians are in eminently bad company -- and, as they should know, bad associations spoil useful epistemological habits.

 

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

 

Hence, in their search for scientific knowledge, all that dialecticians have available to them 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 backdrop that had been touted for it; that is because the surrounding context has similarly been transmogrified into a particular itself.15

 

Hence, the DM-juggernaut not only lacks a starter motor (i.e., it lacks any 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 (i) the reason why not all words are names and with (ii) 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 it is one that uses a method of analysis that will look rather odd to those unfamiliar with Analytic Philosophy. However, its superiority over traditional methods of analysis will emerge soon enough; the reader's indulgence is therefore essential.

 

[Those not particularly interested in the minutiae might prefer to skip the next sub-section and begin again here. However, one or two points that are made later on (as well as in other Essays published at this site) might not be fully appreciated by those who take advantage of this shortcut.]

 

~~~~~~oOo~~~~~~

 

First, a brief word of explanation: rather odd-looking 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 familiar: our ability to form from such expressions countless true or false sentences if we employ singular terms  (Proper Names or Definite Descriptions) to replace the gap marker, "ξ" (examples given below).

 

The gap marker, "ξ", is essential here, for by suitably defining it (in use or more rigorously in a formal system), legitimate substitution instances (this term will be explained presently) can be clearly specified. An actual gap -- "   " -- or even a series of dots, as in "...loves..." -- won't do, since, of course, gaps cannot be defined. So: "   is a comrade" and "...is a comrade" are no good. A gap wouldn't be any use, of course, if we wanted to distinguish between sentences like "Brutus killed Caesar" and "Brutus killed himself". Plainly, both would become "   killed   " and "...killed...", if we used gaps or dots. By using gap markers, we can distinguish these two patterns as follows: "ξ killed ζ" and "ξ  killed ξ".15a

 

[What counts as a "legitimate substitution instance" depends on whether we are speaking about (a) the interpretation of sentence schemas in formal systems or whether we are (b) trying to make sense of the sentential patters we use in everyday speech.

 

As far as (a) above is concerned, the formal pattern will probably be expressed in the following way: "F(ξ,ζ)" -- where "F" stands for a two-place, first level (formal) linguistic function/predicate letter. [Those terms are explained in Note 15a.]

 

An interpretation consists in the replacement of the schematic letters with expressions defined by the formal rules of the system involved. So, for example, a formal system might allow for the substitution singular terms for the two Greek letters above, which when translated into English might yield the following sentences/"substitution instances":

 

S1: "Mount Everest loves the River Thames."

 

[Substituting "Mount Everest" for "ξ", "ξ loves ζ" for "F(ξ,ζ)", and "The River Thames" for "ζ".]  

 

or:

 

S2: "Romeo loves Juliette."

 

[Substituting "Romeo" for "ξ", "ξ loves ζ" for "F(ξ,ζ)", and "Juliette" for "ζ".]

 

As will readily be appreciated, many substitution instances will fail to yield sentences that make sense to an English speaker. In which case, as far as (b) above is concerned, acceptable substitution instances will depend on what are counted as legitimate interpretations of the schematic letters involved in the formal system in question.

 

However, since English isn't a formal language (to state the obvious!), there are no formal rules to guide us here. Nevertheless, the vast majority of English speakers (if not all of them) would recognise S1 above as non-sensical, and S2 as a legitimate sentence.

 

[To be sure, S1 might make sense in poetry or fantasy fiction -- or even as part of a coded message -- which is why I made the point that there are no hard-and-fast rules here.]

 

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 has, allowing modern logicians to study inferences more precisely). [More on this in Note 15a.]

 

So, from the schematic expression, "ξ is a comrade", we can form the following sentences using three names successively -- "Ernest Mandel", "Tony Cliff" and "Tony Blair":

 

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 schema, "ξ is a comrade".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 about it:

 

E1: This tumbler is made of glass.

 

E1 appears to express a fact about a particular, this tumbler (presumably picked out be a pointing gesture), but the latter isn't concrete yet -- or not concrete in the right sort of DM-sense -- so key features of the dialectical process must be applied to it. According to the above dialectical circuit, we must interconnect this aspiring 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, isn't the name of anything, general or particular. Moreover, the sentence formed by combining the singular demonstrative term, "This tumbler", with the concept expression/linguistic function "ξ is made of glass" (i.e., E1) isn't a name, either.16

 

In that case, in E1 we don't seem to have a particular (or even an "individual") upon which we can 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 themselves accept -- but, alas, only when it is buried under rather too much 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/individual, it will always involve the use of general terms.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 aspirant 'concrete particulars' (but on that, see below), 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 also 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 inscriptions on the page cannot count as names when they are totally divorced from the complex social and linguistic background mentioned 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.

 

That is, of course, because they 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'. That 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, Morning Star, 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 and 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 sense 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 both a name for and of a man). This 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, without it this inscription 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 how and why dialecticians turn all predicate expressions 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 weren't called this then!) -- or the presumed referents of general terms --, couldn't be picked out in the material world in the same way that the referents of the names of genuine material objects could (again, this isn't how they would have put this point!).

 

But, it also seemed 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" doesn't 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 for anyone to point to (or to identify in any other way),22aa some sense had to be given to their mode of signification (i.e., the grammatical role they occupy). 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 couldn't be the names of non-existents -- they would have to be the names of 'entities' which must exist somewhere, even if the latter remained invisible or inscrutable to us.

 

Unfortunately, this syntactical segue now initiated a completely futile and fruitless 2400 year long search to locate these newly invented entities: the supposed referents of general terms --, soon to be called "abstractions", "concepts", "Forms", and "Universals". Do they 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 means other than by thought --, 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 significance of these 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, of course, they would be empty terms.

 

And that is why highly influential Greek Philosophers turned general words into the names of such otherworldly objects. 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' 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 such theorists that some account could be now given of the meaning/denotation of predicative expressions. If these were interpreted as the names of the Forms, of certain Universals -- or in some cases the names of Categories (later, "Concepts" and/or "Ideas"), or were connected with them in some way --, propositions containing them could be used to represent/reflect 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 the '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', and which 'He' used as exemplars to create the world.

 

The second alternative is present (in a modified form) 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 philosophers 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 terminology --, 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 insoluble 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 that was bequeathed to later generations of boss-class theorists: FL was regarded as an abstract science -- perhaps even the formal wing of psychology --, whose adepts studied the 'laws of thought', itself a code that contained (and thus revealed) the hidden secrets of 'Being'.

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

This metaphysical pseudo-logic cast a long shadow over much of subsequent thought. The original early Greek syntactical false step analysed 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. This abstract approach to knowledge also had a lasting effect on the way scientific theory itself has been interpreted ever since.22b

 

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and we witness the effect of this grammatical segue on the philosophical 'logic' inherited by European -- but particularly German Idealists --, forcing it in the direction taken by Leibniz, Kant, Fichte, Schelling, but particularly Hegel. This bowdlerised 'logic' appeared to freeze-frame reality into fixed forms, logical straight-jackets comprised of the names of abstract particulars. And, as we will are about to see, this is in fact what motivated Hegel's criticism of the LOI and the view he adopted concerning the supposed limitations he claimed to be able to see in Aristotelian Logic. But, if general terms had been obliterated or frozen as a result of an ancient syntactical screw-up, no wonder Hegel saw in them no 'motion' or change.

 

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

 

However, as things transpired, Hegel's 'analysis' was in effect an unintended reductio ad absurdum of the entire 'abstractionist project' (indeed, 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 that no one with an ounce of materialist good sense would ever take them seriously. By inadvertently pushing these errors to their limit, Hegel completely destroyed the credibility of this genre of Traditional Thought, poisoning it by peppering it with a few of his own specially-concocted 'internal contradictions'.

 

Marxist Dialecticians uncritically appropriated the syntactical mess Hegel dumped on humanity -- except, of course, they imagined that in their hands it had been inverted, put back 'on its feet' yielding its inner, 'rational' core. But, as should seem obvious (to those with the aforementioned ounce of materialist good sense), rotating a logical blunder through the number of degrees of your choice has absolutely no impact on its status as a blunder. Without giving careful thought (or any thought) to the syntactical source of this sub-Aristotelian clanger, 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 of knowledge'.

 

Unfortunately, late in life Aristotle began to move in this direction, too, laying the foundations for the so-called Term Logic that dominated the Middle Ages, inflated now into a full-blown theory by Roman Catholic Logicians.

 

This theory came to be known as the Identity (or Essential) Theory of Predication.22c

 

[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 'philosophical' implications which lie at the heart of dialectics and much of Traditional Philosophy.

 

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

 

 

Identifying The Problem

 

So, when dialecticians appropriate the analysis of subject/predicate sentences concocted by 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. That 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 inserted between the two halves] 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 the one 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 to 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 isn't really saying anything true of Blair! Ordinary language appears to be misleading us, and it 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 substantial. [Of course there were other reasons for these moves; they will be examined in Part Two.]

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

However, it is important to note that this 'problem' 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" isn't 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., these two were the subject term (such as "Blair"), and 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 analysis came to be known as the "Two-name theory of predication". [More on this presently.]

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution inserted between the two halves] 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 it did not collapse into an obvious list), something a little more powerful than the copula "is" of predication (used in E10) was required in order to link both halves. In addition, this new linking term must allow propositions like E10 to say something of Blair that we could point to -- at least, internally (in 'the mind'), abstractly, but later as some sort of Idea, or Concept. This new linking term must relate the subject (Blair) to the named object to which the old 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 linking 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 -- an expression of considerable use to us in our endeavour to describe or attribute things. But, in that case, if E10 is now held to contain two names, not one, it would seem to be asserting one individual of another (or, rather, asserting a name of a named individual) --, that is, "a man" was now being viewed as the disguised name of an abstract particular, Man/Manhood. So, E10 would be 'asserting' that the object that was the referent of the old predicate (again, 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 ("a man") would, under this 'analysis', simply vanish, right before our eyes; its real, 'essential' or 'below-the-surface' nature now having been exposed as a name, not a predicate, with the copula "is" becoming the required relational expression.

 

So, even though your very own very material eyes/ears might tell you that "  is a man" is a predicate (used to describe someone), 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 how 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 much more ancient doctrine working in the background: all words are really names by means of which re-present/mirror the divine order to ourselves, and we do this by naming its contents, just like Adam named all the animals -- Genesis 2:19.

 

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

 

The world of 'essences' was conjured into existence.

 

This occult 'world', of course, wasn't the proper concern of common folk, whose 'defective' and materially-grounded language had 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, 'genuine philosophers' were capable of seeing through all this, right into the heart of 'Being' -- thanks to this glitzy new 'theory'.24a

 

So, following on the lead given by 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 inserted between the two halves] 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 'vanishing 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 an elaborate 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.

 

["Tully" was in fact Cicero's other name.]

 

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 seemingly 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 are to 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 inserted between the two halves] 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, just as "Tully" is the name of a non-abstract particular (in E12).

 

E12: Cicero is Tully.

 

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

 

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

 

[For Plato, they were located perhaps in 'heaven'; for dialecticians..., er..., 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, to spoil the fun: defective reasoning like this can only be expressed in Indo-European languages (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, home-grown strains of parasitic ruling-class ideology. [More on this in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]

 

 

The Sad Demise Of Generality

 

Unfortunately, as noted above, because of this syntactic segue, generality had been eliminated from these surgically enhanced philosophical 'propositions'. That is because, in E14, we no longer have the general expression "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 even between his name and a predicate expression).

 

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 supposedly 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") was now taken to name.26

 

 

The Poison Seeps In

 

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

 

If all words are indeed names, then the "is" of identity must name the identity relation, too. [We can 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 inserted between the two halves] Manhood.

 

But, that can't be correct. It doesn't even look correct. That 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.

 

Or, perhaps:

 

E16: Cicero Identity Relation Tully.

 

[E12: Cicero is Tully.]

 

[Here, in E15 and E16, the "is" in E12 has been replaced in both cases by its supposed name, and the phrase "some form of attribution" with what "is" supposedly attributes -- in this case an "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 isn't a name. Treating all words as names manifestly turns sentences into lists --, as we have just seen --, and since lists say nothing, this 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 being expressed, the misreading of the "is" of predication as an "is" of identity in fact reveals that an earlier decision to interpret general predicative expressions as the names of abstract particulars has already been adopted. Any subsequent 'grammatical adjustments' that are made (i.e., re-configuring "is" as a relational expression), were simply engineered so this decision conforms to an earlier metaphysical move, itself made for ideological purposes [These will be revealed in Essay Twelve -- summary here.]

 

E10: Blair is a man.

 

Now, it is this move --, but not an attempt to process particulars by means of 'abstractions' given in thought, nor yet an endeavour to access or use 'pure' concepts and/or categories of 'reason', nor even a re-christening of the diminutive verb "is" (as the 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

 

As we have seen, 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, a linguistic dodge that was itself based on an earlier move to interpret predicate expressions as the names of "Forms", "Universals", and later "Ideas", "Categories" and "Concepts". It was manifestly not based on an uncheckable, occult ability which some claim they possess (i.e., the alleged ability to process concepts in the privacy of 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, DM-theorists) 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 language. Traditional Theorists had excellent, class-motivated reasons for ignoring the vernacular. [What these are will be explored in Essay Twelve (summary here).] Unfortunately, DM-Traditionalists also had excellent (but this time entirely petty-bourgeois) reasons for copying 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 (on this, 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 capable of delivering. 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 demeaning contact with vulgar "appearances", or even with 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 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 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 Hegel's criticism of the LOI (more details here), wherein he deliberately confounded the LOI (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 former 'law', and this 'allowed' him to power his Ideal Universe by means of the double negation that allegedly followed from it. But, these moves were only possible because of the systematic confusion of predicates with relations, names, objects, abstractions, concepts, propositions, and a host of other things, besides.

 

[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, no difference between a proposition and 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). As a result of this, these 'objects' were now viewed as if they were in 'dialectical union/tension' with one another. This crass linguistic error is indeed the source of all those DM-contradictions, which are now no longer seen as purely linguistic expressions, but as objects and/or relations 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 doctored proposition after it had been 'dialectically' processed.

 

This move now feeds into the belief that reality itself is fundamentally contradictory (and that everything is a UO of a given object/process and its dialectically-linked 'other'), which then morphs 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 genuine 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 concerning 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 in fact based on experimentation, observation, or on any of the sciences, but on a logical blunder: the confusion of (1) predicate expressions with the names of abstract particulars, and (2) 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 guiding ideas:

 

(1) Reality is populated with "essences", hidden behind 'appearances', which underlie every material object and process in nature. Allied with this the universe has an underlying rational structure -- or it (logically) depends on the over-arching rational structure, which can be apprehended by the application of thought alone.

 

(2) When viewed in the 'right way', general terms are in fact disguised names, of which a select sub-group designate 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, whereby "speculative thought" enables Traditional Theorists to gain (easy) access to the hidden secrets governing and inter-linking the aforementioned "essences", which 'truths' are valid for all of space and time. Unfortunately, these Cosmic Verities cannot be apprehended by the senses, but they nonetheless exist -- or, so Traditional Philosophers assure us. To be sure, the existence of these verities' cannot be confirmed by any known physical means, but that implies they are more fundamental, and necessary --, and that their existence can only be 'verified' by indirect, purely 'rational' methods. 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 material objects and processes in the world around us. We know this by a 'law of cognition', or 'the light of reason'.

 

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 "The Morning Star is out today".

 

Plainly, this does not mean that The Morning Star is identical with whatever it is that 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 at this point, but one sadly duped dialectical disciple does think this of the boss -- check this out! -- and he maintained this odd belief even after his error had been pointed out. Worse still, three years later and he still thinks this! (Read the sorry tale here, along with my reply.)]

 

But, under the influence of which mind-altering drug would anyone conclude that the second example above 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 of a profound philosophical truth hidden somewhere in the linguistic undergrowth, only capable of being uncovered by a posse of suitably-trained philosophical word-jugglers and predicate-manglers.

 

Indeed, predication itself would not normally be taken to be about 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', but 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 than is possessed by ordinary humans (i.e., ruling-class hangers-on, Traditional Philosophers, and, on the 'left' these days, LCDs and HCDs) reckon that they can with ease 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 neatly 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 in this time-honoured art-form have more leisure time on their hands than is good for any human being.

 

In this way then, it seems plain to this select band of intrepid abstractors that each diminutive "is" always hides an identity statement, expressing a relation between an individual and an invisible "essence" -- camouflaged behind 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 (in this case, taken from Lenin):

 

H1: John is a man.31b

 

Given the truth of LIMPE, H1 isn't 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 has swallowed). 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 membership 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 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 concern the relation that supposedly exists between John and 'Manhood', or a rose and its 'Redness'. Ordinary language and 'formal thought' thus put things into unchanging categories.

 

(3) Ordinary discourse and FL are therefore defective. That 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, for example, that John is identical to a universal.

 

The argument continues:

 

(4) 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). But, 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 isn't identical with Man, or 'Manhood'). 'Thought' is thus led to the negation of this putative identity.

 

(5) 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' isn't available to those who are trapped either by 'formal thinking' or 'commonsense'.

 

(5) 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.]

 

(6) So, not only is "thought" 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 -- or making more 'determinate'.

 

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

 

(8) Hey presto, everything in existence has negativity programmed into it (simply because dialectically-'enhanced' subject-predicate propositions reveal 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 that 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', nay encourages, dialecticians to impose their doctrines on nature and society, and then pretend they haven't just done that!

 

 

John Limps Along

 

However, because ordinary language resists such 'moves' it is accused of being somehow limited, paradox-friendly, dominated by 'commonsense' and  'formal thinking'.

 

[In fact, as we will 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 is an artificial abstraction that has no material correlate.

 

This now traps the hapless John in the dialectical machinery that also powers the rest of the 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.

 

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" that Lenin spoke about), which gives him his 'determinate' nature -- if we but knew what the latter 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 the distortions inflicted on that 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 an intricate web of identities and differences spanning right across all that exists, for all of time. This unassuming individual (albeit entirely fictional) is now situated at the very heart the meaning universe -- and so is everyone and everything else. All of reality defines what John means, all of reality what gives meaning to his existence. 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) -- the fate of every last atom of which is 'determined' 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 their cosmic role assigned 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.]

 

"Another parallel between Hermeticism and Hegel is the doctrine of internal relations. For the Hermeticists, the cosmos is not a loosely connected, or to use Hegelian language, externally related set of particulars. Rather, everything in the cosmos is internally related, bound up with everything else.... This principle is most clearly expressed in the so-called Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which begins with the famous lines "As above, so below." This maxim became the central tenet of Western occultism, for it laid the basis for a doctrine of the unity of the cosmos through sympathies and correspondences between its various levels. The most important implication of this doctrine is the idea that man is the microcosm, in which the whole of the macrocosm is reflected.

 

"...The universe is an internally related whole pervaded by cosmic energies." [Magee (2008), p.13. Bold emphases added. More on this here and here.]

 

[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 tiny 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 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 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 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 it is about John that appears to the senses -- something that 'speculative reason' is capable of ascertaining from the structure of our propositions -- which, while they might appear to be predicative, those with a 'dialectical third eye' can see are in fact identity statements. Of course, the rest -- those lost in a fog of 'formal thinking' -- well, they 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 penetrate, 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, these connections are revealed to each adept, not by observation and experiment, but by the 'careful' dialectical analysis of suitably 'doctored' sentences about John!

 

In this way, those versed in these esoteric arts are able discover 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, 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 language 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 innovative grammar, which is able to map-out everything in the entire universe using the Hermetic 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 the supposed meaning of 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 isn't in fact 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 reality --, knowledge of which is the special preserve of Dialectical 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, language thus contains a hidden 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 the "Abracadabra" of long-term failure.

 

 

Guilty As Charged

 

Engels Nails His Colours To An Ideal Mast

 

The grammatical hocus pocus described in earlier sections of this Essay 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 isn't just my say-so; the above allegation is easily 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. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Engels clearly saw no problem with his derivation of what look like scientific conclusions -- which supposedly apply to everything in existence -- based on a re-interpretation of the 'logical' structure of a handful of unrepresentative sentences. He also failed to notice that this approach conflicted with his criticism of this Hegelian 'method':

 

"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), and analysed idiosyncratically -- the conclusion of which he happily imposed 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" in the last sentence of the second passage above. 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 an hyperbole, 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 more considered thoughts --, it would reveal just how deep his Idealism went, as George Novack and Maurice Cornforth point out:

 

"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 emphasis added.]

 

But, in the earlier passage, Engels seems to attribute intelligence to linguistic expressions and not just to the humans who employ 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 of certain words, phrases or propositions (performed by human beings), 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 it might 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 isn't made of subjects and predicates, nor has it been fly-posted with trivially-true indicative sentences by a mischievous agent of 'Being'. 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 this 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 rather odd view of language, and he failed to say how any finitely large body of evidence could possibly confirm the truth of his sweeping generalisations. Nor did he even so much as 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 couldn't fail to mirror the deep structure of reality if language is part of the world. That being the case, human beings may legitimately infer substantive truths about the nature of reality from language, since the latter's dialectical structure will already have been 'programmed' into discourse as a result of the interplay between reflection and practice carried out by countless previous generations of human beings.

 

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 easily obtained -- 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 in just one family of languages that contains these hidden clues? And even then, why does the grammar of these sentences have to be altered (from a predicative to a 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 like this 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, that everything is interconnected, or even that everything is a UO, riddled with 'contradictions'. Indeed, only if language is distorted can it be made to say such odd 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, but more widely Indo-European, grammar. That being the case, the whole sordid affair begins to make a little more sense. The fact that there were 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): as is the case with 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 doctor 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 wouldn't suffice. Lenin's claims were meant to apply to all of reality for all of time, way beyond the meagre knowledge or intellectual powers of these plucky ancestral abstractors. Plainly, they couldn't have programmed into language anything of which they were ignorant. So, Lenin's bold, universal extrapolation of dialectics right across all of reality took it way beyond areas our ancestors knew anything about, which means that his words were indeed 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 it could be checked? For all Lenin knew, this encoded linguistic 'data' could have been totally wrong. [Indeed, given DM-epistemology, there is in fact 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 would be 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 universe (from a single sentence-type) were of an order that puts them way beyond any conceivable body of evidence. 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 other reasons than these 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 isn't one shred of acceptable evidence (and nor could there be). But, if so, and to be consistent, we should also 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 at least none that isn't itself based on an ancient mis-analysis of grammar, and only that.

 

But, of course, a search for 'evidence' wouldn't 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 wouldn't 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 wouldn't concur with the idea that just because assorted priests and mystery-mongers -- who concluded that the past endeavours of intrepid abstractors and linguistic pioneers had programmed into language truths about the nature of the 'Godhead' --, that fact alone forced 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 in their derivation of 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", since 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 isn't 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 such sentences.39 However, instead of concluding perhaps that Hegel's "genius" had misled him -- or that this wasn't 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 isn't one 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 perhaps 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, "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 they have been underlined will soon become apparent.)]

 

It doesn't 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 they really mean --, 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 brave 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!) aren't faced with such an infinite and morale-sapping task. That is because they seek neither to revise nor to re-write ordinary 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 aren't 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 don't have to start from scratch, as the above seems to suggest. 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 in this Essay 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 specific place, and because it manifestly 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, and as a result of, a historical process. Human beings do not just go about the place "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 -- albeit, this is 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 don't do so under social or logical circumstances of their own choosing. DM-theorists highlight this fact; they don't ignore or hide it.

 

Or, so this response might go.

 

Unfortunately, this reply isn't 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 back 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 discursive logic.43

 

Worse still, even if they could, the chronicles of past heroic abstractions still won't pass muster. That 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 addition, cf., Professor E J Lowe's review in the Times Higher Education Supplement (partially quoted here), which also contains a useful summary of this 'philosophical problem'.  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 (what are called) "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 and DM. [On this, see Cowley (1991), pp.85-116.]

 

Bertell Ollman has recently written a highly influential account of this mythical process, arguing along more naturalistic lines in order to conceive of abstraction as some sort of a cognitive limiting, or narrowing process in which he claims we all engage. [Of course, as we will see, he isn't the only one to adopt this rather hackneyed idea.] His attempt to render this ancient fairytale comprehensible will be examined in Part Two of this Essay. [Cf., Ollman (2003), pp.59-110.]

 

In addition, an analysis of the following will be added to Appendices C, D, and E at a later date: Evald Ilyenkov's work [Ilyenkov (1975, 1977, 1982)], Alex Callinicos's analysis 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 (1981, 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 general theories/ideas about nature and society, 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 took it 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 Essay Thirteen Part Two, the traditional view of "idealisation" is no clearer than is that of "abstraction" -- except, perhaps, the word "idealisation" more obviously gives the game away, openly advertising its Idealist origins.

 

Again, some might want to appeal to certain "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 imported from the social sphere as a series of 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 in turn motivated by the need to 'justify' and then rationalise the power and authority of the State, which was itself 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 that 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 by some sort of vague 'intuition'/'the light of reason'). 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 be products of the 'mind', it is difficult to ascertain a clear distinction (or difference) between the word "abstraction" and other words that designate abstract general ideas (such as "Manhood", "The Population", "abstract labour"), and whatever these words supposedly refer to, or supposedly 'reflect', in 'reality' and/or the 'the mind'. For example, do phrases such as "Manhood", "The Population", and "abstract labour" refer to ideas 'in the mind' or to something in 'extra-mental reality'? As we will see, DM-fans run these questions together as a matter of course.

 

[Naturally, this is always assuming these words and phrases 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 often 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. Recall, I am trying to make a terminally obscure theory clear (or as clear as it can be rendered), so any confusions that remain are the fault of those who invented this way of talking, not the present author.]

 

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", or "him over there"). Except, 'abstract particulars' do not exist in the world around us. They are, however, still capable of being designated by the use of names or other singular terms (such as "The Form of the Good", "Manhood", "The Population"). [I am, of course, summarising the theory I am criticising, not my own ideas here!]

 

However, as noted in the main body of this Essay, the extension of an abstraction (to use a more modern word) is supposed to be general. That is, abstract terms supposedly designate all cats, all dogs, all men/women, the entire population, all electrons, etc. However, they are singular in form -- since they speak of Man/Womanhood, or The Population. They appear to name a class, collection or set.

 

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 isn't all chairs there are or have ever been, the screen you are now using isn't 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 the Essay proceeds.

 

It could be argued that classes, sets and collections preserve generality, they don't obliterate it. As we will see, the opposite is in fact the case.

 

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.

 

1d1. Concerning this obscure notion -- i.e., "concrete universal" --, Michael Inwood had this to say:

 

"[W]hen Hegel speaks of the 'concrete concept' and of 'concrete universality' he usually has at least two points in mind: that concepts or universals are not sharply separate from the perceptible concrete -- and that they are not sharply separate from each other, that e.g., the concept of universality is not sharply distinct from those of particularity and individuality." [Inwood (1993), p.30.]

 

Make of this what you can. [Moral: If you are in a dialectical hole, it might be a good idea to stop digging.]

 

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

 

In fact, Ilyenkov (1982) (inadvertently) makes several somewhat similar points without realising their significance, or the fatal implication this poses for this entire way of 'doing philosophy'.

 

Here are a few examples:

 

"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.]

 

"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.]

 

"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 emphases 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.]

 

"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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"In popular usage, the adjective 'abstract' often means 'vague' or 'removed from reality'. The sense in which the term is used here is different; an abstract concept, or an abstraction, isolates in thought a one-sided or partial aspect of an object. What we abstract from are the many other aspects which together constitute concrete objects, such as people, economics [I'm sure Sayer means economies here -- RL], nations, institutions, activities and so on. In this sense an abstract concept can be precise rather than vague; there is nothing vague about abstractions such as 'temperature', 'valency', 'gender', 'income elasticity of demand', or 'the circuit of money capital'. And the things to which these abstractions refer need be no less real than those referred to by concrete concepts. Hence the abstract and the concrete should not be aligned with the distinction between thought and reality." [Sayer (1992), p.87. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"While thought and ideas, like language, originate from labour, men likewise develop their thinking and their ideas in the course of the whole of their social activity....

 

"Ideas are not the products of a pure intellectual process, nor are they mere automatic responses to stimuli reaching us from external objects. They are produced by human brains in the course of human social activity. They reflect the connections of men with one another and with the external world, the real conditions of men's existence....

 

"The first and most elementary ideas are ideas directly derived from immediate practical intercourse with other people and surrounding objects. They are formed by giving names to the common features of things recognisable in perception....

 

"In such ideas are more or less directly reflected the salient features of objects and human activities as we are immediately aware of them in perception. Such ideas constitute the basic, elementary equipment of human thought and communication. They are expressed in words denoting familiar objects, and everyday activities....

 

"Such are our ideas of the things about us with which our normal affairs are concerned, such as men and women, tables, chairs, motor cars, trees, flowers, dogs, cats., etc., etc.; of sensible properties of things, such as red, blue, hard, soft, big, small, and so on; and of actions and relations, such as running, walking, falling, above, below, etc., etc....

 

"The feature of such elementary ideas is that they have a concrete, sensuous content, because to them correspond objects directly perceptible to the senses....

 

"Can we form ideas to which no directly perceptible object corresponds? Yes, of course, we can, and we do. For example, men are directly perceptible objects, and their properties of being tall, short, thin, fat, and so on, are directly perceptible properties. But we also think of men in terms other than these, although nothing directly evident to the senses corresponds to what we think about them....

 

"One needs only to point to a fat man, and someone running, and say 'I mean a man like that is doing that'. If, on the other hand one says 'The capitalist exploits the workers', one is still referring to certain familiar sensible objects (men), but one is at the same time making a generalisation about them which refers to a relationship between them which is not open to immediate observation but which requires a very elaborate definition in terms of other relationships. One cannot explain what one means by 'capitalist' and 'exploitation' in the same way as one can explain what one means by 'fat' and 'running'...

 

"It is to such ideas that the term 'abstract' is commonly applied." [Cornforth (1963), pp.57-60. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added.]      

 

Even though Cornforth gestures at accepting the social aspects of 'cognition', language and knowledge, his analysis is little better than that concocted by Hobbes, Locke or Descartes, which, naturally, places him, too, in the bourgeois individualist camp. As noted above, for Cornforth, as for Hegel, Hobbes, Locke and Descartes (and the rest), words that supposedly give expression to our ideas/concepts are "names" and they "refer to" or "designate" objects. Moreover, the naming or pointing relation is the paradigm that dominates Cornforth's thought. Hence, because we can't point to something in immediate experience, Cornforth classifies it as an abstraction -- which is precisely the line taken by Ancient Greek Theorists. [On that, see here. On this topic in general, see Hacking (1975).]

 

Finally, Cornforth thinks that ostension (i.e., pointing at something) is a straight-forward way to explain meaning, but it isn't. On this, see Hacker (2005), pp.81-106.

 

Of course, Cornforth's approach to language is something Marx himself had railed against (alas, only in his earlier 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 identified abstractionism with linguistic distortion, whereby what was supposed to be general is particularised -- which is, of course, the line adopted at this site.

 

Indeed, Marx underlines this very point -- that is, that philosophers invent names for their '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.]

 

From this, we can see that Marx explicitly contrasts 'the Philosopher's' 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 expressions, they transform 'abstract general terms' into the names of abstract particulars. It is here where the aforementioned distortion occurs --, and which move, if valid, would destroy both generality and the capacity language has for allowing us to say anything at all.

 

2. As we shall also see, the nature of this mysterious 'process' is difficult to describe, even if you believe in it. [Several examples of DM-theorists trying to explain this 'process' are given in Appendix B.]

 

Here are just a few of the serious problems it faces:

 

(1) If the 'process of abstraction' is indeed a 'mental activity', how would it be possible for each abstractor to know if they have arrived at the correct abstract concept of anything at all, or, indeed, anything in particular? With what, or with whom, can any of the supposed results be checked? Since this 'process' is supposed to take place in 'the mind', no one has access to a single 'abstraction' produced by anyone else, and nor would each abstractor have access to the 'abstractions' they produced only moments earlier. An appeal to memory would be to no avail here, since memories are also supposed to use abstractions which are themselves subject to the same sceptical doubts. There is in fact no way to break into this 'abstractive circle'.

 

An appeal to the existence of a public language would be to no avail, either. Again, if each abstractor 'processes' their 'abstractions' in the privacy of their heads, no one would be able to tell whether Abstractor A meant the same as Abstractor B by his or her use of the relevant words (or the relevant 'concepts' -- like "Substance", "Being", "Nothing", "The Population", "abstract labour", etc.). Definitions would be no help, either, since, like memory, they use 'abstractions', too, which are also subject to the same awkward questions. For how can Abstractor A know what Abstractor B means by any of the abstract terms he/she processes 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. No particular, or no singular term, can give the meaning of any abstraction or abstract term under scrutiny. That being so, the same 'difficulties' will confront the general terms supposedly used in any definition, 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 (any who doubt this might like to try to explain, say, these passages), but even if all he said were crystal clear, since he was the first to dream this (dialectical) process up, 'thought' cannot inevitably be driven along these lines (otherwise we wouldn't need Hegel to deliver the good news). Of course, it could be argued that he was the first to reveal what we all somehow mange to do without realising it, or he revealed what 'the speculative philosopher' does, or should do, again whether or not he/she realises it. [Or, to be more honest, this is what Hegel and anyone else who swallows his ideas gestures at doing by using 'the correct' jargon.] Naturally, this just labels the problem, it doesn't provide us with an effective analysis/reply. I will, however, postpone responding to this line of defence until Part Two of this Essay.

 

Until then it is sufficient to note that '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 any other in order to ascertain if either or both had arrived at the same Ideal result. Indeed, how could one or both decide if they even meant the same by "same"!

 

(2) If abstractions are produced by some sort of 'subtractive' process (as more and more particular features are disregarded) in order 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?

 

In answer to this objection, one DM-theorist tells us the following:

 

"Abstraction is the mental identification, singling out of some object from its connections with other objects, the separation of some attribute of an object from its other attributes, of some relation between certain objects from the objects themselves. Abstraction is a method of mental simplification, by which we consider some one aspect of the process we are studying. The scientist looks at the colourful picture which any object presents in real life through a single-colour filter and this enables him to see that object in only one, fundamentally important aspect. The picture loses many of its shades but gains in clarity. Abstraction has its limit. One cannot abstract the flame from what is burning. The sharp edge of abstraction, like the edge of a razor can be used to whittle things down until nothing is left. Abstraction can never be absolute. The existence of content shows intrinsically in every abstraction. The question of what to abstract and what to abstract from is ultimately decided by the nature of the objects under examination and the tasks confronting the investigator. Kepler, for example, was not interested in the colour of Mars or the temperature of the Sun when he sought to establish the laws of the revolution of the planets." [Spirkin (1983), p.232. Bold emphases added.]

 

But, plainly, it wasn't the object that decided "what to abstract and what to abstract from", it was Kepler who did. And, if this 'process' takes place in the 'mind' -- since it is "a method of mental simplification" -- all the problems mentioned above (and below) will simply reassert themselves.

 

Naturally, if 'abstractions' are cobbled-together by a process of generalisation, or law-like development, then the very same questions would still apply, but in this case perhaps in reverse order.

 

(3) The actual process of mental subtraction is 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, say, a chaffinch, 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's grandmother? Or, indeed, the Crab Nebula?

 

Of course, abstractionists are never quite this crude; 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, the latter 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 Kermit must be Ideal. On the other hand, if there is a difference, how do we know this 'concept' belongs/applies to Kermit?

 

Worse still, any conclusions drawn about the 'concept' of Kermit the Frog, or indeed amphibians in general, would apply to that 'concept', but 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. Of course, Idealists might be not be able to distinguish reality from illusion, but materialists would be unwise to stumble into this dense fog in their train -- or, indeed, adopt a philosophical technique that cannot in the end tell fact from fancy, or frog from fog.

 

Figure One: Dialectics -- Caught On The Hop?

 

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

 

Nevertheless, the Traditional Tale is deeply engrained in our culture -- you will even find psychologists who assure us that we can all construct/apprehend "abstractions" in the intimate confines of our skulls, even if they go rather quiet when asked to fill in the details -- and to such an extent that experience has taught me to avoid questioning this mythical 'process' in polite company, 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, and boss-class thought-forms. Here is just the latest example of this 'radical conservatism'.]

 

Nevertheless, this Emperor has no clothes, abstract or concrete; indeed, there isn't even so much as a 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.

 

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 is easily settled. Unless otherwise stated, I am of course using these two terms as they might be employed in ordinary speech, where, even given they have slightly different connotations, are interchangeable in most contexts. [On this, see Note 22a0.] For Hegel, it seems a "particular" is an "individual" of a certain type, after some ('dialectical'?) thought has been applied to it:

 

"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.]

 

"We have shown that the determinateness which was a result is itself, by virtue of the form of simplicity into which it has withdrawn, a fresh beginning; as this beginning is distinguished from its predecessor precisely by that determinateness, cognition rolls onwards from content to content. First of all, this advance is determined as beginning from simple determinatenesses the succeeding ones becoming ever richer and more concrete. For the result contains its beginning and its course has enriched it by a fresh determinateness. The universal constitutes the foundation; the advance is therefore not to be taken as a flowing from one other to the next other. In the absolute method the Notion maintains itself in its otherness. the universal in its particularisation, in judgment and reality; at each stage of its further determination it raises the entire mass of its preceding content, and by its dialectical advance it not only does not lose anything or leave anything behind, but carries along with it all it has gained, and inwardly enriches and consolidates itself." [Hegel (1999), p.840. §1809. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Should this distinction still be unclear to the reader, they should perhaps refer their concerns to Hegel's shade for further clarification. Or, failing that they might want to consult Inwood (1992), pp.302-05. [And good luck making sense of it!]

 

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. Just as it is no less apposite when applied to DM itself.

 

2c1. On this see Livio (2009).

 

2d. More on this below, but the history of this set of moves can be found in Barnes (2009), and Havelock (1983). [See also Note 29.]

 

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 that, see here.

 

3b. It would be instructive at this point to remind ourselves of 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 distorted 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 Christians to "love their enemies"), but who then attempt to justify war and capital punishment). [For more on this topic, see here.]

 

We have already seen what Lenin thought of philosophy.

 

4. This isn't intended to be an exhaustive analysis of these terms (indeed, we have yet to see such an analysis from DM-theorists themselves -- who seem more content to repeat the same tired ideas from generation to generation without subjecting them to even so much as perfunctory critical analysis (as the many passages quoted in this Essay amply confirm); the aim here is simply to try to clarify what DM-theorists might think they mean when they employ them. As the reader will soon come to appreciate this is an impossible task anyway since DM-theorists themselves do not appear to know what they mean when they use these 'concepts' -- often characterising 'concrete objects, for example, as objects of thought, as opposed to objects in 'reality', all the while imagining they mean the latter as oppose to the former. Spirkin, quoted below, is an excellent example of this.

 

[However, this isn't surprising given the points raised in Note Two, above.]

 

I am in the process of adding to Appendix B passages taken from various DM-sources that tell us what they think they mean by "the abstract" and "the concrete". Here, for example, is what Spirkin has to say:

 

"The abstract and the concrete. The concept of 'the concrete' is used in two senses. First, in the sense of something directly given, a sensuously perceived and represented whole. In this sense the concrete is the starting point of cognition. But as soon as we treat it theoretically the concrete becomes a concept, a system of scientific definitions revealing the essential connections and relations of things and events, their unity in diversity. So the concrete appears to us first in the form of a sensuously observable image of the whole object not yet broken down and not understood in its law-governed connections and mediations, but at the level of theoretical thought it is still a whole, but internally differentiated, understood in its various intrinsic contradictions. The sensuously concrete is a poor reflection of phenomena, but the concrete in thought is a richer, more essential cognition. In contrast to the abstract the concrete is only one moment in the process of cognition, we understand it by comparing it with the abstract. Abstraction usually suggests to us some thing 'mental', 'conceptual', in contrast to the sensuously observable. The abstract is also thought of as something one-sided, poor, incomplete, separated, or as a property, a relation, a form, etc. withdrawn from its connection with the whole. And in this sense not only a concept but even an observable image, for example, a diagram, a drawing, an abstract painting, stylisation, a symbol may be abstract. The category of abstraction is contradictory. It is dead, one-sided, separated from the living phenomenon, but it is also an essential step towards the knowledge of a concrete fact brimming with life. We call knowledge abstract also in the sense that it reflects a fragment of reality, as it were, stripped down, refined and thereby impoverished.

 

"Abstractions are 'bits' of whole objects, and our thinking works with such 'bits'. From separate abstractions thought constantly returns to the restoration of concreteness, but each time on a new, higher basis. This is the concreteness of concepts, categories, and theories reflecting unity in diversity.

 

"What do we mean by cognition as a process of ascent from the abstract to the concrete? '...[C]ognition rolls onwards from content to content. First of all, this advance is determined as beginning from simple determinatenesses the succeeding ones becoming ever richer and more concrete. For the result contains its beginning and its course has enriched it by a fresh determinateness. The universal constitutes the foundation; the advance is therefore not to be taken as a flowing from one other to the next other. In the absolute method the Notion maintains itself in its otherness. the universal in its particularisation, in judgment and reality; at each stage of its further determination it raises the entire mass of its preceding content, and by its dialectical advance it not only does not lose anything or leave anything behind, but carries along with it all it has gained, and inwardly enriches and consolidates itself." [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's Werke, Vollständige Ausgabe. Fünfter Band. Wissenschaft der Logic. Berlin, 1834, Verlag von Duncker und Humblot, S.348-49. (This is in fact Hegel (1999), p.840. §1809.)] Seen in this light, the process of abstraction is a realisation of the principle: one must step back in order to get a better view. The dialectics of the cognition of reality lies in the fact that by 'flying away' from this sensuously given reality on the 'wings' of abstraction, one may from the heights of concrete theoretical thought better 'survey' the essence of the object under investigation. Such is the history and logic of scientific cognition. Here we have the essence of the Marxist method of ascent from the abstract to the concrete. According to Marx, this method is the means by which thought assimilates the concrete, reproduces it by linking up concepts into an integrated scientific theory, which reproduces the objective separateness of the objects and the unity of its essential properties and relations. The concrete is concrete because it is a synthesis of many definitions, and, consequently, a unity of the diversity. The principle of concreteness means that we must approach facts of natural and social life not with general formulas and diagrams but by taking into exact account all the real conditions in which the target of our research is located and distinguish the most important, essential properties, connections, and tendencies that determine its other aspects." [Spirkin (1983), pp.233-34. Italic emphases in the original. I have used the translation found in Hegel (1999), not Spirkin's version. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

See also Note 11 below.

 

From this it appears that Spirkin views the 'concrete' initially as an object of perception, "something directly given, a sensuously perceived and represented whole. In this sense the concrete is the starting point of cognition."

 

Later, if 'processed' correctly, it becomes a more rounded/sophisticated object of thought: "The sensuously concrete is a poor reflection of phenomena, but the concrete in thought is a richer, more essential cognition."

 

But, the abstract is also an object of thought: "Abstraction usually suggests to us some thing 'mental', 'conceptual', in contrast to the sensuously observable."

 

So, both 'the concrete' and 'the abstract' are for Spirkin objects of thought; the only difference being that one is more rounded/richer while the other is "one-sided".

 

In which case, it is hard to see how Spirkin's theory can break out of world of internally processed objects of thought in which he has situated it. Moreover, as we shall see in Part Two (a summary of the argument is given below), Spirkin has trapped himself in a solipsistic world, a world in which each intrepid abstractor is permanently imprisoned. We shall also see that an appeal to practice can't help break him out of this Subjective Idealist Dungeon.

 

Indeed, this is the fate of all Abstractionist theories, DM- or otherwise.

 

Here is the aforementioned summary:

 

Since both 'the abstract' and 'the concrete' are objects of thought, Spirkin has no way of knowing whether or not the 'concrete objects' of this theory (howsoever much they have been 'internally processed') actually correspond with anything in 'extra-mental reality'. Plainly, that is because all he has available to him are yet more 'objects of thought' -- i.e., the 'concrete objects' and 'abstractions' produced by previous bouts of mental gymnastics. Indeed, he has no way of knowing there is an 'external world' for anything to correspond with. Given the fact that all knowledge is based on 'mental processing' like this, and on these mysterious abstractions, these 'objects of thought' (if this theory were true), there is no way out of this circle. Spirkin has thus trapped knowledge in a solipsistically closed universe.

 

Finally, it is no use appealing to practice to rescue this theory from the Subjective Idealist swamp into which its supporters have dumped it. That is because, if this theory were true, all that each intrepid abstractor will have available him/her are yet more objects of thought, but with an abstract label attached to them: "produced by practice". Each supposedly 'concrete object' met in practice will be 'reflected' in the mind of that abstractor as an image, if Lenin is to be believed. But, we have already seen that this theory can't escape from this closed world of images. Hence, all that practice can offer are yet more images of practice, as opposed to practice itself, locking this theory in yet another circle.

 

Practice can't magically change these objects of thought into genuine, 'extra-mental objects', since, as we have seen, practice is itself trapped in this solipsistic world -- given that practice can only latch onto reality via yet more of these 'concrete objects of thought'/'images'. Once more, there is no way out of this Idealist circle. Spirkin can't 'jump out of his head' to check that the deliverances of practice are anything other than objects of thought/images. And, the same fate awaits all those who have unwisely followed Spirkin into this quagmire. 

 

[This argument is greatly expanded upon in Essays Three Part Two, Ten Part One, and Thirteen Part One (where several obvious objections are neutralised).]

 

5. See Note 7 and Note 11, below.

 

6. The rather schematic presentation here isn't 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 these might be. [On this, see Essay Eleven Part One.]

 

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 and links 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, as pointed out here, one might wonder how anyone could possibly know whether or not 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/distinguishable.

 

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 is 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's work, 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 isn't strictly true. There are a handful of works in the DM-tradition that attempt (albeit unsuccessfully) to clarify these terms. Many of their comments will appear in Appendix B. Also see Note 4, above.

 

12. In fact, Marx doesn't 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 isn't 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.]

 

[And, I know the passage quoted in the main body of this Essay comes from the Grundrisse, but that fact doesn't alter the point being made.]

 

12a. However, readers are encouraged to take note of these caveats.

 

I have added (to Note 1e above) several quotations from DM-theorists that support this contention -- i.e., that they begin, not with general ideas/concepts, but with the names of Abstract Particulars.

 

As noted above, earlier versions of the main argument outlined in this part of the Essay can be found in Ryle (1949, 1959), Cowley (1991), and Geach (1968).

 

12b. Readers unfamiliar with this style of argument are prone to respond that this is just "semantics" (or even "pedantry") -- conveniently forgetting that Hegel's 'pedantic' derivation of 'the dialectic' was itself based on "semantics" --; but they should try this particular objection 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 these 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 it is the moves themselves that are defective. This entire way of theorising is bogus from start to finish (upside down or 'the right way up').

 

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

 

14. Again, on this see Part Two. Anyone who doubts the veracity of these comments (that DM-theorists have had to concoct convoluted language in order to fix a pseudo-problem they inherited from ideologues of the class enemy) 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; plainly since the phrase "general particular" is about as clear as "round square".

 

Even so, 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 ", respectively -- the numerals have been put in circles to distinguish them from numbers proper.

 

Following on from Frege, the simplest way of understanding the use of Greek symbols (such as "ξ") is to view them as place holders/gap markers (the meaning of the first of these terms is explained below).

 

I haven't used "x" here since it is generally taken to be a "bound quantifier variable" (e.g., as in "(Ex)(Fx)" -- "For some x, x is a warmonger" -- colloquially "Someone is a warmonger" --, or, as the next example shows, a functional variable expression in mathematics. (On the caution needed concerning the use of the word "variable", see Essay Seven Part One.)

 

[The term "bound quantifier variable" is explained here. "E" is the existential quantifier, and "F" is a one place, first level predicate letter. (These terms are also explained below.)] 

 

So, the mathematical rule expressed by, for instance, "f(x) = 2x + 1" (across a suitably defined domain, etc.), maps numerals (for example, "3") onto other numerals (in this case "7"), if we remain at the level of linguistic expressions.

 

[However, if we want to speak about the mathematics involved, it maps 3 onto 7.]

 

In like manner, the linguistic functional expression "ξ is a warmonger" maps ordinary names, not onto numerals, but onto indicative sentences -- which, in this case, would yield true sentences for "Tony Blair" and "George W Bush", respectively, 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 isn't to suggest that this is how Frege saw things (for example, the phrase "linguistic function" can't be found in his work). I am in fact adapting an idea that Peter Geach floats in Geach (1961). (See also Note 16, below.) It could be objected that the term "warmonger" is vague/imprecise. Maybe so, but that doesn't affect the logical point being made. This linguistic function maps names onto indicative sentences, some of which will be true and some of which will be false. I have said more about this 'problem' here and here. See also Note 15b, below.]

 

A "place holder" is a formal way of specifying what can legitimately be substituted for the letters involved either in a formal system, or in a natural language. In this case, "ξ" holds place for singular terms -- such as, "Noam Chomsky", or "The 43rd President of the United States".

 

One place, first level linguistic functions enable map singular terms onto sentences like F1-F3.

 

Two place first level linguistic functions map two singular terms onto sentences (these will often yield what are called "relational expressions") -- for example:

 

F4: Romeo loves Juliette.

 

F5: Rome is bigger than Istanbul.

 

The formal expression of the linguistic function involved here is the one we met in the main body of this Essay: "F(ξ,ζ)".

 

[In this case: substituting "Romeo" and "Juliette" for "ξ" and "ζ", respectively, and "ξ loves ζ" for "F(ξ,ζ)", produces F4; "Rome" and "Istanbul" for "ξ" and "ζ", respectively, and "ξ is bigger than ζ" for "F(ξ,ζ)", yields F5.]

 

Second level linguistic functions involve the use of quantifier expressions -- such as "Every", "Some", "Any", "Most", "Nothing", "Never", "Always", etc. Since I haven't used any second level linguistic functional expressions in this Essay, I will say no more about them.

 

As far as I can determine there are no articles published on the Internet that make this method of analysis clear or easy to follow. However, the best two that are available can be accessed here and here. The first of these unfortunately uses blank spaces for variable place holders, and so isn't entirely rigorous; the second is rather more advanced.

 

Update, August 2011: Alex Oliver has published an excellent article that explains this method of analysis with admirable clarity; it can be accessed as a PDF, here -- although those new to this way of analysing language won't find it easy. [This has now been published as Oliver (2010).]

 

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

 

The best two introductions to this way of analysing sentences are: Lemmon (1987) and Mates (1972). However, modern logic is difficult. Like textbooks of mathematics, one can't just read logic books. They have to be studied slowly and very carefully. Anyone wanting to master the subject has to do all the exercises! Anything else is just a waste of time.

 

There are many advantages to this way of analysing 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 all an Abstract Particular.

 

This approach also incorporates the word "is" into the predicate expression (or, rather, the linguistic functional expression), short-circuiting questions about whether it 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 aimless metaphysics -- at the same time as completely undermining a key argument in Hegel's 'Logic'.

 

The same can't be said about 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). "ξ is a warmonger" side-steps this pitfall entirely.

 

Traditional Logicians and Philosophers were only too eager to take this wrong turn, appropriating the 'Term Logic' they inherited from Aristotle, which was largely based on the traditional analysis of predicate expressions. The quotations taken from DM-sources (many of these can be found in Note 1e and Appendix B) expounding the 'process of abstraction' clearly illustrate how they have fallen into this bear trap. Novack provides us with a particularly good example (but there are many others):

 

"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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

By concentrating on "man" as the assumed predicate expression (instead of "ξ is a man"), Novack reduces this word to the name of an idea, category, set, or class, thus destroying the unity of the proposition. [Although, of course, Novack doesn't explicitly say "man" is the name of an idea (even though it is plain from what he does say that "man" is indeed such a name), other DM-theorists do. [Again, see Note 1e and Appendix B for examples.]

 

This analysis of predicates in fact predisposes theorists to think of "man" as the name of an 'object of thought' since the word plainly doesn't name anything in the 'outside world'. However, as soon as we look at this 'problem' through 'traditional spectacles', we are forced to search for something for this word to name. The temptation then becomes irresistible to look inside to find its supposed referent. Hence, because of this simple error of logic, a whole body of Traditional Metaphysics has been conjured into existence. So, this simple error of logical syntax has forced DM-theorists to drop their theory into the solipsistic quagmire described in Note 4, above.

 

However, since "ξ is a man" is an expression for a linguistic rule, the temptation to confuse it with anything 'mental' -- or indeed with the name of anything 'internal', or in 'heaven' with 'God' (etc.) -- totally vanishes. At a stoke, that removes this entire topic from the hidden, internal world of mythical and uncheckable 'mental' processes, or the ghostly world of Forms, Universals, Categories and Concepts, and places it squarely in the public domain. On this account, the mastery of a concept is no more nor no less than the mastery of a linguistic skill, publicly exercised and capable of being openly checked. As Wittgenstein noted: a whole cloud  of metaphysics condensed into a drop of grammar. [Wittgenstein (2009), p.233, §315; (1958), p.222. (This links to a PDF.) The online version has the page numbering all wrong; their version has this passage on p.22*6 (sic!).]

 

This is just one more advantage of this way of analysing language (further outlined below). The use of Greek letters -- as in "ξ is a man" -- reminds us that this inscription is properly to be viewed as the linguistic expression of a rule, which places this 'concept' in the public domain. So, given this interpretation, concepts/predicates aren't 'mental constructs' (as tradition would have us believe), but an expression of linguistic rules we use to communicate with one another.

 

Unfortunately, I have yet to find a book (or an article) that makes the above points about concepts and rules (or those advanced here, and here), even though this is a core idea in Frege and Wittgenstein's work!

 

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 isn't 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. The serious weaknesses and limitations of Traditional Logic are outlined in Geach (1968, 1969b, 1972b).

 

Since writing this, Noonan (2001) has now become available on-line; the section on linguistic functions can be accessed here -- although, the author unfortunately employs 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):

 

"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, in the end he rejects Frege's way of analysing predicates. However, I think the modified Fregean view outlined in this Essay (but more fully in the references I have cited) 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' 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 from this or any other modern approach to predication/linguistic functions.

 

15b. As pointed out in Note 15a, this isn't to suggest that only names can replace "ξ".

 

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 I don't expect DM-theorists to share. Nevertheless, the rationale for this sort of analysis will become clearer as the argument unfolds. [On this, see above -- and below --, and Note 40.]

 

Sentences aren't names -- this can be seen by the way we comprehend the former but not the latter. This particular point is defended in Essay Eight Part Three. [See also 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 the relevant language.

 

[This comment forms part of a "form of representation"; it isn't being 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 explained here and in Essay Eight Part Two. Its use will be justified in Essay Thirteen Part Two. This is part of what we can show about our use of language but which cannot be put into true/false indicative sentences; what our use shows but which can't be said, to paraphrase Wittgenstein again. [On this, see McGinn (2001); this links to a PDF.] It might now be wondered how it could be that we can't say this when it has just been said. The answer to that is quite plain; what has just been said concerns the expression of a series of linguistic rules, and rules can't be true or false, just practical or otherwise. (That was the point of saying "This is part of what we can show about our use of language but which cannot be put into true/false indicative sentences (emphases added)." That is, these rules can't be said in true/false indicative sentences, but they can be expressed by a series of linguistic rules. For more on this, see here.]

 

How this might 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 the approach adopted at this site. Unfortunately, it is for the approach taken 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 perverse, "academic", or, indeed, "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 a quintessentially bourgeois academic, Hegel. [More on that later.]

 

Despite this, the strength of the 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 isn't possible to confuse "ξ is made of glass", for example, with a name. Furthermore, this way of looking at predicate expressions (which are perhaps described better 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 (1) The social nature of language and with (2) publicly performed, verbal skills. That 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 that this is accomplished means that it is capable of being performed, and thus studied, in the open -- as opposed to it being (supposedly) carried out in an uncheckable, inner world (of 'the mind'), as traditional ruling-class/DM-thought would have us believe is the case with the 'process of abstraction'.

 

Nevertheless, it is important to note that this modern form of 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. This is an interpretative rule that elucidates the public use of language (which, as I have noted above, works as a "form of representation" for this use of language), which doesn't destroy generality as a result. 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 to Marxists.

 

Clearly, this isn't the place to defend such a view of language in depth (however, on this see Note 28 below). The main argument presented in this Essay doesn't depend on this method of analysis being either correct or apposite. Indeed, even if this modern approach to the analysis of language were completely misguided, it would still be the case that dialecticians follow tradition and transform general words into the names of abstract particulars, thus destroying generality -- even as it is supposed to feature 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 (or an individual), 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 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 at all. Indeed, it only succeeds in picking out the said tumbler because of the complex social and linguistic practices surrounding its normal use. [That was in fact the point behind all the stage-setting in, for example, Sayer (1992), pp.12-117 (concerning the 'theory-laden' nature of observation, etc.) --, except  in Sayer's case, this is expressed in a way that undermines the point he is trying to make. That is, his analysis turns what should be a socially-motivated skill (the intelligent use of general terms) into a privatised internal 'process of abstraction'. On this, see Appendix B.]

 

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 isn't 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 would clearly involve the use of general terms again.]

 

However, even if DM-epistemology were 100% correct, the dialectical process cannot begin with bare particulars (whatever these are!), as everyone including DM-theorists agree; it requires a use of general terms. [The particulars DM-theorists envisage have to be particulars of a certain type.] And 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 body of this Essay, 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 isn't 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 expression, and "F*" a nominalised (particularised) predicate expression (like "Man", "Manhood", or "runner"). Additionally, in A2, the "=" sign is interpreted as one or more of the following: a sign for identity, class inclusion or part/whole attribution (or, indeed, all three at once!). (I have used an "F*" here, as opposed to the more usual "F" to indicate that this use of predicate letter variables is non-standard.)]

 

As we shall see, it is this opening distortion that 'allows' DM-theorists to derive several counter-intuitive results from ordinary sentences that contain perfectly innocent-looking predicate expressions.

 

Moreover, it is this move that saves DM-apologists the job of actually having to abstract anything at all --, which is fortunate 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 prompts them into imagining they can access abstractions at will, when all they have done is conjure the names of abstract particulars -- such as "Man", "Consciousness", "Identity", "The Population", "abstract labour", or "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" (which is now working as an identity sign), directly facing the original singular term, on the left -- as in A2:

 

A2: NN = F*.

 

This re-configuration 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 again below).

 

Hence, the "is" of predication has to be transformed into an "is" of identity, plainly, in order to hold this implausible theory together and provide some sort of 'rationale' for what supposedly follows from it. [On this, also see below.]

 

19. As noted above, DM-theorists of course appear to accept this point in principle, but in practice they do the exact 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/individual, it will always involve the use of general terms...",

 

I am not denying that ostensive definitions can be used to help identify particulars, but even this will only succeed against an already settled linguistic and social background where singular terms function in the way indicated earlier.

 

[This point has in fact been made in the main body, but it is worth underlining.]

 

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 -- however, I hesitate to recommend the latter book (but, only for this specific point) since the authors adopt the misguided '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 telephone directory, or someone demonstrating a feat of memory, etc. --, the utterance of nothing but singular terms wouldn't be understood by anyone. This isn't because it would be too difficult for our finite minds to grasp such a list, 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 needn't always be that provided by an indicative sentence. It could be a sentence fragment (clause), or, indeed, a one-word sentence. But, even here 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 had ever been used in this way, or if there were no place in the language that allowed for its use -- i.e., 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 this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.

 

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

 

Ernie: "Do you know Marjorie Proops?"

 

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

 

[For those who don't know, Marjorie Proops was a UK 'agony aunt' a generation or so ago. And, for those who don't 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 meaning; clearly, it is human beings who do that. We may only suppose the opposite of this 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 all over again. While the futility of the idea that they can do this might seem in the cold light of day eminently reasonable, the vast majority of philosophers (and DM-theorists) appear to be oblivious of it, and talk as if they accept this doctrine as gospel -- that words (or 'signs', as in Voloshinov's theory) can indeed determine what we are constrained to say by means of them. [How and why they do this will be examined in Essays Nine, Twelve (Parts One to Seven), Thirteen Part Three, and Fourteen Part Two.]

 

Knowing how to use or understand (or, indeed, in comedy, deliberately misconstrue) 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 I'm afraid he's got mine!"

 

2) NN: "I'm going for a walk."

 

    MM: "Ok, get me one while you're out."

 

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

 

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

 

4) Question: "How do you make a Venetian Blind?"

 

    Answer: "Poke him in the eye!"

 

[Wittgenstein once said that a serious philosophical work could consist entirely of jokes (this aside was 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 (i.e., this is its "station" in language) because of the way we use it in sentences. It isn't a name because of its reference to Karl Marx. If that were the case, 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 instance.

 

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 accompanies it wherever it goes, asserting itself upon us whenever we employed that word.

 

Wittgenstein used the word "Bedeutungskörper" ("meaning-body") to describe this 'semantic halo'. This point 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. This links 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 that 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 far 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 quite well without a copula, or even an explicit verb, and in which 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, indeed, 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 plain, however, Plato certainly confused describing and attributing with naming. I will deal with that particular issue in Essay Twelve Part Five.]

 

In the Sophist, Plato outlines these ideas (and 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' was the creation of a crass syntactical error, which means it is a pseudo-problem. Since Hegel is/was one of the philosophers interested in "the structure of sentences", he is simply a more recent example of this time-honoured confusion.

 

The untoward result of this syntactic mess is explained clearly by Professor E J Lowe (in his review of Davidson (2005)):

 

"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 the universities of Kant and  Hegel's day, and which they 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 misconceived.

 

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 to find 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) or 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 isn't a '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 or talk. As has been pointed out several times in this Essay, and at this site: it is we who supply the generality here by our open-ended use of such words. We bring life to language, not the other way round. To suppose otherwise would be to fetishise the products of the interaction between human beings as if they were in charge, or as if they were the agents.

 

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' (since the world is just 'condensed language). The world thus possesses a 'logic' and it is the aim of Philosophy (or even science) to uncover it.

 

The original class-motivation for the invention of these ancient doctrines will be explored in Essay Twelve (summary here), as will the ideology 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. See also, Tugendhat (1982). For the early modern period, see Bono (1995). Cf., 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). Cf., also the detailed study in Kahn (2003) and Pelletier (1990).

 

On Leibniz, see Mercer (2001), especially pp.173-78, but this theme runs 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 et seq.

 

22a1. On this, see for example Havelock (1983). [See also Note 29.] These assertions will be fully substantiated in Essay Twelve (summary here).

 

22b. No attempt will be made here to justify this 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 theory is most famously attributed to the great Medieval Logician, Jean Buridan (1300-1358), but its basics had in been put in place 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 uses the word "predicable"; briefly, a predicable is a predicate expression that could be used to predicate something of someone or something. It becomes a predicate when it is so predicated. Compare it with "breakable" and "broken".

 

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 (the series was entitled The Theory of Meaning) -- will be publishing (also at this site sometime in the future) the comprehensive notes he took, 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 (such as "Being", etc., but his theory was far more sophisticated than this might suggest; on that, see the link in Note 22c above, and Note 25 below). However, they certainly do feature in Hegel's work, only there they have become engulfed in an impenetrable fog generated by his fondness for Hermetic jargon and prolix sentences.

 

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/relational expression.

 

E11: Blair [some form of attribution inserted between the two halves] 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 in this case, we plainly have two predicates "ξ is really called Peter" and "ζ is really called Mount Godwin-Austen" predicated of another named individual, not two names predicated of either.

 

Of course, it is possible to things like this:

 

P3: K2 is Mount Godwin Austen.

 

But, this an identity statement. If we want to analyse it as a subject/predicate proposition, then the predicate will be "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen", which doesn't 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" isn't used in the same way in modern logic as it was in Traditional (Aristotelian) Logic. This can be seen from the fact that both of the following would be regarded as first level (one-place) predicates in modern logic:

 

P5: "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen."

 

P6: "K2 is ζ".

 

This sort of analysis wasn't available in Traditional Logic.

 

Moreover, the "is" in P3 would be treated as an "is" of identity in the Traditional 'Logic' under discussion here.

 

P3: K2 is Mount Godwin Austen.

 

Admittedly, we can reshape logic as we see fit, and concur, 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 aren't; if we don't, then the generality expressed by 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.]

 

**As noted earlier, 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 such in P5, but two in P4. [More details here.]

 

P5: "ξ is Mount Godwin Austen."

 

P4: "ξ is ζ".

 

24aa. Of course, in the original syllogisms Aristotle was dealing with propositions that utilised what are now called quantifier expressions (e.g., "all", "every", "nothing", "some") --, which were themselves later interpreted as names(!), too --, but his syllogisms didn't use the names of individuals like Socrates. This however, doesn't affect the point being made here since it soon became commonplace to ignore Aristotle's strictures on the nature of the syllogism and populate them with non-quantified propositions. Indeed, many today who either don't know this or who don't care 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, as Peter Geach noted above.

 

24a. Incidentally, this view also generated 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.

 

That is because the green "is" in B2 cannot partake of the same analysis (i.e., it can't be maintained 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 green "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 self-inflicted problems all forms of Idealism (and this includes DM) have had over accounting for falsehood.]

 

This is quite apart from the fact that both B1 and B2 could both be true together. B1 would become true if say Blair became a socialist, and B2 is true since it is always the case that Blair isn't identical with someone who is a socialist --, for instance, Lenin. The problem is that (given the view being criticised here) the phrase "a socialist" is non-specific, so it could be used to describe different individuals, to state the obvious. In that case, "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 from it:

 

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 reject the view that the "is" or predication is always one of identity have any right to object at this point. Of course, those who do hold that the "is" of predication is only sometimes the "is" of identity need 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 abandon philosophy and distorted philosophical language!

 

25. The corruptions introduced into AFL by the old 'Term Logic' are outlined in Geach (1972b) -- see above. 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, as these were later called), which I will not attempt to defend here. On this, see Note 4, above.

 

[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 misguided in some way, the fundamental distinction we draw in language between naming, describing and attributing (never mind what logicians tell us) more importantly motivates and informs the core ideas expressed in this Essay. [On the aforementioned distinction, see here.]

 

29. From what little of the record we possess, this degeneration can actually be seen taking place in the work of several Ancient Greek Philosophers. On this, see Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here, here and here). Cf., 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, but in more detail in Essay Three Part Four. DM-theorists use this get-out-of-jail-free-card to in order to distinguish themselves from "crude materialists" -- i.e., those of us who are consistent historical materialists, but who also like to think that science should be based on evidence not on linguistic chicanery, boss-class thought-forms, a priori dogma, and Mystical Hermeticism.

 

In addition, it is worth emphasising that the import of item (3) (in the main body of this Essay) finds no support whatsoever from this long quotation from The Holy Family; quite the opposite in fact:

 

"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 revealed in this passage. In many respects this quotation anticipates much of Frege and Wittgenstein's approach to 'abstract ideas', even if it was 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 drawn by Speculative Philosophers. Indeed, they counterpose everyday language to the obscure terminology invented by these theorists.

 

"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 Marx and Engels (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 their attempt to re-focus our attention on ordinary language, and away from the distorted abstractions of ruling-class 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 case, all that has existed or could exist can be spun from John's 'inner being' by the simple expedient of applying just enough dialectical magic to a few sentences about him. John is indeed a cosmic egg.

 

And so are you! We all are. It is only 'commonsense', 'formal thinking' and a failure to "understand" dialectics that prevents you, dear reader, from seeing this plain and simple fact! Free your mind. The Doors of Perception are only a few mangled words 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) to the Appendix that develops this point in more detail. [Good luck trying to understand it!]

 

32. One or more of these ideas can be found in the Scholastics, 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. [On this, see Peter Geach's comments above.]

 

32a. On this, see here.

 

33. Again, that 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 boundless and difficult to contain. That 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 connection might seem, it is considered viable just so long as the negative particle can be glued onto it.

 

[Attempts made by dialecticians to respond to this point 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 the existence of these 'weird and wonderful' entities. However, as we will see in Essays Eight Part Three and Eleven Parts One and Two, the SGP isn't 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 eat with the frying pan you used to cook it!

 

Even worse, the SGP, which neither Hegel nor Spinoza even so much as attempted to prove, justify, or defend, falls foul of the analysis of language developed in Essay Twelve Part One, summarised here. [More about this in Essay Twelve Part Five.]

 

34. Incidentally, herein lie the seeds of the DM-idea that all knowledge is only ever partial/relative, since the individual (John) is here only partially/relatively linked (at least as far as 'subjective dialectics' is concerned) 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/relative) also arises from defective logic like this; for if propositions are comprised only of names conjoined by the identity sign, then those names cannot fail to name objects, or they wouldn't be names to begin with. In that case, they cannot be false of those objects -- to use traditional 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. [This is also what sinks DM -- its gravedigger, if you like. Another nice 'unity of opposites' here, one feels. (On that, see here.) ]

 

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) just why DM-theorists are especially prone to copying these esoteric moves. [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 Part One (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 appropriate these ideas 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 alone 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 expressed by a false proposition! [On this, see Essay Eleven Part One, and Part Four of this Essay.]

 

37a. But, of course, those 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, too, who discovered all this stuff long before Hegel succeeded in distorting the German language, but which doctrines these ancient people, somewhat curiously, then encoded 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 this: "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 isn't 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 so profound a 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 doesn't really 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 "is" 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 Ryan, who handed them to Jamaal, who posted them to Saoirse (pronounced Sorsha), who left them with Miriam on her 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 shouldn't affect his/her role in the Union.

 

M10: The comrade who paid John his subs is staying with my sister.

 

M11: Anyone who admires John despises all those who agree with the strike committee's recommendation that we should accept management's offer to most of those who are still on strike for receiving nothing in this year's pay award.

 

Many of these aren't 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. [Consult, for example, Mates (1972) on how to translate such sentences into MFL.] Even so, sentences of comparable complexity are used in modern mathematics and mathematical logic all the time -- cf., Mendelson (2009).

 

Furthermore: although the words "John...is staying with my sister" appear in M10, there is no proposition "John...is staying with my sister" anywhere in M10. Indeed, the phrase "...is staying with my sister" isn't true or false of John, but of the individual who paid John. Again, this perfectly ordinary simple sentence (with this ever so slightly more complex predicate) is way beyond Traditional Logic, let alone the sub-traditional 'logic' Hegel was taught put to no good. There are countless more sentences like it, too.

 

[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, any as complex as M11). Why then did he ignore such everyday examples?

 

The answer is clear: he uncritically accepted the word of a card-carrying mystic.

 

Plainly, too, because ordinary language like this isn't 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, 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

 

[This forms part of Note 39.]

 

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 isn't Trotsky, this 'contradiction' must mean that either Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov will turn into Lev Davidovich Bronstein beyond the grave, or he will be locked in eternal struggle with him in Dialectical Heaven. As Plekhanov (and several other DM-worthies) assure 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 isn't Lev Davidovich Bronstein, he must one day turn into him. Is this not, therefore, 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.

 

[DL = Dialectical Logic.]

 

Nevertheless, someone could object that DL really pictures individuals in the following way:

 

L1: Lenin is not not-identical with mankind.

 

So, the above 'derivation' (i.e., N1-N3) doesn't work.

 

Or, so it could be claimed.

 

But, L1 is in fact:

 

L2: Lenin = not not-identical with mankind.

 

[Where the new "is" of predication in L1 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 Dialectical 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 expression, and thus legitimately flank one side of an "=" sign. I am merely exposing the absurdities that flow from the 'logic' Hegel conned many 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 fractured logic, the few avenues available to them 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 wouldn't 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 --; the argument would then 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 unconvinced, 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 these; readers are invited to wile away the hours concocting several hair-brained examples of their own.

 

39a. It could be objected that these terms aren't being substituted salva congruitate (i.e., they aren't being substituted in order to preserve their grammatical or syntactical role); however, the right 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 precisely what this crazy theory 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.

 

That is because the "=" sign in fact means "is identical with" (even for Hegelians and/or dialecticians), which plainly contains yet another recursive "is".

 

Moreover, reading the "=" sign as "equals" (in H1b) is far too weak, as we will discover in Essay Six. But, even if it could be read that way, this ploy still won't work. That is because, in that case, as already pointed out, the "=" sign will mean "is equal to" which will attract its own infinitary recursion.

 

[That thankless task is left to the reader.]

 

Moreover, similar intractable problems also arise in relation to 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 did try to respond to the above argument with the following:

 

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 does not seem to make sense (how can John be identical with an expression, for example?). I suspect there are some missing commas and/or quotation marks, here -- RL.]

 

So directly the contradiction is that we have both John is Jack and John is not Jack at the same time.

 

The main points of my response 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 to which they can refer, 'abstractions' -- or, these days, 'entities' from meta-theory -- are invented for them to designate). This is indeed part of Plato's Beard, as Quine called it.

 

(2) Unfortunately, the traditional approach destroys the unity of the proposition, and that is because it turns propositions into lists, and lists say nothing. So, the 'propositions' that dialecticians finally end up with destroy any capacity language has for expressing not just generality, but anything whatsoever, since it transforms predicate expression into the names of abstract particulars.

 

[Examples below; a longer explanation can be found above.]

 

(3) Dialecticians in particular are guilty of doing this when they, following Hegel, turn the "is" of predication into an "is" of identity.

 

(4) This is the only way they can 'derive' their 'contradictions'.

 

5) They actively resist the conventions of ordinary language, since the vernacular actually prevents these verbal tricks from being performed.

 

This comrade managed to fall foul of all of the above. Readers will note, too, that he doesn't even attempt to justify a key component in his argument (highlighted in bold), namely, that the "is" here is one of identity, not of predication. 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 say this, nor anything like it. I'll merely point out that Mr B 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 the hidden clause, "'John is a man' is an identity statement".

 

So, all this comrade has in fact done is provide us with a refutation of 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 first question we would normally ask upon being informed of this startling fact. The only conceivable answer would be that this man is... John! So, this brilliant theory ends up with "John is identical with 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 on earth would ask "Is John the only man?" Someone with amnesia? Someone with learning difficulties? A visitor from another planet? Someone suffering from dialectics?

 

Nevertheless, let us suppose that we could find a benighted soul somewhere on the planet (other than this comrade) who would ask such an odd question. In that case, the natural reply would be: "No, there are plenty of other men...and, er..., do you need to see a psychiatrist?", which sentence can't be press-ganged into helping him attempt to defend Hegel. Indeed, I am rather surprised that he failed to consider this more natural response to his own question. But, then again, I'm not. Unlike Marx, he clearly thinks our ordinary use of language is an impediment, not a resource.

 

Even so, and ignoring these relatively minor niggles, 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 in 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 proper name and a predicate expression! Hence, the only conclusion possible is that for him "a man" refers to an object of some sort (or perhaps an abstract particular), in the way that a Proper Name refers to its bearer. If so, on this 'theory', "a man" no longer functions as a general term since, manifestly, no object (abstract or concrete) 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, that is because, unlike human beings, linguistic expressions have no social life of their own, and are totally incapable of collecting things together in groups, classes or sheep pens. To suppose otherwise would be to fetishise language, misconstruing the communal use of language as if it were a reflection 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' like this are vacuous!

 

Instead of asking himself whether it makes sense to say that a name could be identical with a predicate -- or that what either word supposedly refers to could be identical with each other  --, this comrade swallows Hegel's sub-Aristotelian 'logic' whole, and without blinking!

 

This is amply 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 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! It doesn't refer to another symbol, but to a man called "John". Nor is there anything to which it can refer in the predicate, since the predicate isn't a container.

 

So ends yet another rather weak attempt to defend the indefensible. [More details here.]

 

40. Hegel Screws Up -- 2

 

[This forms part of Note 40.]

 

It is worth recalling that when interpreted normally, predication is merely says something of a named (or otherwise designated) subject; that is, it is a description (or in some cases an attribution).

 

[Some claim that a sentence like H1 is either an 'essential' predication, or it is a (partial) definition of the individual concerned. That claim will be examined below.]

 

H1: John is a man.

 

So, "John is a man" just asserts (or can be used to assert) 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 particular man.

 

Alternatively, as Aristotle would have said, the predicate "man" applies to whomever "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, that doesn't affect the validity of the claim made 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,

 

aren't 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.

 

[As the green "is" in S2 is replaced with what it supposedly means, "is identical with".]

 

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 green "is" is itself one of predication (as is the one following it (i.e., "is") -- and the same comment applies to the one in the 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, perhaps, "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, or in everyday life), 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 instance, he tells us that "the subject is primarily the individual and the predicate the universal", whereas a predicate is a linguistic expression (predicates do not populate the world!), while a "universal" isn't, which is something the analysis to which Hegel took exception makes quite clear. And if we say that the predicate refers to a universal, we have simply transformed a general term into the name of an abstract particular, again.

 

Indeed, 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 the world that motivated Hegel 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 doesn't really matter if the one is confused with the other, and talk about talk is mixed up with talk about the world.

 

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 this 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.]

 

George Novack's Descent Into Syntactic Confusion

 

[This is a continuation of Note 40.]

 

However, this morbid (if not prurient) interest in John's manhood isn't 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 amuse and bemuse them, just as they will find 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 to pull this syntactic trick 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 for my response.]

 

Nor would he (they) try it out on the following:

 

N7: John is angry with his boss.

 

If we were to apply 'Novackian logic' to N7, we would get these misbegotten sentences:

 

N8: John is identical with angry with his boss.

 

N9: John equals angry 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.

 

It could be objected that both Hegel and Novack are interested in analysing "essential predication", not ordinary prediction, since the former does implicate identity. This objection will be considered below.

 

Be this as it may, Novack now 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 might be wondered, is the simple sentence "John is a man" the expression 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 the fact 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 is this 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 all of them -- and they must likewise become him -- that is, after struggling with each and every one of them!

 

[Anyone who doubts that this universal punch-up is a direct consequence of this crazy 'theory of change' should follow the first of the above links, and then perhaps think again.]

 

In this universal, futuristic John-like world -- and world-like John --, where everyone is John and John is everyone, all struggle would surely 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 peculiar sort seems to be the final denouement of the Big Bang. [Wags might even call this the "Johntological Argument".] On the other hand, if John isn't supposed to turn into everything he is not, then the Dialectical Gospels must be wrong, for they assure us that everything in the entire universe must inevitably turn into its opposite, and vice versa.

 

Alternatively, back in the real world, if John is to turn into his opposite, he must become a man (as indeed he must if he is the opposite of "a man", as Novack asserts. In that case, what the dickens 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 would it be possible for him to turn into his opposite -- "a man".

 

On the other hand, and returning to an earlier point, if John and all men are opposites and subject to inevitable 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? Is the entire human race therefore ganging up on this hapless character?

 

If not, then what is the point of all this 'analysis'? Even in DM-terms it makes no sense.

 

Of course, Novack does make some 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 did believe that H1 meant the same as (or implied) N16b, then his understanding of English was seriously defective. Novack never seems to have questioned the sense of asserting that an individual is identical with a class; no ordinary speaker (not the worse for drink or drugs) 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 as large as the class of men, that might prove sufficient grounds to suggest they urgently sought 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 from it 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 sentence (from John to Mankind), it is plainly isn't 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 their common humanity, or at least a range of genetic/psychological/social 'properties', and he might then have been able to infer from this that they are all equally human. But, anyone who went down that tortuous route should rightly be awarded a prize 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 left alive -- The Omega Man!

 

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" that 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", along the lines we encountered earlier?

 

And yet, both of these are susceptible of the infinite regress we also met earlier.

 

Be this as it may, N17 would surely 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 -- who, because he was a defective and resentful clone, proceeded to wipe 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 John different from all other men), every one 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 angry womenfolk for their sexist disregard of their feelings.

 

[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 inflicted 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 sentences. Exactly what could possibly sanction the bold theses Novack 'inferred' from these tortured words about John's identity/sexuality -- that is, over and above an appeal to the presumed existential import of a few contingent features of a minor branch 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?

 

Comrade Jackson's Hare-Brained Assault On Language

 

[This is a continuation of Note 40.]

 

[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 (and 'Toms,' and 'Dicks' and 'Harrys' and so on) 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 (sic)) 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. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Anyone who has struggled through this passage might emerge from that 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. (See J1, below.)] That 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 the world.]

 

I have to confess, as hard as I tried, I couldn't quite see the first word ("John") physically contained in the second term ("Man"), as it seems it should, according to comrade Jackson.

 

J1: 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".  

 

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 (he is a "particular specimen" of it), 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", the latter must include both men and words as exemplars -- which might help 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 very points, his 'dialectical analysis' does, too.

 

This careless use of language and quotation marks (and the continual confusion between use and mention) isn't of course unrelated to the innovative and self-important 'reasoning' this passage exhibits, 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.]

 

[We might note in passing the bourgeois individualism apparent in the above quotation. Comrade Jackson seems to think he learnt all this by himself, in the comfort of his own skull!]

 

But, it might well be wondered how it could have come about that all men have been successfully conjoined in the one category Man? That category is surely abstract -- it doesn't walk the earth, breathe, or even work for a living. And yet all men do most of these things at some point in their lives. In what sense then are all men thus embroiled in this abstraction?

 

Again, as Fraser Cowley pointed 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.]

 

In like manner we might wonder what has become of John if he belongs to a class that is nowhere to be found.

 

Indeed, Is a category a sort of 'ethereal club' that all males sign up to, or into which they are inducted at birth? Or, do they all get metaphysically conscripted, as it were, at the moment of conception -- their membership card perhaps taking the form of certain sets 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 were they in the meantime? 'Limbo men'? Or, just plain, unvarnished ordinary men -- i.e., males, but now without those garish 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 what look like 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? If so, how on earth could he even begin?

 

[We might wonder who comrade Jackson thought he was the first time he looked in the mirror. Perhaps he thought; "At least I'm not-John"?]

 

Until this comrade had met every other member of the human race, given this view, he wouldn't be able to tell any of these uncategorised, shapeless entities apart --, for the very same rigmarole must surely apply to all these "not-Johns", too. With respect to any single one of them, therefore, this comrade wouldn't be able to distinguish such formless shadows from the rest until he had also distinguished them from all the "not-not-Johns". In turn, he couldn't do that until he had examined all of these amorphous spectres and distinguished them from…, well what? Even worse, he wouldn't 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! But, ex hypothesi, he couldn't do this until all the rest 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 into which John is allegedly locked 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, it might prove helpful to consider a slightly less pragmatically-challenged sentence about him.

 

J2: 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 isn't of the right type, in that it doesn't use a genuine universal term. Consider then the following:

 

J3: 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 TV programme on these wee 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 isn't 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:

 

J4: John is not a non-mammal.

 

This isn't 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 introduce themselves to every single proton (surely these are non-mammals?), just to be able to figure out who John was. And that would only be the beginning of this Sisyphean task.

 

Is John really worth all this trouble?

 

And what about this recalcitrant example?

 

J5: John is everything that Tony Blair is not.

 

Is this proposition 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 in order to understand it. [And then: how they would go about that unwelcome task if they don't yet understand the sentence that prompted this aimless exercise! (Which sentence, of course, they could understand since they could only grasp it at the end!)]

 

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 alone added.]

 

J6: 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.

 

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 -- see J6) 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 that clause concerns the word "man".] Are we now to conclude that every man has a sort of metaphysical tattoo etched onto them at birth -- or at conception?

 

Is this what the following comment 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 alone 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 some sort of spelling mistake? Indeed, if someone had a sex change operation, would this mean that the surgeons involved had to erase, and then chisel 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) -- and which is easy to lampoon as a result -- is that if he had tried to use ordinary language (as Marx suggested he should) he wouldn't have been able to serve 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 unwisely 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!

 

Thalheimer's Dialectical Disaster

 

[This is a continuation of Note 40.]

 

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 prurient 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.]

 

Thalheimer has clearly allowed DL to corrupt his memory, since it prompted him to forget about the countless sentences that aren't 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 isn't the comrade to whom I was referring.

 

Good luck to anyone who wants to translate that into orthodox dialectical gobbledygook.

 

Of course, the ancestral source of this comedy 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. Italic emphases 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 the rest of it out. There is a considerably more involved and convoluted passage like the above in Hegel's Science of Logic (i.e., Hegel (1999)) which has been reproduced in Appendix A.]

 

As the reader will no doubt have noticed, the above 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 to vie 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 isn't a happy distinction. [Of course, this isn't to suggest Hegel restricted himself 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, these categories are of little use to scientists and mathematicians -- least of all philosophers --, since they are 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!) feature 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. But, 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 aren't "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 drew between the former and the latter is unsustainable anyway. Until that is published, the reader should consult Rosenthal (1998), pp.111-36.

 

Moreover, Hegel himself uses such examples to make his point -- for example, here:

 

"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.

 

"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....

 

"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....

 

"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." [Hegel (1999), pp.633-40, §§1364-76. I have used the online version here. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"The rose is fragrant" and "The rose is not red" do not look like 'essential' propositions, nor yet "judgements", although Hegel runs these two ideas together depending on how the "subject" is to be understood/conceived (on this, see below), as we can see from the next paragraph:

 

"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." [ibid., p.634, §1366.]

 

It isn't easy to make any sense of this.

 

Nevertheless, John McCumber makes a valiant attempt to extricate Hegel-fans from this dialectical briar patch:

 

"The second of them [McCumber is here responding to two objections to Hegel's ideas about belief -- RL] can be habilitated via Hegel's famous distinction between a 'judgement' (Urteil) and a 'proposition' or 'sentence' (two possible meanings of Satz; I will translate it as 'assertion' to capture both). While an 'assertion' simply unites any subject and predicate, a 'judgement' claims to present the same object twice: once under the form of an individual, and again as a universal. We may rephrase this by saying that a judgement, unlike mere assertion, claims to give a complete account of what an individual thing is. The subject presents the thing as a mere denotatum; the predicate presents its complete nature.

 

"This completeness claim seems to make judgements bizarre creatures indeed; but Hegel explains that the completeness of the account of an individual thing offered by a 'judgement' is in fact relative to purposes at hand. Such judgements do not only occur in ordinary speech, but play a distinctive role in the fixation of belief: 'that is a wagon,' for example, is a judgement only if the nature of the thing has previously been put into doubt. That it is in fact a wagon is then a complete account of its nature for the purposes at hand: the judgement assures us that the wagonhood of the object is all we need to know about it; acceptance of it ends our present enquiry into its nature." [McCumber (1993), pp.37-38. Italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]    

 

[McCumber in fact admits that it will take the rest of his book to untangle this mess (p.39) -- my words, not his! Despite this, exactly how a judgement differs from an emphatic assertion seems unclear.]

 

However, as we have seen, Hegel calls some sentences both propositions and judgements, while some sentences (such as "The rose is fragrant") seem to oscillate between the two). Perhaps some sense can be made of this; be this as it may, the fact that Hegel considers propositions like "The rose is fragrant" and judgements like "The sun is round" to make his point means that the volunteered objections to the points made in this Essay noted above are themselves misguided. [Also see Inwood (1992), pp.151-53.]

 

Lawler's Lame Attack On Bertrand Russell

 

[This is a continuation of Note 40.]

 

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 an "is" of identity -- as this word features 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 Hegel's comments about "judgements" with those about "propositions" (but since what Hegel is thoroughly confused in this area, as we have just seen, 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 simply assumes to be the case. If, however, the word "Socrates" asserts nothing, or can't be used on its own to assert something, then his 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 isn't. 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 wouldn't be asserting anything (in the sense that 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."

 

Someone might object, and point out that it is possible to assert Socrates, for example, by means of the following:

 

S1: A man is Socrates.

 

But, this would be concede that "A man" names something about which "is Socrates" could be 'asserted', and that would in turn concede that "A man" names an abstract particular destroying its generality. [I have said more about this here.]

 

Of course, even in this bizarre example, "Socrates" would no longer function as a name, but would form part of the 'predicate'. "ξ is Socrates", and in that case "Socrates" wouldn't be asserting "something different in the predicate from what was asserted in the subject", since the new subject (viz., "A man") would no longer be asserting anything. That role has been now devolved to the new 'predicate' "ξ is Socrates". If the one ("A man") isn't now asserting anything, then the other ("ξ is Socrates") can't assert something different from it.

 

In addition, Lawler completely biases his argument by considering an example of a predicate that also works as an identifying (definite) description (i.e., "Socrates is the man who drank the hemlock"). 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. 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 out on his readers; 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 isn't 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 doesn't 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 response were to be rejected for some reason, Lawler's sentence presents problems of its own (rather like those 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 blue) 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, a 'sentential explosion' like this can only be avoided 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. That can be seen if we consider this sentence:

 

L10: Socrates is Socrates.

 

Here the **alleged predicate "...Socrates" isn't different from the subject in any relevant way. Naturally, it could be objected that L10 isn't informative. But, it could be. Sentences like L10 are used all the time; they tell us that the named individual is rather unique, that he or she behaves in a quirky, idiosyncratic or 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 didn't 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), "Blunt is blunt" (meaning that someone called blunt is somewhat forthright), "Down is down" (meaning that the price of duck feathers has fallen), and "Dopey is dopey" (meaning that the famous dwarf from the film, Snow White, is 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 (while 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.

 

But, of course, there is always Petula Clark's truly awful song, "London is London", which does use two names:

 

 

Video One: "London Is London"

 

Then we have Robert De Niro: "Italy has changed. But Rome is Rome", as well as this comment from Fodor's website:

 

"But still, Paris is Paris, and better Paris in the winter than no Paris at all, n'est ce pas?" [Quoted from here; accessed 23/04/2014.]

 

Even President Obama, during the 2012 election campaign, found he had to point out that "Rape is rape" in response to the Republican candidate for the Senate 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). The actor, Ashley Judd, also used this phrase (approximately 08:00-08:15 into the following video):

 

 

Video Two: Ashley Judd -- "Rape Is Rape"

 

It would be interesting to see how many DM-fans would want follow Hegel, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky and argue that since nothing is self-identical, rape is and isn't rape, or even that "No!" does and doesn't mean "No!".

 

In 2012, Ched Evans, a UK football (soccer) player, was convicted of rape. After serving half of his five year jail sentence he was released on licence. In November 2014, Stuart Gilhooly, of the Players Football Association of Ireland, published on their website an attempted defence of Evans. Here is an exchange from 'Jean Hatchet's' deconstruction (published on the Ending Victimisation and Blame website) of Gilhooly's 'defence' of Evans (Gilhooly's words are in black, and Hatchet's response is in red):

 

"The difficult element of this discussion, though, is the part about the scale of the crime. There are people who will say rape is rape."

 

"Rape is rape." [Quoted from here. Accessed 19/11/2014.]

 

A few days later, a BBC radio presenter (Nick Conrad) aired several deeply offensive remarks about rape on Radio Norfolk; here is part of the reply to him (written by Lucy Hunter Johnston) published in The Independent:

 

"Questioning the behaviour of the victim seeks to absolve the attacker of blame, but there aren't varying shades of grey here. A rapist is a rapist, whether he attacks in an alleyway, a living room or a swanky hotel room. A rapist is still a rapist if he has had sex with his victim before. Going home with someone is not consent. Being drunk is not consent. Your wardrobe choices are not consent. No woman or man is to blame for the violence committed against them; there is no right or wrong way to be raped." [Quoted from here; accessed 19/11/2014.]

 

One wonders how many Hegel-fans there are out there who might want to disagree with these comments on the grounds that rape also isn't rape, and a rapist isn't a rapist, since both of these are paired with their 'dialectical opposites' (hinted at by the supposed different content between subject and predicate). And then, how many Marxist dialecticians there are who are inclined to agree with them. "Rape is and isn't rape", or "A rapist is and isn't a rapist?", perhaps?

 

Here is a brief conversation taken from The West Wing (Series Five, Episode Five, Constituency Of One):

 

Amy: "It's nothing, Josh."

 

Josh: "Nothing is nothing."

 

As seems obvious, th "nothing is nothing" comment amounts to a denial that anything in politics is insignificant, since it is arguable that these two uses of the word "nothing" here have different meanings. One is a quantifier, the meaning of which is rather complex, and amounts to "There isn't anything", while the other means something like "insignificant" or "can be ignored". So, Josh's sentence cashes out as "There isn't anything which is insignificant or can be ignored in politics." Even so, this simple communicative act was achieved by the use of a colloquial tautology.

 

In the summer of 2014, James Rodriguez, the Columbian football (soccer) star, had this to say about his proposed move to Real Madrid, as opposed to a move to Manchester United:

 

"I have a great deal of respect for other clubs and admire the good football they play, but ultimately Real Madrid are Real Madrid. I've always had a thing for them, like I said before." [Quoted from here. Accessed 18/07/2014.]

 

Indeed, during the English Premier League football (soccer) game between Arsenal FC and Burnley FC, shown on BBC TV, 02/11/2014, the commentator pointed out that despite the stolid defence mounted by Burnley, Arsenal were bound to score -- after all "Arsenal are Arsenal", he opined. [The plural is apposite here, since "Arsenal" is a collective term; "Arsenal is Arsenal" would therefore be grammatically incorrect. The same applies to "Real Madrid" above, too.]

 

In a recent episode of the Sky Atlantic programme, Banshee (Series Two, Episode Two, Thunder Man), one of the characters is faced with a 30-day jail sentence. Another comments that this is no big deal, "It's only 30 days", he says; but he receives a rebuke: "Prison is prison!" he is emphatically reminded.

 

Indeed, one comrade recently posted this comment on a discussion board: "Well, Art is Art, isn't it? Still, on the other hand, water is water. And east is east and west is west...", which reminds me of this rather uninspiring poem by Rudyard Kipling:

 

"Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!" [Quoted from here.]

 

As well as the opening lines of the song Buttons and Bows from the film The Paleface: "East is east and west is west, and the wrong one I have chose...".

 

Toward the end of the Europa League soccer match between Chelsea FC and FC Rubin Kazan, in April 2014, a sports commentator was heard to say -- in response to an assertion that the status of the Final of the Europa League isn't to be compared with that of the Final of the Champions League --, "A European Final is a European Final." We all know what he meant, even if we might disagree with what he said. 

 

And, here are four more familiar examples of the use of this grammatical form: "Enough is enough", "A promise is a promise", "A lie is a lie", and "War is war". Of course, there is always this famous quote from Liverpool FC manager, Bill Shankly "If you are first you are first. If you are second, you are nothing."

 

Finally, if the above examples fail to convince, here is Marx himself: "A negro is a negro." [Marx (1968), p.79.]

 

Moreover, dialecticians had better hope that no one is ever given the name, "Arthur Man" (i.e., "A Man"), for example -- Oops, too late! -- , otherwise the following reactionary and thoroughly anti-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 its letters could be typed/written wholly in capitals, thus:

 

A2: A MAN IS A MAN

 

Or, even written, à la e e cummings, as follows:

 

A3: a man is a man.

 

[**The comment about the "alleged" predicate was posted deliberately. As noted earlier, Lawler pointedly omits 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 above. 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 -- i.e, "ξ is the man who drank the hemlock" -- can be misconstrued as objects, or the names thereof.

 

There were good reasons why Traditional Theorists truncated predicate expressions; these are connected with the idea that such phrases mirror or reflect 'concepts' in the mind of the one using them (or, perhaps, in some other hidden realm). This idea was in turn linked to the doctrine that concepts are 'mental constructs'/processes in the mind/brain. This view of 'concepts' will be put under considerable pressure in Essay Thirteen Part Three, where it will be shown that, if true, it would render communication impossible. Until then, it is worth pointing out that the alternative approach adopted here implies that concepts are more accurately to be described as linguistic rules (or the expression thereof), the application of which reveals that the individual concerned possesses a certain skill. This situates concepts in the public domain, as opposed to hiding them away in a private, uncheckable area inside each head/brain -- the latter view being different in name only from bourgeois individualism. How this works was outlined earlier, and in Note 16.]

 

It could be objected that the above sentences aren't predicative, and so don't count. But, dialecticians like Lawler turn predicative expressions into identity statements themselves, so they are hardly in a position to complain. Anyway, it isn't true that the above aren't predicative; "Best is best" is -- and so are: "A Man is a man", "Business is business", "Rape is rape", and "A negro is a negro", as, indeed, are most of the other quoted examples.

 

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, since nothing is being asserted by the word "Socrates" in "Socrates is mortal" (as we have seen) -- because it is a name, not a predicate expression --, no comparison of sameness or difference between what is or isn't asserted by "Socrates" and any predicate applicable to him can be sustained. Only predicates (relational expressions and assorted descriptions, etc.) can be used to assert things of named individuals, hence this objection 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 isn't logically significant, anyway.***

 

Well, what about the alleged spatio-temporal differences, where the predicate and subject terms are located in slightly different paces on the page, 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 -- "Socrates" is in red, "is" is in green, and "mortal" is in blue). [Of course, the underlined occurrence of "is", which has been employed to say all this, cannot itself 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 isn't a serious reply since the above jumble doesn't 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.

 

L2a: Sioscmorartteals.

 

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 something, 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 have reproduce Deutscher's actual graphics in Appendix C -- 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. Italic emphases in the original.] 

 

So, the suggestion advanced in L2a isn't all that fanciful; indeed, Semitic speakers have been talking 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.

 

[This adapts a suggestion Wittgenstein advanced 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 probably a by-product of familiarity), but that fact is logically irrelevant, even if it is psychologically important (for Indo-European speakers).

 

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 examine a wider set of examples (i.e., a set more inclusive than dialecticians usually consider), the above objections become much easier to accept. Imagine someone pointing at L11 while saying:

 

L11: L11 isn't an example Lawler should have ignored.

 

Since the sentence says of itself what it says of itself, which isn't different from what it says of itself; 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, and the other examples below.]

 

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 seemingly perverse examples listed above (a tiny sample of the many that could have been given), as well as those below, show that Wittgenstein's comment 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 -- the very 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 expressions can certainly 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). Certainly we can speak about the relation between certain inscriptions (marks on the page), but to conflate this with a relation between a name and a predicate expression would be to confuse the medium with the message.

 

[Even so, we will see Lawler try to do just this below, and then again later, when he attempts to clarify Hegel's obscure phrase, "dialectical contradiction" (see also Essay Eight Part Three).]

 

We are perhaps now in a position to see the point of all the seemingly 'pedantic' detail given near the beginning of this Essay (i.e., concerning sentences and lists (etc., etc.)), which was aimed at exposing this ancient syntactic 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." [Lawler (1982), pp.25-26.]

 

Unfortunately, in this passage we witness one of the most common mistakes committed by Traditional Philosophers rear its over-exposed head; in this particular case, it concerns the spurious 'problem' of the 'relation' between a subject and its properties. If properties don't populate the world as objects (i.e., if they aren't objects, and can only be turned into them by nominalising (particularising) them in ways highlighted earlier), then they can't stand in a relation to anything. [I.e, they aren't the sort of things that could stand in relation to anything, any more than a name could be a verb.] Hence, this is just another classic example of a bogus 'ontological problem' conjured into existence by a clumsy distortion of predicate 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 that Hermetic Harebrain tried 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, §§248-49. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphases added. I have used the on-line version here.]

 

Even so, this is surely no reason for materialists to tail-end such confused mysticism. Indeed, the nature of a human being is surely an empirical, not a logical issue.

 

Well, it is for us anti-Idealists.

 

[To be sure, we might incorporate these facts into our use of language, along the lines discussed here, but that is a separate issue.]

 

And, there is no way that this view of "finitude" can be eradicated/swept under the carpet 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, we can 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 supposed 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 sense linguistic (LIE) -- and its deep structure 'fortuitously' matched contingent features of a minor sub-category of Indo-European Grammar!

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism. This was explained above, and in more detail In Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Lawler's theory not only relies on a reconfiguration 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 at this site is rejected, Lawler's account would still be unacceptable to materialists.

 

Frege or no Frege, predicates aren't 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 consideration alone should recommend it to genuine 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 rather odd "individuals", for it re-configures general terms as the names of abstract particulars. In that case, howsoever badly Russell failed, or didn't fail, in his attempt to solve the spurious 'problem' of "Universals", DL fares a whole lot worse -- since it destroys them.

 

Of course, if we cast our linguistic net a little wider and consider examples drawn from everyday language (which dialecticians seldom consider because this is what Traditional Philosophers have always done: downplay, ignore or depreciate the vernacular, hence, dialecticians are merely aping a well-entrenched, conservative thought-form, as Marx himself noted), Lawler's 'analysis' becomes all the more bizarre. 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 "is" in L20a, that objector would face the infinite regress we have met several times already (most recently, for example, here).

 

Naturally, it could be argued that the last few examples are inapt since they are questions, not propositions, and still less are they Hegelian "judgements". Even so, they were specifically chosen to expose the narrow range of examples considered by dialecticians.

 

Moreover, it isn't easy to see a fundamental difference between the letters "i" and "s" when they combine to form the word "is" in "What is Socrates doing?" and in "Socrates is the man who drank the hemlock" -- especially since the latter wouldn't have been classified by Hegel as a "judgement", to begin with. To be sure, the word "is" can function in many different ways, but that is precisely the point. This verb isn't exclusively one of identity. When used predicatively, it can only be transformed into an "is" of identity by ignoring or depreciating its other uses, thereby 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 are deemed to be 'essential' -- or perhaps even 'necessary' --, when faced with the fact that language (or, at least those taken from the Indo-European family) 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 distinction, which only resulted in the destruction of a key feature of language, one that he himself relied upon: its capacity to express generality. This reconfiguration also destroys 'essential' predication, and for the same reason. Hence, if there is such a thing as 'essential predication', then Hegel's analysis would struggle to make the bottom of the list of viable candidates.

 

We will examine this serious error in Essay Twelve, where we will explore the deleterious 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 available to him, courtesy of the bowdlerised 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 disparaged the rich conceptual resources ordinary material language offers those who adopt a different approach (again, as Marx urged). [More on this in Essay Twelve, too (summary here). See also here.]

 

And yet, as we have seen, Hegel himself uses examples like "The rose is fragrant" to make his point, so the veracity of the comments recorded in the last three paragraphs is by no means certain. The confusion is, I think, all of Hegel's own making.

 

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 an 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 isn't 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 he hasn't asserted before.

 

L36: Socrates is the like of no one else.

 

L37: No one who emulates Socrates is sure to accept the opinions of anyone who agrees with Protagoras.

 

And so on.

 

If we now use an even wider range of examples drawn from the vernacular (but restricted to the use of "is"), the woeful inadequacy of Hegel's theory will become 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 isn't 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 their interests.

 

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 thousands of sentences with which we are all familiar. Even so, none of the above can be re-written with an "is" of identity, a là Lawler -- 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 don't; for example, L46a implies that sugar could be identical with potatoes, whereas L46 doesn't), 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 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, Rees failed to explain how it is possible for later generations build a "framework" out of the experiences of earlier generations. Even if the latter were accessible to anyone (but, are the central nervous systems of our ancestors open and available to us 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/recorded 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, and Essay Thirteen Part Three: DM-theorists have obviously devoted very little thought to the implications of their avowed belief in the social and historical nature of language and knowledge -- over and above serially 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 'abstract' or 'concrete' idea as anyone else about anything whatsoever. Even worse, given the DM-view of the LOI, none of us could do this anyway. [More on this in Part Two.]

 

In fact, at best, lone 'abstractors' (if these mythical beasts of lore actually exist) could cobble-together concepts that only coincidentally agreed with those of any 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 verify it, just as it would 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"!

 

41a. This passage from TAR is rather odd in itself; it will be subject to detailed analysis in Essay Twelve Part Four.

 

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, and constantly tested in practice  -- couldn't alter its Idealist form.

 

43. Lessing actually wrote (in connection with the controversy he had with Reimarus over the 'historical' Jesus): "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 j