Essay Three Part Two: Abstractionism -- Or, 'Science' And Mathematics On The Cheap

And How This Undermines Dialectics

 

Visitors are encouraged to read Part One of this Essay first, where much that is apparently taken for granted below has been fully substantiated.

 

Technical Preliminaries

 

Internet Explorer 11 will no longer play the video I have posted to this page. As far as I can tell, it plays as intended in other Browsers. However, if you have Privacy Badger [PB] installed, it won't play in Google Chrome unless you disable PB for this site.

 

[Having said that, I have just discovered that videos will play in IE11 if you have upgraded to Windows 10. It looks like the problem is with Windows 7 and earlier versions of that operating system. That is still the case with Windows 11, as far as I can determine.]

 

If you are using Internet Explorer 10 (or later), you might find some of the links I have used won't work properly unless you switch to 'Compatibility View' (in the Tools Menu); for IE11 select 'Compatibility View Settings' and add this site (anti-dialectics.co.uk). Microsoft's browser, Edge, automatically renders these links compatible; Windows 10 and 11 do likewise.

 

However, if you are using Windows 10, IE11 and Edge unfortunately appear to colour these links somewhat erratically. They are meant to be mid-blue, but those two browsers render them intermittently light blue, yellow, purple and even red!

 

Firefox and Chrome reproduce them correctly.

 

Several browsers also appear to underline these links erratically. Many are underscored boldly in black, others more lightly in blue! They are all meant to be the latter.

 

Finally, if you are viewing this with Mozilla Firefox, you might not be able to read all the symbols I have used. Mozilla often replaces them with an "º'.

 

There are no such problems with Chrome, Edge, or Internet Explorer, as far as I can determine.

 

I don't know if that is the case with other browsers.

 

Preface

 

This Second Part of Essay Three has perhaps been written and re-written more times than any other at this site (in fact well over fifty times -- and that number is no exaggeration!). The first half of it still contains a few too many mixed metaphors and stylistic monstrosities. I was originally experimenting with a new way of expressing ideas that have been raked over countless times in the last 2400 years by Traditional Thinkers, which is why that rather peculiar style was adopted. So, this Essay will require many more re-writes before I am completely happy with it; in which case, the reader's indulgence is required here perhaps more than elsewhere.

 

Added on Edit: October 2020: I have just spent the last six months re-structuring and re-writing this Essay. Many of the 'irritating rhetorical flourishes' that adorned earlier versions have been removed (or have been replaced by less annoying and convoluted sentences). However, I am still not entirely satisfied with the end result, so it will probably take several more re-writes before that is no longer the case.

 

Added on Edit: April 2024: I have just spent another three months re-structuring and re-writing this Essay again(!), and have eliminated most of the remaining stylistic monstrosities referred to earlier. When complete, this re-write means this Essay will finally be in, or near, its final form.

 

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Several readers have complained about the number of links I have added to these Essays because they say it makes them very difficult to read. Of course, DM-supporters can hardly grumble about that since they believe everything is interconnected and that must also surely apply to Essays that attempt to debunk that very idea. However, to those who find such links do make these Essays difficult to read I say this: ignore them -- unless you want to access further supporting evidence and argument for a particular point or a certain topic fires your interest.

 

Others wonder why I have linked to familiar subjects and issues that are part of common knowledge (such as the names of recent Presidents of the USA, UK Prime Ministers, the names of rivers and mountains, the titles of popular films or certain words that are in common usage). I have done so for the following reason: my Essays are read all over the world and by people from all 'walks of life', so I can't assume that topics which are part of common knowledge in 'the west' are equally well-known across the planet -- or, indeed, by those who haven't had the benefit of the sort of education that is generally available in the 'advanced economies', or any at all. Many of my readers also struggle with English, so any help I can give them I will continue to provide.

 

Finally on this specific topic, several of the aforementioned links connect to web-pages that regularly change their URLs, or which vanish from the Internet altogether. While I try to update them when it becomes apparent that they have changed or have disappeared I can't possibly keep on top of this all the time. I would greatly appreciate it, therefore, if readers informed me of any dead or incorrect links they happen to notice.

 

In general, links to 'Haloscan' no longer seem to work, so readers needn't tell me about them! Links to RevForum, RevLeft, Socialist Unity and The North Star also appear to have died.

 

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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 over thirty-five years ago.

 

The difference between Dialectical Materialism [DM] and HM, as I see it, is explained here.

 

It is important to point out 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 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 has 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, that will become the main 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.

 

[**Exactly how this applies to DM will, of course, be explained in the other Essays published at this site (especially here, here and here). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (but this time with absolute beginners in mind), here.]

 

Finally, it is also worth noting that a good 25-30% of my case against DM has been relegated to the End Notes and the Appendices. Indeed, in this particular Essay, much of the supporting evidence is to be found there. That has been done to allow the main body of the Essay to flow a little more smoothly. This means that if readers want fully to appreciate my case against DM, they should consult this material, too. In many cases, I have added numerous qualifications and considerably more supporting evidence to what I have to say in the main body. In addition, I have raised several objections (some obvious, many not -- and some that will have occurred to the reader) to my own arguments, 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 objections or qualms they might have will be missed, as will the extra supporting evidence and the many qualifications I have added. Since I have been debating this theory with comrades for over thirty years, I have heard all the objections there are! [Many of the more recent on-line debates have been listed here.]

 

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As of March 2024, this Essay is just over 124,500 words long; a much shorter summary of some of its main ideas can be accessed here.

 

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

 

[Latest Update: 05/03/2024.]

 

Quick Links

 

Anyone using these links must remember that they will be skipping past supporting argument and evidence set out in earlier sections.

 

If your Firewall/Browser has a pop-up blocker, you will need to press the "Ctrl" key at the same time or these and the other links here won't work!

 

I have adjusted the font size used at this site to ensure that even those with impaired vision can read what I have to say. However, if the text is still either too big or too small for you, please adjust your browser settings!

 

(1) Introduction

 

(2) The Traditional Approach To Abstract General Ideas

 

(a) Dialectical Traditionalism

 

(b) Philosophy And 'The Problem Of Universals'

 

(c) How Not To Solve A Problem: Begin By Doubling It

 

(d) 'Self-Predication'

 

(e) Descent Into A Metaphysical Abyss

 

(3) Empiricism And The 'Anthropomorphic Brain'

 

(a) The Empiricist 'Mind' Hits A Brick Wall

 

(b) Bourgeois Individualism

 

(c) How Not To Solve Philosophical 'Problems' 2.0

 

(d) Intelligent Ideas Versus A 'Little Man' In The Head

 

(4) Yet More Headaches For Dialecticians

 

(a) Induction And The Social Nature Of Knowledge

 

(i)  Particular Problems With Abstractions

 

(ii) 'Epistemological Thermidor'

 

(b) Driven To Abstraction

 

(c) Reality: Abstract, Concrete -- Or Both?

 

(d) Collective Error Over General Terms

 

(5) Abstractionism: Have We Come To Bury It Or Praise It?

 

(a) You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Confusion

 

(b) Public Criteria Versus Private Gain

 

(c) Particular Problems With 'Dialectical Generality'

 

(6) Anti-Abstractionism

 

(a) 'Mental Strip-Tease'?

 

(b) Do Scientists Indulge In Abstraction?

 

(c) Anti-Abstractionism

 

(i)   Berkeley And Frege

 

(ii)  The Young Marx And Engels

 

(7) Appearance And Reality

 

(a) The Underlying 'Essence' Of 'Being'

 

(b) Does Reality Contradict Appearances?

 

(i)    'Essence' And 'Appearance'

 

(a) Hegel

 

(b) Dialectical Marxists

 

(ii)   'Commonsense'

 

(iii)  Contradictions Supposedly Generated By Science

 

(iv)  The 'Contradiction' Between Science And 'Commonsense'

 

(v)  Does The Earth Move?

 

(c) Why Science Can't Undermine Common Sense

 

(i)   Ordinary Language Conflated With Common Sense

 

(ii)  Why Scientists Can't Afford To Undermine Common Sense

 

(iii) Can Appearances Be Trusted?

 

(iv) Taking A Rise Out Of The Sun?

 

(v) 'Contradictory' Capitalism?

 

(d) Adrift In A Sea Of Appearances

 

(i)   'Dialectical' Practice Can't Be 'Objective'

 

(ii)  Are All Appearances 'False'?

 

(iii) 'Dialectics' Engages Auto-Destruct Mode

 

(8) Appendix One: Bertell Ollman's Traditionalism

 

(a) Initial Disappointment

 

(b) The Privatised 'Process Of Abstraction'

 

(c) Karl Marx -- A Magician?

 

(d) The Young Marx And Engels Torpedo 'Abstractionism'

 

(e) Ollman Misconstrues The Nature Of Change

 

(f) 'Internal Relations' To The Rescue?

 

(g) Welcome To The Desert Of The Reification

 

(h) Brain Scans Required?

 

(i) Ollman Versus DM's Critics

 

(10) Appendix Two: Plato, Rationality, The 'Soul' And A 'Well-Ordered' City

 

(11) Appendix Three: John Rees Attempts To Rescue Lenin

 

(12) Notes

 

(13) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

Introduction

 

In this Second Part of Essay Three traditional answers to the 'problem' of generality (which involved, inter alia, the invention of 'Universals', 'Forms', 'Abstract Ideas', 'Categories' and 'Concepts'), alongside the deleterious effect they have had on Dialectical Marxism, will be critically examined. In addition, the distinction between "appearance" and "essence"/"reality" -- a dichotomy dialecticians have also borrowed from Traditional Thought -- will be subjected to sustained and destructive criticism.

 

The Traditional Approach -- Rationalism And Original Syntax

 

Dialectical Traditionalism

 

Part One of this Essay showed that, beyond a few superficial differences, Dialectical Marxists have bought into a thoroughly traditional view of 'abstract general ideas'. This Part of Essay Three will further underline how conservative this approach to theory turns out to be.

 

Radical they are not.

 

Philosophy And The 'Problem Of Universals'

 

In Traditional Metaphysics the explanation of the origin and nature of generality was intimately connected with the so-called 'problem' of 'Universals'.1

 

Rationalist Philosophers tended to argue that general words or 'concepts' were either anterior to experience or were apprehended by means of generalisations drawn, or "abstracted" from -- or even applied to -- an unspecified number of particulars (i.e., individual objects or events of a certain kind) given in experience, or encountered in 'pure thought'. The 'concepts', 'categories', and 'Ideas' that were concocted as a result were supposed to 'represent', 'reflect' or even 'reveal' the formal/constitutive properties belonging to each particular of a given type, making them what they are. As such, these formal properties defined the particulars that instantiated them. Depending on their precise nature and provenance, these were variously classified as "essential", "primary", or even "secondary" qualities that individuals of a given kind either instantiated or in which they were said to "participate".

 

"The dispute between rationalism and empiricism concerns the extent to which we are dependent upon sense experience in our effort to gain knowledge. Rationalists claim that there are significant ways in which our concepts and knowledge are gained independently of sense experience.... Rationalists generally develop their view in two ways. First, they argue that there are cases where the content of our concepts or knowledge outstrips the information that sense experience can provide. Second, they construct accounts of how reason in some form or other provides that additional information about the world." [Markie (2017). Paragraphs merged.]

 

"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. Many philosophers take the problem of universals to be that of the meaning of general terms without realising that what makes the meaning of general terms a problem is the very concept of a universal." [Cowley (1991), p.85. Spelling modified to agree with UK English. Bold emphasis added.]

 

[The reader is encouraged to keep that last sentence in mind as this Essay unfolds.]

 

Such knowledge was therefore deemed in some way, "innate", based on 'concepts' or 'faculties' that were themselves "innate" (or were in the end guaranteed by 'God'). Here is Descartes (expressing ideas typical of this sub-branch of ruling-class thought):

 

"For since God has endowed each of us with some light of reason by which to distinguish truth from error, I could not have believed that I ought for a single moment to rest satisfied with the opinions of another, unless I had resolved to exercise my own judgment in examining these whenever I should be duly qualified for the task...." [Descartes, Discourse on Method, quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]

 

Naturally, this meant that material objects and events (in nature and society) were somehow less 'real' than the abstractions that supposedly lent them their substantiality, or which constituted their 'essence'. Partly because of this, in the Rationalist Tradition, the general -- the 'rational' -- came to dominate over the particular, the material and the contingent. Hence, what were in principle invisible and undetectable 'essences' were viewed as more real than the individual objects and events we see and experience in the world around us. Here is 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 thus: "[It is] invisible and otherwise imperceptible; that, in fact, which thinking has for its object." (Cornford (1997), p.192.)]

 

And concerning the Rationalist Philosophers who directly influenced DM-theorists, we read:

 

"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996a), p.29. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here is Hegel echoing and amplifying these ideas:

 

"The view that the objects of immediate consciousness, which constitute the body of experience, are mere appearances (phenomena) was another important result of the Kantian philosophy. Common Sense, that mixture of sense and understanding, believes the objects of which it has knowledge to be severally independent and self-supporting; and when it becomes evident that they tend towards and limit one another, the interdependence of one upon another is reckoned something foreign to them and to their true nature. The very opposite is the truth. The things immediately known are mere appearances -- in other words, the ground of their being is not in themselves but in something else. But then comes the important step of defining what this something else is. According to Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only, and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to another world we cannot approach.

 

"Plain minds have not unreasonably taken exception to this subjective idealism, with its reduction of the facts of consciousness to a purely personal world, created by ourselves alone. For the true statement of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true, is as idealist as Kant's; but in contradistinction to the subjective idealism of the Critical philosophy should be termed absolute idealism. Absolute idealism, however, though it is far in advance of vulgar realism, is by no means merely restricted to philosophy. It lies at the root of all religion; for religion too believes the actual world we see, the sum total of existence, to be created and governed by God." [Hegel (1975, §45, p.73. Links in the original. Bold emphases added.]

 

"...only...God is actual...He is the supreme actuality, that He alone is truly actual; but also, as regards the logical bearings of the question, that existence is in part mere appearance, and only in part actuality." [Ibid., p.9, §6; bold emphasis added.]

 

'Abstractions' were therefore Ideal 'objects of thought' -- that is, they either represented each individual philosopher's 'Ideas', or they were the 'thoughts' attributed to one or more of the many 'deities' humans have invented throughout history, including Hegel's 'Absolute'.

 

As I pointed out in Part One:

 

Philosophy was now viewed as a unique and special source of Super-Knowledge -- knowledge that is not only anterior to, it is even more fundamental than anything the sciences could possibly deliver. It is "Superscientific" because its theses reveal Super-Necessities underpinning 'Being' itself, knowledge of which is attainable by the application of 'reason' alone. As Immanuel Kant noted:

 

"First, concerning the sources of metaphysical cognition, it already lies in the concept of metaphysics that they cannot be empirical. The principles of such cognition (which include not only its fundamental propositions or basic principles, but also its fundamental concepts) must therefore never be taken from experience; for the cognition is supposed to be not physical but metaphysical, i.e., lying beyond experience. Therefore it will be based upon neither outer experience, which constitutes the source of physics proper, nor inner, which provides the foundation of empirical psychology. It is therefore cognition a priori, or from pure understanding and pure reason.... Metaphysical cognition must contain nothing but judgments a priori, as required by the distinguishing feature of its sources." [Kant (1953), pp.15-16. (This links to a PDF.) I have quoted the on-line version which is a different translation to the one I have referenced. Bold emphases and link added; paragraphs merged.]

 

"Lying beyond experience" implies the results are superior to scientific knowledge.

 

Indeed, as we also saw in Part One, these 'objects of thought' turn out to be Abstract Particulars. This meant that for Rationalists, while 'reality itself' was essentially Ideal, the physical universe was in effect a shadow world, not fully 'real', since that was where contingency, brute fact, 'appearances', finitude and uncertainty reign supreme. As Plato and Hegel argued, the 'rational structure' that supposedly lay 'behind appearances' was the real world -- indeed, only 'God' was "truly actual", fully 'real'. That invisible world and these 'concepts' were only capable of being accessed by 'thought' (and it had to be 'thought' of a special kind, and activated by a select group of 'thinkers'). If general terms -- common nouns, such as "cat", "table", "money", "value", "population", etc. -- are capable of reflecting the 'essence' of material bodies (as well as their inter-relationships), then that was because of the Abstract Particulars to which they allegedly referred or which they supposedly instantiated -- such as 'The Form of the Cat', 'The Concept, Table', 'The Population'. Hence, these Abstract Particulars were 'ontologically', and even 'epistemologically', anterior to the objects which we (supposedly) refer to by our use of common nouns. Depending on the philosophical system concerned, this meant that these Abstract Particulars existed prior to the relevant objects in material world that they instantiated, or they somehow give them their 'substantiality', their limited, temporary or 'apparent actuality'. For still other thinkers these 'abstractions' were simply 'mental constructs' to which a theorist must refer if they wanted to understand the objects and processes in the material world --, or, indeed, if their aim was simply to construct a more comprehensive and accurate theory about their provenance, nature and inter-connections.1a

 

[We will see Engels, Lenin and other DM-theorists reach similar conclusions, arguing that the 'concrete' is only concrete because of the abstractions to which we have to appeal in order to render them 'concrete' -- and, oddly enough for those who at least claim to be materialists, they even asserted that matter itself was an abstraction! In which case, these self-proclaimed, hard-headed 'materialists' were already tail-ending Idealism by their adoption of a core principle of Rationalism -- i.e., that matter is fundamentally an abstraction!]

 

It is here where we see the conflation of 'talk about talk' with 'talk about the world' re-surface, a perennial confusion we encountered in Part One. We met it, for example, when we saw theorists treat predicates as both the referents of general terms (i.e., the objects or sets of objects in the world supposedly designated by predicative expressions), and as general terms in language. They were thus extra-linguistic and linguistic at the same time! This semantic slide helped Hegel conclude that what went on in his head (as he juggled around with certain words/'concepts') also reflected, if not constituted, the 'external' world in development. In that way he thought he was able to project the contents of his head onto 'external reality', which was as impressive a case of epistemological megalomania as one could wish to find. As sort of Inter-Galactic version of someone who thinks he is, not even Napoleon, but 'God'.

 

While Descartes imagined there were two substances -- 'Mind' and Matter --, it soon became apparent (in the work of Spinoza, and in a somewhat different form in Leibniz's writings -- and later still in Hegel's 'theory', now on steroids) that there is only one rational or 'real' substance: 'Mind'. Everything else is an 'appearance', and hence 'accidental', 'ephemeral', transient, contingent.

 

The traditional approach, which particularises general terms and nominalises verbs, has, in one form or another, dominated Western Thought -- and latterly DM -- for the best part of 2500 years. Its 'logical conclusion' in the work of Leibniz and Hegel (and their latter-day epigones) only serves to underline the claim advanced in these Essays that all ancient, medieval and early modern versions of Rationalist Philosophy are simply different forms of Idealism. And, as we will see, this approach to generality (as well as the meaning of general terms themselves) has spread its tentacles into every subsequent metaphysical system --, to such an extent that it is clear that all forms of Traditional Philosophy -- Rationalist, Nominalist, Realist, Monist, Dualist, Empiricist and Positivist -- are equally Idealist.

 

[Why that comment applies to Empiricism, Nominalism and Positivism will be entered into presently.]

 

These "ruling ideas", originally given life in 'the west' by Ancient Greek Philosophers, found a new home in more recent, bourgeois surroundings, albeit with a brand new content that mirrored the novel social and economic conditions in which they saw light of day.

 

Even when this 'theory' is flipped "right-side up" (or "put back on its feet" --  supposedly in DM), material reality is still viewed as secondary, derivative, dependent, not fully real. Once again, witness where we are told by erstwhile materialists that matter is just an abstraction. The material world, at least as it has been interpreted by dialecticians, requires the rational principles encapsulated in DL to give it life and form. After all, underlying "essences" 'contradict' "appearances", and in that philosophical wrestling match, it is "essence" that always ends on top.1aa

 

Here, for example, is Lenin:

 

"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." [Lenin (1961), p.208. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

"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." [Ibid., p.171. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Notice that it is abstraction that drives thought closer to the truth. Moreover, as we saw in Part One, according to Lenin and Engels, the concrete only emerges at the end of an infinite process. In that case, nothing could ever rightly be said to be concrete. [We will also see later that Lenin is even less ambiguous in the other things he had to say about this mysterious process (here and here).]

 

This helps explain why DM-fans find it impossibly difficult to tell non-believers (or even each other, for goodness sake!) exactly with what it is in reality that their 'abstractions' actually correspond. [Here is a recent example.] As we also saw in Part One (and as we will see in more detail In Essay Twelve Part Four -- as well as Appendix Three), if there were anything in the universe for these 'abstractions', these 'rational principles', to correspond with, that would imply nature is 'Mind', or the product of 'Mind'. On the other hand, if there isn't anything with which they correspond, what possible use are they? Simply to boost the morale of DM-theorists? Or maybe: to give them something to fall out over, allowing them to accuse one another of not 'understanding' dialectics?

 

As the Book of Genesis noted, in an Ideal world it takes the 'Word of God' (or something analogous to it) to give life and form to matter, creating 'everything out of nothing'. Without that, everything would have remained lifeless, chaotic and might even have ceased to exist --, or, indeed, might even have failed to begin existing:

 

"And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.... And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God called the firmament Heaven.... And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself, upon the earth: and it was so...." [Genesis, Chapter One, verses 2-11.]

 

"In the beginning was the Word [λόγος -- logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been madeIn him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind." [John 1:1-4. Bold emphasis added.]

 

In like manner, according to DM-theorists, a 'Dialectical Logos' is required, not just to add form to formless matter, but to call it into existence, give it life, make it move and do all of this literally out of 'Nothing'. Creation ex nihilo isn't just a Christian dogma, it is also a DM-dogma -- courtesy of Hegel's 'derivation' of everything from 'Nothing' and 'Being' via 'Becoming'.

 

Here is what I have written elsewhere about this (slightly edited):

 

One particular 'argument' is of special interest here; it crops up in different forms in several places in Hegel's work, and attempts to connect "Being" with "Nothing" and then both with "Becoming", by magically 'deriving' all three from the verb "to be"....

 

Amazingly, this 'argument' was praised by Lenin and Trotsky....

 

Rees summarised thus 'argument' in the following way:

 

"The 'Science of Logic' begins with the most abstract of all human ideas, Being. This is the bare notion of existence shorn of any colour, size, shape, taste or smell. This first concept is also, in its way, a totality. Although Being reveals no characteristics or distinguishing marks, it does, nevertheless, include everything. After all, everything must exist before it can take on any particular characteristics. Being is therefore a quality that is shared by everything that exists; it is the most common of all human ideas. Every time we say, 'This is --,' even before we say what it is, we acknowledge the idea of pure Being…. But Being also contains its opposite, Nothing. The reason is that Being has no qualities and no features that define it. If we try to think about pure Being…we are forced to the opposite conclusion, Being equals Nothing.

 

"But even Nothing is more than it seems. If we are asked to define Nothing, we are forced to admit that it has at least one property -– the lack or absence of any qualities…. This presents us with a strange dilemma: being is Nothing and yet Nothing is something. Hegel, however, is not so stupid as to think that there is no difference between being and Nothing, even though this is what our logical enquiry seems to suggest. All that this contradiction means is that we must search for a new term that…can explain how Being and Nothing can be both equal and separate (or an 'identity of opposites'…). Hegel's solution is the concept of Becoming." [Rees (1998), pp.49-50. Spelling adjusted in line with UK English; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

But, there is no way that these concepts ("Being", "Nothing" and "Becoming") could have been derived from "careful empirical work", nor can they be "tested in practice" -- let alone abstracted from anything that is recognisably material.

 

In the end, the fact that erstwhile materialists (like Lenin and Trotsky -- or even Rees, since he nowhere criticises this 'argument') praised this prime example of linguistic mystification isn't the least bit surprising -- when their own ideas are viewed against the class-compromised background of Traditional Thought.

 

This is how Trotsky characterised it:

 

"The identity of Being (Sein) and Nothingness (Nichts), like the contradictoriness of the concept of the Beginning, in which Nichts and Sein are united, seems at first glance a subtle and fruitless play of ideas. In fact, this 'game' brilliantly exposes the failure of static thinking, which at first splits the world into motionless elements, and then seeks truth by way of a limitless expansion [of the process]." [Trotsky (1986), p.103.]

 

Whereas Lenin thought it was:

 

"Shrewd and clever! Hegel analyses concepts that usually appear dead and shows that there is movement in them." [Lenin (1961), p.110.]

 

However, at no point do Rees and other DM-fans repudiate this style of reasoning, only some of its 'Ideal' implications -- which, coupled with the praise Lenin and Trotsky heaped upon it, indicates that, for dialecticians, the rejection of Hegelian Absolute Idealism is purely formal, and clearly superficial. By no stretch of the imagination have any of the above conclusions been drawn from "an analysis of real material forces", or anything even remotely like one. The fact that leading DM-classicists could claim to learn anything about the nature of "static thinking" from such woefully defective 'logic' reveals how superficial their frequent and vociferous rejection of Absolute Idealism really is. The 'logic' of this passage is entirely bogus and thoroughly Idealist, again, as George Novack noted:

 

"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.]

 

The concepts Hegel employed are the result of grossly exaggerated abstractions, tortured 'logic' and terminally dubious assertions....

 

In fact, this Hegelian 'derivation' has set a new gold standard for all forms of LIE, for from it everything in existence -- every object, thought and process -- can be 'derived' miraculously from the verb "to be"!

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

So, even for DM-fans, matter isn't sufficient to itself -- indeed, it is an 'abstraction'. Which is, of course, why Hegel and Dialectical Marxists found they had to appeal to a linguistic form -- i.e., to 'contradiction' -- to set things in motion and give them life. Creation, life and movement via language (in the Bible) and 'logic' (logos) mirrored by linguistic forms achieving the same result in DM:

 

"Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity." [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"So long as we consider things at rest and lifeless, each one by itself…we do not run up against any contradictions in them…. But the position is quite different as soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence. Then we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction…. [T]here is a contradiction objectively present in things and processes themselves, a contradiction is moreover an actual force...." [Engels (1976), pp.152-53. Bold emphases added]

 

"Dialectics…prevails throughout nature…. [T]he motion through opposites which asserts itself everywhere in nature, and which by the continual conflict of the opposites…determines the life of nature." [Engels (1954), p.211. Bold emphasis added]

 

"The identity of opposites…is the recognition…of the contradictory, mutually exclusive, opposite tendencies in all phenomena and processes of nature…. The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their 'self-movement,' in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the 'struggle' of opposites. The two basic (or two possible? or two historically observable?) conceptions of development (evolution) are: development as decrease and increase, as repetition, and development as a unity of opposites (the division of a unity into mutually exclusive opposites and their reciprocal relation).

 

"In the first conception of motion, self-movement, its driving force, its source, its motive, remains in the shade (or this source is made external -- God, subject, etc.). In the second conception the chief attention is directed precisely to knowledge of the source of 'self'-movement. The first conception is lifeless, pale and dry. The second is living. The second alone furnishes the key to the 'self-movement' of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to the 'leaps,' to the 'break in continuity,' to the 'transformation into the opposite,' to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new. The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute." [Lenin (1961), pp.357-58. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]

 

Because of this, it isn't possible to find -- or even suggest there is -- a single physical correlate in nature and society for the abstractions that dialecticians have conjured into existence (or, to be more honest, the 'abstractions' they imported from Hegel and other ruling-class theorists) to correspond with. But, since they form the 'essential nature' of material objects and processes, this means that, for DM-fans, the latter must be Ideal, too.

 

And that is why the aforementioned dialectical "flip" was in the end through the full 360º.

 

Hence, it is hardly surprising to find that DM-fans have had to denigrate, or at least depreciate, ordinary language and with it the experience of ordinary workers (accusing them of being dominated by 'commonsense', 'formal thinking' or 'false consciousness' -- aping a tactic adopted and perfected by countless generations of ruling-class hacks), in order to 'justify' and rationalise the importation of Hegelian concepts into the workers' movement, in a vain attempt to make DM work.

 

[These allegations will be substantiated in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

As we will discover throughout the rest of this site: because of their reliance on the traditional thought-forms they imported into revolutionary socialism, dialecticians have only succeeded in saddling themselves and our movement with more than a handful of insoluble theoretical problems. This also helps explain why every single dialectician slips into a priori, dogmatic mode-of-thought at the drop of a copula --, and why they all fail to notice this even after it has been pointed out to them!

 

Moreover, as indicated earlier, this version of 'rotated' Idealism [i.e., DM] pictures the material world as less 'real' than the Ideal world that lends it its substance, its 'essence', and which in the end determines what DM-theorists finally regard as "concrete".

 

And we can now see why that is so: for dialecticians, material objects are only "concrete" in the Ideal Limit. But, since that limit is forever unattainable, this implies that, for them, there are in effect no concrete objects or processes at all!

 

How Not To Solve A Problem: Begin By Doubling It

 

As Aristotle pointed out -- in reference to Plato's Theory of Forms and the so-called "Third Man Argument" --, it isn't a good idea when trying to solve a problem to begin by doubling it.

 

[The Third Man Argument first saw light of day in Plato (1997d), p.366, 132a-132b.]

 

By this he meant that if there is a difficulty explaining the similarities that exist between the particulars given in experience, there is surely a more intractable one accounting for the alleged link between these particulars and the Abstract Universals (The Forms) they supposedly instantiate (in Plato's theory).

 

Where there was previously only one problem, now there are two.

 

Worse still, if the solution to this age-old conundrum implies there is a link of some sort between particulars and a 'something-we-know-not-what' (i.e., a specially-concocted 'Universal', located in a mysterious world anterior to experience, accessible to thought alone), then this is a 'solution' in name alone.

 

Hence, if an abstract term is required to account for the similarities that exist between particulars, then a third term would clearly be required to account for the similarity between that abstraction and those particulars themselves. Otherwise, the connection wouldn't be rational, merely fortuitous or accidental, undermining the whole point of the exercise.

 

[That helps explain why the medieval, 'Identity Theory of Predication' was adopted by Hegel -- discussed in detail in Part One.]

 

So, this third term simply reproduces the original problem. That is because questions would naturally arise over the link between this new term and the other two (i.e., between each particular and this hypothetical 'Universal' that had been introduced in order to connect them!).

 

While Abstract Universals like this 'exist' in an 'Ideal World' anterior to the world we see around us, they also supposedly enjoy connections of some sort with particulars in this world, connections that are of a different order to those that material particulars presumably enjoy among themselves. Unfortunately, this leaves the 'abstract' side of this family of proposed 'solutions' forever shrouded in mystery, with no hope of any such 'solution' ever being found.

 

Hence, if the introduction of Universal, Concept or 'abstraction' (call it, "C1") is required in order to account for the common features shared, for instance, by objects A and B, then a new Universal, Concept or abstraction (call it, "C2" -- a third term), will be required to account for the commonality between both C1 and A, and C1 and B, and so on. The whole exercise thus threatens to generate an infinite regress, leaving nothing explained.

 

Donald Davidson put this point rather well:

 

"In one dialogue or another Plato tells us that the forms are not perceived by the senses, but are objects of the mind; that they are imperishable; that they are indivisible; that they are superior to material objects; that they are norms by which we judge material things; that they have a certain creative power (the form of wisdom 'makes' Socrates wise). Material objects participate in, resemble, copy, or are modelled by the forms. Problems arise because some of these characteristics of the forms turn out to clash with others. If material things resemble the forms they instantiate to various degrees, then material things have something in common with any form they resemble. If a well-drawn circle resembles the form of circularity, it must be because both the particular drawn circle and the form of circularity share the property of circularity; but then what the particular and the property share must be still another form. Scholars of Plato have puzzled over this problem, the problem of the 'third man,' because it seems to lead to an infinite regress." [Davidson (2005), pp.78-79. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added.]

 

Of course, Davidson goes on to argue that Plato appears to have 'solved' this problem by arguing that it is a mistake to think that shapes also have a shape, or that Socrates resembles the concept of a man. That might very well be so, but it isn't easy to see how the Forms could be exemplars of the particulars they supposedly instantiate if they share nothing with them. Indeed, why call something the Form of Circularity if there is nothing circular about it? Or if there is nothing in common between this Form and circles that have been drawn, or could be drawn in this world? Why can't they, perhaps, exemplify the Form of Squareness, or of Triangularity, with which they also share nothing? There has to be some reason why the Form of Circularity expresses what all circles have in common that prevents the Form of Squareness, of Triangularity or even of Happiness from doing this. But just as soon as it is acknowledged there is something in common between a given Form and the particulars that supposedly fall under it (and which rules out any other Form), the 'Third Man Argument' kicks in again.

 

Of course, a rule (if that is what the Forms are) in no obvious way resembles the objects to which it is, or can be, applied, but there is little in Plato that suggests he regarded his Forms as rules. Moreover, if the Forms are supposed to work as exemplars, there would have to be a rule of some sort that informed those who implicitly (or explicitly) used them, or their linguistic counterparts, as exemplars how to apply them correctly. But, there are no such rules, or none that Plato mentioned. An object, a Form, can't tell anyone how to use or apply it. An interpreted rule can and typically would. A chess piece, for example, can't tell a novice chess player how to move it; the rules of chess, once understood, typically do.

 

[There is a sophisticated defence of Plato in Meinwald (1990, 1992). The reader will have to decide for herself whether or not it is successful. However, as we will see, this pseudo-problem is easily resolved, as this Essay, in tandem with Part One, will demonstrate.]

 

Well, this might be to misinterpret the nature of Plato's Forms, perhaps even anachronistically. In fact, Plato talks as if we just 'see' or 'remember' the Forms (on this, see Note 6a), and that is all there is to it. But, once more, if we are to recognise the Form of Circularity and distinguish it from, say, the Form of Squareness, there must be something about the former that doesn't apply to the latter, which it shares with examples of circularity we see in this world, and which it doesn't share with squareness. But, what can that be? A name or label of some sort? But, names can't express a rule, either, nor can labels. We already know what circularity is, so our understanding has already been biased (so to speak), but just looking at the alleged Form of Circularity in Platonic Heaven before we were born (which is how Plato apparently conceived of this pre-natal, Cosmic Drama) without knowing what it represents or how to apply it would tell us nothing. Maybe we were all given a guided tour or presented with an 'Empyrean Form, User's Handbook' of some sort? If so, that would make this a social theory of knowledge and all the problems Plato associated with banausic theories like this would now surely apply to all 'heavenly' versions of it.

 

What, for example, would be common to The Form of Dog, or the Forms of Cat, Lion, Horse, Rat and Crocodile that would make them all partake in the Form of Animal? That question would once again re-introduce Aristotle's 'Third Man Argument', only now applied to the Forms themselves!

 

Maybe Platonic Heaven works in 'mysterious ways', and 'Cosmic Knowledge' is different from ordinary, boring, earthy knowledge. But, that is precisely the point at issue, for Plato's theory kicks this 'problem' off, not into the long grass, but into a fundamentally mysterious arena -- off into the clouds...

 

Of course, this 'difficulty' resurfaces in Hegel's theory, but in a different form (no pun intended), for he had no way of knowing whether or not his apprehension of the concepts of interest to him were genuine copies of those processed by the Absolute Itself --, or, for that matter, whether or not they were the same as anyone else's. Indeed, he would have no way of knowing whether or not he had interpreted them correctly, or even what they really meant. Having the name of a concept (such as "Being") would be of no more use to Hegel than seeing the Form of Circularity would be to our allegedly pre-existent selves in Platonic Heaven. The name of a concept can provide no clues how it should be applied -- or even what it meant -- certainly no more than 'the word' "Meskonation" would help you, dear reader, if you simply stared at it, or thought about it for weeks on end.

 

[Don't look that word up! I invented it, just like Philosophers invented "Being".]

 

Of course, it could be argued that Hegel inherited a range of concepts from previous generations of philosophers (e.g., "Being", "Nothing", "Form" -- or even "Concept" itself), which isn't the case with "Meskonation". That is undeniable, but it misses the point. Hegel could stare at the word "Being" all day long and that would still fail to tell him that what he meant by that word was the same as, or was different from, what previous thinkers had meant by it -- or, indeed, that the meaning of any of the words they had used in their explanation of what they meant by "Being" were the same as, or were different from, what he now meant by those words -- without a social theory or social explanation of meaning to assist him, or them. The fact that Hegel processed these ideas 'in the privacy of his head' undermines any attempt on his part to formulate just such a social theory, or explanation. And it is little use, either, pointing to his many writings, or those of previous thinkers, as a way of extricating Hegel from this impasse (because those ideas, expressed in print, plainly aren't locked inside Hegel's skull, or theirs). Those assorted writings merely record the results of their private musings, they don't in any way alter their provenance and meaning -- still less do they validate their legitimacy.

 

This is precisely where Hegel's non-social theory of knowledge -- aka his bourgeois individualism, for that is what it is (once again: Hegel worked it all out in the 'privacy of his head') -- landed his theory of 'conceptual development'. Simply grafting a temporal component onto Plato's Theory of Forms is no solution. Time cannot add a dimension of meaning where there was none to begin with. [I have said more about this here and here.]

 

Any who doubt this need only ask themselves in, say, a few months' time if "Meskonation" now means something to them, and then whether or not it means the same as it does to anyone else as it does to them.

 

[There is more about this below, here and here.]

 

Hegel could assert and insist all he liked -- and can do so until his face turned blue (as, indeed, can any of his groupies) -- that the results he had achieved were 'objective' and delineated how all thought actually proceeds if carried out in the way he (sort of) described, but that would simply be to thump the table. Because he began by using the traditional concepts and methods he inherited from previous generations of mystics and day-dreamers (albeit adapted and transformed to his own ends), and he did all this 'in his head', there is no way out of the 'subjective hole' he had dug for himself -- as the above comments, the rest of this Essay and much of Essay Twelve will underline.

 

And the same goes for anyone foolish enough to use his ideas/method.

 

Be this as it may, Davidson makes the point that even if Plato managed to circumvent these 'difficulties', his theory falls foul of another, even more intractable infinite regress: the problem of predication and the 'unity of the proposition' -- covered in detail in Part One of this Essay.

 

However, this Platonic doctrine immediately demotes the 'evidence' that sense experience delivers to each 'knowing subject', rendering it merely of secondary importance (or even of no importance at all) compared to whatever is contributed by 'thought', or by 'tradition' -- as, indeed, Plato's Allegory of the Cave confirms.

 

[Indeed, we will soon see this Platonic, anti-scientific attitude re-surface in the thought of several DM-theorists, who argue that facts are not only an impediment, they are entirely misleading! After all, they 'contradict essence'. In Essay Two, we saw CLR James arguing along those lines.]

 

This Aristocratic depreciation of the material world -- with its associated contingency -- and the denigration of the thought and lives of ordinary human beings continued in the later Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions, both of which find clear echo in Hegel's work and thus in DM. [On that, see O'Regan (1994). This theme will be explored in detail in Essays Twelve Part Seven and Fourteen Part One (summaries here and here).]

 

In which case, if "What is rational is real, and what is real is rational" [Hegel (2005), p.xix], then both the 'real' and the 'rational' must be inaccessible to the senses, and the outward appearance of things can't possibly match their real form. That is because only 'the Mind' is 'rational', and since material things aren't 'Mind', they can't be 'rational', either -- nor can they be governed by rational principles. Or so this theory would have us believe.

 

[The various responses that could be made to that seemingly dogmatic assertion will be considered in detail in Essay Twelve Part Four.]

 

Or, perhaps better: matter and 'mind' can only be reconciled if the material world is viewed as somehow an aspect of 'Mind', an "abstraction" of some sort itself, or even an Ideal entity in its own right. Hence, the logical conclusion of this approach to 'knowledge', as indeed Hegel seemed to believe, is that despite appearances to the contrary, everything must be 'Mind', an aspect of 'Mind' or a reflection/expression of 'Mind' in 'self-development'.

 

That helps explain why Hegel thought every single philosophy was merely a different form of Idealism:

 

"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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here is more from Hegel: on why everything is (really) an 'abstraction' (and hence 'mental' in some way):

 

"If abstraction is made from every determination, from all form of anything, what is left over is indeterminate matter. Matter is a sheer abstraction. (Matter cannot be seen, felt, and so on -- what is seen, felt, is a determinate matter, that is, a unity of matter and form). This abstraction from which matter proceeds is, however, not merely an external removal and sublating of form, rather does form, as we have seen, spontaneously reduce itself to this simple identity." [Hegel (1999), pp.450-51, §979. Bold emphasis alone added. (Typos in the on-line version corrected.)]

 

Here, too, is Engels:

 

"Matter as such is a pure creation of thought and an abstraction. We leave out of account the qualitative differences of things in lumping them together as corporeally existing things under the concept matter. Hence matter as such, as distinct from definite existing pieces of matter, is not anything sensuously existing." [Engels (1954), p.255. Bold emphases added. I have dealt with this issue in much more detail, here.]

 

Not to be outdone, here, too, is Lenin:

 

"If abstraction is made from every determination and Form of a Something, indeterminate Matter remains. Matter is a pure abstract. (-- Matter cannot be seen or felt, etc. -- what is seen or felt is a determinate Matter, that is, a unity of Matter and Form)." [Lenin (1961), pp.144-45. Italic emphases in the original; bold added. The original passage from Hegel has been reposted in Note 57 of Essay Thirteen Part One. In the same Essay, I have also quoted other DM-fans who say much the same.]

 

While we might expect an Absolute Idealist like Hegel to consign matter to a waste bin labelled "Abstractions in here please", it is quite shocking to see erstwhile materialists agreeing with him! I am sure the reader will now be able to see what a pernicious influence Hegel has had on Dialectical Marxism -- it has given us materialists who think matter is an abstraction! At this point I'd be tempted to say "You just couldn't make this up!", but you don't need to make it up, so I won't say it.

 

At best, this means that 'appearances' are indeed misleading; at worst, they are 'contradicted' by underlying 'essences' -- as dialecticians are happy to tell us. In any such clash between the 'evidence' that the senses deliver and the rational principles upon which the 'Mind' supposedly relies, Traditional Thought has always promoted the latter over the former, as the following 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 (this links to a PDF); again these authors record this erroneously as p.v; although in the edition to which I have linked, it is p.xliii -- 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 with those adopted at this site.]

 

"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996a), p.29.]

 

But, as we will see (in Essays Ten Part One and Twelve Part One), not only is the above search for a priori knowledge a charade (in that it can't deliver what had been advertised all along for it), it destroys the capacity we have for articulating any ideas at all.

 

[How that actually worked was explained in Part One.]

 

Even worse: Dialectical Marxists have from the beginning shown that they were only too willing to adopt this anti-materialist, ruling-class view of 'reality'. These 'ruling ideas' now clearly rule what are supposed to be radical minds. The sad truth is that this approach to knowledge, which dialecticians have imported into Marxism, has, ironically, the opposite effect: it delivers no knowledge at all.

 

In fact, if 'true', 'dialectics' would undermine science completely.

 

This means that while DM-theorists have hocked the 'materialist cow', they haven't even received a handful of beans in return.

 

 

Figure One: Jack Negotiates A Far Superior Deal

 

[This also helps explain why DM-theories collapse quite so readily into incoherence -- as the next ten Essays will amply demonstrate.]

 

Davidson then turns his attention to Aristotle's non-solution; and, since Hegel adopted and adapted Aristotle's theory -- albeit buried under a ton of gobbledygook --, the following remarks also apply to his version:

 

"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. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

The 'necessary' connection that was supposed to exist between these 'forms' and the particulars they allegedly exemplify ends up reducing them to the level of particularity, too, thus vitiating the whole process. That is because it destroys generality, the very thing the 'forms' had been introduced all along to explain.

 

But, if C1 (from earlier) can't connect A and B directly on its own, what then is the point of introducing it?  

 

Of course, it could be argued that C1 belongs to a different category from A and B, so the above argument is thoroughly misconceived.

 

Well, it would be if 'Universals' hadn't already been transformed into Abstract Particulars -- or, rather, if the words we use (supposedly) to refer to them hadn't been transformed into the Proper Names thereof -- as a result of the syntactical segue exposed in Part One of this Essay (and alluded to by Davidson, above). But, because Traditional Theorists have been doing precisely this -- at least since the Presocratics -- Aristotle's 'Third Man Argument' (suitably adapted in each case) applies to every known version of this theory. In which case, it turns out that all those 'Universals', 'Concepts', 'Ideas', 'Categories' and 'Abstractions', as they feature in Traditional Thought (and, alas, in DM, too), can't be general. They are just particulars of a rather peculiar, if not grandiose, sort, ashamed, perhaps, to come out of the Idealist Closet.

 

Hence, the 'philosophical' question remains: Is there a general term, or any term, that is capable of linking ordinary objects and processes given in experience with these Abstract Particulars of Traditional Lore?

 

That is just one of the reasons why this 'problem' has been addressed in the way it was in Part One of this Essay. There, the aim was to explain and expose the syntactic and semantic moves that originally created this ancient conundrum -- i.e., how generality can be accounted for by reference to what turn out to be invisible Abstract Particulars and where predicate expressions have been transformed into Proper Names thereof. To be sure, Aristotle himself half recognised this problem (as we have seen), but the logic he constructed wasn't sophisticated enough to account for its source (and thus for its resolution). This meant he wound up accepting an early version of this error -- i.e., in relation to what turned out to be a precursor of the Identity Theory of Predication, discussed in Part One (this links directly to a downloadable .doc file).

 

On the other hand, if the aforementioned "third term" (i.e., C2 from earlier) is superfluous, if a new general term isn't after all needed in order to connect an 'abstraction' to each material particular, then it is difficult to see why particulars themselves need a second term (i.e., C1) to link them, in the first place. This is especially so if it turns out that this 'general term' (C1 again) is itself incapable of doing the job assigned to it -- once more, because it has been transmogrified into an Abstract Particular itself, or the Proper Name thereof!

 

But, if objects in the world can be inter-related without an entire gamut of 'abstract intermediaries' (which are, after all, the metaphysical equivalent of the Crystalline Spheres and the Epicycles of Ptolemaic Astronomy) -- or, perhaps better, if speakers manage to use general terms with ease every day of their lives without all this fuss --, what need is there for any such 'abstractions', to begin with?1bb

 

Alternatively, if the relation between Universals and Particulars isn't one of resemblance (i.e., if C1 fails to resemble A or B), then the relation between each particular and its (invisible) Ideal 'exemplar' must itself be mysterious. If Universals and Particulars don't resemble one another, it what way can they possibly be connected? How could the one connect the other two, if that were the case?

 

Indeed, it is far from clear what a Universal could possibly supply a particular that our use of general worlds can't provide, anyway. And that worry isn't helped when it is recalled that, in Traditional Thought, Universals were pictured in a way that deprived them of the capacity to fulfil the very role that had originally been assigned to them -- i.e., accounting for generality.1b

 

'Self-Predication'

 

For many Plato scholars and logicians, there is a 'more important logical principle' seemingly buried in the weeds here: the 'problem of self-predication' (that many commentators and critics try to attribute to Plato). This 'problem' arises when it is asked whether, say, the Form of the Small is itself small, or the Form of the Heavy is itself heavy.1bc

 

The above two examples have been translated into quasi-Plato-speak (in P1a and P2a):

 

P1: Small is small.

 

P2: Heavy is heavy.

 

P1a: The Form of The Small is small.

 

P2a: The Form of The Heavy is heavy.

 

It has been argued that in P1, for example, the predicate, "small", is predicated of the other predicate term, "Small" (now misleadingly and mischievously acting as a subject term), which results in what is called "the problem of self-predication". But, this is just another pseudo-problem. That is because the first "small" in P1 is no longer a predicate; it now functions as the Proper Name of the abstract particular, 'Small' (again, as we saw in Part One). Of course, what we actually have here is a predicate expression, "ξ is small" attached to a subject term, "Small".

 

[As we also saw in Part One, calling "small" (or even "...small") a predicate, as opposed to referring to "ξ is small" as a predicative expression, creates the sort of confusions that plagued Traditional Philosophy for over two thousand years, no less so here. Readers are referred back to Note 15a of Part One for more details -- a topic also briefly covered below.] 

 

Well, this would be a 'more important logical principle' if it hadn't been based on the transmogrification of predicate expressions into singular terms, which in the end means that nothing has actually been 'self-predicated', here. This ancient pseudo-problem has been conjured into existence by these spurious linguistic moves, and nothing more. That is because there has been no predication applied to a predicate expression in P1 or P2 -- so there has in fact been no 'self-predication' for a single logician to worry about. What has happened is that a predicate expression has been attached to a singular term that is typographically identical to part of the predicate expression itself.

 

So, this confusion has arisen largely because of two inter-related factors:

 

(i) Those taken in by it focussed on superficial linguistic factors -- i.e., if something looks like a predicate expression it must be a predicate expression --, instead of examining the logical role certain words occupy in indicative sentences; and,

 

(ii) The adoption of an Ancient Greek interpretation of predicate expressions (again, covered in Part One of this Essay).

 

If you regard a predicate expression as an inscription of some sort (for example, "heavy" or "small"), but not the linguistic expression of a rule (for example, "ξ is heavy", or "ξ is small"), then it will seem legitimate to swap their roles in indicative sentences, inserting them into the role occupied by singular/subject terms. That done, putting "heavy" and "small" at the beginning of P1 and P2, for instance, will seem quite legitimate when all that that move will have achieved is to change what had been a general noun into a singular term, meaning it can no longer be operating as a predicate expression, and hence is no longer general. So, in P1, for example, the word "small" at the beginning is no longer a predicate expression but a singular term, a Proper Noun (that now names a mythical Abstract Particular, 'Small').

 

[The word "inscription" applies to physical marks on a page/screen/wall/blackboard/whitescreen/cavewall... that aren't considered random, but are held to be the product of intentionality, part of a natural-, or even a formal-language -- or perhaps even a work of art, no matter how 'primitive'.]

 

On the other hand, if the above were examples of 'self-predication' we would have to have something like the following:

 

P1b: ξ is small is small (sic).

 

P2b: ζ is heavy is heavy (sic).

 

In the above we have examples of attempted self-predication, but they make this 'important logical principle' all the more obviously nonsensical.

 

And that is why I haven't considered this 'important logical principle' in any of my criticisms of Plato.

 

[The use of Greek symbols and why a predicate expression is the linguistic expression of a rule were explained in Part One of this Essay, here and here.]

 

Descent Into A Metaphysical Abyss

 

Unfortunately, this ancient syntactical error has been passed down the centuries to later generations of traditional theorists, a fall from linguistic grace traducing the entire population of flawed 'solutions' that have descended from it with modification by unnatural selection --, including its 'poor relation' in DM.

 

[Apologies once again for those mixed metaphors!]

 

Empiricism And The 'Anthropomorphic Brain'

 

The Empiricist 'Mind' Hits A Brick Wall

 

Philosophers of a more practical, or maybe a more worldly or Empiricist frame-of-mind, approached this 'problem' from a different angle; they held that general terms were 'constructions' of some sort, cobbled together (somehow) by 'the mind'.

 

[It is worth noting at this point that in general, just like  the Rationalists, the Empiricist approach to the source and status of knowledge also implied that the 'mental' side of the equation took precedence. That is, 'mind' holding primacy over matter, once more. As we will see, the 'high road' (Rationalism) and the 'low road' (Empiricism) both motivated Traditional Theorists to adopt one form or other of Idealism -- indeed, as Hegel himself noted. That is largely because post-Renaissance they were all working largely within the Cartesian Paradigm, whose basic approach they never questioned: knowledge begins with the individual. It is therefore no coincidence that the heyday of Empiricism coincided with the rise of the Capitalist Mode of Production, but that had no noticeable effect on the Idealism either explicit or implicit across the entire spectrum of Traditional Thought that appeared at this time across early modern Europe.]

 

The Empiricist approach to the formation of 'Universals' held that 'the mind' was somehow capable of  to 'apprehending' the 'common' elements supposedly shared by particulars given in experience, which 'mental' ability manifested itself internally in the production, or the 'processing', of "ideas", "images", "impressions" -- or latterly, "sense data", but even more recently, "qualia"/"tropes".

 

Theorists working in this tradition tended to disagree over whether 'Universals' were genuine features of reality or were simply a by-product of an overactive mind --, or, indeed, whether they were simply 'empty terms', perhaps even "useful fictions", which interpretation tended to dominate Positivist fringes of Empiricism.

 

As soon became obvious, these seemingly profound differences mattered little; given this overall approach, general words (common nouns) were once again demoted, having now been transformed into the Proper Names of 'mental particulars' of one sort or another -- i.e., they were in fact the names of 'ideas' located in each head). Even though Berkeley saw the importance of escaping out this theoretical cul-de-sac -- with its obscure 'abstractions' -- his 'solution' only succeeded in sinking the Empiricist Tradition even deeper into the same old Idealist quick sands.

 

Unfortunately, there were far more serious problems over and above those bequeathed to empiricist thought as a result of the syntactical sins of their philosophical forebears (covered in Part One), which this tradition also shared with the Rationalists. To be more specific: these 'general' ideas were actually particular to each 'mind'. [That had to be the case with this family of theories since no two individuals shared the 'same mind' or experienced the same sensory input.] In that case, these 'ideas' couldn't be general across an entire population, not just in fact, but also in theory! This meant that each supposedly general idea was exclusive to each individual. As Bertell Ollman pointed out, this approach to abstraction and generality only succeeded in creating a private language unique to each lone abstractor, which in turn meant that inter-subjective communication was impossible.

 

The 'process of abstraction' as it had been conceived by these Empiricists had simply created yet more Abstract Particulars --, or the Proper Names thereof --, just as earlier versions of the 'same process' had manufactured all those Rationalist Abstract Particulars. The Empiricist Tradition seemed quite happy to accept, and then elaborate upon, these repeated wrong turns and perennial errors. This particular set of "ruling ideas" (i.e., a commitment to 'abstractionism' and the concomitant existence of 'abstractions') had now succeeded in colonising more than its fair share of early modern, petty-bourgeois brains. These "ruling ideas" found a welcome home there and there they remain to this day.

 

However, the problems this approach faced threatened its status from the get-go, for they were analogous to those faced by the Rationalists. So, assume thinker, T1, has formed the 'general idea', G1, of whatever it supposedly 'represents' or 'reflects' (in the head, in the world or wherever...) -- call the latter, "g1" --, and thinker, T2, forms the 'same' 'general idea', G2, of supposedly the 'same' property, object or process, g1. Now, in order to say of these 'general ideas' (G1 and G2) that they were indeed ideas of the same things (or, indeed, were even the same general idea), a third term will be required to connect them. That is because, in this case G1 and G2 would both presumably be exemplars of the same general, general idea (that is no mis-print!), G, so that it could truly be said that these two were instances of the same 'concept', 'idea', or 'impression'. Of course, as noted above, if that weren't the case (if there were no general term linking the general terms lodged in separate heads), communication would be impossible. [More on that later.]

 

Hence, if intrepid Abstractor, A, forms an idea of green1, based on her perception of a series of 'green objects', and Abstractor, B, forms and idea of green2 in a similar way, then in order to determine that these were in fact two ideas of 'green itself' (or were 'the same idea of green', whatever that means!), a new term will be needed to connect them, namely "green itself". Without that, there would be no way of deciding that these two had formed a common idea of green, but had instead formed two different ideas of 'green'. Worse still, if there were no third connecting term, there would be no way of deciding they had any idea at all of green (in any shape or form), or even if there were two or more occurrences of what might even be taken to be green1. That is, that these were actual occurrences of green1, as opposed to something entirely different. The same problem confronts each lone abstractor even with respect to their own ideas, since they would now need a linking term connecting the idea they had of 'green' yesterday with one entertained today.

 

[For those who think colour terms and other 'secondary properties'/'qualities' are subjective and don't exist in the 'outside world', just replace "green1" and "green2" with "table1" and "table2", or "flat surface1" and  "flat surface2". In order to connect them we would need a third term, such as "table itself", "tabularity", or "flat surface itself". The rest follows as before. (I have dealt with the incoherent idea that colours exist only in 'the mind' in Essay Thirteen Part One, here. In the meantime, readers are directed to Hacker (1987), Bennett and Hacker (2022), pp.140-46, and Stroud (2000).]

 

So, for this theory to work, a third linking term would be required -- but, given the tenets of Empiricism, where that might have come from is a mystery best passed over in silence (since it can't have come 'from experience', not without the same problem arising).

 

Plainly, this 'new term' is now susceptible to Aristotle's objection, which means that every single 'solution' concocted by those working in the Empiricist Tradition suffered from the same fatal defect that blighted those that had been dreamt up by the Rationalists. Without this 'new linking term' (which once more can't have come from experience) all communication would flounder. But, since we actually do manage to communicate nearly every day of our lives, this theory isn't even plausible.

 

[It could be argued that human beings regularly fail to communicate, so the above conclusions are at least factually wrong. I have neutralised that objection, here.]

 

As we will see, this not only makes it impossible for every single Traditional Theorist -- indeed, those drawn from right across the philosophical spectrum -- to account for inter-communication, representation and learning, it also empties generality of all content, thus vitiating the whole exercise.

 

[Exactly how this approach to knowledge would make communication (etc.) impossible will be re-examined below, but in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Of course, it could be objected that such ideas had intentional generality built into them --, whereby their inventors intended they should refer to general features of reality. But, as should seem obvious, 'intentional generality' is similarly trapped in this solipsistic universe, since it itself is the Proper Name of yet another particular, 'Intentional Generality'.

 

[To see this, just replace "G1" with "intentionally general idea, G1" in the above argument; the rest follows.]

 

Clearly, this is just another way of saying that intentions can't create generality any more than wishes can affect a beggar's prospective travel arrangements.

 

Indeed, simply gluing the word "general" onto the word "concept" (perhaps as part of an 'intention' to refer to a "general concept") would merely saddle prospective users of that word with a term born of the same defective logic, for the phrase "general concept" is the Proper Name of a yet another particular.

 

[To see this, just replace "G1" with "general concept, G1" in the above argument; the rest follows.]

 

In fact, given this entire family of theorists, any attempt to derive generality from the atomised conceptual fragments that float randomly into each individual head via the senses (or which are somehow cobbled together in or by 'the mind') will always hit the same unyielding brick wall: abstraction always succeeds in creating the Proper Names of abstract particulars --, whoever indulges in it, whenever they so indulge and with whatever 'noble philosophical intentions' they attempt to rationalise their behaviour.

 

Fortunately for genuine materialists, the logic of predication (as it features in ordinary discourse) has already loaded the dice and fixed the result in their favour --, and there is no leave to appeal its uncompromising verdict. Generality is a feature of the way we use words, not a property of those words themselves -- or, indeed, a property of the 'images', 'ideas', 'impressions' or 'signs' that supposedly underpin, or are represented by, such words.

 

[That surprising conclusion was established in Part One of this Essay.]

 

It could be argued that inter-communication isn't in fact threatened by empiricist versions of abstractionism, since communication with others is not only possible, it is actual; manifestly, people share their ideas.

 

But, quite apart from the above response assuming what was to be proved, it runs aground almost immediately. That is because it reproduces Aristotle's original problem -- only now greatly magnified. It is an even worse idea to multiply one's difficulties by a factor of several billion -- right across the entire human race -- in an endeavour to account for generality by an appeal to the abstractions engineered, and now trapped, in each socially-isolated skull. [On that, see the next sub-section.]

 

[To see this, just replace the "G1" or "G2" with "G3 to Gn", where "n" can take any value from one to seven billion, or more, in the above argument, and the rest will still follow.]

 

In that case, we wouldn't just have the two theorists mentioned above with their two individually-formed 'general' ideas of 'green' ('table' or 'flat surface'), we would have billions of 'minds', with countless individual ideas of 'green' ('table' or 'flat surface') to interconnect. [I.e., "G3 to Gn" from above.]

 

And the same difficulties confront anyone who sought their own general solution to this spurious problem. A strategy along those lines is doomed to fail because any explanation of how the particular ideas of general terms located in each individual head actually resembled the same general features of reality they supposedly express, reflect or mirror -- or even the same particular ideas of these (allegedly) general terms located in anyone else's head --, would require its own linking term on the lines explored earlier. Accounting for them would, of course, make squaring the circle look like child's play in comparison. This pointless task would simply create yet more abstract particulars locked in the individual mind of anyone foolish enough to try.

 

Struggling to escape these metaphysical quicksands will only sink the trapped Philosopher ever deeper. Given the traditional approach, Abstract Particulars are required at every turn as yet more of them are required to account for the last batch that had just been concocted. Since none are capable of evolving into a higher general form by their own efforts, this approach to knowledge simply creates an endlessly ascending series of Abstract Particulars, each one even more obscure than the last in line.

 

Bourgeois Individualism

 

Just as (in the 'west') Rationalist ideas grew out of aristocratic notions dreamt up by Ancient Greek Philosophers -- concerning the 'natural' or divine hierarchical order that supposedly underpinned the Universe, a theory itself motivated by the pressing need to 'justify' ruling-class power, social stratification, exploitation, oppression and inequality --, the origin of more recent Atomist and Empiricist theories of 'Universals' were connected with the novel ideological landscape that emerged alongside the rise of post-Renaissance, early modern Bourgeois 'democracy', with its characteristic emphasis on "possessive individualism". [On that, see Note 2.]

 

If this bright and shiny, novel social and political order was meant to be 'democratic' (but only "within certain limits"), founded on the presumed psychology, or the self-serving 'rationality', of the fabled 'Bourgeois Individual', then private ownership in the means of 'mental production' began to make perfectly good sense.

 

The social, economic and political fragmentation introduced into society by the break-up of Feudal relations of production and the rise of Capitalism was mirrored by an analogous splintering of the old Aristotelian 'Universals', now rebranded as just so many 'ideas' scattered across countless epistemologically-isolated bourgeois heads. Out of the window went the 'necessary' connection presumed to exist between an object and its properties, or between a subject and its predicates, a doctrine presumed unshakably true by influential Ancient Greek Rationalists and Medieval philosophers. Along with that went the link between a general term and what it supposedly represented or reflected in 'reality' (or even in 'the mind'). Clearly, moves like these threatened the 'rationality of the universe': if the connection between an object and its properties is merely adventitious, then, au fond, nature can't be 'rational', and that must mean 'God Himself' couldn't be rational, either. These moves also threatened the 'legitimacy' of Kings and Queens, as well as aristocratic and priestly authority. The rapidly dissolving hierarchy that had dominated Europe for countless centuries depended on its 'divine' origin, which in turn was based on the presumed 'rationality of reality', with everything in its assigned place in the Cosmic Order. If that legitimacy was to be restored, these 'necessary connections' had to be revived as a matter of some urgency.

 

 

Figure Two: Medieval Hierarchy -- 'Guaranteed'

By Metaphysics

 

[I have said more about this metaphysical aspect of Christian Theology, below.]

 

This helps explain why Hegel adopted the 'Identity Theory of Predication' (mentioned earlier), since that theory (alongside its associated concepts) sought to re-configure and re-establish these 'necessary connections', which then formed a core part of his response to Hume's criticism of rationalist theories of causation, which had sought to dissolve them.

 

Just as capitalism increasingly 'freed' workers from the land and from feudal ties to Lords and Ladies, so Empiricism 'freed' bourgeois ideas from all those 'oppressive', aristocratic Platonic 'Forms' and Aristotelian 'Universals'. The old ontological pecking-order began to fall apart as new market conditions swept all before them. Despite this, those in power and their ideologues felt a pressing need to 'justify' undemocratic, hierarchical state power, while also rationalising the newly emerging class relations that began to crystallise in early modern Europe. This meant that ruling-class theorists now had to find novel ways of conceptualising 'bourgeois reality', showing that it too was 'god-ordained', or even 'natural'.

 

In this respect, Empiricism couldn't cut mustard. A fresh wave of Rationalist thought was urgently needed, in order to:

 

(i) Counter the dangerous fragmentation of knowledge;

 

(ii) Re-construct a novel version of Metaphysical Holism required by newly-emerging, Absolutist Nation States; and,

 

(iii) Rationalise 'god-given', royal sovereignty.

 

The theories concocted by Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Wolff, Kant and Hegel proved to be exactly what the bourgeois doctor ordered, as fresh waves of Metaphysics flowed freely from the pens of these ruling-class ideologues.1c0

 

But, it wasn't just workers who got screwed by the new 'market economy' (now in a novel way), general ideas were similarly shafted (but in the same old way).1c

 

However this hasty turn to Rationalism was philosophically futile. The fragmentation general ideas had suffered at the hands Ancient Greek theorists can't be reversed, whoever tries to do it. That will always be a non-starter unless the syntactic sins of Europe's philosophical forebears are themselves reversed.

 

No surprise then that, despite countless claims to the contrary, these newly-concocted, 'modern' theories found it equally impossible to account for the very thing they had been invented to fix: generality. And this wasn't just a philosophical problem, left unresolved it threatened to undermine the nature, scope and validity of science itself.

 

If generality is merely an aspect, a consequence or the result of the operation of a given individual's 'mind' (not a feature of 'things-in-themselves' -- as Rationalists would at least like to think), it wasn't easy to see what it was about each particular idea of the general that actually made it general, or even appear to be general, especially now that they had all been re-located and now lodged in individual bourgeois skulls.2

 

Given this new, post-Cartesian approach there would be nothing but individual ideas floating about in these epistemologically-isolated heads, loosely tied together in a manner that became increasingly difficult to fathom, let alone explain.

 

[Recall, it was assumed by early bourgeois theorists (from both the Empiricist and Rationalist currents) that we construct or form our own knowledge of the world as individuals. It is also worth pointing out that I am not arguing that the above were actually socially-isolated, only that as far as their theory of knowledge was concerned, they might just as well have been. I have said more about that, here.]

 

At a minimum, given this theory, even a general idea like this (i.e., one that, in a vain attempt to create 'objectivity' out of 'subjectivity' -- which supposedly roped in "every individual", and sought to tell us what takes place inside 'every thinking brain' -- soon to be re-Christened "Thought", "The Understanding", or even "Speculative Reason") is devoid of any clear sense. If philosophers couldn't account for generality -- largely because they had killed it stone dead a good two thousand years earlier --, they had no way of accounting for its appearance anywhere else, either in the general population or in the privacy of their own heads! How is it even possible to speak about "every head" with anything other than empty words if generality had long ago already been laid to rest --, including the general nature of the word "head" itself?2a

 

To be sure, some attempt might be made to attach another, yet-to-be-explained term to the word "idea" -- i.e., "general", as in "general idea" --, but, if all meaningful words in circulation have to be backed by genuine 'mental bullion' (i.e., if they all have to be cashed-out in terms of 'ideas' held in 'the mind', as this family of theories consistently maintained), then a phrase like "the general idea of..." would itself still be a particular in 'the mind' of whomsoever invented it, whatever associationist or "clear and distinct" incantations had been muttered over it.

 

Given the results of Part One, it should now be reasonably clear that because the traditional analysis of predication had turned general words into singular terms (i.e., Proper Names or Definite Descriptions), each of which now named an Abstract Particular, then the sentence, "This is the general idea of F" must suffer the same fate, since the phrase, "the general idea of F", is yet another singular term designating an Abstract Particular! The definite article, of course, gives the game away.

 

So it was that in the Empiricist Tradition there followed several more centuries of a priori 'science-on-the-cheap', via the mythical 'process of abstraction', the results of which were backed not even by printed currency, just more empty words.

 

[It might be objected that Empiricist Epistemology is a posteriori, not a priori. Well, so the official brochure would have us believe; but it had always been predicated on rather fanciful, a priori psychology, supported by what was in effect science fiction. (I have said more about that in Essay Thirteen Part Three.)]

 

To suppose otherwise -- that the word "general", or any other term, for that matter, is capable of creating generality on its own, by its own rather puny efforts -- would be tantamount to imagining words themselves are capable of determining, and then projecting, their own meaning across the whole of 'semantic space' (with this trick miraculously perfectly coordinated inside every single epistemologically-isolated bourgeois brain), as if they were autonomous agents, not the individuals who used those words. But, unaided -- as a simple mark on the page, or even as an "idea" in the head -- the word "general" seems utterly incapable of rising to the challenge, creating generality out of thin air.

 

Lifting yourself by your bootstraps would be a doddle in comparison.

 

On the other hand, if general ideas are capable of representing or "reflecting" "things-in-themselves" (that is, if there are indeed 'real universals' that exist 'somewhere', to which general words supposedly 'correspond' or 'refer') -- as the Scientific Realist wing of this approach to epistemology and ontology maintained -- it would surely prove difficult to explain the mode of signification of the term "general idea" without admitting it was no longer general -- as we are about to find out.

 

If each general idea, or word, does indeed refer to something, somewhere, in reality -- in Platonic Paradise, Aristotelian Arcadia, Hegelian Hell, or anywhere else, for that matter -- they could only do so if they functioned as Singular Terms. But, as we saw in Part One, if that were so, neither general ideas nor general words could be general, just singular.2b

 

As Donald Davidson remarked with respect to Aristotle's theory -- but his words apply to any other general terms so transformed -- quoted earlier:

 

"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. Bold emphasis added; paragraphs merged.]2c

 

Even if each individual 'bourgeois mind' had its own idea of a given 'general name', one that was particular to each head, the universality that post-Renaissance theorists sought would forever remain elusive, fragmented as it now in the socially-isolated skulls of all who played this futile game.

 

[I have explained what I mean by "socially-isolated", here.]

 

As Davidson noted, if anything that is supposed to be general is capable of being given a Proper Name, or referred to by means of a singular term, it can't be general, but must be particular.

 

And generality, like virginity, once lost can't be restored.3

 

How Not  To Solve Philosophical 'Problems' 2.0

 

Of course, Empiricists didn't just sit on their thumbs for a couple of centuries, they did make some attempt to solve these 'problems' -- but they did so by the simple expedient of deflecting attention from them. Not one of them even so much as questioned the complex word-juggling that had given life to this ancient pseudo-problem (analysed in detail in Part One). One aspect of their attempt to divert attention from their predicament involved the invention of an irrelevant 'mental' capacity, an almost magical ability the 'mind' supposedly possessed, which 'enabled' it to 'discern' resemblances between the various 'impressions', 'images', 'ideas' the senses sent its way, or which were subsequently cobbled-together from them.

 

But, once again, Aristotle's objection rears its ugly head: if there is a problem over the 'resemblances' that exist between objects of a certain sort in 'external reality', it is surely a bad idea to retreat from the Real into the Ideal in an attempt to resolve it. Indeed, if this process is hidden away in the 'mind', the philosophical 'problem' this approach sought to resolve will now only resurface in a completely intractable form, since inner processes like these are even more problematic, since they lie beyond both objective and subjective investigation.4

 

Generality, driven inwards in this way is even more difficult to coax out of solitary confinement.5

 

Platonic Realism, Aristotelian Conceptualism, and this newly minted, Bourgeois Empiricism -- along with a host of other metaphysical doctrines that attempted to address this pseudo-problem -- all ran aground on these unyielding rocks.

 

By way of contrast, ordinary language enables the expression of generality when that task is left to social agents who use it everyday, with little fuss. But, the general nouns they employ soon lose their generality when they are elbowed out of the way, replaced by the abstract singular terms introduced by Traditional Philosophers.6

 

However, by placing all the emphasis on an individual's apprehension of generality (howsoever that was conceived by the 'mind'), theorists found they could only hope to account for generality by surreptitiously re-employing it elsewhere.

 

This unfortunate turn-of-events arose largely because Traditional Philosophers tended to conceive of this conundrum epistemologically, perhaps even psychologistically. Unfortunately, the logical fall from grace that gave birth to the original 'problem' in Ancient Greece was consistently ignored, buried, as it was now, under centuries of irrelevant psycho-babble.

 

And there it largely remains entombed to this day.6a0

 

As far as Empiricists saw these issues, if experience presents the 'mind' with particular 'impressions', generality had to be constructed from whatever resemblances the mind 'notices' in each assumed exemplar ('the mind' clearly now having replaced the individual concerned; more about that surreptitious move later). This made the whole 'problem' look as if it depended on an individual mind's inner 'recognitional capacities' (echoes of Plato here, but this side of the heavenly curtain!), as if the fragmented contents of the 'mind' -- these 'ideas', 'impressions' or 'concepts' -- could be handled like the faces of long lost friends and relatives who had perhaps wandered fortuitously into the same room and in some sort of order.

 

Friends one can recognise; but how would it be possible for anyone to 'recognise' an idea they had never encountered before?

 

No good constructing a photo-fit.6a

 

Worse still, none of these 'impressions' or 'ideas' would resemble the next in line without the use of the general terms this 'theory' was itself meant to explain. "Ah, here is yet another (impression of a) cat!" could never legitimately be uttered by an empiricist at the beginning of their associationist career, since, at best, what they really meant was this: "Ah, here is yet another impression/image/sensation of something I haven't yet got a word for...". And, even as that individual's epistemological career progressed, all they would be able to do is give their 'idea' of a cat -- but, where that word had come from was, unsurprisingly, left entirely mysterious -- the Proper Name "CAT", thereby neutralising its generality.

 

Of course, the usual response here is that each individual comes to associate words like "cat" with their ideas/impressions of that animal. I will return to discuss the defunct, 'associationist psychology' that lies behind this theory later on in this Essay. It is sufficient to note here that any such 'associations' would be triggered by the word "mammal" and "animal" as much as they would by "cat". [There are similar 'triggering problems' with other co-extensive terms. For example, "red" is co-extensive with "colour", which associations can't discriminate between. On this see, Cowie (2002) and Mandelbaum (2020).]

 

Anyway, given this family of theories, general terms had to be distilled painstakingly from a finite range of examples, those that confronted each lone abstractor, or observer, as the 'slings and arrows of outrageous fortune' sent their way --, or as any given 'mind' processed them on its own unshared and unshareable terms.

 

But, if each socially-isolated 'mind' is supposed to extrapolate successfully from the few particulars fortune sent its way, then, in order to construct from them the relevant 'abstract general idea', each 'sensation', 'impression', 'idea', or 'quale' (singular of qualia) would have to be given a general make-over (for want of a better phrase)

 

In order to do that, the 'mind' would have to re-connect each 'epistemological atom' (all these 'sensations', 'impressions', 'ideas' or 'qualia') with others of the 'same sort' using whatever similar features it happened to notice in each. But, not only does this make it difficult to explain how any two lone abstractors could ever form the same idea of anything, it makes the whole process dependent on a suspiciously loose notion of "similarity", a term whose use plainly depends on generality itself.

 

So, if two 'impressions', a and b, are said to share a "similar" property, designated by the use of a common noun, F -- so that it might be judged that a is F and b is F, and hence this was enough to decide that a is similar to b in so far as they both share F -- that would only be possible if F were already a general term, otherwise it couldn't be shared, nor could it collect a and b together as 'members' of its "extension".

 

Clearly, this new twist only succeeded in introducing a general idea/term through the back door, while failing to explain either the general or the particular that had just slipped out the front. If the two 'impressions' mentioned above are indeed similar, then that would only be so with respect to some feature, F, that they both held in common, which feature (of necessity) can't itself be another particular (or it couldn't be held in common).

 

Hence, in order to rescue generality from such radical particularisation a new general term had to be smuggled back in while no one was looking.7

 

Alas, just as theologians discovered long ago -- in relation to the Doctrine of the Trinity (expressed in, for example, the Athanasian Creed: "Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance") --, empiricists found that with regard to their fragmented ideas of generality, it was impossible for them not to confound the particular without dividing the Universal.6b

 

[Note 6b should in fact be Note 7b, but it would make a mess of far too many other links to change it!]

 

Hence, if each individual shares exactly the same universal of resemblance (call it, "G"), then that term will be particular and unique to that individual abstractor, as we found was the case with "CAT", earlier. that is because the 'general', having faced an attempt to distribute it across the entire set of novice abstractors (in order to try to secure some level of agreement between them) can't fail to take on this already fragmented nature. So, if "CAT", for example, is understood differently by each lone abstractor (as it must be given this family of theories) it can no longer be general, but must be particular to each 'mind'.

 

Hence, G will be now be fragmented, too. So, each abstractor will have their own unique, 'mental' idea, 'CAT', which would resemble no one else's idea, 'CAT'. In which case, unless someone (call her, "NM") had access to the contents of every 'mind' involved -- but who, by some miracle, could by-pass the entire 'abstractive process' and declare every idea of 'CAT' was the same as all the rest, with that judgement itself not based on NM's own 'ideas', but on 'reality itself' -- no one would be able to declare that all those lone abstractors had the same idea, 'CAT', let alone of anything else

 

[NM would have to by-pass these 'processes' (and base her judgement on 'reality itself' -- in effect thereby abandoning empiricism) otherwise her ideas would be trapped in the same epistemological bind, and would therefore be of no use at all in this respect.]

 

The universal, now divided, will always be defeated.

 

Conversely, if the above distribution of general ideas hadn't been carried out in a perfectly egalitarian manner, the relevant particulars wouldn't have been collected together under the same general terms, shared equally between all.

 

On the other hand, if, say, G had been shared equally across an entire population, so that every abstractor had exactly the same idea of 'CAT', for example, individuality would be lost.

 

The individual confounded was now defeated.

 

So, in these terms the general was either divided (and was unique to each lone abstractor) or the particulars were confounded (since their ideas would now all be identical).

 

[If the individual is confounded, then there will be no individuals of a given type, there will only be one substance, one Universal spread out, as it were across all its apparent instances/moments. In that case each 'seemingly individual' CAT would simply be a 'manifestation' of CAT-in-General. Appearances would then be misleading. While you might foolishly think you are seeing a concrete particular (a cat!), in reality all you are seeing is a moment in the life of a 'Concept'. The cat you see is a mere 'appearance, a brief manifestation. Its 'reality' is defined by the Universal, which it 'shines' in your direction. We will meet this quandary again later, as DM-theorists vainly try to explain why 'essence contradicts appearances', and why they think 'matter is just an abstraction'. Those who know enough Hegel will also know where all this is headed. (These points also depend on an earlier argument and might not be fully appreciated by anyone who hasn't read it or hasn't remembered it.)]

 

In that case, the choice between confounding the individuals or dividing the substance (i.e., dividing the general) plagued Empiricists and Rationalists alike, just as it had the Trinitarians -- and for the same basic reason. That is because this entire family of doctrines descended with modification from same ancient syntactic screw up we met in Part One.

 

All of which helps explain the continual oscillation in Traditional Ontology between Monism, Dualism and Pluralism. [The last of these links to a PDF]

 

Intelligent Ideas Versus A 'Little Man' In The Head

 

Unfortunately, these 'problems' don't stop there. Nor do they become any the less intractable.

 

As should now seem obvious, answers were still required for a range of awkward questions about on how 'the mind' is able to sift through the 'ideas' and/or 'impressions' the senses supposedly send its way. Moreover, any effective responses to these nagging questions will also have to include convincing answers to further queries about how 'the mind' manages to sort these 'ideas' and 'impressions' into the 'correct' categories. But, as we have just seen, that will depend on the individual involved already having a grasp of the general terms involved if she is to prove capable of rising to the task.

 

This is something Kant certainly began to realise in his own confused way (confused, since he located this 'sorting' faculty in 'the mind', unwisely ignoring the public use of language):

 

"Our cognition arises from two fundamental sources in the mind, the first of which is the reception of representations (the receptivity of impressions), the second of the faculty for cognizing an object by means of these representations (spontaneity of concepts); through the former an object is given to us, through the latter it is thought in relation to that representation (as a mere determination of the mind). Intuition and concepts therefore constitute the elements of all our cognition, so that neither concepts without intuition corresponding to them in some way nor intuition without concepts can yield a cognition.... Thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind." [Kant (1998), pp.193-94, A51/B75. Bold emphases in the original; italic emphasis added. Paragraphs merged. (By "intuition" Kant meant something like "immediate experience" -- Caygill (1995), pp.262-66.)]

 

"Our knowledge springs from two main sources in the mind, first of which is the faculty or power of receiving representations (receptivity for impressions); the second is the power of cognizing by means of these representations (spontaneity in the production of conceptions). Through the first an object is given to us; through the second, it is, in relation to the representation (which is a mere determination of the mind), thought. Intuition and conceptions constitute, therefore, the elements of all our knowledge, so that neither conceptions without an intuition in some way corresponding to them, nor intuition without conceptions, can afford us a cognition." [Online version of the above. As we saw in Part One, Hegel also made a similar point, except he claimed what Kant called an "intuition" was already conceptualised. How that was possible he left rather vague.]

 

But, without this necessary pre-condition (i.e., the public use of language), inter-subjective 'objectivity' would remain a vacuous notion.

 

Indeed, this is just another way of saying that 'impressions' and 'ideas' can't be expected to sort themselves neatly into groups (as if they were autonomous or self-directing agents), since they have neither the wit nor the intelligence to do so. Even for Kant, they required some form of regimentation, externally imposed on them. [That is, regimentation external to the 'impressions' themselves -- i.e., clearly provided by 'the mind'.]

 

However, in the age-old battle between the One and the Many, the Many have always shown themselves to be far too 'unruly' and 'ill-disciplined' (so to speak) to be capable of marshalling themselves in the required manner, while the One was far too 'aloof', and hence too 'weak' (so to speak, once more) to crack the whip and round anything up. Even so, if some form of regimentation were even to be possible, 'principles' external to these disorderly 'impressions' and 'ideas' (the Many) must be found, and to lend 'the mind' (the One) a helping hand. Never was care in the community of ideas more needed than here. And yet, if these 'impressions' and 'ideas' were to become more than 'a heap of conceptual dust', haphazardly deposited inside each cognising skull (i.e., not sorted into the correct conceptual pigeon holes, or any at al!), such 'care' must be sought, from somewhere.

 

[Henceforth, in order to save on needless repetition, I will just refer to 'ideas', but readers should assume I also mean 'impressions', where relevant.]

 

As seems plain, the sortal 'principles' necessary to keep these disorderly 'ideas' in check can't be self-explanatory, nor can they be self-regulating or self-directing. If they were, there would seem to be no reason why that couldn't also be the case with those 'ideas' themselves. Or, indeed, why 'ideas' couldn't be expected to troop unaided into the right metaphysical categories, certifying their own inter-subjective 'resemblance' with others of their 'kin' -- why they couldn't just assemble themselves under the 'correct' general term/noun without a 'drill-sergeant' to whip them into shape.

 

Indeed, if 'ideas' were capable of self-regulation, or of self-sorting, that would surely remove the need for a 'mind' and its attendant goons to do all that regimenting.

 

Clearly, the first of the above two options would see 'the mind', or its 'principles', as some sort of 'drill-sergeant', thus anthropomorphising it/them; the second would throw this 'sergeant' on the scrap heap, implying these 'ideas' were autonomous agents (anthropomorphising them, instead). So, is 'the mind' in control here, or all these 'ideas'? And could even that question be answered without crediting both with human characteristics?

 

[There are faint echoes of both halves of the above dilemma in Cognitive Psychology and Behaviourism. The former anthropomorphises the brain (picturing it as some sort of diminutive human being lodged inside each skull, an homunculus), the latter scraps 'the mind' altogether, leaving ideas to fend for themselves. (There is much more on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.)]

 

Of course, Empiricists claimed that 'the mind' was somehow capable of extrapolating way beyond the limited number of 'ideas' the senses sent its way, extending up to the formation of general ideas themselves, which all those 'resemblances' supposedly implied in the process. However, this 'solution' left unexplained exactly how these 'extrapolations' might be carried out without 'the mind' already having some notion of the general already installed to guide it.

 

And, as Kant (on a good day) might have asked: Where on earth could that have come from?

 

Nevertheless, if particulars are to be marshalled, or 'cognised', into the 'correct' sortal groups by 'the mind' and/or its 'principles', there would seem to be only two ways this might be successfully achieved:

 

(A) The first involved a reference to specific 'mental faculties' (these days they are called, "modules") that every novice abstractor supposedly possesses, or to which they have automatic, even privileged, access to do the regimenting for them -- mental "bodies of armed men", as it were. Bourgeois Ideas, supposedly born free, would now have to be clapped in chains. This is the 'mental' equivalent, perhaps, of the Absolutist State.

 

(B) The second appealed to the 'natural propensities' that 'ideas' supposedly possessed, which meant that they were capable of regimenting themselves, marching 'voluntarily' into the 'right' boxes with zero outside assistance. This is the 'mental equivalent', perhaps, of an Anarchist 'Utopia'.

 

Taking each in turn:

 

(A) One version of this alternative postulated the existence of "innate ideas/principles", 'programmed' into the mind, either activated or guided by the "laws of thought", the "natural light of reason", or some other handy a priori 'mental architectonic'. [Caygill (1995), pp.84-85.]

 

[More recent analogues of this 'bourgeois mental assembly-line' have these structural factors 'hard-wired' into the brain as a sort of "transformational grammar" (now re-christened, "Unbounded Merge"), or even a "Language of Thought." On this, see Cowie (2002).]

 

An older version of this specific alternative held that 'innate ideas' were (at some level) capable of motivating aspiring abstractors themselves, allowing them to classify each particular under the relevant, 'correct' general term. How each individual knew what was 'correct' and what was 'incorrect', and how they might agree with one another across an entire population, we must pass over in silence -- largely because those who adopted this alternative approach did likewise and passed over it in silence, too.

 

Of course, this places Option (A) squarely in the Rationalist Camp, and perhaps because of that the temptation became irresistible to bury the source of these 'innate principles' in the mists of time -- boosted of late with a veritable barrage of Neo-Darwinian fairy-tales back-projected into the Pleistocene; original syntax now based on Genetics, not 'Genesis'.8

 

Other versions of Option (A) weren't even remotely Empiricist, making a confident debut appearance in the Cartesian-Leibnizian-Kantian-Hegelian tradition of a priori myth-making.

 

Nevertheless, each variant shared the same fundamental premiss: 'abstract concepts' and ideas were alive and well, and were either living in a skull near you, or were perhaps camped out somewhere in 'objective' reality waiting to be enlisted to the cause -- presumably, by merely being thought about by a suitably well-motivated 'abstractor'.

 

Even more convenient was the additional fact that although abstract ideas were held somehow to be real, they also transcended actual or possible experience. Indeed, in this they bore an uncanny resemblance to the 'gods' of yore. Moreover, as was the case with those defunct Divinities, these abstractions underpinned, gave substance to, or even created the material world we see around us -- for example, when they unceremoniously 'self-developed' while they sojourned in Hegel's Hermetic House of Horrors.

 

Given this approach, abstract ideas were in fact more real than the material objects and processes we see around us. The latter were, after all, debased, lowly, contingent entities -- fit only for destruction, according to Hegel --, hardly worth mentioning in Ideal company.

 

Moreover, since each abstraction had been given a rather grandiose name, that implied they must surely exist somewhere. How could they fail to do that if generation after generation of 'high-status' thinkers had gone to the trouble of identifying them for us and had thoughtfully named them?  Linguistic reification had now transformed them, rendering them Super-Real, since their 'ontological' rank was, of course, way above the lowly status of all those unreliable 'appearances'. This meant, of course, that they alone (these 'abstractions') were capable of generating and then guaranteeing the Super-Scientific Truths of Traditional Metaphysics.

 

As James White pointed out (quoted earlier):

 

"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996a), p.29. In fact, Rationalists since Plato's day had already concluded this.]

 

Even better, our ancestors had helpfully, if not mischievously, buried these 'abstractions' in familiar areas of grammar -- for instance, the subject-copula-predicate form --, even if this intergalactically important linguistic artifice only showed its face in the Indo-European family of languages, rarely anywhere else.

 

As we saw in Part One, science-on-the-cheap like this has dominated practically all forms of Traditional Thought since Thales and Anaximander began to scratch their heads. It is, indeed, one of the perennial "ruling ideas":

 

"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.]

 

(B) The second of the above two Options implied that 'ideas' congregated 'naturally' of their own efforts, and willingly trooped into the pigeonholes belonging to the 'correct' general noun. However, if they were capable of assembling themselves into classes under their own steam, that implied they possess some sort of 'herding instinct'. Clearly, in order for them to gather together correctly, they must either:

 

(B1) Possess an 'intellect' of their own; or,

 

(B2) Be capable of 'obeying', or being 'guided by', specific natural or logical 'laws' of some description.

 

As far as (B1) is concerned, ideas were not only capable of automatically 'recognising' those of 'their kind', they were sufficiently compliant, and intelligently enough, to be able to flock together with no further ado. This in turn implied that they were capable of:

 

(B1a) 'Detecting' the resemblances they shared with others of their ilk -- which meant that they were surrogate minds themselves, skilled at identifying their own close 'mental relatives' correctly and unerringly. [Echoes of Plato again.]

 

Alternatively, these spontaneously gregarious ideas were:

 

(B1b) 'Programmed' to behave as if they could act this way.

 

In short, these two sub-options (B1a and B1b) traded on the further belief that:

 

B1a(i): Ideas were just minds writ small; or,

 

B1a(ii): Minds were in effect Incarnate Ideas.

 

B1a(i) found safe haven in Leibniz's mind -- whether it was his own idea or he was programmed to think it was is somewhat unclear -- where everything in the universe was 'really' composed of countless pre-programmed, inter-reflecting little 'minds' (all those "Monads").

 

B1a(ii), in a much grander, if not grandiose and narcissistic form, parasitized Hegel's brain. There, 'Mind' was self-developing Idea, the final Supreme Controller of this Metaphysical Mystery Tour. Hegel certainly thought he was the engineer of his own ideas, but if he was right, he was merely the oily rag.

 

However, in relation to (B2), the implication seemed to be that natural 'laws' operating on the contents of 'the mind' could account for the regimentation of any of ideas on offer, and in strict battalion order -- a theory that has resurfaced these days in several alter-egos as naturalistic theories of 'the mind'. Once again, this merely reduplicates the very problem it was meant to solve, since it implied that an external 'Will' of some sort ran both the 'inner' and the 'outer' world, as everything in this 'Mental Cosmos' obeyed its orders like the law-abiding citizens they now seemed to be.

 

[I have covered this option in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three, in relation to re-branded, neo-Hegelian ideas that have recently coalesced around various strains of what has ironically been called (by its inventors), Critical Realism.]

 

Clearly, in order for something to be capable of obeying orders it must be intelligent (otherwise, the word "obey" must have a different meaning). Hence, these B2-type 'ideas' must be intelligent in some way. Except, now they were supposedly 'controlled' by 'laws of thought', part of an updated version of the 'mental architectonic', mentioned above. However, none of these ideas were passive lodgers in the brain. Quite the reverse. They were active citizens in this (internal) 'Cognitive State'. Partly because of that, this Inner Microcosm was deemed capable of reflecting the Outer Macrocosm (and vice versa) -- as mystics never tire of telling us. Hence, 'the mind' was well-ordered because the Cosmos was (and vice versa -- indeed, this is where the word "rational" comes from -- on this see Dodds (1951)). The Inner and the Outer ('Thought' and 'Being') were thus capable of knowing, or reflecting, one another because both were fundamentally the same, both were 'Mind' or the product of 'Mind'. [There is a faint echo of this in Kant; a deafening echo in Hegel. This elaborates on similar points made earlier.]8ao

 

Small wonder then that Traditional Theories of causation (and, indeed, those connected with of 'physical law') are shot through with anthropomorphism, mysticism and animism -- ideas can only be made to work if inappropriate modal terms (like "necessary" and "must") are press-ganged into service.8a

 

This in turn suggested that these supposedly 'objective laws' -- and, indeed, the objects and processes that 'obeyed' them -- were in effect both a reification and a projection of the subjective mental capacities and dispositions of the individual theorists that had sat back and indulged in all this armchair speculation. These individuals had peered into a deep well of metaphysical fantasy and, unsurprisingly, saw their own faces reflected back at them.9

 

That might help explain the link with Feuerbach that Marx spotted:

 

"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.]

 

"The characteristic human mode of being, as distinct from that of the animal, is not only the basis, but also the object of religion. But religion is the consciousness of the infinite; hence it is, and cannot be anything other than, man’s consciousness of his own essential nature, understood not as a finite or limited, but as an infinite nature. A really finite being has not even the slightest inkling, let alone consciousness, of what an infinite being is, for the mode of consciousness is limited by the mode of being. The consciousness of the caterpillar, whose life is confined to a particular species of plant, does not extend beyond this limited sphere; it is, of course, able to distinguish this plant from other plants, but that is the entire extent of its knowledge. In a case where consciousness is so limited but where, precisely because of this limitation, it is also infallible and unerring, we speak of instinct rather than consciousness. Consciousness in the strict sense, or consciousness properly speaking, and consciousness of the infinite cannot be separated from each other; a limited consciousness is no consciousness; consciousness is essentially infinite and all-encompassing. The consciousness of the infinite is nothing else than the consciousness of the infinity of consciousness. To put it in other words, in its consciousness of infinity, the conscious being is conscious of the infinity of its own being." [Feuerbach (1957), pp.2-3. The online version I have quoted here is different from the 1957 edition I have referenced. Bold emphases added.]

 

In other words, where humans think they see 'god', in reality they see themselves writ large. Philosophers do something analogous: where they think they see 'Being' (or core aspects of 'it'), in reality they see themselves looking back at them. No wonder then that Hegel had to re-enchant nature to make his ideas 'work'. No wonder, either, that Empiricists had to credit 'ideas' with human characteristics, and Rationalists turn 'the mind' into an homunculus.

 

Conversely, the above theories implied that the human mind was intelligent simply because the universe was. That notion can be found reverberating in the odd idea that the universe became 'conscious of itself' with the emergence of humanity -- a doctrine implicit in Hegel, but openly propagated by Teilhard de Chardin, Bergson, and, more surprisingly, several Marxist dialecticians (Ted Grant, for example). Moreover, that conclusion was itself a consequence of the tortured 'logic' that supposedly mirrored the thoughts of the Superhuman Alter-Ego that allegedly ran the entire show -- 'The Absolute' we met in Part One, or "the Totality" we will meet in Essay Eleven.

 

Given this set-up, not only was the Real Rational and the Rational Real, there was only the Rational, only 'the Mind'.

 

Hegel, again (one of the few things he got right):

 

"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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

As Hegel knew full well, both options readily collapse into one form or other of Idealism --  Subjective or Objective -- indeed, as we have seen.10

 

Yet More Headaches For Dialecticians

 

Traditional 'solutions' to these bogus philosophical 'problems' -- "bogus" because in the 'West' they were based on a class-motivated misconstrual of a small, unrepresentative grammatical feature of Indo-European grammar (as we saw in Part One of this Essay, and in Essay Two). Unfortunately, the 'solutions' on offer only succeeded in creating two further difficulties for Traditional Philosophy to try to sort out.11

 

Oddly enough, both of these 'problems' re-surfaced in a modified form in the DM-theory of 'abstraction', as we are about to discover.

 

Induction And The Social Nature Of Knowledge

 

In Traditional Philosophy the first of these 'difficulties' subsequently came to be known as the "Problem of Induction". That quandary involved the (presumed, theoretical) possibility that future events might fail conform to what might ordinarily be expected of them. Or, to put this in another and perhaps more accurate form: future events could fail to be constrained by the 'conceptual straight-jacket' that traditional theorists had tailored for them.12

 

Hence, this 'problem' is based on the supposed fact that generalisations about the future course of nature -- when theorists rely solely on how certain objects, processes and events had behaved in the past --, can't provide a deductively sound basis for the belief that future objects, processes and events will always behave 'the same way'. Or, more generally, that the course of nature will remain identical from day-to-day (howsoever that is to be understood). So, for example, just because water has always frozen at a certain temperature that doesn't mean that it will always freeze at that temperature (always assuming the water has the same level of purity, is cooled at 'normal' atmospheric pressure, etc., etc.). Or, to use David Hume's example, just because bread has always nourished those who consume it that doesn't mean it always will. In that case, he claimed there is no contradiction in supposing it won't.

 

"All the objects of human reason or enquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, relations of ideas, and matters of fact. Of the first kind are the sciences of geometry, algebra, and arithmetic, and in short, every affirmation which is either intuitively or demonstratively certain. That the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the square of the two sides, is a proposition which expresses a relation between these figures. That three times five is equal to the half of thirty, expresses a relation between these numbers. Propositions of this kind are discoverable by the mere operation of thought, without dependence on what is anywhere existent in the universe. Though there never were a circle or triangle in nature, the truths demonstrated by Euclid would for ever retain their certainty and evidence.

 

"Matters of fact, which are the second objects of human reason, are not ascertained in the same manner; nor is our evidence of their truth, however great, of a like nature with the foregoing. The contrary of every matter of fact is still possible, because it can never imply a contradiction, and is conceived by the mind with the same facility and distinctness, as if ever so conformable to reality. That the sun will not rise tomorrow is no less intelligible a proposition, and implies no more contradiction, than the affirmation, that it will rise. We should in vain, therefore, attempt to demonstrate its falsehood. Were it demonstratively false, it would imply a contradiction, and could never be distinctly conceived by the mind." [Hume, An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, Part I. Link added; several paragraphs merged.]

 

This overall idea has been brought out rather well by the following passage:

 

"But there is a price to be paid for this new methodology. About a hundred years after Bacon, Hume (1711-1776) pointed out the problem.

'The bread, which I formerly eat, nourished me; that is, a body of such sensible qualities was, at that time, endued with such secret powers: But does it follow, that other bread must also nourish me at another time, and that like sensible qualities must always be attended with like secret powers? The consequence seems nowise necessary.' [This passage is taken from Part II of Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding and can be accessed here -- RL.]

"If we want to be very careful and not lump things into the same category, if types are not real, if the only real things are particular individuals, then there are no general truths about bread. We can describe the colour, shape, texture, taste and so on of this piece of bread, but if the general kind 'bread' isn't real, then whatever I learn about this piece of bread won't help me learn anything about the next piece of bread. That is the crucial usefulness of real types: if 'cat' is a real type, and not simply a nominal type, then whatever I learn about this particular cat will help me understand all cats. I can learn and know something about how to cure a problem with your cat if I have studied other cats, as long as they are identical in nature. If there is no reality to their unity as cats, then every new particular is just a new thing, and we can learn about it only by studying it; nothing else we study can possibly help us. So the existence of universals turns out to have a very profound impact on scientific methodology and epistemology." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; spelling modified to agree with UK English. Links added.]

 

[I hasten to add that neither the above nor what follows represents my views. Once again, my aim is simply to underline the serious problems faced by traditional attempts to address the 'problem of induction'.]

 

Where Hume went wrong was to overlook the fact that if something that is taken to be bread fails to nourish us (all things being equal!), we would have good reason to question whether it was bread to begin with. [Hume's point also borders on science fiction, the philosophical mis-use of which I have criticised in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

However, as we have seen several times already, traditional 'answers' to the 'problem of Universals' only succeeded in transforming it into another conundrum involving Abstract Particulars, which, if they exist, may or may not behave the same way tomorrow as they do today While these Abstract Particulars might be thoroughly Ideal -- 'Mental' or 'Heavenly' entities of some sort -- there is no guarantee that even if they faithfully tow the line on Wednesday they will continue doing so one minute past midnight Thursday morning.

 

Particular Problems With Abstractions

 

Some might argue that we are dealing here with changeless abstractions (although it isn't too clear that a DM-fan can consistently champion that response), but even if that were so, the words used to express that idea aren't abstract, and there is no guarantee that they will mean the same next week as they have this. Or even that any memories we have of them, or these 'abstractions', will remain the same, either. Nevertheless, it is worth reminding ourselves that the whole point of inventing 'Universals' was to control the particular. But, if the general is itself now particular (i.e., if each of these 'Universals' has had its generality surgically removed, via the syntactic hocus pocus analysed in detail in Part One), what is there left to do all that controlling? Sense experience deals only with the particular. Who has ever seen a 'general cat'? What would one even look like? Who has even eaten 'general fruit'? We have already seen DM-theorists define the abstract along such lines:

 

"[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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

This approach was central to Marx and Engels's earlier criticism of Hegel's method (whatever they later thought!):

 

"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 (1975), pp.72-75. Bold emphases alone added. Several paragraphs merged.]

 

But that is exactly what Engels himself subsequently reverted to doing:

 

"It is the old story. First of all one makes sensuous things into abstractions and then one wants to know them through the senses, to see time and smell space. The empiricist becomes so steeped in the habit of empirical experience, that he believes that he is still in the field of sensuous experience when he is operating with abstractions.... The two forms of existence of matter are naturally nothing without matter, empty concepts, abstractions which exist only in our minds. But, of course, we are supposed not to know what matter and motion are! Of course not, for matter as such and motion as such have not yet been seen or otherwise experienced by anyone, only the various existing material things and forms of motions. Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted and motion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many different sensuous perceptible things according to their common properties. Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion, and by knowing these, we also pro tanto know matter and motion as such.... This is just like the difficulty mentioned by Hegel; we can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such." [Engels (1954), pp.235-36. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Here, too, is Lenin:

 

"If abstraction is made from every determination and Form of a Something, indeterminate Matter remains. Matter is a pure abstract. (-- Matter cannot be seen or felt, etc. -- what is seen or felt is a determinate Matter, that is, a unity of Matter and Form)." [Lenin (1961), pp.144-45. Bold emphasis alone added. The original passage from Hegel has been reposted in Note 10a.]10a

 

Subsequent DM-theorists have argued likewise (including John Rees, quoted earlier); here are two more from diametrically opposite wings of Dialectical Marxism:

 

"Engels…attacks those who fail to see [that scientific] concepts are abstractions from real experience, and [who] ask about what is 'matter as such' or 'motion as such'. 'Matter as such and motion as such have not yet been seen or experienced by anyone, but only the various, actually existing material things and forms of motion. Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted, and motion as such nothing but the totality of sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many differently sensuously perceptible things according to their common properties. Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion'. Engels gives us an analogy, 'We can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such.'" [McGarr (1994), pp.152-53; quoting Engels (1954), pp.235-36. Paragraphs merged.]

 

"One quite often hears people say 'all things consist of matter'. They do not consist of matter. They are the specific, concrete forms of its manifestation. Matter as such is an abstraction. Looking for a uniform matter as the principle of everything is like wanting to eat not cherries but fruit in general. But fruit is also an abstraction. Matter cannot be contrasted to separate things as something immutable to something mutable. Matter in general cannot be seen, touched or tasted. What people see, touch or taste is only a certain form of matter. Matter is not something that exists side by side with other things, inside them or at their basis. All existing formations are matter in its various forms, kinds, properties and relations. There is no such thing as 'unspecific' matter. Matter is not simply the real possibility of all material forms, it is their actual existence. The only property that is relatively separate from matter is consciousness as an ideal and not material phenomenon." [Spirkin (1983), p.67. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

That is why Lenin also said the following:

 

"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.]

 

"Knowledge is the reflection of nature by man. But this is not simple, not an immediate, not a complete reflection, but the process of a series of abstractions, the formation and development of concepts, laws, etc., and these concepts, laws, etc., (thought, science = 'the logical Idea') embrace conditionally, approximately, the universal, law-governed character of eternally moving and developing nature." [Ibid., p.182. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Just like the Rationalists, Lenin thought that genuine knowledge arose out of the general, not the particular. So, the particular not only has to be brought under the general it is in the end only a particular because of the general. Each individual given in experience is an individual of a certain type (i.e., it instantiates a specific 'Universal'), and that is what supposedly guarantees its future (law-like) behaviour. Here is Hegel scholar, Katharina Dulckeit, summarising Hegel's view on this:

 

"[It] must be remembered that [Hegel's] analysis of the forms of judgment in the Logic is motivated by his interest in essential judgement. There are two conditions for such judgements. To begin with, a judgement is an essential judgement only if P tells us precisely and exclusively what s is; no less and no more. But merely predicating universals of particulars is insufficient for this, unless the term in the predicate position at once expresses the essential nature of the subject. This, in turn, argues Hegel, is possible only if the 'is' expresses some identity between s and P. For if essential determination were possible exclusively via predication, the subject and the predicate would remain separate and the relation between them expressed by the copula would remain external. As a consequence, s would refer to one thing, namely an individual, while P would designate something distinct from s, namely a universal. But the truth of sense-certainty in the Phenomenology has already been shown that qua individual, an individual is grasped only through the mediation of universals. It follows that divorced from these, it would then have to be an individual without a universal nature, i.e., a bare individual.... Thus, if s and P are utterly distinct they must be mutually exclusive, which means that s will necessarily be bare, and P necessarily abstract.... Clearly then, where judgements of essence are concerned, the 'is' of predication will not do because it entails the distinction between s and P which would commit us to a metaphysical thesis already overcome in the Phenomenology." [Dulckeit (1989), pp.115-16. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added.]

 

Which is partly what Lenin was trying to say in this passage:

 

"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. Bold emphases alone added; paragraphs merged.]

 

And why Engels said this:

 

"'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 with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

And here is a passage from a dusty old 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 with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases alone added. Several paragraphs merged.]

 

Here, too, is Bertell Ollman arguing that sense experience (on its own) is too random, the material it has to deal with too varied, complex, and orientated around the particular to be comprehensible, which is why he claims we all have to engage in 'abstraction' -- that is, we all supposedly focus on certain aspects of reality and 'collect' the particulars we experience into certain categories or under specific concepts:

 

"In one sense, the role Marx gives to abstraction is simple recognition of the fact that all thinking about reality begins by breaking it down into manageable parts. Reality may be in one piece when lived, but to be thought about and communicated it must be parceled (sic) out. Our minds can no more swallow the world whole at one sitting than can our stomachs. Everyone then, and not just Marx and Marxists, begins the task of trying to make sense of his or her surroundings by distinguishing certain features and focusing on and organizing them in ways deemed appropriate. 'Abstract' comes from the Latin, 'abstrahere', which means 'to pull from.' In effect, a piece has been pulled from or taken out of the whole and is temporarily perceived as standing apart.

 

"We 'see' only some of what lies in front of us, 'hear' only part of the noises in our vicinity, 'feel' only a small part of what our body is in contact with, and so on through the rest of our senses. In each case, a focus is established and a kind of boundary set within our perceptions distinguishing what is relevant from what is not. It should be clear that 'What did you see?' (What caught your eye?) is a different question from 'What did you actually see?' (What came into your line of vision?). Likewise, in thinking about any subject, we focus on only some of its qualities and relations. Much that could be included -- that may in fact be included in another person's view or thought, and may on another occasion be included in our own -- is left out. The mental activity involved in establishing such boundaries, whether conscious or unconscious -- though it is usually an amalgam of both -- is the process of abstraction. [Ollman (2003), p.60. Bold emphases added.]

 

[The only problem for Ollman is that for Hegel (as Dulckeit points out), whatever is given in experience is already a particular of a certain type. They can't be experienced in any other way. How that is supposed to work is still a mystery (if we approach this topic in the way Traditional Philosophers have), but I will simply draw a veil over that intractable problem for now. Incidentally, I have subjected all of the above ideas to sustained criticism in Part One.]

 

Finally (on this), we have already met the following passage several times, which neatly sums up the attitude of theorists who influenced all of the above DM-theorists:

 

"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996a), p.29. Bold emphasis added.]

 

So, the 'laws' these theorists sought involved an appeal to the general, and hence to 'Universals'. But, paradoxically, that was also true of the Empiricists, who had to admit that genuine knowledge only arose when 'the mind' somehow cobbles-together the general from the particular.

 

However, as we have also seen, both traditions led 'bourgeois thought' down yet another blind alley -- where it remains to this day.

 

In that case, an appeal to 'Universals' was no help at all since they also turned out to be particulars. And, because of that they, too, couldn't guarantee their own future 'law-like' behaviour without another hierarchy of 'Universals' to do it for them -- and so on ad infinitem...

 

Of course, any theory (e.g., DM) that bases itself on the Heraclitean Flux [HF] only succeeds in sinking itself even faster, That is because: if there is indeed a universal flux, the future can't resemble the past! And what is perhaps worse, under such circumstances not even the word "resemble" can 'resemble' itself from moment to moment! If everything is always changing, that must surely apply to words and their meanings. How could it fail to do so?

 

[The 'relative stability of language' response, which is often wheeled out in reply at this point, has been neutralised here.]

 

This 'problem' also partly arose out of the mistaken belief that scientific theories themselves express a special sort of truth. When that idea is itself questioned, a solution to the 'problem of induction' soon suggests itself. [Notice a use of the word "theory" here. I am not impugning scientific facts. To state the obvious, facts aren't the same as theories. These rather controversial claims will be expanded upon and defended in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Nevertheless, when this line-of-thought is expressed a little more, shall we say, emphatically, pushing it much further than is usually the case, several remarkable conclusions soon follow: Since both the flow of ideas 'in the mind' (or even those 'in the brain' of an Über-Rationalist, like Hegel), alongside any sensations that accompany them are also events, 'subjective' experience itself can't avoid being thrown into doubt, which in turn raises questions about the future behaviour even of 'mental events', such as these.

 

[The reader should keep in mind that the following comments only apply if we adopt the above way of conceiving knowledge. Again, they do not represent my views.]

 

In that case, our experience of anything that has yet to occur (which must also include our own future thoughts) might fail to 'resemble' what they had been, or seemed to have been, in the recent past. Even the nature of our sensations and ideas could alter from moment to moment, given this approach to knowledge (and especially if we take into account the HF). If we experience an idea now as an idea of a certain sort, it could be experienced or thought of as something totally different tomorrow, even though it might prove impossible to say right now what that might be -- either because we haven't yet the language available to us, or because that language might itself have changed before we succeed in uttering anything at all.

 

[The moral of this tale is that the HF is no respecter of those who are foolish enough to give it credence. It holds sway over everything they say or believe -- not one atom of which is the same now as it was a fraction of a second earlier. If they imagine otherwise, they aren't bona fide HF-ers. They are philosophical windbags.]  

 

Recall, 'abstractions' were invented to provide some sort of philosophical -- or even scientific -- stability to the deliverances of the senses. They were supposed to help provide a secure foundation for knowledge, a basis that transcended the particular by 'ascending' to the general -- i.e., to 'abstractions' and 'Universals', which were held to be far superior to, and more reliable than, ephemeral, contingent, transient facts based on experience and 'appearances'. It is why Plato and his ilk invented them. it was the whole point of his Allegory of the Cave. [On that, see Appendix B of Essay Eight Part Two.]

 

That was certainly the attitude motivating the German Idealists (quoted earlier):

 

"Already with Fichte the idea of the unity of the sciences, of system, was connected with that of finding a reliable starting-point in certainty on which knowledge could be based. Thinkers from Kant onwards were quite convinced that the kind of knowledge which came from experience was not reliable. Empirical knowledge could be subject to error, incomplete, or superseded by further observation or experiment. It would be foolish, therefore, to base the whole of knowledge on something which had been established only empirically. The kind of knowledge which Kant and his followers believed to be the most secure was a priori knowledge, the kind embodied in the laws of Nature. These had been formulated without every occurrence of the Natural phenomenon in question being observed, so they did not summarise empirical information, and yet they held good by necessity for every case; these laws were truly universal in their application." [White (1996a), p.29. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here is Hegel echoing and amplifying these ideas:

 

"The view that the objects of immediate consciousness, which constitute the body of experience, are mere appearances (phenomena) was another important result of the Kantian philosophy. Common Sense, that mixture of sense and understanding, believes the objects of which it has knowledge to be severally independent and self-supporting; and when it becomes evident that they tend towards and limit one another, the interdependence of one upon another is reckoned something foreign to them and to their true nature. The very opposite is the truth. The things immediately known are mere appearances -- in other words, the ground of their being is not in themselves but in something else. But then comes the important step of defining what this something else is. According to Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only, and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to another world we cannot approach.

 

"Plain minds have not unreasonably taken exception to this subjective idealism, with its reduction of the facts of consciousness to a purely personal world, created by ourselves alone. For the true statement of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true, is as idealist as Kant's; but in contradistinction to the subjective idealism of the Critical philosophy should be termed absolute idealism. Absolute idealism, however, though it is far in advance of vulgar realism, is by no means merely restricted to philosophy. It lies at the root of all religion; for religion too believes the actual world we see, the sum total of existence, to be created and governed by God." [Hegel (1975, §45, p.73. Links in the original. Bold emphases added.]

 

However, this approach will always prove to be futile. That is because we will now have to appeal to 'abstractions'  (i.e., 'Universals', 'Concepts', 'Categories', 'Principles', and 'Ideas', every one of which has been privately processed and created), in order to help guarantee that the 'empirical instability', which every theorist working in the tradition characterised as such, won't undermine the status of scientific (or even philosophical) knowledge. But, as we have seen, these 'abstractions' are all particulars (or the Proper Names thereof), so they are clearly of no use in this regard. That is because they are subject to the very same suspicions about their own future constancy that (allegedly) confront ordinary material particulars (such as the nourishing properties of bread, mentioned earlier). In which case, no particular -- abstract or concrete -- is capable of providing a secure basis for a single general conclusion about the future constancy of other objects, events and processes.

 

There are no self-certifying ideas to be had here, given this way of conceiving the 'problem'.

 

Worse still: any 'solution' to this 'problem' (should one ever be found!) is itself subject to the same suspicions, and hence could itself be experienced as a non-solution the very next day -- especially if we were foolish enough buy into the HF.

 

Naturally, expressed the way this has been for countless generations, any attempt to 'solve the problem of induction' -- how the present 'binds' the future -- has already lost its way. In fact, as should now seem obvious, phrases like "The present" and "The future" are particulars, too (or they are singular terms that 'refer' to Abstract Particulars, alongside that other Abstract Particular, 'Time'), and as such they are incapable of preventing the ideas expressed by anyone who adopts this approach to knowledge from sliding off into oblivion.

 

And, therein lies a clue to the dissolution to this family of 'problems': alongside Marx, reject this entire way of doing philosophy as incoherent non-sense.

 

Not even the anti-materialist, Aristocratic Philosophers who invented it could make head or tail of it!

 

As we now know -- mainly because it was exposed in Part One of this Essay -- the original source of these 'difficulties' was ideologically-motivated syntactical moves carried out by Ancient Greek metaphysicians, logicians and grammarians. In which case, the dissolution of over two millennia of such utter confusion clearly recommends itself.

 

The bottom line here is that if any given 'mind' is capable of experiencing only a finite number of exemplars from which it has to piece-together general ideas, subsequent experience could always refuse to play ball, as it were. In that case, the future might fail to resemble the past in any meaningful sense. Not only might the Sun fail to rise (tomorrow), and water fail to boil at a given temperature, but cats might even refuse to walk about on mats, and Hegel might begin to make sense.

 

Of course, as already noted, some have tried to argue that these 'difficulties' might be neutralised if the mind was capable of gaining direct access to these 'abstract ideas' (Real Universals, General Concepts and Categories, etc., etc.), which were supposed to be fully capable of regimenting the deliverances of the senses (or, even 'external reality'). If so, that would mean the future course of events could be guaranteed to resemble the past (in te sense discussed above).

 

However, in order to control 'unruly' ideas/particulars, something a little more robust than Locke's Social Contract or Hume's 'habits of the mind' are called for. Unfortunately, Ancient Greek theories about an ordered Cosmos didn't sit too well with the socially-, and politically-fragmented bourgeois world of the 17th and 18th centuries. A completely novel approach was called for.

 

As already noted, Hume attempted to address this 'problem' by appealing to rather vague habits of the mind, which somehow induce in us certain expectations about the future based on past experience. Clearly, this nebulous idea is susceptible to the challenges set out earlier. This is quite apart from the fact that just as soon as it is acknowledged that any series of events is subject to sustained sceptical onslaught like this, it is difficult to see how even 'habits of the mind' can emerge unscathed. Or do we now have to appeal to a habit of the habits of the mind to guarantee their constancy? One suspects another infinite regress looms large...

 

The abandonment of the 'logical', or necessary, connection between a Universal and the particulars that fall under it -- i.e., between an object and its properties (which we also met earlier) -- that took place in the High Middle Ages with the rise of Nominalism (but the cracks were already forming in the work of post-Aristotelian theorists; the Nominalists merely prised these fissures wide enough for all to see), introduced radical contingency, not just into Traditional Theories of Causation, but into 'reality' itself. This development wasn't, of course, unconnected with the decline of the power of the Papacy as Feudalism itself began to unravel, giving way to early forms of the market economy.

 

Rationalist Philosophers (like Spinoza and Leibniz) made a valiant attempt to repair the damage these untoward developments had inflicted on the 'Rational Order' (inherited from the Ancient Greeks) and on the Christian 'God's relation to 'His' creation. To that end, they constructed 'necessitarian' theories of their own that sought to re-establish the logical connection between a given substance and its 'accidents', its properties. Unfortunately, these theories were themselves based on the same old "ruling ideas" -- i.e., principally on the dogma that 'Reality' is 'Rational' -- and hence that fundamental 'truths' about 'it' may be derived from thought/language alone.

 

[On the general background to this, see, for example, Copleston (2003a, 2003b, 2003c), and the references given below..]

 

Here is how I have made a similar point in Essay Eleven Part Two -- part of a brief consideration of certain aspects of Christian Fundamentalism and 'Intelligent Design', which also turns out to be relevant to the above considerations:

 

There is an excellent summary of the two main avenues theists have taken in their endeavour to conceive of the relationship between 'God' and 'His' creation, in Osler (2004), pp.15-35. [Not unexpectedly, these neatly mirror the tensions that plague the DM-account of nature, too.]

 

Here follows a summary of the relevant parts of Osler's thesis (with a few additional comments of my own thrown in for good measure):

 

Traditionally, there were two ways of conceiving 'God's' relation to material reality:

 

(a) 'He' is related to it by necessity, as an expression of 'His' nature; or,

 

(b) 'He' is related to it contingently -- as an expression of 'His' 'free will'.

 

If (a) were the case, there would be a logical connection between the properties of created beings and their 'essence' -- i.e., the logical core of each being, which is either an expression of its unique nature, or of the 'kind' to which it belongs. In turn, this would be a consequence of the logical or conceptual links that exist between 'creation' and 'God's Nature'. If that weren't the case, it would introduce radical contingency into creation, undermining 'God's Nature' and 'His' control of 'Creation'. As a result language and logic must constitute reality (why that is so is outlined here).

 

[Also worth pointing out is the fact that Super-Truths like this -- about fundamental aspects of 'reality' -- may only be accessed via speculative thought.]

 

This means that all that exists is either:

 

(i) An expression of the logical properties inherent in 'God'; or,

 

(ii) An emanation from 'God'.

 

That is, material reality must be logically 'emergent' from, and hence connected with, the 'Deity'. So, the universe 'issues' forth from 'His' nature 'eternally' and a-temporally, outside of time, since that is where 'He exists'. Everything must therefore be inter-linked by 'internal', or 'necessary', relations, all of which are derived from, and constituted by, 'concepts' implicit in 'God', which are consequently mirrored in fundamental aspects of creation. This idea is prominent in Plotinus and subsequent Neo-Platonists, like Hegel.

 

Given this approach, it is clear that the vast majority of 'ordinary' human beings are incapable of accessing, nor can they even comprehend, this 'rational' view of 'reality'. Their lack of knowledge, education and 'divine illumination' means that, at best, they misperceive these 'logical properties' as contingent qualities. Hence, for them, appearances fail to match underlying "essence". Naturally, this implies that "commonsense" and ordinary language are fundamentally unreliable.

 

Now, where have we heard all that before? Email me if you know...

 

Option (b), on the other hand, implied that 'God' acted freely when 'He' created the world. So, if 'He' wasn't acting under any form of 'compulsion', logical or conceptual -- i.e., 'He' wasn't acting on the basis of the logical properties inherent in 'His' nature -- then there will be no logical or necessary connection between 'The Creator' and 'His Creation'. Nor, indeed, would there be such between each created being. Every object and process in reality would therefore be genuinely contingent, and appearances will no longer be 'deceptive', since they can't mask the hidden, esoteric 'essences' mentioned above -- for there are none. That being the case, there are no synthetic a priori truths (as these later came to be known) ascertainable by thought alone. The only path to knowledge was through observation, experiment, and careful study of the 'Book of Nature'. It is no coincidence then that the foundations of modern science were laid in the Middle Ages largely by theorists who adopted this view of 'God' -- for example, Jean Buridan.

 

[On this, see also: Copleston (2003c), pp.153-67, Crombie (1970, 1979), Grant (1996), Hannam (2009), Lindberg (2007).]

 

In post-Renaissance thought, the 'necessitarian' tradition re-surfaced in the work of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Wolff, and Hegel; the 'voluntarist' tradition saw the light of day in an attenuated form in the work of Newton, the Empiricists, and the so-called "mechanists". They all tended to stress the connection between 'God's' free will and contingency in nature, alongside the primacy of empirical over a priori knowledge and the superiority of observation and experiment over speculation and abstract theory.

 

[Admittedly, the above categories are rather crude; for example, Descartes was a mechanist, but his theory put him on the same side of the fence as Spinoza and Leibniz, whereas Gassendi was also a mechanist, but his ideas aligned him with the voluntarists. On this, see Copleston (2003d).]

 

So, when Fundamentalist Christians, for example, look at nature and see design everywhere, they also claim to see 'irreducible complexity' -- the handiwork of 'God' -- and they either put this down to 'His' free creation, or they see it as an expression of logical properties imposed on nature by the Logos (depending, of course, on how they view the nature of 'The Creator' and 'His' relation to the world).

 

Christian mechanists saw design in nature, too, but their theories became increasingly deistic, and later openly atheistic. The admission of a contingent link between 'God' and nature severed the logical connection that earlier theorists had postulated, making "the God hypothesis" seem increasingly redundant [Laplace -- "I have no need of that hypothesis".]

 

[On this, see Lovejoy (1964). [This links to a PDF.] There is also an excellent account of these developments in Redwood (1976). Also see Dillenberger (1988). A classic expression of these developments can be found in the debate between Leibniz and Clarke. Cf., Alexander (1956), and Vailati (1997).]

 

Much of this controversy had been motivated much earlier by the work of the Medieval Nominalists, whose theories also sundered the logical link between a substance and its properties as part of a reaction to the tradition begun by Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā, with his separation of 'essence' and 'existence' in created beings), Averroës (Ibn Rushd), and the so-called "Latin Averroists" (e.g., Siger of Brabant). The latter argued strongly in favour of Aristotle's doctrine of natural necessity, thus undermining 'God's' free will -- at least, so far as the Roman Catholic Church saw things. This reaction was also prompted by philosophical worries about the nature of transubstantiation and the relation between the 'essence' of the emblems (the bread and the wine in the Eucharist) and their 'accidents' (their apparent properties). Here 'appearances' most definitely couldn't reflect 'essence' otherwise the bread would look like human flesh and the wine would smell of blood!

 

The aforementioned reaction was occasioned by the 'Condemnations of 1277', whereby the Bishop of Paris, Étienne Tempier, condemned 219 propositions, among which was the Averroist interpretation of Aristotle -- particularly the idea that the created order was governed by logical necessity. The most important response to these condemnations appeared in the work of the Nominalist, William of Ockham, who, as a result, stressed the 'free will of God' and thus the contingent nature of the world. For Ockham, this meant that there were no 'essences' in nature, nor were the apparent properties of bodies (their 'accidents', again) logically connected with their 'nominal essence' (as this later came to be called by Locke).

 

[On this, see: Osler (2004), Copleston (2003b), pp.136-55, 190-95, 437-41, Copleston (2003c), pp.43-167, and Copleston (2003e), pp.79-107.]

 

In the 18th century, a resurgence of the 'necessitarian' tradition motivated, among other things, the "re-enchantment" of nature in the theories concocted by the Natürphilosophers and Hegel -- and later still in those invented by Marxist Dialecticians.

 

[On this, see Harrington (1996), Lenoir (1982), Richards (2002), and Essay Fourteen Parts One and Two, when they are published. More details can be found in Foster (1934), Hooykaas (1973), Lindberg (2007), and Osler (2004). For the Hermetic background to all this, see Magee (2008). Cf., also Essay Twelve (summary here). At a later date I will publish an essay on Leibniz I wrote as an undergraduate, which anticipated some of the ideas in Osler's book, for example.]

 

So, where Christians see design, DM-fans see "internal relations". Same problematic, same tainted source, same bogus 'solution' to this set of pseudo-problems.12a

 

In such inhospitable surroundings, not only must the 'Concepts' and 'Abstractions' that were thought capable of slotting 'ideas' in the right 'mental pigeonholes' be robust enough to do this ('behind the backs of their producers', as it were, since no one is normally aware this is taking place -- which is why it took a few 'bright spark philosophers' to 'discover' it), they must also exist prior to, and be independent of, experience. If that weren't the case, they'd  risk suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune themselves.

 

If experience can't deliver 'genuine knowledge', the aforementioned 'Concepts and 'Abstractions' must be held aloof.

 

After all, 'bad associations' spoil useful abstractions.

 

'Epistemological Thermidor'

 

Initially, at least for "crude materialists", it wasn't easy to account either for the source or the effectiveness of these 'sergeant-major'-like concepts -- i.e., all those 'mental constructs' ('frameworks', 'concepts' and 'categories', 'abstractions', etc., etc.), which did all this regimenting and permitted no exceptions, past, present or future. However, the 'intellectual rescue' for empiricists and materialists alike (for want of a better phrase) came from an unlikely and unexpected source: German Idealism. More specifically, and even more revealingly, this 'rescue' turned out to be an impossibly convoluted, obscure version of Ancient Greek Neoplatonism, with just enough Hermeticism thrown in to fool the 'god-botherers'.

 

The philosophical version of The Seventh Cavalry arrived in the nick of time, too, but it was, alas, blowing a very indistinct note -- possibly none at all.

 

Esoteric Flannel in place of Errol Flynn.

 

The baroque systems concocted by these Teutonic Idealists also required the invention of Self-Developing, Super-'Concepts', alongside Industrial Strength 'Categories', which packed enough metaphysical clout to control the 'untamed deliverances of the senses'. These days such 'heavy-duty principles' have been strengthened by the addition of a handful of impressive-sounding phrases -- such as, "natural necessity", and "metaphysical-", and "ontological-necessity". Jargon like this is required, otherwise the feral impressions/ideas the senses send the mind's way might continue to mis-behave and set up their own 'Anarchist Collective' -- where fires might actually freeze water, fish might break out in song and Dialectical Marxism might even become a ringing success.13

 

Furthermore, these 'Concepts', 'Categories' and 'Principles' would have to be logical -- indeed, 'dialectical' --, if they are to prove capable of exercising rigid control over the future course of events -- or even the future deliverances of the senses and the overall direction of 'thought' --, ensuring that every single impression and idea trooped into the right 'metaphysical pigeonholes', each labelled with the correct general term.

 

As noted earlier, bourgeois ideas (supposedly 'born free') were now clapped in chains. The 'free market' of ideas, this bourgeois 'revolution in the head', was over. The Rationalist/Idealist rescue mission looked more like a veritable 'mental Thermidor' than it did liberation.14

 

But, one nagging question remained: How could something even as powerful as a 'Logical Principle' guarantee that future events, or our impressions of them, will always tow the line and perform as expected? As we have just seen, these 'rational principles' are particulars themselves and no less in need of regimentation. If not, there was no good reason why ordinary particulars needed to be regimented in this way.

 

[How could an abstraction control anything? Why would something physical -- in 'external reality' or even in the CNS -- 'obey' an abstraction? How could anything that lacks intelligence, or even sentience (i.e., all those 'ideas' and impressions') do any obeying to begin with?

 

[That knotty problem, which both science and philosophy have failed to solve (and they're not even close!) will be addressed in detail in Essay Three Part Five. Some of that material has already been published in Essay Thirteen Part Three, here and here.]

 

[CNS = Central Nervous System.]

 

The point at issue is itself rather straightforward: logical principles per se can't create generality; generality emerges from the application of a rule, which neither words nor 'Concepts' -- nor even 'Principles' -- can quite manage on their own. It requires human beings (and, as part of a collective) to determine what constitutes the correct application of a rule, since, as has been emphasised many times: words, 'Concepts', and 'Principles' have neither the wit, intelligence nor social structure sufficient to the task.

 

[It is worth reminding the reader, again, that what now follows isn't my judgement on bourgeois theorists; it is implied by their own words.]

 

That was, indeed, the point of emphasising the (social and theoretical) atomisation that gave birth to the bourgeois 'logical' principles mentioned earlier in this Essay. The fragmentation introduced into epistemology (in and by both its Rationalist and Empiricist wings) meant that in the heads of these socially-isolated thinkers, 'Concepts' can only operate as the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars -- or, indeed, as those Particulars themselves, destroying generality and undermining the unity of the proposition. So, for example, 'the concept of time' (in Kant) and 'the concept of Being' (in Hegel) are each just good an example of an Abstract Particular as anything Aristotle or Plato had ever dreamt up.14a0

 

Clearly, 'Logical Principles' like this could only succeed in regimenting ideas and particulars if they somehow managed to control their future behaviour, which implied were must be intelligent agents themselves. Furthermore, the way they were often spoken about meant it was almost as if these 'Logical Principles' actually exist in 'external reality', too, and were even those Ideas in 'self-development'. Either that, or they were the 'internal regulative principles' which supposedly whipped the raw deliverances of the senses into shape. In Hegel, this doctrine completely eradicated the distinction between Mind and Matter -- which is largely why Engels thought he could get away with arguing that matter is just an abstraction, employing virtually same argument (and even the same example!) Hegel had used:

 

"When the universal is made a mere form and co-ordinated with the particular, as if it were on the same level, it sinks into the particular itself. Even common sense in everyday matters is above the absurdity of setting a universal beside the particulars. Would anyone, who wished for fruit, reject cherries, pears, and grapes, on the ground that they were cherries, pears or grapes, and not fruit?" [Hegel (1975), p.19, §13, quoted from here. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

"It is the old story. First of all one makes sensuous things into abstractions and then one wants to know them through the senses, to see time and smell space. The empiricist becomes so steeped in the habit of empirical experience, that he believes that he is still in the field of sensuous experience when he is operating with abstractions.... The two forms of existence of matter are naturally nothing without matter, empty concepts, abstractions which exist only in our minds. But, of course, we are supposed not to know what matter and motion are! Of course not, for matter as such and motion as such have not yet been seen or otherwise experienced by anyone, only the various existing material things and forms of motions. Matter is nothing but the totality of material things from which this concept is abstracted and motion as such nothing but the totality of all sensuously perceptible forms of motion; words like matter and motion are nothing but abbreviations in which we comprehend many different sensuous perceptible things according to their common properties. Hence matter and motion can be known in no other way than by investigation of the separate material things and forms of motion, and by knowing these, we also pro tanto know matter and motion as such.... This is just like the difficulty mentioned by Hegel; we can eat cherries and plums, but not fruit, because no one has so far eaten fruit as such." [Engels (1954), pp.235-36. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

"N.B. Matter as such is a pure creation of thought and an abstraction. We leave out of account the qualitative differences of things in lumping them together as corporeally existing things under the concept matter. Hence matter as such, as distinct from definite existing pieces of matter, is not anything sensuously existing." [Ibid., p.255. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"When the universal is made a mere form and co-ordinated with the particular, as if it were on the same level, it sinks into the particular itself. Even common sense in everyday matters is above the absurdity of setting a universal beside the particulars. Would anyone, who wished for fruit, reject cherries, pears, and grapes, on the ground that they were cherries, pears or grapes, and not fruit?" [Hegel (1975), p.19, §13, quoted from here. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

"Essence becomes matter in that its reflection is determined as relating itself to essence as to the formless indeterminate. Matter is therefore the differenceless identity which is essence, with the determination of being the other of form. It is consequently the real basis or substrate of form, because it constitutes the reflection-into-self of the form-determinations, or the self-subsistent element to which the latter are related as to their positive subsistence. If abstraction is made from every determination, from all form of anything, what is left over is indeterminate matter. Matter is a sheer abstraction. (Matter cannot be seen, felt, and so on -- what is seen, felt, is a determinate matter, that is, a unity of matter and form). This abstraction from which matter proceeds is, however, not merely an external removal and sublating of form, rather does form, as we have seen, spontaneously reduce itself to this simple identity." [Hegel (1999), pp.450-51, §§ 978-979. Bold emphasis alone added. Typos in the on-line version corrected. Paragraphs merged.]

 

In which case, control of future ideas/beliefs (and external contingencies) now became a question concerning the self-discipline of an entire battery of self-developing 'Concepts'. In fact, these 'Concepts' controlled the future because they had a 'new logic' -- a 'dialectical' logic -- to power the engine. Unfortunately this 'logic' was itself based on a mis-applied metaphor about how verbal and written arguments themselves edge toward a conclusion. That explains the presence of the word "contradiction". [There is no other reason for using it.]

 

This new 'logic' laid down the law, which meant that everything in nature -- Mind and Matter -- bent the knee to its Contradictory Will.

 

Plato's World Soul was given a new lease of life. Since it now ran the show, the future was controlled by its 'logic', a 'supernatural' expression of its 'animating spirit'. In this way, words that had been based on the social application of linguistic rules were re-configured as a universal expression of 'Self-Developing Mind'.

 

It is precisely here that the fetishisation of language -- referred to in Part One -- emerged in Dialectical Philosophy, subsequently in Dialectical Marxism.

 

As we have seen, Ancient and Medieval Logicians had, by their ideologically-driven mis-characterisation of predication -- in alliance with the invention of 'abstractions' --, destroyed any possibility of expressing generality in (their use of) language. In its place, an ersatz 'generality' was invented as an expression of a 'Cosmic Mind' working inside Hegel's skull. Unfortunately for Dialectical Marxists, even when this fantasy is "put back on its feet", the logical blunders on which it had been based haven't been eradicated. They remain blunders. Indeed, in Hegel's hands they were fetishised all the more, transmogrified into a 'spirit' that supposedly animated 'inert matter'. This breathed 'life' into theories that had originally been invented by 'crude materialists', since, without this animating spirit -- without these 'contradictions' -- matter would remain inert. Indeed, 'reality' itself would be like a 'clock without a spring'.

 

"Contradiction is the root of all movement and life, and it is only in so far as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulse and activity." [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"It was absolutely necessary to explain why the American 'radical' intellectuals accept Marxism without the dialectic (a clock without a spring)." [Trotsky (1971), p.56. Bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Hence, Hegel's 'Self-Developing Mind', now "back on its feet", re-animated matter, which actually amounted to the re-enchantment of nature. [Harrington (1996).]14a1

 

Paradoxically, but no less implausibly, the 'Iron Laws of the Cosmos' were supposed to be wholly compatible with human freedom! These 'Self-Developing Concepts' were, of course, 'free' because they were a law unto themselves. Indeed, they even seemed to control 'God', who, it turned out, was being led like a dog on a leash by 'His' very own 'self-developing' ideas. 'He' was both 'object' and 'subject' to the all-powerful 'dialectic'.

 

As far as humanity was concerned, the 'good news' turned out the opposite of what might have been expected: hence, the more an individual subjected herself to these 'Laws' the 'freer' she became.

 

Ironically, the more human beings were in chains the less they were in chains!

 

Rousseau thought he could justify social control somewhat similarly:

 

"In order then that the social compact may not be an empty formula, it tacitly includes the undertaking, which alone can give force to the rest, that whoever refuses to obey the general will shall be compelled to do so by the whole body. This means nothing less than that he will be forced to be free; for this is the condition which, by giving each citizen to his country, secures him against all personal dependence. In this lies the key to the working of the political machine; this alone legitimises civil undertakings, which, without it, would be absurd, tyrannical, and liable to the most frightful abuses." [Rousseau (1913), p.15; Book One, Chapter Seven. Bold emphasis added.]

 

But what he had in mind wasn't the a sort of 'Ideal Thermidor' needed to control all those 'ideas' and 'impressions'. In sharp contrast, Hegel's 'logic' seemed to offer some hope in that direction, but he soon discovered that his Ideas controlled him, not he them --, but only by fetishising the ideas he imagined were ('logically') fighting it out inside his head, turning them onto the rules that ran the universe. Hence, for him, what had once been the product of the social relations between human beings (language, inference, contradiction) not only ended up manipulating his thought processes, it now powered the entire universe! Critics might be forgiven for labelling this, 'Ontology for Megalomaniacs'. It is indeed the philosophical equivalent of a deranged individual claiming to be Napoleon, or even 'God Incarnate'. According to Hegel, his crazy concepts have taken over the asylum! Instead of the 'psychologically-challenged' contradicting themselves, Hegel's universe did that for them!

 

In relation to this, Feuerbach plainly got things the wrong way round: Hegel's 'God' is little more than the projection of social protocols and human characteristics inwards and outwards. Subsequently, for DM-fans, their ideas supposedly 'reflect' the world, but that turns out to be so only if they allow Hegel's 'logic' to control their thoughts and lead them by the nose.14a2

 

Indeed, as Max Eastman reminded us:

 

"Hegelism is like a mental disease; you can't know what it is until you get it, and then you can't know because you have got it." [Eastman (1926), p.22.]

 

[Anyone who objects to my quoting Max Eastman should check this out, and then perhaps think again.]

 

Which, of course, helps explain the quasi-religious fervour with which 'The Sacred Dialectic' is protected and defended by all those whose brains it has colonised. [On that, see here and here.]

 

However, Hegel's Idealist 'solution' only succeeded in creating another problem: If autonomous 'concepts'/'principles' such as these were required so that order might be imposed on recalcitrant reality -- or our ideas about it --, and if knowledge is still dependent on the vicissitudes of human cognition, then those 'principles' only succeed in undermining themselves. If the 'Cosmic Order' can only be comprehended by being put into some sort of 'order' inside each bourgeois skull (by anthropomorphising 'reality' and our ideas about it), then that anthropomorphisation can't fail to self-destruct. That is because, if ordinary human beings can't be relied on (i.e., if the vernacular is untrustworthy and 'commonsense' is unreliable --, which ideologically-motivated accusations originally gave birth to this family of theories in the first place), then these 'inner human beings' (these anthropomorphised, 'Self-Developing Ideas'), and their mysterious 'internal relations', must be equally suspect.

 

If the ideas of everyday, material human beings can't be trusted because of their reliance on 'appearances', what confidence can be placed in the reliability of these inner, ghostly spectres, these shadow human beings?

 

That worry is accentuated all the more not just because it is difficult enough to account for the social nature of knowledge in the individual case, but because it becomes completely intractable when generalised to take into account the countless minds supposedly able to perform the same tricks and arrive at the same conclusions from their limited experience and finite stock of ideas. [As we saw earlier.]

 

Given this approach, conceptual coordination across the whole of humanity would surely be miraculous. Indeed, it would be such for it to take place with respect to the inhabitants of a small village, let alone a large city.

 

In fact, it is far more likely that every member of this self-appointed club of 'professional abstractors' -- or, indeed, every single Hegel scholar -- is dancing to a different 'dialectical tune' playing in each socially-atomised head.

 

[Apologies again for those mixed metaphors!]

 

The problems we met earlier (concerning the social, psychological and epistemological fragmentation introduced into 'western thought' by the rise of capitalism) re-surfaces precisely here. The bourgeois psyche disunited can never be re-united.

 

So, in the realm of ideas alone, it proved impossible to undo the effect that bourgeois social relations introduced into epistemology. If every single human being has to perform these 'feats of abstraction' in such a socially-isolated head, there can be no such thing as socialised knowledge.

 

Or, to be more accurate, no such thing as knowledge. Period.

 

This helps account for the countless failed 'theories of knowledge' post-Renaissance philosophy has cobbled-together over the last four centuries (to add to the many that had been invented over the previous two millennia).

 

Nevertheless, by these means the Individual was allowed to strike back, initially disguised as the Dialectical Guru Himself -- Hegel. Only he (and perhaps his DM-progeny) were 'licensed' to comprehend the 'self-development of thought', and thus the course of history, thus passing the 'good news' on to the rest of us. Dialectical Philosophers were now in effect Dialectical Prophets -- the 'Marxist wing' now possessing a resolutely substitutionist ideology as their guiding creed.14a

 

Once more, given this approach to knowledge, no matter how robust the metaphysical, neurological or psychological coercion involved (operating inside each dialectical skull), its coordination across an entire population (or even a significant proportion of it) would indeed be miraculous. That is unless, of course, it had been imposed on everyone by the Glorious Leader -- or, maybe just 'The Party'. In much of 20th century Dialectical Marxism, 'logic' was replaced by the Mailed Fist of the Stalinist State; failing that, in non-Stalinist parties by the Guardians of Orthodoxy.

 

In the 'bourgeois market' of internally-processed ideas, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand failed to leave even so much as a fingerprint. Hence, the highly effective Mailed Fist of the Dialectical Magus -- which sometimes took on the shape of Gerry Healy, elsewhere Mao Zedong, Bob Avakian, Marlene Dixon, Abimael Guzmán, or even the Great Teacher Himself, Stalin -- was required to help guarantee 'good epistemological order' inside each dialectical skull.

 

[Exactly how 'Epistemological Stalinism' like this has worked its way into practically every wing of Dialectical Marxism, and thus into virtually every party and tendency on the far left, is explored in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

Despite this, the fact that inter-subjective agreement actually takes place (and countless times every single day) suggests that this fanciful, bourgeois individualist picture is well wide-of-the-mark. Indeed, when the day-to-day requirements imposed on each active agent by the natural and social world are factored that picture falls apart even faster than the portrait of Dorian Gray.

 

The reasons for saying this aren't hard to find (but only if we assume, per impossible, that 'abstractionism' is a valid theory): not only is it is highly unlikely that each abstractor would form the same general idea of the same objects and processes from their limited stock of data -- which is problematic enough in itself in view of the fact that no two people share exactly the same experience or draw the same conclusions from it -- but, the word "same" attracts the same difficulties (irony intended). Moreover, in its endeavour to explain generality, the traditional approach to knowledge involves an appeal to a concept that looks suspiciously general itself. If no two minds can check the supposed 'similarities' in or between the ideas held by different individuals, then there is no way that a social process, if it were based on abstraction, could possibly be viable. Questions would naturally arise whether the 'same' ideas of anything (abstract, particular, concrete, general, or even dialectical) had actually taken root in such socially-isolated dialectical brains. And these worries would persist until it had been established whether or not each abstractor had the 'same' idea about the word "same", never mind anything else.14b

 

And, how on earth might that be established, for goodness sake?

 

Worse still: given the 'dialectical' view of identity, the problem can't even be stated, let alone solved. The peremptory rejection of the LOI now returns to haunt DM-epistemology. By confusing a logical issue with an epistemological red-herring, the quest for what has been touted as a superior form of 'dialectical knowledge' has now been trapped in a solipsistic dungeon (mentioned in Note 15 -- link below).

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

Once more, that is because it has yet to be explained how any two dialectically-distracted minds could frame the same general, or even particular, idea of anything whatsoever -- even before the dialectical juggernaut begins to roll --, or how a check might be made whether or not either of these intrepid abstractors had managed to accomplish this miraculous deed correctly. And, that isn't so much because none of us has access to the mind of any other abstractor -- which, on this view, we haven't -- it is because it has yet to be established whether anyone even has the same idea of the word "correct"!15

 

Once more: how on earth might that be established, for goodness sake?

 

Again, it is no use looking to practice to rescue this failing theory, for it has yet to be established whether or not any two abstractors have the same abstract (or even 'concrete') idea of practice!

 

Once more, how on earth might that...?

 

[The reader is invited to finish that sentence for herself.]

 

By "socially-isolated" I don't mean to suggest that intrepid abstractors are literally isolated from one another -- as if they each lived on a desert island -- only that since their theory holds that knowledge (etc.) begins with whatever they manage to process in their own heads as individuals (and this must be the case from birth onwards). Clearly, this implies that when it comes to language and knowledge they might as well be literally isolated. As I have shown earlier in this Essay: given this view of abstraction, it is in fact impossible to build a workable, or even a believable, account of the social nature of language and knowledge.

 

[I have developed this line-of-thought more extensively in Essay Thirteen Part One; readers are directed there for more details.]

 

Furthermore, it is equally unclear how even this relatively minor worry (about the generality of what were supposed to be general ideas) may be communicated between such lone abstractors, at least not without employing the very same notion that originally required explanation -- generality itself --, along with the application of the LOI as a rule of language.16

 

More problematic still (for those who at least gesture in the direction of accepting even a minimally social view of language and knowledge) is the following consideration: How might it be ascertained whether or not the same ideas about anything (abstract, concrete, general, or particular) have been inherited correctly from previous generations of intrepid abstractors? Without access to a time machine, mind probes -- and, once more, a prior grasp of the very things they supposedly bequeathed to us (i.e., general ideas!) -- no one would be in any position to determine the accuracy of a single 'concept' or 'dialectical principle' belonging to this 'common inheritance'.

 

Of course, given the validity of DM-epistemology, no start could be made at any attempt to build such knowledge. Not only would this 'intentional edifice' have no secure foundation -- since its basis (i.e., supposedly inherited knowledge) has already been shown to be no firmer than quicksand -- no two prospective 'labourers' would have the same plot of land on which to work. Nor would they have the same plan to guide them, the same materials to work with, or even the remotest idea about what could conceivably count as the 'same brick'!

 

This means that, based on the strictures dialecticians have themselves placed on concrete applications of the LOI, no two people could ever have the same general -- or even particular -- idea of anything. Nor could they have the same idea about approximate identity (so that they could conclude their ideas only roughly coincided with those of anyone else). If the dread word "same" can't be the same in any two heads, the phrase "approximately the same" stands no chance.

 

Worse still, no dialectician would or could have the same (or approximately the same) general (or particular) idea as they previously had about anything even a few seconds earlier so that they could say, concerning their own opinions, that they were even approximately stable from moment to moment.

 

In that case, of course, the 'process of abstraction' can't even get off the ground!

 

At this stage it should hardly need pointing out that abstraction can make no start where there is nothing common to abstract, or no shared ideas, impressions or concepts to work with from moment to moment, or which were capable of being shared across an entire population of socially-isolated dialectical abstractors.

 

[Once more, the 'relative stability of language' defence was neutralised in Essay Six.]16a

 

An appeal to memory here would be to no avail, either. That is because, not only are memories themselves subject to the dread Heraclitean Flux, it has yet to be established that anyone has the same memory even of the meaning of the word "memory" from moment to moment.

 

Once again: how on earth might that be ascertained, for goodness sake?

 

[I hasten to add, once again, that the above sceptical remarks do not represent my views! They are only being aired in this Essay to expose the yawning chasm of scepticism implied by Traditional-, and DM-Epistemology.] 

 

In this way, abstractionism has not only undermined the status of every single dialectical proposition (a result established in Part One of this Essay), the entire project has only succeeded in strangling itself even before birth as its adherents unwisely accepted the regressive bourgeois doctrine that we all 'abstract in the privacy of our own heads'.

 

Of course, that is why an earlier claim was made (at the end of Part One) that the hypothetical activities of our heroic 'ancestral abstractors' can't have taken place, since no sense can be made of the possibility that they could have.

 

Driven To Abstraction

 

The above points might be regarded by some as a grossly unfair misrepresentation, perhaps even a distortion, of DM.

 

As TAR notes:

 

"…[A]ll science 'deductively anticipates' developments –- what else is an hypothesis tested by experimentation?" [Rees (1998), p.131.]

 

This appears to contradict the claim made above that DM-epistemology can't cope with future contingencies. If scientists actually use abstractions -- and legitimately so -- why does that present problems when DM-theorists do likewise? What stops the latter from projecting their ideas into the future in like manner -- especially if their work is subject to constant empirical check?

 

Alas for Ms Lichtenstein, successful practice refutes her excessively negative conclusions.

 

Or, so it could be maintained...

 

Quite apart from the fact that practice has in fact delivered the opposite verdict (on that, see Essay Ten Part One), it is worth pointing out that based on DM's own principles, this neat picture would only work if 'reality itself' were Ideal. That is because, even if the author of TAR were correct that science "'deductively anticipates…' developments", it could only do so if reality already had an underlying logical structure and nature was 'externalised thought', and hence no different in form from Objective Idealism.

 

[The reasons for drawing such a conclusion were given at the beginning of Part One of Essay Three. This topic will be re-examined in greater detail in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Among other things, Part One showed that:

 

(i) Traditional theorists extrapolate from a limited body of (presumed) facts -- comprising what they admitted was only 'partial' knowledge -- to conclusions about all of reality for all of time; and,

 

(ii) These moves were originally motivated by an ideologically-driven, but syntactically inept, re-interpretation of general words as the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars, thus destroying the generality (in language) that this approach had sought to explain. This ill-advised wrong turn was further compounded when these theorists projected the 'abstractions' they had just concocted onto what was now a 'shadow-reality', anterior to 'appearances' that supposedly underpinned the physical universe (in a still-to-be-explained manner). This ersatz-reality was then held to be 'more real' than the material world we see around us.

 

DM-theorists readily bought into this Idealist view of knowledge, even though it completely compromised their overall theory. That is because these moves were based solely on a series of linguistic distortions, not on evidence derived from the sciences -- or even from everyday experience -- still less from day-to-day revolutionary practice.17

 

Reality: Abstract, Concrete -- Or Both?

 

The second difficulty (mentioned earlier) isn't unconnected with the first, but has somewhat different implications. As we have just seen, traditional solutions to the 'problem' of Universals only appeared to succeed because they either:

 

(i) Anthropomorphised the brain (along with its ideas); or they,

 

(ii) Fetishised language, so that the product of social interaction (language) was reified and transformed into the relation between objects or processes, or they were those objects and processes themselves. We saw this throughout Part One in connection with Traditional Theorists' and dialecticians' confusion of talk about talk with talk about the world -- for example here and here

 

As we have also seen, in order to explain the operation of 'the mind', Empiricists found that they had to postulate the existence of what were in effect 'intelligent ideas', which were either spontaneously gregarious or were somehow capable of obeying externally imposed rules 'intelligently'.

 

On the other hand, Rationalists held that contingent events in 'reality' couldn't account for our ideas about them. As they saw things, the reverse was the case: it was the nature and development of their ideas, or their minds, that explained the 'outer' world. Their presumed rationality was the key to understanding all of 'reality'. Naturally, this inverted epistemological theory and ended up dictating to nature what it must be like or what it must contain, implying that 'reality' was fundamentally Ideal, fundamentally 'mind-like'.

 

All of this is reasonably clear.

 

The next bit isn't quite so much.

 

On the basis of the entire family of rationalist 'world-views', Traditional Theorists thought they had constructed (or had even 'discovered') what they took to be nature's fundamental "principles"/"laws", but what they didn't do was conclude that their theories were true merely because nature and society were law-governed. On the contrary, many held that the connection was much tighter than this. They imagined they were able to read these 'laws' into nature and society because the mind was structured in a specific way. In addition, the very 'possibility of experience' meant that the world (natural and social) also had to be structured in a certain way, otherwise we couldn't experience it or even know anything at all about it.18 This placed human rationality (or that of a select few) right at the centre of 'the meaning and cognitive universe'. So, what was supposed to be a 'Copernican Revolution' in Philosophy and Science turned out to be the exact opposite: a Ptolemaic realignment. 'The human mind' now constructed the world and lay at its 'centre', not the other way round. In fact, for a few hard core Rationalists, 'the mind' and its machinations actually constituted the world.

 

And it was to these mad dog Rationalists that early Marxists paid heed.

 

[On the pernicious nature of Idealism and why many opt for it (several of which motivating factors apply with equal justification to Marxist dialecticians), see: 'Idealism: A Victorian Horror-Story, Parts I and II', in Stove (1991), pp.83-177. However, in relation to Stove's work, readers should take note of the caveats I have posted here.]

 

If, as tradition would have it, the world is a 'reflection' of 'God's Mind' -- and the human mind is also a pale reflection of 'His' 'Mind' --, then the 'inter-reflection' between 'mind' and world, world and 'mind', would appear to guarantee that philosophical thought, left to its own devices, should be capable of penetrating beneath surface 'appearances', right to the heart of 'Being' itself, uncovering its 'hidden essence'. General laws thus seemed to be either the result of these 'self-directed' concepts, which accurately captured or mirrored nature's inner secrets, or they were their constitutive cause (i.e., what Aristotle might have called their material and formal cause).

 

Hermetic Philosophers had imagined that the Microcosm of the human 'mind' reflected the Macrocosm of 'God's' creation because both were the same 'substance', 'Mind'. As we have seen, this idea dates back at least to 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 thus: "[It is] invisible and otherwise imperceptible; that, in fact, which thinking has for its object." (Cornford (1997), p.192.) See also Note 1b.]

 

Mystical versions of the above doctrine that found their way into NeoPlatonism and Hermeticism held that union with 'God' was of a piece with union with Nature (or rather with its 'Essence'), which helps explain the origin of what turned out to be the main problematic of German Idealism: 'Subject-Object Identity'. In Hegel's system, the union between the 'Knower and the Known' was itself guaranteed by the right application of Divine -- aka Dialectical -- Logic; the mystical 'Rosicrucian wedding' had finally been consummated.18a

 

Empiricist theories arrived at vaguely analogous conclusions, but from a different direction expressed in markedly different language.19

 

Either way -- as Hegel himself pointed out -- each and every tributary of Traditional Philosophy sooner or later found its way back to the Ideal home from whence it came:

 

"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. Bold added.]20

 

Nevertheless, the serious problems this approach to knowledge brought in its train re-surfaced in DM, only now in a much more problematic form. Dialecticians claim that their system somehow reverses the above process of cognition in order to neutralise its obvious Idealist implications (albeit after the "mystical shell" has been removed, leaving only its "rational kernel" -- I quote Marx here, not to criticise him, but to criticise the use to which his words have been put; I take a different view of this famous phrase in Essay Nine Part One). Hence, they claim their theory has been rotated through 180º, and stands proudly on its own two very materialist feet -- hardly noticing that the Ideal backside is now where the materialist head used to be.

 

That helps explain all the DM hot air.

 

However, sub-logical, mystical chicanery like this wasn't designed to operate in reverse, which is why Idealist forward gear always remains engaged.

 

As Essay Two has shown, dialecticians proceed as if it were quite natural, if not totally uncontroversial, to extrapolate from thoughts, words or concepts to the derivation of necessary and universal truths about nature and society. Not only do they proceed as if they think their laws and a priori theories are applicable to all of reality, for all of time, they have to talk that way.

 

And we can now see why that is so: it comes with the territory.

 

The Dialectical Macrocosm and the Dialectical Microcosm are two sides of the same class-compromised coin. That is because this entire world-view was inherited (in a modified form) from Aristocratic Greek thinkers who designed it, and who fully intended it should work this way. These "ruling-ideas" now rule 'radical' heads because, to DM-fans, they seem so natural, so quintessentially 'philosophical'. If DM-theorists didn't think and talk like this, they wouldn't have a 'genuine philosophy' to call their own, certainly not one that Lenin claimed was the logical culmination of the 'very best elements' of 'western thought':

 

"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. Paragraphs merged.]20a

 

This is, of course, the intellectual equivalent of wanting to 'hang with the cool kids'.

 

It is also one of the main reasons HCDs reject my Essays. They don't contain any philosophical gobbledygook.

 

If abstractions provide the 'metaphysical glue' that supposedly binds knowledge together (or which enables the formation of knowledge, as Lenin argued), what else could these inherited features of Greek Thought imply about Nature except that it is just one Big Idea?

 

Or, more accurately: what else could these doctrines imply but that Hegel Junior (DM) looks just like his dad, Hegel?

 

"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." [Lenin (1961), p.208. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

"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." [Ibid., p.171. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Perhaps we can now understand why Lenin argued this way: DM is the Ideal Offspring of an equally Ideal Family. And this family tree stretches right back into the mists of ruling-class time.

 

Of course, dialecticians are among the first to tell us that their abstractions have been derived from nature and society via some sort of 'law of cognition', and have been "tested in practice":

 

"Testing by facts or by practice respectively, is to be found here in each step of the analysis." [Lenin (1961), p.318.]

 

The above considerations cast serious doubt on the validity of Lenin's claims.

 

Nevertheless, these infant doubts will mature quite alarmingly as the Essays posted at this site unfold.

 

Collective Error Over General Terms

 

Nominalism aside, traditional theories concerning the origin and nature of Abstract General Ideas all shared the belief that 'the mind' was somehow capable of ascending from particulars (given in experience) to the general (not so given) -- or, perhaps sometimes the other way round (depending on which myth-maker was telling the tale), unifying particulars under an 'objective law', or doing so by means of something called an "apprehension". This all supposedly took place as 'the mind' progressively disregarded the unique ("accidental", "inessential") properties and predicates (these two now irreversibly run together) belonging to particulars, or as it searched for wider connections between them in order to 'uncover' hidden 'essences' that allegedly underpinned 'appearances'.21

 

That alone should have made those who at least claimed to be materialists pause for more than just a moment. What on earth could be so materialist about a theory that has to withdraw from the material into the Ideal in such an irresponsible and peremptory manner in order to advance knowledge?

 

The pay-off, so we have been led to believe, is the greater 'explanatory power' this approach supposedly brought in its train. But, if the latter is gained at the expense of populating the world with nearly as many abstractions as there are material bodies, and which turn out to be more real than those material bodies themselves -- since these 'abstractions' are required in order to explain the nature and behaviour of objects and process in this world, not the other way round -- one wonders what sort of victory has been won over Idealism.

 

[A 'victory' of the same order, perhaps, as that of the Church over 'sin', 'crime' and war? Or, that of Social Democracy over Capitalism? These questions become all the more ironic when it is recalled that dialectics is incapable of explaining anything whatsoever (as we will see as the Essays at this site unfold), a disconcerting outcome only further compounded by the additional fact that Dialectical Marxism has also been an abject, long-term failure. These two features, of course, aren't unconnected.]

 

In fact, the reverse appears to be far more likely. Indeed, this entire approach is clearly based on the ancient belief that material reality is insufficient of itself, that it isn't fully real but is fundamentally dependent on something that isn't itself material, alongside the mystical belief that nature requires a background  superstructure of Ideal Principles to make it work, let alone allow it to exist in the first place.

 

The result is that DM-theorists (would you credit it!) believe that matter is far too crude and lifeless to do anything on its own (recall: Engels actually called matter an "abstraction"!) -- even though this appears to be all that nature has to offer. Apparently nature also requires a 'Logic' to make it tick or even give it 'substance'. Well, we all know which religion is based on a belief in The Logos.

 

Spoiler Alert: apparently, the vast majority are, in one form or another. We have already seen this from the Gospel of John:

 

"In the beginning was the Word [λόγος -- logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind." [John 1:1-4. Bold added.]

 

And that helps explain why Lenin could declare that he preferred intelligent Idealism to "crude materialism". He hadn't fully shaken off the regressive influence of Christian Mysticism (I explain why, here):

 

"Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism. Dialectical idealism instead of intelligent; (sic) metaphysical, undeveloped, dead, crude, rigid instead of stupid." [Lenin (1961), p.274.]

 

[It is quite clear from this that Lenin meant "Dialectical idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than crude materialism...".]22

 

By nailing their colours to this (ruling-class) mast, DM-fans have unfortunately placed themselves on the side of the 'Gods'.

 

Diodorus Siculus is, I think, the originator of that trope:

 

"When the Gigantes about Pallene chose to begin war against the immortals, Herakles fought on the side of the gods, and slaying many of the Sons of Ge [or Gaia, the 'Earth Goddess' -- RL] he received the highest approbation. For Zeus gave the name of Olympian only to those gods who had fought by his side, in order that the courageous, by being adorned by so honourable a title, might be distinguished by this designation from the coward; and of those who were born of mortal women he considered only Dionysos and Herakles worthy of this name." [Diodorus Siculus, Library of History 4.15.1.]

 

This metaphor alludes to an image painted by Hesiod in his Theogony (links at the end) and later by Plato in his dialogue, Sophist, which is one of his more profound surviving works. Indeed, that, book alongside two of his other dialogues -- Theaetetus (Plato (1997e)) and Parmenides (Plato (1997d)) --, are, collectively, the principle source of much of subsequent Idealism.

 

The excerpt from the Sophist reproduced below revolves around a conversation between an Eleatic "Stranger" (who appears to be a follower of Parmenides) and a character called "Theaetetus":

 

"Stranger. We are far from having exhausted the more exact thinkers who treat of being and not-being. But let us be content to leave them, and proceed to view those who speak less precisely; and we shall find as the result of all, that the nature of being is quite as difficult to comprehend as that of not-being....

 

"...There appears to be a sort of war of Giants and Gods going on amongst them; they are fighting with one another about the nature of essence.

 

"Theaetetus. How is that?

 

"Stranger. Some of them are dragging down all things from heaven and from the unseen to earth, and they literally grasp in their hands rocks and trees; of these they lay hold, and obstinately maintain, that the things only which can be touched or handled have being or essence, because they define being and body as one, and if any one else says that what is not a body exists they altogether despise him, and will hear of nothing but body.

 

"Theaetetus. I have often met with such men, and terrible fellows they are.

 

"Stranger. And that is the reason why their opponents cautiously defend themselves from above, out of an unseen world, mightily contending that true essence consists of certain intelligible and incorporeal ideas; the bodies of the materialists, which by them are maintained to be the very truth, they break up into little bits by their arguments, and affirm them to be, not essence, but generation and motion. Between the two armies, Theaetetus, there is always an endless conflict raging concerning these matters.

 

"Theaetetus. True.

 

"Stranger. Let us ask each party in turn, to give an account of that which they call essence.

 

"Theaetetus. How shall we get it out of them?

 

"Stranger. With those who make being to consist in ideas, there will be less difficulty, for they are civil people enough; but there will be very great difficulty, or rather an absolute impossibility, in getting an opinion out of those who drag everything down to matter. Shall I tell you what we must do?

 

"Theaetetus. What?

 

"Stranger. Let us, if we can, really improve them; but if this is not possible, let us imagine them to be better than they are, and more willing to answer in accordance with the rules of argument, and then their opinion will be more worth having; for that which better men acknowledge has more weight than that which is acknowledged by inferior men. Moreover we are no respecters of persons, but seekers after truth." [Plato (1997b), pp.267-68, 246a-246d. I have used the on-line version here.]

 

[As noted earlier, this battle is described in Hesiod's Theogony (lines 675-715), available here.]

 

Again, from this it is quite clear that Marxist Dialecticians are far closer to the Idealist 'Gods' than they are to the Materialist Giants!23

 

That helps explain why DM-theorists try to tell us that matter is just an 'abstraction'.

 

Abstractionism: Have We Come To Bury It Or Praise It?

 

You Have Nothing To Lose But Your Confusion

 

Unfortunately, unlike Capitalism, Abstractionism has attracted few effective gravediggers, and those it has managed to accrue have proved to be even less successful at overthrowing the latter than workers have been at toppling the former. That is largely because these would-be-undertakers were (and still are) far more content simply to point out the psychological impossibility of the entire abstractionist project than they are to expose its (fatal) logical flaws --, or, indeed, reveal its ideologically-compromised origin and motivating force.

 

So, this batch of "ruling ideas" lives on to rule another day -- and another DM-fan.

 

More recently, however, Abstractionism has been subjected to a series of destructive critiques, but this ancient theory still lumbers on. That in turn is partly because many of those who avowedly came to bury it -- unlike Mark Antony -- ended up praising it by emulating it. In so doing they only succeeded in  breathing new life into its moribund cadaver by inventing several brand new 'essentialist' theories of their own.24

 

Public Criteria Vs Private Gain

 

As we have seen, and as seems reasonably clear, an ability to talk about cats and dogs, for instance, depends on a prior grasp (in use) of the relevant general terms (otherwise, plainly, nothing would have been said about them!). This fact needs no explanation -- nor could one be provided that hadn't already employed the very phrases that required explaining in the first place, i.e., general terms.25

 

If the above observations have anything going for them, it perhaps lies in its re-direction of our attention away from hidden, internal processes and privately executed abilities -- allegedly possessed by each 'lone abstractor' -- back toward socially-acquired, publicly performed and checkable skills and capacities, in a endeavour not only to understand discourse, but generality in language and socially-constituted knowledge, into the bargain.

 

Naturally, only anti-materialists will cavil at this point.

 

Which is why emphasis has been placed in these Essays on our use of ordinary language in the public domain. That is also why serious questions have been raised about the ability we are all supposed to possess of being able to squeeze abstract epistemological juice from such desiccated discourse in the 'privacy of our heads'.

 

In contrast once more, the approach adopted at this site would mean that human cognition is open to view, subject to public scrutiny -- unlike the mysterious, inner rituals and goings on that supposedly underlie the 'process of abstraction' --, which, it is worth recalling, fails to deliver even what had been advertised for it.26

 

Particular Problems With 'Dialectical Generality'

 

It has been argued at length both above and in Part One that instead of beginning with the general as a way of advancing toward knowledge of the particular, the DM-'process' of abstraction in fact turns general words into the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars, which then succeeds in going precisely nowhere. This not only distorts the way language actually functions -- destroying the capacity it has for saying anything at all --, it stalls the 'dialectical circuit' before it can even be tested in practice.

 

Much of the rest of this Part of Essay Three is aimed at elaborating upon, and then substantiating, these sweeping allegations.

 

Anti-Abstractionism

 

Mental 'Strip-Tease'?

 

[This used to form part of Note 24.]

 

While we are at it, what exactly are the common features that can be abstracted from (or even attributed to) all shades of, say, the colour blue? Or, the notes that can be played on the bagpipes? Or, the taste of different wines? Or, the feel of silk, wool and nylon? Or, even the smell of roses?

 

[Of course, in several of the above the use of other general terms might come into play -- but they, too, will attract similar questions. For instance, an appeal might be made to certain tastes or aromas that can be detected in different wines -- for example, "a fruity bouquet". But, once more, what are the common features of "fruity bouquets"? One answer to that question might involve a reference to the taste or smell of Lychees, for instance. But, what are the common features of the taste/smell of Lychees? And so on, ad infinitem. I owe this point to Geach (1957).]

 

One of the more bizarre aspects of the mysterious process of abstraction (which is in fact little different from the method adopted, or advocated, by many dialecticians --, and which is rarely noticed) involves the drawing of an unintended analogy between the properties an object is supposed to have and clothing. Hence, in one version of the 'abstractive process', as each outwardly unique distinguishing feature of a given particular is 'peeled off' (or "disregarded") by 'the intellect', the true (general) form of the 'object' in question is supposed (gradually) to come into view. But, of course, that uniquely takes place in the 'mind's eye', far from public access and any form of check. This 'mental disrobing ceremony' is, naturally, accessible only to those who are capable of 'metaphysically undressing' things like tables, chairs, cats, dogs, electrons and galaxies. Indeed, 'conceptual strippers' like this must be capable of deciding what has to be true not only of all the many examples of 'the same sort' (for instance, all cats) that haven't been ideally skinned in this way (by anyone, and not just themselves), but also of the many more (cats in this case) that no human will ever experience. All this based solely on a brief 'internal' inspection of a severely limited sample of such ghostly spectres.

 

However, and this should hardly need pointing out, the properties of objects don't resemble apparel in any meaningful sense. If this had ever been an apt analogy then these 'metaphysical garments' (i.e., an object's properties) would be just as shareable as items of clothing. On that basis, dogs should be expected to be able to sing like larks, kettles recite the Gettysburg Address and dialecticians accept criticism.

 

Nevertheless, the analogy with clothing is as inapt as any could be. For one thing, it is surely abnormal to imagine that clothing is causally related to -- or physically connected with -- the body of its wearer. Yet, the properties of an object are linked (in many different ways) to its constitution. Colour, for example, is intimately connected with the atomic and molecular structure of the item in question -- and, of course, the light source -- to name just a few of the relevant background circumstances. For another, while clothing may perhaps serve to hinder the appreciation of underlying form, an object's properties advertise it, they don't mask it. They are, so to speak, 'metaphysically transparent'.

 

That is a point Hegel himself tried to make in his own obscure way. [On that, see below.] The opposite idea, of course, undermines the 'necessary connection' that is supposed to exists between an 'essence' and its 'accidents' or 'external properties', threatening the 'rationality' of nature and society, discussed earlier (here and here). It would also represent a dagger aimed at the heart of Lenin's attempt to appropriate Hegel's response to Hume's criticisms of Rationalist theories of causation.

 

Moreover, and perhaps more absurdly, properties can't be peeled away from objects as part of a hidden, obscure internal 'disrobing ceremony'. Or, if they can, one would expect that the nature of each underlying 'object' should become clearer in all its naked glory as the proceedings unfold. In fact, we find the opposite turns out to be the case as each 'metaphysical burlesque show' proceeds.

 

If, for instance, a cat were to lose too many of its properties as it is 'mentally skinned', it would surely cease to be a cat. Clearly, this philosophically-flayed 'ex-cat' (now 'non-cat') would serve rather badly in any subsequent generalisation based upon it. Indeed, strip the average moggie of enough of its properties and it would be impossible to decide whether or not the rest of the abstractive process had been carried out on the same mammal, the same animal, or, for that matter, on the same physical object -- let alone the 'same idea' of any one of the latter.

 

Furthermore, in the absence of any rules governing the 'process of abstraction' (such as where to begin, which feature to abstract first, which second -- which never) one person's abstractions would surely differ from those of the rest of the abstractive community.

 

For instance, while Abstractor A might begin by ignoring (or attributing) Tiddles's engaging purr, B might start with her four legs, and C might commence with her shape. But, do we (should they?) ignore (or attribute) first, second or third a cat's colour, fur, fleas, whiskers, tail, intestines, age, number...?

 

And, as part of the 'abstractive process', which number relevant to each cat is to be put to one side (or attributed to it): the one cat, its two ears, its four legs, its dozen or so whiskers, or the several trillion atoms of which it is composed...?

 

And where do we stop? Are we to whittle-away (or attribute to this unfortunate mammal) its position on the mat, the last dozen or so things it did, its current relation to the Crab Nebula..., or what?

 

Perhaps even worse: this analogy pictures properties as objects that bodies or processes possess. For example, it is only possible to abstract colour if it is treated as an individual in its own right, rather like an organ or a limb, which can be removed from a given body. This is just another untoward consequence of the 'process of abstraction' itself, whereby the general nouns we use to express properties are transformed into the Proper Names of Abstract Particulars (as we saw in Part One). On one version of this 'process' we end up removing a series of Abstract Particulars -- not properties, as originally intended -- from an increasing ghostly spectre. Or, on another, we end up with the reverse of this: attributing such a set to what amounts to an Idealist Apparition.

 

It could be objected that none of the above really matter; the results will be the same anyhow. But, how do we know? Is there a rule book to guide us? Is there an abstractionists' algorithm we all unconsciously 'follow', programmed into each of us at birth (or is it at conception?) -- a set of tried-and-tested instructions? Are we all instinctive abstractors or do we need training? And, if there are metaphysical disrobing protocols determining the order in which Tiddles's qualities are to be paired away (or attributed to it), so that this process might be executed correctly by the entire coterie of Intrepid Abstractors, when and where did they learn them? On the other hand, if there are no such protocols, how might each aspiring abstractor know if he or she had abstracted Tiddles the same way each time?

 

Do we all keep a secret Abstractor's Diary? An internal log of what we did the last time we thought about that cat -- or any cat?

 

Furthermore, even if there were clear -- let alone plausible -- answers to such questions, another annoying 'difficulty' would block our path: it would still be impossible for anyone to check a single one of these abstractions to see if they tallied with those produced by anyone else -- or, for that matter, ascertain whether or not they had 'abstracted' them correctly. In fact, the word "correct" can gain no grip in such circumstances -- since, as Wittgenstein pointed out, whatever seems correct will be correct. But for something to be correct it needs to be checked against a standard that isn't dependent on the subjective impression of the one judging. But, there is no such standard, here. Given this theory, everyone's notion of a cat will be private to that individual abstractor. They have no way of checking their abstractions with those of anyone else, which means, of course, there can be no standard, 'abstract cat' to serve as an exemplar, and hence nothing by means of which anyone's abstractions can be deemed 'correct'.

 

Later on in this Essay I will be pointing out the following in relation to Andrew Sayer's and Bertell Ollman's 'theory of abstraction':

 

Just like Ollman, Andrew Sayer's attempt to characterise this 'process' reveals that he also thinks this is an individualised, if not a private skill in relation to which we all seem to be 'natural' experts:

 

"The sense in which the term ['abstract' -- RL] is used here is different [from its ordinary use -- RL]; an abstract concept, or an abstraction, isolates in thought a one-sided or partial aspect of an object. [In a footnote, Sayer adds 'My use of "abstract" and "concrete" is, I think, equivalent to Marx's' (p.277, note 3).]" [Sayer (1992), p.87. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

As was the case with Ollman -- and, indeed, everyone else who has written about this obscure 'process' --, we aren't told how anyone manages to do this, still less why it doesn't result in the construction of a 'private language'.

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself has pointed out:

 

"What, then, is distinctive about Marx's abstractions? To begin with, it should be clear that Marx's abstractions do not and cannot diverge completely from the abstractions of other thinkers both then and now. There has to be a lot of overlap. Otherwise, he would have constructed what philosophers call a 'private language,' and any communication between him and the rest of us would be impossible. How close Marx came to fall into this abyss and what can be done to repair some of the damage already done are questions I hope to deal with in a later work...." [Ollman (2003), p.63. Bold emphases added.]

 

Well, it remains to be seen if Professor Ollman can solve a problem that has baffled everyone else for centuries -- that is, of those who have even so much as acknowledged it exists!

 

It is to Ollman's considerable credit, therefore, that he is at least aware of it.

 

In fact, Ollman is the very first dialectician I have encountered (in nigh on thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'!

 

[Be this as it may, I have devoted Essay Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for more details.]

 

Of course, none of this fancy footwork would be necessary if Ollman recognised that even though Marx gestured in its direction, HM doesn't need this obscure 'process' (that is, where any sense can be made of it) -- or, indeed, if he acknowledged that Marx's emphasis on the social nature of knowledge and language completely undercuts abstractionism.

 

Naturally, this means that this process can't form the basis of 'objective' science (and that remains the case even if we were to substitute "idealisation" for "abstraction"). Plainly, that is because:

 

(i) No one has access to the results of anyone else's 'mental machinations' (or idealisations);

 

(ii) There appear to be no rules governing the production of these abstractions --, or, indeed, governing the entire 'process' itself; and, as we have just seen,

 

(iii) There is no standard of right, here.

 

By way of contrast, in the real world, agreement is reached by the use of publicly accessible general terms already in common use, words that were in the vernacular long before a single one of us was a twinkle in our (hypothetical) ancestral abstractors' eye....

 

One obvious reply to the above might be that we abstract by concentrating only on those factors that are "relevant" to the enquiry in hand. But, what are these "relevant factors"? And who decides? How might they be specified before an enquiry has begun? Surely, in order to know what is "relevant" to the process of, say, 'abstracting a cat', one would already have to know how to use the general term "cat", otherwise the accuracy of any supposed 'abstractions' that might emerge at the end would rightly be called into question, let alone those concerning the competency of the abstractor him/herself. If he/she doesn't already know how to use the word "cat", what faith can be put in anything they subsequently 'abstract', or even report about such 'abstractions'? On the other hand, if an intrepid abstractor already knows how to use the word "cat" (in order to abstract the 'right' object), one mind very well wonder what the point is of abstracting that furry mammal in the first place? This would seem to be about as pointless as checking to see if you know your own name by looking it up in a telephone directory -- or on Google.

 

Again, in response to this it could be argued that past experience guides us. But, how does it manage to do this? Can any of us recall being asked/made to study the heroic deeds of intrepid abstractors in the days of yore? Does past experience transform itself into a sort of inner personal Microsoft Office Assistant -- or these days, Cortana --  if we hit the right internal 'Help' key? But, what kind of explanation would that be of the supposedly intelligent 'process of abstraction' if it requires a guiding hand? And where on earth did this 'inner PA' receive its training?

 

Once more, it could be objected that in the investigation of, say, the biology of cats, it is important for scientists to find out what these animals have in common with other members of the same species, family, order, class or phylum, so that relevant generalisations might be made about them. In order to do that, zoologists disregard (or attribute) certain features common to cats and concentrate on those they share with other mammals, vertebrates, living things, and so on --, be they morphological, ecological, behavioural, genetic or biochemical (etc.). Clearly, in each case, and at each stage, greater abstraction is required.

 

Or, so a response might proceed...

 

Nevertheless, if this is what "abstraction" means, it is surely synonymous with a publicly accessible and checkable set of behavioural/linguistic skills and performances, similar in all but name to description, analysis and classification (etc.). It has nothing to do with a private, internal 'skill' we are all supposed to possess, namely being able to polish rough and ready particulars into smooth general concepts. If abstraction were an occult (i.e., hidden), inner process then, as noted above, no two people would agree over the general idea of, say, a mammal, let alone a cat. All would have their own idiosyncratic inner, but intrinsically un-shareable and un-checkable, exemplars.

 

Again, one response to this could be that while we might use language to facilitate the transition from a private to the public arena, that doesn't impugn our abstractive skills. Unfortunately, that objection introduces topics discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three, so readers are directed there for more details.

 

Nevertheless, a few additional comments are worth making in reply.

 

Human beings have generally managed to agree on what animals they consider belong to, say, the Class Mammalia -- i.e., human beings who possess the relevant education and linguistic skill set. We might even join with Hilary Putnam and call this a legitimate division of linguistic labour (although, without implying an acceptance of his other ideas about 'essentialism'). However, this specific phenomenon doesn't include humans who are supposed to possess unspecified abstractive powers. So, for example, trainee zoologists don't gain their qualifications by demonstrating to their teachers an expertise in performing an 'inner dissection' of 'mental images', 'ideas', or 'concepts'. The same is true of practising zoologists. On the contrary, they will have had to demonstrate their mastery of highly specialised techniques, relevant vocabularies and current theory, which skills they are required to exhibit publicly, showing they are capable of applying them in appropriate circumstances and in a manner specified by, and consistent with, the professional standards and expectations laid down by their teachers, their adjudicators or their professions.

 

The widespread illusion that we are all experts in the 'internal dismemberment' of images, ideas or concepts is motivated by further confusion, which also originated in Traditional Philosophy: the belief that the intelligent use of general words depends on some sort of internal, naming, representing or processing ceremony. In effect, this amounts once more to the belief that, despite appearances to the contrary, all words are names, and that meaning something involves the 'inner acts of meaning', 'naming' or 'representing' -- matching words to images, sensations, processes or ideas in the 'mind'.

 

At work here is another inappropriate set of metaphors which in turn trade on the idea that the mind functions like an inner theatre, TV or computer screen -- now refined perhaps with an analogy drawn against Microsoft Windows, whereby 'the mind' is taken to be "modular" (operated, no doubt, by the internal analogue of a computer geek, skilled at 'clicking' on the right inner 'icon' at the right moment, filing items in the right folders, setting-up efficient 'networks', etc., etc.). Given this family of metaphors, understanding is clearly modelled on the way we ordinarily look at pictures, but now applied to 'internal representations', with each of us employing the equivalent of an 'inner eye' to appraise whatever fortune sends our way.

 

[This set of inappropriate metaphors underpins Pixar's recent film, Inside Out.]

 

These tropes are a faint echo of Plato's theory of knowledge by acquaintance and his Allegory of the Cave. [Of course, Plato's tropes were intended to make a different set of points, but his focus on vision is the relevant factor for present purposes.] As we have seen, more recent, bourgeois versions of this family of ideas regard knowledge as a passive processing of 'representations' in the 'mind' of each socially-isolated, lone abstractor (even if this approach to knowledge was subsequently augmented by a gesture toward practice in DM-Epistemology). Nevertheless, this view of knowledge acquisition pictured it as a form of acquaintance. However, the reasoning here is little more complex than this: we all know our friends by personal acquaintance, or by sight, so we all know the contents of our minds by (internal) acquaintance or (inner) sight.

 

This once again reminds us why Traditional Theorists argued that knowledge is a relation between the Knower and the Known. In this case, we are the Knowers and our own (internal) ideas are the Known.

 

[There is more on this in Essays Three Part Four, Thirteen Part Three (here and here), and Six. This was also briefly discussed earlier.]

 

Naturally, if this hidden, privatised abstractive skill had ever been of any importance in the history of science, we should expect to find evidence of it in the work of the vast majority, if not every single, scientist.

 

Alas there is none.

 

Even an attempt to investigate the truth of that particular assertion (i.e., that there is no evidence that scientists privately dismembered ideas in their heads/'minds') would automatically throw into doubt the role that abstraction is supposed to play in science. That is because such an inquiry would have to examine physical evidence -- i.e., the notes, documents and writings of these scientists, not their brains. Indeed, any recognition that what is relevant here are the publicly available, written records of these individuals, the equipment and techniques they used (etc.), coupled with their social surroundings, circumstances and ideological commitments -- as opposed to the 'contents of their heads' -- would confirm that in their practical activity, no historian of any intelligence actually believes that abstract ideas (understood in the traditional sense, as the products of 'inner acts of intellection') underpin scientific knowledge, whatever theoretical or philosophical views they might otherwise entertain, or rehearse in public.

 

Here, as elsewhere, actions speak louder than abstractions.

 

[Again, several examples (drawn from the work of a handful of 'great' scientists), which disprove the contention that they were/are abstractors extraordinaire will be given in Essay Thirteen Part Two. (See also below.)]

 

But, Don't Scientists Use Abstraction?

 

Admittedly, this way of putting things might fail to align with the opinion that scientists in general have about their own methods; nevertheless their practical activity belies whatever post hoc rationalisations they might advance concerning the nature of their work.

 

Except in certain areas of obsolete psychology, when they endeavour to advance scientific knowledge, scientists neither report on the results of their own internal processing of 'mental entities', nor on the contents of their heads. And, they certainly don't require the same with respect to the heads of others in their field, nor anywhere else for that matter. On the contrary, as far as their work is concerned they develop novel hypotheses (at the very least) by extending the use and application of publicly accessible scientific words, techniques and, in many cases, established theories. And, this they do by employing, among other things, analogy, metaphor and the innovative use of general terms already in the scientific lexicon or the public domain. All of this is often allied with the construction of tailor-made models and specifically targeted "thought experiments" (which also employ publicly accessible words), augmented by the use of other rhetorical devices. [On this, see the references listed here.]

 

[Naturally, this doesn't mean that these factors aren't related to the development of the forces and relations of production. However, as noted above, those issues will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Despite this, it could be objected that the above comments thoroughly misrepresent the way that knowledge advances. In fact (but edited down), the objection might proceed as follows: scientists attempt to discover the underlying nature of objects and processes in the world in order to reveal the laws and regularities (etc.) that govern the universe. Indeed, DM-fans often quote this famous passage from Volume Three of Das Kapital:

 

"But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956; Marx (1998), p.804.]

 

[I have commented on this passage in Essay Twelve Part One; readers are directed there for more details. Also see my debunking of the 'appearance'-'reality'/'essence' distinction, below.]

 

To take just one example: let us suppose that an animal's 'essential' nature -- allegedly arrived at by the use of increasingly refined abstract terms -- turns out to be its DNA (or, if not that, it is something else). Another, but more general example could be the way that Physicists extend knowledge by developing increasingly 'abstract theories' expressed in, or by, complex mathematical formulae, models or causal laws.

 

But, that can't be correct. Scientists manifestly didn't discover DNA by the use of greater or more refined abstractions. They used the theoretical and practical advances achieved by both previous and contemporaneous researchers -- that, in turn, weren't arrived at by 'abstraction' --, and which they augment with their own ideas, expressed not in 'mental imagery' but in a public language. The latter might also have been developed by other teams of scientists working within related research traditions, to which might be added the results of other innovative experiments in the same or connected fields. All of these were, and still are, based on cooperative work, thought and observation -- frequently assisted by the use of models and yet more 'thought experiments'; again: all of which are expressed in a public language, subsequently published, appraised and checked in the open.

 

None of these (save, perhaps, those 'thought experiments') even remotely looks like a 'mental process', still less an example of 'abstraction' carried out in a private, 'inner' sanctum. And, as far as 'thought experiments' are concerned, these, too, are typically rehearsed in the public domain and in a public language. Any alleged 'mental processes' that accompany them are likewise advanced by an innovative use of language -- but, with the volume turned down.

 

['Thought experiments' will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two; some of the relevant literature devoted to them has been listed in Essay Four.]

 

Of course, it could be argued that no one supposes that abstraction is "done in the head", or that scientists don't use a publicly accessible language in relation to their work. It might therefore be maintained that scientists still endeavour to form abstract ideas based on their use of such resources, and in this way.

 

Again, this isn't what scientists actually do. The above is a myth put about by professional philosophers and amateur metaphysicians.

 

These somewhat controversial claims (i.e., those relating to what scientists do, as opposed to what they or others say they do, or what they or others imagine they do, or, indeed, what certain philosophers think they do) will be substantiated (and illustrated) more fully in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

This is quite apart from the fact that abstractionists themselves tell us that abstraction is "done in the head"; many examples of this were listed in Part One (here, here and here), as well as elsewhere in this Essay (for example, here and here).

 

[I will say more about science and scientists later on -- in the following section: "Appearance and Reality".]

 

Anti-Abstractionists

 

Berkeley And Frege

 

[This also used to be part of Note 24.]

 

Nevertheless, anti-abstractionist thought is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first major thinker to subject it to detailed criticism (outside the Medieval Nominalist tradition, that is) was Berkeley.

 

[Berkeley's arguments against abstract ideas are summarised in Dancy (1987), pp.24-40; a different approach linked to Berkeley's Philosophy of Mathematics can be found in Jesseph (1993), pp.9-43. On Berkeley in general, see here; his case against abstraction is expertly summarised here.]

 

Berkeley's arguments in this regard revolve around the observation that it is impossible to form an abstract idea of anything whatsoever since that would require whatever it is supposed to be possessing and not to possessing several (incompatible) properties at one and the same time. He asks whether anyone:

 

"…has, or can attain to have, an idea that shall correspond with the description that is here given of the general idea of a triangle, which is, neither oblique, nor rectangle, equilateral, equicrural (Isosceles -- RL), nor scalenon (Scalene -- RL), but all and none of these at once." [Berkeley (1975b), p.81.]

 

Based on his own inability to form such abstract ideas, Berkeley casts doubt on the capacity of others to do the opposite:

 

"I can imagine a man with two heads or the upper parts of a man joined to the body of a horse. I can consider the hand, the eye, the nose, each by itself abstracted or separated from the rest of the body. But then whatever hand or eye I imagine, it must have some particular shape and colour. Likewise the idea of a man that I frame to myself, must be either of a white, or a black, or a tawny, a straight, or a crooked, a tall or low, or a middle-sized man. I cannot by any effort of thought conceive the abstract idea above described [of a general man]. And it is equally impossible for me to form the abstract idea of motion distinct from the body moving, and which is neither swift nor slow, curvilinear nor rectilinear; and the like may be said of all other abstract general ideas whatsoever." [Ibid., p.78.]

 

A somewhat similar argument can be found in Frege (in his review of Husserl's Philosophy of Arithmetic):

 

"Abstraction

 

"The author himself finds a difficulty about the abstraction that provides the general concept of the collective. He says (p.84):

 

'The peculiarities of the individual contents that are collected...must be completely abstracted from, but at the same time their connection must be maintained. This seems to involve a difficulty, if not a psychological impossibility. If we take the abstraction seriously, then the individual contents vanish, and so, naturally, does their collective unity, instead of remaining behind as a conceptual extract. The solution is obvious. To abstract from something simply means: not to attend to it specially.' 

 

"The kernel of this explanation is obviously to be found in the word 'specially'. Inattention is a very strong lye; it must be applied at not too great a concentration, so that everything does not dissolve, and likewise not too dilute, so that it effects a sufficient change in the things. Thus it is a question of getting the right degree of dilution; this is difficult to manage, and I at any rate have never succeeded....

 

"[Detaching our attention] is particularly effective. We attend less to a property, and it disappears. By making one characteristic after another disappear, we get more and more abstract concepts…. Inattention is a most efficacious logical faculty; presumably this accounts for the absentmindedness of professors. Suppose there are a black and a white cat sitting side by side before us. We stop attending to their colour, and they become colourless, but are still sitting side by side. We stop attending to their posture, and they are no longer sitting (though they have not assumed another posture), but each one is still in its place. We stop attending to position; they cease to have place, but still remain different. In this way, perhaps, we obtain from each one of them a general concept of Cat. By continual application of this procedure, we obtain from each object a more and more bloodless phantom. Finally we thus obtain from each object a something wholly deprived of content; but the something obtained from one object is different from the something obtained from another object -– though it is not easy to say how." [Frege (1980), pp.84-85. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Frege's sharpest criticisms were reserved for those of his day who imagined that mathematical concepts could be created, or perhaps apprehended, by a 'process of abstraction' --, in particular, the views of the 19th century mathematician and Mystical Platonist, Georg Cantor, as well as his followers:

 

"We may begin here by making a general observation. When negroes from the heart of Africa see a telescope or pocket watch for the first time, they are inclined to credit these things with the most astounding magical properties. Many mathematicians react to philosophical expressions in a similar manner. I am thinking in particular here of the following: 'define' (Brahma), 'reflect' (Vishnu), 'abstract' (Shiva). The names of the Indian gods in brackets are meant to indicate the kind of magical effects the expressions are supposed to have. If, for instance, you find that some property of a thing bothers you, you abstract from it. But if you want to call a halt to this process of destruction so that the properties you want to see retained should not be obliterated in the process, you reflect on these properties. If, finally, you feel sorely the lack of certain properties in the thing, you bestow them on it by definition. In your possession of these miraculous powers you are not far removed from the Almighty. The significance this would have is practically beyond measure. Think of how these powers could be put to use in the classroom: the teacher has a good-natured but lazy and stupid pupil. He will then abstract from the laziness and the stupidity, reflecting all the while on the good-naturedness. Then by means of a definition he will confer on him the properties of keenness and intelligence. Of course so far people have confined themselves to mathematics. The following dialogue may serve an illustration:

 

'Mathematician: The sign √(−1) has the property of yielding -1 when squared.

 

'Layman: This pattern of printer's ink on paper? I can't see any trace of this property. Perhaps it has been discovered with the aid of a microscope or by some chemical means?

 

'Mathematician: It can't be arrived at by any process of sense perception. And of course it isn't produced by the mere printer's ink either; a magic incantation, called a definition, has first to be pronounced over it.

 

'Layman: Ah, now I understand. You expressed yourself badly. You mean that a definition is used to stipulate that this pattern is a sign for something with those properties.

 

'Mathematician: Not at all! It is a sign, but it doesn't designate or mean anything. It itself has these properties, precisely in virtue of the definition.

 

'Layman: What extraordinary people you mathematicians are, and no mistake! You don't bother at all about the properties a thing actually has, but imagine that in their stead you can bestow a property on it by a definition -– a property that the thing in its innocence doesn't dream of -– and now you investigate the property and believe in that way you can accomplish the most extraordinary things!'

 

"This illustrates the might of the mathematical Brahma. In Cantor it is Shiva and Vishnu who receive the greater honour. Faced with a cage of mice, mathematicians react differently when the number of them is in question. Some…include in the number the mice just as they are, down to the last hair; others -– and I may surely count Cantor amongst them -– find it out of place that hairs should form part of the number and so abstract from them. They find in mice a whole host of things besides which are out of place in number and are unworthy to be included in it. Nothing simpler: one abstracts from the whole lot. Indeed when you get down to it everything in the mice is out of place: the beadiness of their eyes no less than the length of their tails and the sharpness of their teeth. So one abstracts from the nature of the mice. But from their nature as what is not said; so one abstracts presumably from all their properties, even from those in virtue of which we call them mice, even from those in virtue of which we call them animals, three-dimensional beings -– properties which distinguish them, for instance, from the number 2.

 

"Cantor demands more: to arrive at cardinal numbers, we are required to abstract from the order in which they are given. What is to be understood by this? Well, if at a certain moment we compare the positions of the mice, we see that of any two one is further to the north than the other, or that both are to the same distance to the north. The same applies to east and west and above and below. But this is not all: if we compare the mice in respect of their ages, we find likewise that of any two one is older than the other or that both have the same age. We can go on and compare them in respect of their length, both with and without their tails, in respect of the pitch of their squeaks, their weight, their muscular strength, and in many other respects besides. All these relations generate an order. We shall surely not go astray if we take it that this is what Cantor calls the order in which things are given. So we are meant to abstract from this order too. Now surely many people will say 'But we have already abstracted from their being in space; so ipso facto we have already abstracted from north and south, from difference in their lengths. We have already abstracted from the ages of the animals, and so ipso facto from one's being older than another. So why does special mention also have to be made of order?'

 

"Well, Cantor also defines what he calls an ordinal type; and in order to arrive at this, we have, so he tells us, to stop short of abstracting from the order in which the things are given. So presumably this will be possible too, though only with Vishnu's help. We can hardly dispense with this in other cases too. For the moment let us stay with the cardinal numbers.

 

"So let us get a number of men together and ask them to exert themselves to the utmost in abstracting from the nature of the pencil and the order in which its elements are given. After we have allowed them sufficient time for this difficult task, we ask the first 'What general concept…have you arrived at?' Non-mathematician that he is, he answers 'Pure Being.' The second thinks rather 'Pure nothingness', the third -– I suspect a pupil of Cantor's -– 'The cardinal number one.' A fourth is perhaps left with the woeful feeling that everything has evaporated, a fifth -– surely a pupil of Cantor's -– hears an inner voice whispering that graphite and wood, the constituents of the pencil, are 'constitutive elements', and so arrives at the general concept called the cardinal number two. Now why shouldn't one man come out with the answer and the other with another? Whether in fact Cantor's definitions have the sharpness and precision their author boasts of is accordingly doubtful to me. But perhaps we got such varying replies because it was a pencil we carried out our experiment with. It may be said 'But a pencil isn't a set.' Why not? Well then, let us look at the moon. 'The moon is not a set either!' What a pity! The cardinal number one would be only too happy to come into existence at any place and at any time, and the moon seemed the very thing to assist at the birth. Well then, let us take a heap of sand. Oh dear, there's someone already trying to separate the grains. 'You are surely not going to try and count then all! That is strictly forbidden! You have to arrive at the number by a single act of abstraction....' 'But in order to be able to abstract from the nature of a grain of sand, I must surely first have looked at it, grasped it, come to know it!' 'That's quite unnecessary. What would happen to the infinite cardinals in that case? By the time you had looked at the last grain, you would be bound to have forgotten the first ones. I must emphasise once more that you are meant to arrive at the number by a single act of abstraction. Of course for that you need the help of supernatural powers. Surely you don't imagine you can bring it off by ordinary abstraction. When you look at books, some in quarto, some in octavo, some thick, some thin, some in Gothic type and some in Roman and you abstract from these properties which distinguish them, and thus arrive at, say, the concept "book", this, when you come down to it, is no great feat. Allow me to clarify for you the difference between ordinary abstraction and the higher, supernatural, kind.

 

"With ordinary abstraction we start out by comparing objects a, b, c, and find that they agree in many properties but differ in others. We abstract from the latter and arrive at a concept Φ under which a and b and c all fall. Now this concept has neither the properties abstracted from nor those common to a, b and c. The concept "book", for instance, no more consists of printed sheets -- although the individual books we started by comparing do consist of such -- than the concept "female mammal" bears young or suckles them with milk secreted from its glands; for it has no glands. Things are quite different with supernatural abstraction. Here we have, for instance, a heap of sand...." [Frege (1979), pp.69-71. Unfortunately, the manuscript breaks off at this point. Italic emphases in the original. Links added; reformatted to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Frege's parody of Cantor illustrates just how ridiculous it is to suppose that abstraction can create mathematical concepts out of mere signs, or, indeed, out of anything. [Frege's comments find echo in the thoughts of Fraser Cowley, quoted elsewhere in this Essay. Frege's criticisms of Cantor are summarised in Dauben (1979), pp.220-25. A more detailed discussion of these matters can be found in Dummett (1991). On the mystical provenance of much of Cantor's work, see Aczel (2000).]

 

The Young Marx And Engels

 

[This material also used to appear in Note 24.]

 

There are several remarkably similar passages to the above in Marx's 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. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

However, in a passage that has already been quoted in Part One -- from The Holy Family, and which reveals Marx and Engels at the height of their philosophical powers -- we find the following acute observations (notice a similar reference to Vishnu we found in Frege above):

 

"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 as a mystery-monger.... ["Szeliga" was the pseudonym of a young Hegelian, Franz Zychlinski -- RL]

 

"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.54-60. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

This quotation almost completely undermines the DM-theory of abstraction. It is a pity that both Marx and Engels later seem to have lost the philosophical clarity of thought they displayed in this passage. In many respects it anticipates Frege's and Wittgenstein's approach to abstract ideas, even if phrased in a completely different philosophical idiom.

 

It is worth underlining the fact that this passage exposes the sham nature of the 'dialectical circuit', not just Hegel's use of it. As Marx and Engels argue:

 

"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…. Indeed, it is impossible to arrive at the opposite of an abstraction without relinquishing the abstraction….

 

"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.'" [Ibid., pp.58-60. Bold emphases added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Marx and Engels are quite clear here: no amount of "careful empirical" checking can turn a creature of abstraction back into its concrete alter ego.

 

It is also important to note that Marx and Engels also anticipated the approach adopted in these Essays -- that abstract general ideas are the result of a syntactically inept re-interpretation of ordinary general terms (outlined in detail in Part One of this Essay). As they themselves point out:

 

"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.'" [Ibid., p.60. Bold emphases added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Here, Marx and Engels quite rightly argue that it is the distortion of language that gives life to metaphysical 'abstractions'. Indeed, they underlined this approach to ordinary language (and the distortion it suffers in the hands of Philosophers) in The German Ideology (partially quoted earlier):

 

"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 added; italic emphases in the original.]

 

The highlighted section of the last paragraph above might well serve as the guiding principle of this site. Indeed, Wittgenstein himself could almost have written it.

 

In his perceptive analysis of Metaphysics, the late Fraser Cowley had this to say about 'abstract universals':

 

"In the traditional doctrine, according to which one can both refer to universals and predicate them of particulars and other universals, a general term like 'lion' would signify or designate a universal. This universal would be predicated of a particular in such a sentence as 'This is a lion' and referred to in such a sentence as 'The lion is a creature of the cat family.' The lion being carnivorous and subject, I believe, to melancholy in captivity, that universal would be carnivorous and subject to melancholy. And just as one can point to an animal and say 'this kind' or 'this species', so one should be able to point to one and say 'This universal comes from East Africa'…. But clearly 'universal' is not admissible in such contexts, and this shows that the logical syntax is quite different from that of 'kind,' 'sort,' 'type,' 'species,' and so on….

 

"Many people have tried in their metaphysical performances consciously or half consciously to avoid such nonsense by referring, for example, to the universal which is allegedly predicated in 'This beast is a lion,' by the expression 'lionhood.' Many similar malformations occur in philosophical writings -– doghood, thinghood, eventhood, and so on. They are formed by mistaken analogy with manhood, womanhood, girlhood, widowhood, bachelorhood, and of course not with neighborhood, hardihood, falsehood, likelihood, or Little Red Riding Hood." [Cowley (1991), p.92. Italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Linguistic monstrosities like those above -- and worse -- litter the pages of books and articles written by Traditional Philosophers in their Ancient, Medieval and Modern incarnations. For example, in a recent book on the nature of 'Time' we find the following rather bizarre phrases:

 

"Any property partly composed of presentness, apart from the two properties of pastness and futurity is not an A-property." [Smith (1993), p.6.]

 

Here we note with Frege that the powers of certain Asian deities have been channelled in order to conjure out of thin air the required temporal 'properties': "pastness", "presentness" and "futurity." There are countless pages of material like this in contemporary metaphysical literature, and not just those concerning the nature of 'Time'.

 

[Sustained criticisms of abstract general concepts and ideas (as well as essentialism) can be found in the following: Hallett (1984, 1988, 1991) and Kennick (1972). A more general refutation of abstractionism is outlined in Geach (1957). A broad attack on the nature of abstract objects can be found in Teichmann (1992). See also here.]

 

Appearance And Reality

 

As noted above several times, 'abstractionism' is intimately connected with the ancient distinction between 'appearance' and 'reality. It is to that traditional dogma that I now turn.

 

The Underlying 'Essence' Of 'Being'

 

A cursory glance through the first half of this Essay might prompt the objection that it ignores the fact that scientists actually use the method of abstraction, and have done so for many centuries in their search for knowledge. Hence, according to this widely held belief (certainly among DM-fans), they do so in order to discover -- or 'uncover' -- the underlying, "objective" nature of 'reality'.

 

[The first part of this counter-claim was in fact examined earlier, here and here; both halves will be re-examined in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two, to be published in 2025.]

 

However, the above objection invites closer consideration of two further ideas that DM-theorists have also inherited from Traditional Metaphysics:

 

(i) The distinction between "appearance" and "reality", and,

 

(ii) The difference between "essence" and "accident", "necessity" and "contingency".

 

Once again dialecticians have (unwisely) bought into these ancient, aristocratic distinctions, meekly accepting what was originally a class-motivated dogma that 'appearances' aren't 'fully real', and that 'abstraction' (or 'thought') is required if we are to penetrate the outer 'shell' of the former in order to gain knowledge of the underlying 'rational order', represented by the latter. Earlier we saw Plato set the stage for this:

 

"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 thus: "[It is] invisible and otherwise imperceptible; that, in fact, which thinking has for its object." (Cornford (1997), p.192.)]

 

In short, their adoption of this approach seemed to hold out the possibility that intrepid DM-theorists could thereby comprehend 'appearances', objects, and processes more fully, scientifically and philosophically.

 

Ironically, as we will discover, that is the exact opposite of what actually emerged at the end of this (futile) exercise.

 

In this connection, TAR advanced the following series of points:

 

"The important thing about a Marxist understanding of the distinction between the appearance of things and their essence is twofold: 1) by delving beneath the mass of surface phenomena, it is possible to see the essential relations governing historical change -– thus beneath the appearance of a free and fair market transaction it is possible to see the exploitative relations of class society, but, 2) this does not mean that surface appearances can simply be dismissed as ephemeral events of no consequence. In revealing the essential relations in society, it is also possible to explain more fully than before why they appear in a form different to their real nature. To explain, for instance, why it is that the exploitative class relations at the point of production appear as the exchange of 'a fair day's work for a fair day's pay' in the polished surface of the labour market." [Rees (1998), p.187. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Others agreed:

 

"But, as Marx said, 'all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided' and the sun appears to go round the earth but in reality, as we all now know, it is the other way round." [John Molyneux, quoted from here. Accessed 09/02/2018. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"As we know appearances can be deceptive. Each day the sun appears to circumnavigate the earth, when the reality is that the earth travels around the sun. We therefore need to penetrate the veil of appearance in order to reveal the reality that is disguised within. That is the reason for Marxist economic theory. As the Soviet economist Rubin explained, 'Marx approaches human society by starting with things, and going through labour. He starts with things which are visible and moves to phenomena which have to be revealed by means of scientific research...'. We must see beyond the appearance of things to the real relationships." [Rob Sewell, quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Link and bold emphases added.]

 

"It is because of this very sequence of the successive grades of scientific knowledge that science can evolve. Knowledge advances by the road of contradiction. It is accompanied by errors, by deviations from the direct attainment of its object. The external appearance of things for a time hides the true content of objects from the eyes of the seeker. Thus when first we look at merchant-capitalist society the relations between people are hidden by the relations between things. But the practical mastery of the material world tears away the covering of appearance from the objects of investigation, rectifies error by transforming into actuality the true objective content of knowledge, and purges science of the illusory. Scientific experience, which is handed over by one generation to the next, and is each time enriched by some new scientific discovery, is all the time increasing the possibility of an adequate knowledge of the objective world. The experience of industrial practice, the traditions of revolution, scientific discoveries, the store of ideas, are handed over from one epoch to the next and ever more deeply disclose the infinite possibilities of human thought. In the unlimited advance of human history, at every new step of its development there is a fuller, richer, more diverse revelation of the absolute content of the material world, which content, though confined within historically limited ideas, is nevertheless absolute truth. The progressive advance of human thought, the law-governed connection of its different stages, were guessed in an inspired manner by Hegel, who criticized both the metaphysical view of knowledge (which admits only the eternity of truths), and relativism. In his Phenomenology of Spirit he characterizes the succession of philosophic systems in the following words:

 

'The more the ordinary mind takes the opposition between true and false to be fixed, the more is it accustomed to expect either agreement or contradiction with a given philosophical system, and only to see the one or the other in any explanation about such a system. It does not conceive the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive evolution of truth; rather it sees only contradiction in that variety. The bud disappears when the blossom breaks through, and we might say that the former is refuted by the latter; in the same way when the fruit comes, the blossom may be explained to be a false form of the plant’s existence, for the fruit appears as its true nature in place of the blossom. These stages are not merely differentiated; they supplant one another as being incompatible with one another. But the ceaseless activity of their own inherent nature makes them at the same time moments of an organic unity, where they not merely do not contradict one another, but where one is as necessary as the other; and this equal necessity of all moments constitutes from the outset the life of the whole.' [We might note in passing the batty nature of Hegel's analogy between budding plants and the advance of knowledge -- RL. (Bold added.)]

 

"But, for Hegel, the inevitable development which gives rise to these different ideas and successive systems arises from a merely logical unfolding, so that they are revealed finally as only moments of the 'absolute idea.' For dialectical materialists the unity of relative and absolute truth is based on the limitless development of social-historic practice, in which the systematic connections of the material world are disclosed." [Shirokov (1937), pp.123-24. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases alone added. Shirokov is here quoting Hegel (1977), p.2, although that published version differs slightly from the version over at the Marxist Internet Archive (to which I have linked) and the version quoted by Shirokov.]

 

"But this tendency in capitalism goes even further. The fetishistic character of economic forms, the reification of all human relations, the constant expansion and extension of the division of labour which subjects the process of production to an abstract, rational analysis, without regard to the human potentialities and abilities of the immediate producers, all these things transform the phenomena of society and with them the way in which they are perceived. In this way arise the 'isolated' facts, 'isolated' complexes of facts, separate, specialist disciplines (economics, law, etc.) whose very appearance seems to have done much to pave the way for such scientific methods. It thus appears extraordinarily 'scientific' to think out the tendencies implicit in the facts themselves and to promote this activity to the status of science.

 

"By contrast, in the teeth of all these isolated and isolating facts and partial systems, dialectics insists on the concrete unity of the hole. Yet although it exposes these appearances for the illusions they are -- albeit illusions necessarily engendered by capitalism in this 'scientific' atmosphere it still gives the impression of being an arbitrary construction." [Lukacs (1971), p.6. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"[Appearance is a] philosophical term concerned with the relativity of perception and the difference between immediately given sensual knowledge and conceptual knowledge of the lawfulness of things. Appearance is the dialectic of Form and Content, the recognition of the difference between them. In Hegel's Logic, Appearance is the second grade of Essence, moving beyond the recognition of the outer form of a thing to its lawful, inner character or content. Appearance is a modification of Being which includes Essence but is transient and unstable, because it is still partial or abstractly one-sided." [Glossary of terms at the Marxist Internet Archive. Emphases and link in the original.]

 

"Now, if you've never thought critically about how a capitalist economy works or never had the benefit of reading Marx, then all of that probably sounds like some pretty crazy sh*t. About as crazy as telling Joshua of the Hebrew Bible that the Sun is the stationary centre of the universe (or our solar system) and the Earth revolves around it. Only a madman would think such a thing. It is obvious that the Sun rises in East and sets in the West. But, in reality, the Sun rising and falling around the Earth is merely the form of appearance that the Sun takes from our immediate experience. If we took the Sun simply as it appears, never thought critically about its movements or lack thereof, then we would never be able to apprehend the nature of our solar system.

 

"Critical thought demands abstraction. We must organize the manifold objects of reality in the thought realm of our minds, which means we have to provisionally distance ourselves from the complex, concrete appearances and start with the most simple and abstract category that captures the phenomena we are attempting to understand. Hence, Marx starts with the commodity in the abstract." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added; spelling modified to conform with UK English.]

 

[I have quoted several more comments like the above -- from the likes of Herbert Marcuse, George Novack, Mao and others -- in the next main sub-section.]

 

But, according to Rees, who clearly agrees with Rubin, Shirokov, Lukacs, and Hegel (perhaps only in this respect), a commitment to scientific knowledge also involves the belief that:

 

"There is a deeper reality, but it must be able to account for the contradiction between it and the way it appears." [Rees (1998), p.188. Bold emphases added.]

 

This is apparently where abstraction supposedly enters into the picture (no pun intended!):

 

"[K]nowledge requires an active process of abstraction capable of discriminating between essence and appearance." [Ibid., p.189. Bold added.]

 

"Critical thought demands abstraction. We must organize the manifold objects of reality in the thought realm of our minds, which means we have to provisionally distance ourselves from the complex, concrete appearances and start with the most simple and abstract category that captures the phenomena we are attempting to understand." [Quoted from here. Bold emphases added.]

 

However, abstraction can't simply operate by itself:

 

"[A]bstraction can be a method of seeing reality more clearly…[but] consciousness must issue in practical activity, which will furnish the proof of whether or not our conceptions of the world are accurate…. In conscious activity, human beings overcome the abstractness of thought by integrating it with concrete, immediate reality in all its complexity -– this is the moment when we see whether thought really does assume an objective form, whether it really can create the world, or whether it has mistaken the nature of reality and is therefore unable to enter the historical chain as an objective force which, in the case of the class struggle, seizes the masses…. [F]or Lenin practice overcomes the distinction between subjective and objective and the gap between essence and appearance." [Rees (1998), pp.190-91. Bold emphasis added. Paragraphs merged.]

 

It is far from clear what much of the above actually means (and that isn't just because of the obscure language used), but for present purposes attention will be confined to the supposed 'contradiction' between "appearance" and "deeper reality" (as both of those terms apply to the natural and the social world).

 

["Social contradictions" will also be examined below, but in much more detail Essay Eight Parts Two and Three.]

 

Does Reality 'Contradict' Appearances?

 

'Essence' and 'Appearance'

 

Do 'appearances' motivate false beliefs? Dialecticians appear to be rather confused about this (irony intended).

 

Maybe that is being a little too hasty...

 

In which case, it might be both wise and helpful to back-track a little and examine in slightly more detail what Hegel and several DM-theorists have to say about the connection between 'appearance' and 'reality'/'essence'/'actuality', as well as any link their ideas might have with the nature and origin of false beliefs.

 

Hegel

 

Unfortunately, finding a clear, connected (or even consistent!) set of ideas in Hegel is like looking for a tiny thread of straw-coloured cotton buried somewhere in a dozen haystacks while wearing sunglasses at dusk on an overcast day!

 

Nevertheless, here are some of the things he did say:

 

"The view that the objects of immediate consciousness, which constitute the body of experience, are mere appearances (phenomena) was another important result of the Kantian philosophy. Common Sense, that mixture of sense and understanding, believes the objects of which it has knowledge to be severally independent and self-supporting; and when it becomes evident that they tend towards and limit one another, the interdependence of one upon another is reckoned something foreign to them and to their true nature. The very opposite is the truth. The things immediately known are mere appearances -- in other words, the ground of their being is not in themselves but in something else. But then comes the important step of defining what this something else is. According to Kant, the things that we know about are to us appearances only, and we can never know their essential nature, which belongs to another world we cannot approach. Plain minds have not unreasonably taken exception to this subjective idealism, with its reduction of the facts of consciousness to a purely personal world, created by ourselves alone. For the true statement of the case is rather as follows. The things of which we have direct consciousness are mere phenomena, not for us only, but in their own nature; and the true and proper case of these things, finite as they are, is to have their existence founded not in themselves but in the universal divine Idea. This view of things, it is true, is as idealist as Kant's; but in contradistinction to the subjective idealism of the Critical philosophy should be termed absolute idealism. Absolute idealism, however, though it is far in advance of vulgar realism, is by no means merely restricted to philosophy. It lies at the root of all religion; for religion too believes the actual world we see, the sum total of existence, to be created and governed by God." [Hegel (1975, §45, p.73. Links in the original. Bold added.]

 

"The Essence must appear or shine forth. Its shining or reflection in it is the suspension and translation of it to immediacy, which, while as reflection-into-self it is matter or subsistence, is also form, reflection-on-something-else, a subsistence which sets itself aside. To show or shine is the characteristic by which essence is distinguished from Being -- by which it is essence; and it is this show which, when it is developed, shows itself, and is Appearance. Essence accordingly is not something beyond or behind appearance, but -- just because it is the essence which exists -- the existence is Appearance (Forth-shining).

 

"Existence stated explicitly in its contradiction is Appearance. But appearance (forth-showing) is not to be confused with a mere show (shining). Show is the proximate truth of Being or immediacy. The immediate, instead of being, as we suppose, something independent, resting on its own self, is a mere show, and as such it is packed or summed up under the simplicity of the immanent essence. The essence is, in the first place, the sum total of the showing itself, shining in itself (inwardly); but, far from abiding in this inwardness, it comes as a ground forward into existence; and this existence being grounded not in itself, but on something else, is just appearance. In our imagination we ordinarily combine with the term appearance or phenomenon the conception of an indefinite congeries of things existing, the being of which is purely relative, and which consequently do not rest on a foundation of their own, but are esteemed only as passing stages. But in this conception it is no less implied that essence does not linger behind or beyond appearance. Rather it is, we may say, the infinite kindness which lets its own show freely issue into immediacy, and graciously allows it the joy of existence. The appearance which is thus created does not stand on its own feet, and has its being not in itself but in something else. God who is the essence, when he lends existence to the passing stages of his own show in himself, may be described as the goodness that creates the world: but he is also the power above it, and the righteousness, which manifests the merely phenomenal character of the content of this existing world, whenever it tries to exist in independence." [Ibid., §131, pp.186-87. Links in the original; bold emphases added.]

 

That shows Hegel held these peculiar ideas for theological reasons. Even so, what he says above (e.g., "essence does not linger behind or beyond appearance") appears to contradict what we read below (no pun intended). I'll return to consider that possible interpretation presently.  

 

"Essence that issues from being seems to confront it as an opposite; this immediate being is, in the first instance, the unessential. But secondly, it is more than merely unessential being, it is essenceless being, it is illusory being [Illusory Being, Schein = Appearance -- RL.] Thirdly, this illusory being is not something external to or other than essence; on the contrary, it is essence's own illusory being. The showing of this illusory being within essence itself is reflection." [Hegel (1999), §818, p.394. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

This clearly implies that the opposite of 'essence' is 'illusory being' (Schein = appearance or illusion), and that can only mean it is in 'some sense false', or misleading. It is hard to see how anything illusory can fail to motivate a false belief --, or, at the very least, for it fail to be misleading.

 

Michael Inwood adds the following thoughts concerning Hegel's ideas in this area:

 

"Essence shows or appears (scheint), but itself remains hidden behind a veil of Schein.... This suggests the idea of a world that is the reverse of the world of appearances, in which everything that has, in our world, a certain quality, has, in the world in itself, the opposite quality." [Inwood (1992), pp.39-40. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Once more, it isn't easy to see how those considerations wouldn't motivate a few false beliefs.

 

However, Hegel's theory is rather more complex than the above brief remarks might suggest. It isn't as if 'essence' is 'true' and appearance is 'false', to put it at its crudest. The relation between the two is much more involved (if that, too, is even the correct word to use here!). The background is again supplied for us by Inwood:

 

"Kant held that objects with which we are acquainted are appearances. So too does Hegel, or at least he regards some of them as appearances. But he does not mean the same by 'appearance' as Kant does. Kant distinguishes carefully between the words 'appearance' (Erscheinung) and 'illusion' (Schein). All phenomenal objects are appearances, in the sense that they are merely the way in which reality as it is in itself appears to us. But we can, nevertheless, distinguish between the illusory and the real within our experience, within the realm of appearances:

 

'When I say that the intuition of outer objects and the self-intuition of the mind alike represent the objects and the mind, in space and time, as they affect our sense, that is, as they appear. I do not mean to say that these objects are a mere illusion. For in an appearance the objects, nay even the properties that we ascribe to them, are always regarded as something actually given. Since, however, in the relation of the given object to the subject, such properties depend on the mode of intuition of the subject, this object as appearance is to be distinguished from itself as object in itself.' [Inwood is here quoting Kant (1998), B69, p.190, although he has employed a different translation.]

 

"Hegel, too, distinguishes between Schein and Erscheinung, but not in the same way that Kant does. The word Schein, for example, does not mean only 'illusion', but has connotations, over and above those which Kant ascribed to it, in virtue of its association with the verb scheinen, 'to shine'. Moreover, unlike Kant, Hegel calls physical entities Schein at least as often as he characterises them as Erscheinungen, though this is due in part to his liking for the pun on Sein ['to be' -- RL]. The important point, however, is that when Hegel claims that objects are appearances he does not mean what Kant meant:

 

'The objects of which we are immediately aware are mere appearances, i.e.,... they have the ground of their being not in themselves but in something else. But then the further question is how this something else is determined. According to the Kantian philosophy the things of which we are aware are only appearances for us, and their in-itself (Ansich) remains for us an inaccessible beyond.... The true situation is in fact this, that the things of which we are immediately aware are mere appearances not only for us but in themselves (an sich) and that the very essence (Bestimmung) of things which are thereby finite is to have the ground of their being not in themselves but in the universal divine idea. This conception of things is then also to be denoted as idealism, but, in contrast to that subjective idealism of the critical philosophy, as absolute idealism. This absolute idealism, although it goes beyond ordinary, realistic consciousness, is yet in substance so little to be regarded as the property of philosophy that it rather forms the basis of all religious consciousness, in so far as this too regards the sum of everything that exists (da ist), in general the world we see, as created and governed by God.' [Hegel (1975, §45, p.73. (This is a different translation of the same passage quoted earlier.) Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"We might infer from this passage that everything except the logical idea itself is an appearance." [Inwood (2002), pp.408-09. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Inwood then points out that even this might be to misinterpret Hegel. Hegel sometimes distinguishes objects from appearances, although it isn't easy to see how he can do so consistently (no irony intended). Anyone interested can read Inwood's valiant attempt over the next few pages of his book to make some sort of coherent sense out of what Hegel was trying to say -- Inwood (2002), pp.409-16. In the end he is forced to conclude that for Hegel everything in the phenomenal world is an appearance, but grounded in "the logical idea", and hence in 'God'. [Ibid., p.413.]

 

In that case, comments like this are highly misleading:

 

"Hegel rejects the idea that reality is something which underlies appearance. He says that reality is manifest in appearance. Characteristics that we normally think only apply to our representations of reality actually apply to reality itself." [Sorensen (2003), p.304. Italics in the original.]

 

If 'reality' were indeed structured as Sorensen thinks Hegel believed, why would we need philosophers to bring us the good news and open our eyes? It is precisely because a philosopher like Hegel thought that such 'gems of wisdom' were hidden from those who rely only on appearances (and who are thereby deceived into thinking that that is all there is) that he argued the way he did. [Not that it is quite as easy as Sorensen seems to think determining what, if anything, Hegel was banging on about!] Hence, even for Sorensen's version of Hegel, 'reality' lies behind 'appearances', although it has to 'shine' through (whatever that means) for thinkers like him, but not the rest of us, to see. No one before Hegel noticed all this 'shining', so for everyone else who thinks like this, appearances act more like a veil than a torchlight or a window.

 

Anyway, as we are about to see, Dialectical Marxists have greatly 'simplified' this picture (in fact they have hacked it to pieces in order to try to make some sort of sense of the tangled mess Hegel left them with!), which means it is more than a moot point whether they have been faithful to the distinction between 'appearance' and 'essence'/'reality', at least as Hegel seemed to conceived it. [Irony intended.]

 

Admittedly, it could be argued that 'Marxist-dialectics' must stand or fall on its own merits. Indeed so, but since Marxists use Hegel as some sort of philosophical Zimmer Frame, it isn't easy to see how it can stand on its own two (appearances of) feet.

 

 

Figure Three: The Support Hegel Appears To Offer

DM-Theorists

 

It is to what they have to say that I now turn.

 

Dialectical Marxists

 

Despite the fact that dialecticians assert that 'appearance' and 'reality' (or, 'essence' and 'appearance', etc.) contradict each other, they seldom tell us with any clarity what they mean by this, nor do they illustrate this alleged clash with many examples drawn from the natural world. [Those that supposedly arise in society will be examined presently.] Nevertheless, even if DM-theorists were to provide their readers with a full and complete explanation -- and one blessed with what would amount to uncharacteristic clarity -- it would still be difficult to see what the 'contradiction' here (between 'appearance' and 'reality') could actually be.26a

 

Admittedly, in addition to the passages quoted in an earlier sub-section, Marxist dialecticians have made some attempt to explain what they intend, albeit in terms not yet blessed with the sort of clarity mentioned above. Here, for example, is Herbert Marcuse expressing the overall idea:

 

"Under the rule of formal logic, the notion of the conflict between essence and appearance is expendable if not meaningless; the material content is neutralised; the principle of identity is separated from the principle of contradiction (contradictions are the fault of incorrect thinking); final causes are removed from the logical order....

 

"Existing as the living contradiction between essence and appearance, the objects of thought are of that 'inner negativity' which is the specific quality of their concept. The dialectical definition defines the movement of things from that which they are not to that which they are. The development of contradictory elements, which determines the structure of its object, also determines the structure of dialectical thought. The object of dialectical logic is neither the abstract, general form of objectivity, nor the abstract, general form of thought -- nor the data of immediate experience. Dialectical logic undoes the abstractions of formal logic and of transcendental philosophy, but it also denies the concreteness of immediate experience. To the extent to which this experience comes to rest with the things as they appear and happen to be, it is a limited and even false experience. It attains its truth if it has freed itself from the deceptive objectivity which conceals the factors behind the facts -- that is, if it understands its world as a historical universe, in which the established facts are the work of the historical practice of man. This practice (intellectual and material) is the reality in the data of experience; it is also the reality which dialectical logic comprehends." [Marcuse (1968), pp.114-17. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"The doctrine of Essence seeks to liberate knowledge from the worship of 'observable facts' and from the scientific common sense that imposes this worship.... The real field of knowledge is not the given fact about things as they are, but the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form. Knowledge deals with appearances in order to get beyond them. 'Everything, it is said, has an essence, that is, things really are not what they immediately show themselves. There is therefore something more to be done than merely rove from one quality to another and merely to advance from one qualitative to quantitative, and vice versa: there is a permanence in things, and that permanent is in the first instance their Essence.' The knowledge that appearance and essence do not jibe is the beginning of truth. The mark of dialectical thinking is the ability to distinguish the essential from the apparent process of reality and to grasp their relation." [Marcuse (1973), pp.145-46. Marcuse is here quoting Hegel (1975), p.163, §112. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions employed at this site. Minor typo corrected.]

 

[We will see in Essay Eight Part Three how wide of the mark the first paragraph of the above passage actually is (i.e., concerning the lack of any connection between 'the principle of identity' and 'the principle of contradiction'). Marcuse's risible attempt to criticise Wittgenstein, Analytic Philosophy and the ordinary language of working people (in One Dimensional Man) has already been taken apart in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

[HCD = High Church Dialectician; LCD = Low Church Dialectician; FL = Formal Logic.]

 

The above passage, of course, says more-or-less the same as John Rees (quoted earlier), but with just enough obscure jargon thrown in to confuse the uninitiated.

 

Even so, the reader will no doubt have noticed that an HCD of Marcuse's undoubted stature quotes not one single FL-text (or source) in support of this rather contentious allegation:

 

"Under the rule of formal logic, the notion of the conflict between essence and appearance is expendable if not meaningless...." [Ibid.]

 

Marcuse must know that there are many ancient and modern logicians and philosophers who have in fact adopted this way of talking about the distinction between 'essence' and 'appearance', even though FL itself doesn't seem to enter into any of it directly. On the other hand, if it does, we still await proof that "Under the rule of formal logic, the notion of the conflict between essence and appearance is expendable if not meaningless." Marcuse certainly offered his readers none.

 

However, this comment reveals a depth of confusion one normally associates with the logically-challenged LCD-wing of Dialectical Muddle:

 

"...the principle of identity is separated from the principle of contradiction (contradictions are the fault of incorrect thinking)...", [Ibid.]

 

But it seems HCD-honchos like Marcuse are just as clueless about FL as their lowly LCD-brethren. Indeed, as we have seen (here, for example), Hegel committed several of his own egregious logical blunders, upon which insecure base Marcuse unwisely predicated much of his thought.

 

This is quite apart from the fact that contradictions aren't the result of "incorrect thinking". As Marcuse should have known, had be bothered to stay awake in any logic lectures he took as a student, they can be, and often are, the result of one or more of the following:

 

(a) A genuine disagreement between two individuals;

 

(b) An argument aimed at reductio ad absurdum;

 

(c) A mismatch between theory and observation in the sciences (more on that in Essay Thirteen Part Two);

 

(d) An illustrative example in logic (where no mistakes have been made); or,

 

(e) An indirect proof

 

[(b) and (e) are, of course, variants of one another.]

 

In which case, many contradictions can be, and are, the result of an application of 'correct' thinking. One imagines Marcuse has simply confused falsehood with invalidity -- a 'rooky mistake'.

 

Finally, it is worth pointing out that Marcuse admits the following:

 

"To the extent to which this experience comes to rest with the things as they appear and happen to be, it is a limited and even false experience." [Ibid. Bold added.]

 

So he, too, holds that appearances can be, and (often?) are, false.

 

George Novack also weighed in on this with his very own brazen example of dogmatic apriorism:

 

"What distinguishes essence or essential reality from mere appearance? A thing is truly real if it is necessary, if its appearance truly corresponds to its essence, and only so long as it proves itself to be necessary. Hegel, being the most consistent idealist, sought the source of this necessity in the movement of the universal mind, in the Absolute Idea. Materialists, on the other hand, locate the roots of necessity in the objective world, in the material conditions and conflicting forces which create, sustain and destroy all things. But, from the purely logical standpoint, both schools of philosophy agree in connecting reality with necessity.

 

"Something acquires reality because the necessary conditions for its production and reproduction are objectively present and operative. It becomes more or less real in accordance with the changes in the external and internal circumstances of its development. It remains truly real only so long and insofar as it is necessary under the given conditions. Then, as conditions change, it loses its necessity and its reality and dissolves into mere appearance. Let us consider a few illustrations of this process, this contradiction between essence and appearance, resulting from the different forms assumed by matter in its motion. In the production of the plant, seed, bud, flower and fruit are all equally necessary phases or forms of its existence. Taken separately, each by itself, they are all equally real, equally necessary, equally rational phases of the plant's development. [We see here that Novack isn't ashamed to cite Hegel's batty idea about blossoms, which we met earlier -- RL.]

 

"Yet each in turn becomes supplanted by the other and thereby becomes no less unnecessary and non-real. Each phase of the plant's manifestation appears as a reality and then is transformed in the course of development into an unreality or an appearance. This movement, triadic in this particular case, from unreality into reality and then back again to unreality, constitutes the essence, the inner movement behind all appearance. Appearance cannot be understood without an understanding of this process. It is this that determines whether any appearance in nature, society or in the mind is rational or non-rational." [Novack (1971), pp.86-87. Bold emphasis added. Several paragraphs merged.]

 

It isn't my immediate concern to criticise this (almost classic) example of mystical Natürphilosophie (however, it will be in a later Essay), but merely to note:

 

(a) The fanciful way that the term "contradiction" has been employed (without justification) by Novack; and,

 

(b) His idiosyncratic use of the word "appearance".

 

Exactly why a seed turning into a plant makes the seed an "appearance" Novack failed to say (except he regards Hegel's word on such matters as Gospel Truth), but why any of this is a 'contradiction' he left entirely mysterious. Of course, this might be a faint echo of an idea Hegel floated that anything that is transient or which lacks permanence is an 'appearance'. [Inwood (2002), pp.408-13.] Indeed, in relation to that it is worth asking how Novack knows that something is real only if its "appearance" coincides with its "essence" (always assuming that there are such things as 'essences', to begin with). That is, over and above merely accepting Hegel's diktat, to that effect, once more.

 

This peculiar belief is in turn connected with the idea that some things appear for a short time and then disappear or fade away, like someone who:

 

(i) Has a part in a play (as in "NN, now appearing in Death of a Salesman on Broadway");

 

(ii) Occupies an official position for a year;

 

(iii) Testifies in court (as in "NM is appearing for the prosecution");

 

(iv) Is famous only for fifteen minutes; or, maybe even when we,

 

(v) Describe how someone looks -- as in "Her appearance gave her away; she was clearly terrified", or "His appearance changes from day-to-day; he is a master of disguise."

 

In one or other of the above senses we might, at a stretch, say that a plant or a flower is "an appearance". At a stretch that is certainly a valid (if trivial) point, but it is still unclear what it has to do with 'essence' and 'appearance'. Originally, the point here was, of course, to contrast the transient existence of certain phenomenal objects and processes compared with those that are perhaps more permanent. For example, the play mentioned above might be on Broadway for a season, but Broadway will still be there after the play is well gone. So, it looks like 'essence' is somehow connected with permanence, 'appearance' with transience (no pun intended). And yet, do these more permanent features of the world have the 'ground of their being' within themselves (to paraphrase Hegel), or do they not also 'rely on God'? If the latter is the case, then even 'essences' are also 'appearances'. Will Broadway still be there in five billion years time? Will plants and seeds? I think there is room to suppose they might not. So, it seems they too are 'appearances', if we were to accept Hegel's defective typology.

 

Furthermore, what connection is there between 'appearances' that might deceive us -- like the way that sticks appear to bend when partially immersed in water or the way the Sun appears to rise in the East and fall in the West -- and the sort of 'appearances' mentioned in the previous paragraph, those associated with a lack of permanence? Presumably sticks will still look bent when partially immersed in water in ten million years' time, just as the apparent motion of the Sun will remain the same as long as the Sun, the Earth and human beings still exist. Given the considerations mentioned above, these 'appearances' are also really 'essences' since they look like permanent features of the natural world, which means, of course, that this distinction itself has now become absurd.

 

[I will return to consider such phenomena again, below, here, here and here.]

 

Be this as it may, how any of the above is connected with 'contradiction' is still far from clear. It might be time to contrast it with Novack's earlier warning:

 

"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.]

 

And yet much of what Novack has to say about "appearance" and "reality" (and, indeed, about 'dialectical logic' in general) is based on "abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source"; and the same can be said about the other DM-fans quoted at this site on such topics.

 

HCD theorist, Hyman Cohen, took great exception to 'crude' interpretations of the 'contradiction' between 'essence' and 'appearance' (as part of his response to an article written by one, Mark Mussachia):

 

"Yet, if one consults a textbook of Marxist philosophy (Fundamentals of Marxist-Leninist Philosophy, Progress Publishers, Moscow -- this appears to be Konstantinov (1974), pp.188-92 (no pun intended!) -- RL), it is plain to see that essence and appearance are depicted as complex categories, correlated categories whose oppositeness does not constitute a total negation, one of the other, but a unity; they are characterised through one another." [Cohen (1980), p.120. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

Well, this is what we find in the above textbook (the reader will no doubt notice the dogmatic nature of what is about to follow, and should ask herself if it, too, has been "validated by appeal to abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source", and note the dearth of evidence offered in support):

 

"Essence and appearance are correlated categories. They are characterised thorough one another. Whereas essence is something general, appearance is individual, expressing only an element of essence; whereas essence is something profound and intrinsic, appearance is external, yet richer and more colourful; whereas essence is something stable and necessary, appearance is more transient, changeable and accidental. The difference between the essential and the unessential is not absolute but relative. For instance, at one time it was considered that the essential property of the chemical element was its atomic weigh. Later this essential property turned out to be the charge of the atomic nucleus. The property of atomic weight did not cease to be essential, however. It is still essential in the first approximation, essential on a less profound level (sic!), and is further explained on the basis of the charge of the atomic nucleus.

 

"Essence is expressed in its many outward manifestations. At the same time essence may not only express itself in these manifestations. When we are in the process of gaining sensory knowledge of a thing, phenomena sometimes seem to us to be not what they are in reality. This seemingness is not generated by our consciousness. It arises through our being influenced by real relationships in the objective conditions of observation. Those who thought the Sun rotated around the Earth took the seeming appearance of things for the real thing. Under capitalism the wages of the worker seem to be payment for all his work, but in reality only part of his work is paid, while the rest is appropriated by the capitalists free of charge in the form of surplus value, which constitutes the source of their profit.

 

"Thus to obtain a correct understanding of an event, to get to the bottom of it, we must critically test the evidence of immediate observation, and make a clear distinction between the seeming and the real, the superficial and the essential. Knowledge of the essence of things is the fundamental task of science. Marx wrote that if essence and appearance directly coincided, all science would be superfluous. The history of science shows that knowledge of essence is impossible without considering and analysing the various forms in which it is manifest. At the same time these various forms cannot be correctly understood without penetrating to their 'foundation', their essence." [Konstantinov (1974), pp.191-92. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Several paragraphs merged.]       

 

Well, this is all rather vague, and not entirely consistent (an approach one has come to expect of any self-respecting DM-ideologue!). One minute we are told that 'essence' is "profound" and "intrinsic", the next that it might not be such, but "relative" and hence not the least bit "intrinsic". At this point, one might well mischievously ask: Is there perhaps a contradiction between what appears to be the definition of "essence" and what it 'really' is? I fear the answer to that might very well be "yes", since the definition of "essence" seems to contradict its own 'essence'! And, far from being told that 'essence contradicts appearance' we find these rather sheepish words in its place:

 

"When we are in the process of gaining sensory knowledge of a thing, phenomena sometimes seem to us to be not what they are in reality." [Ibid. Bold added.]

 

Only "sometimes"? And only "seem"? How often is "sometimes"? And how definitive is this "seem"? Does the Sun orbit the Earth or not? Do sticks really bend in water? Do objects shrink as they recede from us? Is the Earth really flat? Are workers paid for all the hours they work, all the value they create?

 

In connection with this, and as should seem plain, the reader would be well advised to ignore DM-criticisms of the "either-or" of 'commonsense' at this point since it looks like the above textbook has just applied it. [No puns intended in that sentence!] That is because the answer must include one or the other of the following options: either the Sun orbits the Earth or it is the other way round, but not both! This textbook clearly opts for the former, not both. So, this innocent-looking "seem" is a perhaps little stronger than it appears to be (irony intended, this time), since that 'seeming' itself (i.e., the Sun orbiting the Earth) isn't "the real thing".

 

The Earth orbits the Sun. End of story. The either-or of common sense wins again.

 

[On why it will always win, see here.]

 

In which case, it is far from clear why Cohen referenced the above textbook since we are now no clearer than we were before about what these two (i.e., Cohen and Konstantinov) mean. Quite the reverse in fact. What, for example, does Cohen mean by the following?

 

"[E]ssence and appearance are depicted as complex categories, correlated categories whose oppositeness does not constitute a total negation, one of the other, but a unity; they are characterised through one another." [Loc cit.]

 

So, how is the correct relation (whatever it is) between the Sun and the Earth "characterised" by the appearance that the Sun orbits the Earth, when we are now told that the reverse is the case? As we have just seen, there is an unambiguous "either-or" at work here, which implies that the former and the latter aren't in the end "characterised through one another". They rule each other out.

 

Furthermore, this surely can't be true:

 

"The difference between the essential and the unessential is not absolute but relative. For instance, at one time it was considered that the essential property of the chemical element was its atomic weigh. Later this essential property turned out to be the charge of the atomic nucleus. The property of atomic weight did not cease to be essential, however. It is still essential in the first approximation, essential on a less profound level, and is further explained on the basis of the charge of the atomic nucleus." [Konstantinov, op cit.]

 

If the above were the case, it would seem that 'essence' depended on the choices we make, not the way things are independently of us.

 

Cohen's comment is, therefore, far too brief, confused and enigmatic to be of much help, while the much longer passage from Konstantinov is, as we have just found out, far too vague and inconsistent to be of any use at all.

 

The same confusion is apparent in the comments made by a fan of Systematic Dialectics with whom I debated these issues recently:

 

"Now, if you've never thought critically about how a capitalist economy works or never had the benefit of reading Marx, then all of that probably sounds like some pretty crazy sh*t. About as crazy as telling Joshua of the Hebrew Bible that the Sun is the stationary centre of the universe (or our solar system) and the Earth revolves around it. Only a madman would think such a thing. It is obvious that the Sun rises in East and sets in the West. But, in reality, the Sun rising and falling around the Earth is merely the form of appearance that the Sun takes from our immediate experience. If we took the Sun simply as it appears, never thought critically about its movements or lack thereof, then we would never be able to apprehend the nature of our solar system.

 

"Critical thought demands abstraction. We must organize the manifold objects of reality in the thought realm of our minds, which means we have to provisionally distance ourselves from the complex, concrete appearances and start with the most simple and abstract category that captures the phenomena we are attempting to understand. Hence, Marx starts with the commodity in the abstract." [Quoted from here. Bold added; spelling modified to conform with UK English.]

 

"'[E]ssence' isn’t 'in a secret world lying behind "appearances"'. It has no reality except in its appearance. However, taking the appearances to be exhaustive of reality is a mistake.... [E]ssence, necessarily expresses itself through the appearances." [Quoted from here and here; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Bold emphases added.]

 

First, that isn't how scientific knowledge of the Solar System developed or went through a profound series of changes in the 16th and 17th centuries. As we will see in Essay Thirteen Part Two in much more detail, Copernicus's ideas, for example, were motivated by two key factors: his Hermeticism and his search for mathematical simplicity:

 

"At rest, however, in the middle of everything is the sun. For in this most beautiful temple, who would place this lamp in another or better position than that from which it can light up the whole thing at the same time? For, the sun is not inappropriately called by some people the lantern of the universe, its mind by others, and its ruler by still others. [Hermes] the Thrice Greatest [Hermes Trismegistus -- RL] labels it a visible god, and Sophocles' Electra, the all-seeing. Thus indeed, as though seated on a royal throne, the sun governs the family of planets revolving around it. Moreover, the earth is not deprived of the moon's attendance. On the contrary, as Aristotle says in a work on animals, the moon has the closest kinship with the earth. Meanwhile the earth has intercourse with the sun, and is impregnated for its yearly parturition." [Copernicus, De Revolutionibus, Book 1, Chapter 10, partially quoted in Kuhn (1995), p.131, using a different translation.]

 

Kuhn adds the following thoughts about the work of the next scientist in line, Johannes Kepler:

 

"Neoplatonism is explicit in Copernicus' attitude toward both the sun and mathematical simplicity. It is an essential element in the intellectual climate that gave birth to his vision of the universe. But it is often hard to tell whether any given Neoplatonic attitude is posterior or antecedent to the invention of his new astronomy in Copernicus' thought. No similar ambiguity exists with respect of the later Copernicans. Kepler, for example, the man who made the Copernican system work, is quite explicit about his reasons for preferring Copernicus' proposal, and among them is the following:

 

'[The sun] is a fountain of light, rich in fruitful heat, most fair, limpid, and pure to the sight, the source of vision, portrayed of all colours, though himself empty of colour, called king of the planets for his motion, heart of the world for his power, its eye for his beauty, and which alone we should judge worthy of the Most High God, should he be pleased with a material domicile and choose a place in which to dwell with the blessed angels…. For if the Germans elect him as Caesar who has most power in the whole empire, who would hesitate to confer the votes of the celestial motions on him who already has been administering all other movements and changes by the benefit of the light which is entirely his possession?....[Hence] by the highest right we return to the sun, who alone appears, by virtue of his dignity and power, suited for this motive duty and worthy to become the home of God himself, not to say the first mover.'" [Kuhn (1995), p.131, quoting Kepler from Burtt (1954), p.48. Spelling modified to conform with UK English. (These link to PDFs.)]

 

As Frank Tipler, Professor of Mathematical Physics, pointed out:

 

"[T]he new theory of Nicolaus Copernicus which, while still committed to uniform circular motion, argued that by placing the sun at the centre instead, the apparent retrograde motion of the planets could be accounted for with greater mathematical simplicity and elegance." [Quoted from here; accessed 15/09/2020. Spelling modified to conform with UK English; bold emphasis added.]

 

The next scientist in line, Galileo Galilei, didn't indulge in any historic feats of 'mental abstraction', either, as he helped hammer the last few nails in the coffin of the old Aristotelian/Ptolemaic system. Not a bit of it; he did something overt. He looked down a telescope and saw that several planets had their own moons. The old system couldn't explain this and this showed that Kepler's model (which also needed revising) was at least physically possible. [On this, see Koestler (2017).]

 

So, 'abstraction' (even if we knew what it was) played no part in these developments.

 

Second, one might well wonder how the above passage might be rendered consistent -- i.e., in relation to how, for example, the Sun 'appears' to move and how 'essence' here (if there are any such!) "necessarily expresses itself through the appearances". If that were so, why did no one manage to see the supposed 'essence' involved in this phenomenon for what it was until the above scientists appeared on the scene? That is, why did it take so long before anyone claimed that the Earth moves relative to the Sun, not the other way round? Why did it take so long for scientists to arrive at that conclusion? And how does this particular 'essence' (a moving Earth) "necessarily express itself through the appearance" of its opposite -- the fact that the Earth appears to be stationary? It rather looks like the 'essence' in this case (whatever it is!) failed to "express itself through the appearance". Indeed, it induced in humanity a set of false beliefs that lasted many centuries -- that the Earth doesn't move and sits stationary at the centre of the Universe --, which is, of course, inconsistent with what we now know to be the case, that the Earth does move. In fact, it is now plain that the 'essence' here was locked away in a "secret world lying behind appearances", since it took so long for anyone to force it into the open! That helps explain why there are still so many who erroneously think the Earth is flat (since, locally, it appears to be so) and conclude it is the Sun that moves relative to it.

 

That is, indeed, what Hegel himself asserted:

 

"The immediate Being of things is thus conceived under the image of a rind or curtain behind which the Essence is hidden." [Hegel (1975), p.163, §112. Bold added.]

 

Hegel fans have yet to explain how something "hidden" can "express itself through the appearance".

 

Finally, I return to consider the motion of the Earth several times again below and show that the neat picture painted by DM-fans isn't quite as clear cut as they would have us believe.

 

On this issue, here is what one commentator had to say (quoted earlier):

 

"Essence shows or appears (scheint), but itself remains hidden behind a veil of Schein (appearance -- RL).... This suggests the idea of a world that is the reverse of the world of appearances, in which everything that has, in our world, a certain quality, has, in the world in itself, the opposite quality." [Inwood (1992), pp.39-40. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

At a time in his life when his ideas were influenced by ruling-class forms-of-thought like these, Marx also expressed this odd idea rather forcefully:

 

"The contradiction between existence and essence, between matter and form, which is inherent in the concept of the atom, emerges in the individual atom itself once it is endowed with qualities. Through the quality the atom is alienated from its concept, but at the same time is perfected in its construction. It is from repulsion and the ensuing conglomerations of the qualified atoms that the world of appearance now emerges. In this transition from the world of essence to the world of appearance, the contradiction in the concept of the atom clearly reaches its harshest realisation. For the atom is conceptually the absolute, essential form of nature. This absolute form has now been degraded to absolute matter, to the formless substrate of the world of appearance." [Marx (1975b), pp.61-62. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases alone added; paragraphs merged.]

 

Here, too, is Mao:

 

"We should draw a lesson here: Don't be misled by false appearances. Some of our comrades are easily misled by them. There is contradiction between appearance and essence in everything. It is by analyzing and studying the appearance of a thing that people come to know its essence. Hence the need for science. Otherwise, if one could get at the essence of a thing by intuition, what would be the use of science? What would be the use of study? Study is called for precisely because there is contradiction between appearance and essence. There is a difference, though, between the appearance and the false appearance of a thing, because the latter is false. Hence we draw the lesson: Try as far as possible not to be misled by false appearances." [Mao (1977b), pp.165-66. Bold emphases added.]

 

So, it seems reasonably clear from this that for DM-fans, 'essences' are 'hidden' and 'appearances' are in some sense false or misleading.

 

In addition, one might well wonder how the following is even possible:

 

"It is by analyzing and studying the appearance of a thing that people come to know its essence." [Ibid.]

 

Surely, in order to study "the appearance of a thing" it seems rather obvious that we would thereby need to rely on its appearance, which we have just been warned not to trust since some (or is it all?) of them are "false". If it is only some, how might we distinguish the 'false'- from the 'not-false'-appearances? Mao failed to say. It would be no use appealing to scientific observations since they also rely on these already 'suspect appearances'. And, what would be the point of "analysing" such dubious data inputs, these 'nefarious appearances', if they can't be trusted? All the data from telescopes. microscopes, computers, instruments, thermometers, gauges and measuring devices in general confront us now as 'appearances', which have all now been thrown into doubt. We have no way of 'leaping out of our heads' in order to 'intuit' nature directly (whatever that might mean!). No good, either, appealing to someone's writings for help -- not even Mao's! -- since they too now confront us as 'appearances'!

 

[Misguided attempts to defend Mao on this issue have been subjected to detailed criticism elsewhere in this Essay.]

 

Other Marxists have also made similar points:

 

"Whereas Kant stopped at contradiction, Kant being paralyzed by its omnipresence where thought was concerned, Hegel presses forward to the recognition of the profound truth of contradiction, and thus Hegel is not trapped with an incognizable essence and a perfectly cognizable appearance, as in Kant; since, for Hegel, reality can only present itself by means of contradictory oppositions, such as the opposition appearance/reality." [David DeGrood, quoted from here; bold emphasis alone added.]

 

"Elsewhere, it is the contradiction between essence and appearance that is emphasised in the dialectic approach." [Hirsch (2004), p.8. Bold added.]

 

"In his Philosophical Notebooks, Lenin, after renewed study of Hegel, explicitly breaks with reflection theory in favour of a much more dialectical theory of cognition that emphasises the contradiction between essence and appearance and establishes consciousness, not just as a reflection of the world, but also as a factor capable, through practice, of shaping it. Human knowledge, according to Lenin, depends upon an active process of abstraction, capable of distinguishing between essence and appearance, rather than passive reflection, an insight with profound consequences for the theorisation of literary production." [Quoted from here, pp.31-32. (This links to a PDF.) Accessed 19/08/2020. Italic emphasis in the original, bold added.]

 

"Essence refers to 'the negative reciprocal reflectedness of many capitals with one another through which they themselves, in as much as they are concretely different from one another, are posited as capitals essentially identical to one another; that is existing values that valorise themselves…. This is their identity within their difference.' Appearance refers to 'the reciprocal relation of the many capitals among themselves whereby, as capitals that are different in many concrete aspects, they oppose and compete [with each?] other in order to obtain their greatest valorisation. This, by contrast, is their difference within their identity.' [The author] is able to show -- through the Hegelian categories of repulsion and attraction, quality and quantity, one and many -- that the contradiction between essence and appearance is mediated in a more concrete form, 'as capital in its existence in-and-for-itself'." [Tony McKenna, quoted from here, accessed 19/08/2020. Bold emphases added. Tony has clearly bought into the gobbledygook format one find all across Dialectical Marxism.]

 

"'If the essence and appearance of things directly coincided, all science would be superfluous'. Does Marx's dictum lead to novel insights? The purpose of science is to discover the nature of reality concealed under surface appearance. Based on this definition, Marx makes the above assertion -- if things appeared exactly as they are, there would be no need for science to remove the veil of appearance. Social science, therefore, is the search for the real nature of society, underneath all of its visible, external façades. If the reality of society is easily observable in our everyday experience, then there is no need for scientific reflection on society, as Marx defines science. The idea that society has an 'appearance', which is not the same as social 'essence', forms the starting point for the Marxist discussion of ideology. Ideology is what allows a society to persist, even though the essence of that society may contain contradictions.

 

"It is important to note that the difference between appearance and reality is not due to some form of false belief or faulty vision on the part of the observer. The appearances are caused by the reality. There is no 'mistake' in the observance of society, because it is the nature of society that the essence projects a certain appearance. It is the nature of a mirage that it is an illusion, it is not a case of 'faulty vision'. A person with normal vision will still see a mirage, as it is the very essence of the mirage which creates the illusion.

 

"Marx was primarily concerned with the nature of the capitalist mode of production. The cardinal tenets of Marx's theory of the essence of capitalism are: Only expenditure of labour creates economic value, in proportion to the amount of labour expended; workers do not receive the whole value of what they produce -- capitalists enjoy profits due to surplus value, for which the worker is not paid; labour power is the only form of capital investment which creates profit. (1) The social appearance, on the other hand is: An object is worth what it can be exchanged for in the market, i.e. its exchange-value; workers appear to be paid for all of their labour; capital is seen to 'create' profit. There is clearly a marked difference between the appearance and essence of society. Marx uses the idea of 'commodity fetishism' to explain this difference.

 

'Commodity fetishism' is the vision of objective value in commodities especially money, as the commodity of exchange. Under a society with exchange, the only way people can gauge value is during the exchange process. For example, in the labour market, a worker will agree to a contract with an employer for a certain wage per time period. The worker feels that he is being paid for all of his work, and the employer feels that the value of the labour-power employed is worth the wage. The actual value of the labour is more than the wage, as the employer will eventually extract a surplus value when the product is sold. The cause of this commodity fetishism is the nature of the exchange process. The result is that some aspects of the appearance of society are the 'inverse' of its essence.

 

"The notion of 'inversion' is very important to Marx, as it sums up the idea that the capitalist mode of production contains contradictions. The contradiction is between the essence and appearance. Marx goes so far as to say that 'everything appears as reversed in competition'. Ideology 'conceals the contradictory essential relations...because it is based on a sphere of reality which reveals the contrary to its essential relations'. The role of ideology, therefore, is to hide the essence of society as it contradicts the appearance, which is beneficial to the ruling class at the time. As ideology is based on the 'phenomenological sphere', or the sphere of 'appearances', it fulfils its role by reinforcing the appearances of society, thus further burying the 'essence'." [Luis Avilés, quoted from here. Accessed 16/12/2016. Minor typo corrected. Some paragraphs merged.]

 

So, this theory (that there is a 'contradiction' between 'essence' and 'appearance') is mainstream and is clearly widely held among Dialectical Marxists.

 

However, in the last of the above passages, Luis Avilés seems to want to have his cake and eat it. On the one hand, he claims that "the difference between appearance and reality is not due to some form of false belief or faulty vision on the part of the observer", but he then says "It is the nature of a mirage that it is an illusion, it is not a case of 'faulty vision'. A person with normal vision will still see a mirage, as it is the very essence of the mirage which creates the illusion." But, if someone sees what she takes to be water, and which is just a mirage, she is entertaining a false belief that there is water.

 

Avilés then tells us that "workers appear to be paid for all of their labour" and the "worker feels that he is being paid for all of his work...." Is that a true or a false belief? He adds "The actual value of the labour is more than the wage." If so, the aforementioned worker held a false belief. There appears to be no other way of making sense of this.

 

Somewhat appropriately, comrades like Avilés and Mandel (considered below) appear to be able to hold two contradictory ideas 'in their heads' at once, that 'appearances', or the beliefs they motivate, aren't false even while they are false!

   

DM-stalwart, Ernest Mandel, tackles this knotty 'problem' head on:

 

"But for Marx, the materialist dialectician, the distinction between 'essence' and 'appearance' in no sense implies that 'appearance' is less 'real' then (sic) 'essence'. Movements of value determine in the last analysis movements of prices; but Marx the materialist would have laughed at any 'Marxist' who suggested that prices were 'unreal', because in the last analysis determined by value movements. The distinction between 'essence' and 'appearance' refers to different levels of determination, that is in the last analysis to the process of cognition, not to different degrees of reality. To explain the capitalist mode of production in its totality it is wholly insufficient to understand simply the 'basic essence', the 'law of value'. It is necessary to integrate 'essence' and 'appearance' through all their intermediate mediating links, to explain how and why a given 'essence' appears in given concrete forms and not in others. For these 'appearances' themselves are neither accidental nor self-evident. They pose problems, they have to be explained in their turn, and this very explanation helps to pierce through new layers of mystery and brings us again nearer to a full understanding of the specific form of economic organization which we want to understand. To deny this need to reintegrate 'essence' and 'appearance' is as un-dialectical and as mystifying as to accept 'appearances' as they are, without looking for the basic forces and contradictions which they tend to hide from the superficial and empiricist observer." [Mandel (1976), p.20. (This links to a PDF.) Bold emphases alone added.]

 

It could be argued that this shows that Marxists don't believe that appearances are false.

 

First of all, it is worth noting that Mandel considers social phenomena, here. He would hardly suggest, for example, that because sticks appear to be bent in water that that implies they are bent, or that this bending is somehow "real". Do they really bend in water? Would it be false to say sticks are actually bent in water? Indeed, it would.

 

Second, Mandel asserts that Marx would have laughed at any 'Marxist' who suggested "prices were 'unreal'" simply because prices are really determined by the movement of value. But, would it be true to say that price is an accurate reflection of value? No, it wouldn't. So, this appearance (that is, if it is one!) is deceptive and motivates a false belief among (bourgeois) economists. Are there any Marxists who would agree with them that this a true picture of the economy? Would Marx? Again, no, he wouldn't.

 

Third, Mandel then argues that:

 

"The distinction between 'essence' and 'appearance' refers to different levels of determination, that is in the last analysis to the process of cognition, not to different degrees of reality." [Ibid.]

 

Well, this would suggest that Marxism doesn't actually tell us about "reality", since, according to Mandel, the distinction between "appearance" and "essence" is merely a heuristic device that no more relates to "reality" than any other "appearance". "Essence" would now seem to be no more "real" than, say, the shape of a table. When asked what the 'real shape of a table' is, what could anyone say? Tables look different from different angles, as does everything else. If someone were to insist that this is the 'real shape of a table' (when looking at it from above, say), would they be stating a truth? Of course not.

 

Hence, Mandel's 'explanation' is no help at all. It fails to show that 'appearances' don't motivate false beliefs -- those held by anyone 'not in the know', for example. Nor does it demonstrate that the distinction drawn between 'appearance' and 'essence' doesn't invalidate the inference that Marxists believe 'appearances' are in some sense false.

 

[I will look at what Mandel says about 'abstraction' in a later re-write of this Essay.]

 

Finally, as we will see in Essay Ten Part One, a desperate appeal to "practice" at this point (perhaps in order to help resolve these 'problems') would be to no avail. Practice takes place at the level of 'appearances', so one set of 'appearances' can hardly absolve another set -- that is, if they even needed absolving in the first place!

 

[See also Note 29b.]

 

'Commonsense'

 

Issues connected with 'commonsense' clearly have a role to play in the distinction between 'appearance' and 'reality'/'essence'. However, few DM-theorists inform their readers (with any consistency or clarity) what they mean by 'commonsense' -- although Lenin once claimed that "common sense = the prejudices of its time" [Lenin (1961), p.271] -- let alone what its core, or even its component, beliefs are supposed to be. One theorist who did make some attempt to address this 'problem' was the STD, Teodor Oizerman. Here, he is speaking about 'everyday consciousness', which I take it is meant to be the same as 'commonsense':

 

"Everyday consciousness is a multi-layered complex and contradictory entity composed of a multitude of perceptions, emotions and concepts that are generated and continuously reproduced by the relatively constant and familiar conditions surrounding individuals.... We encounter concepts of everyday consciousness everywhere. They are, first and foremost, empirical notions consisting partly of relative truths and partly of illusions and errors: water boils at 100oC; gold does not rust; the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening; money in a savings bank pays interest. Proverbs are classic expressions of everyday consciousness, polished to perfection by the ages; they are the quintessence of popular wisdom ('life is not a bed of roses'), the class instinct of the oppressed and exploited..., popular fears and hopes." [Oizerman (1982), p.101. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

One can almost hear the contempt and condescension in Oizerman's voice as he wrote this. But, what evidence was offered in support of these claims?

 

None at all.

 

[I have said much more about 'commonsense', here.]

 

We will examine one of Oizerman's examples (sunrise) later in this Essay, but if we focus on the volunteered example given below, we might be able to make some sense of the broader claim that there is a 'clash of sorts' between the way things appear to be and the truths scientists and Philosophers are supposed to be looking for, somehow tucked away and 'hidden below the surface' -- that is, the supposed clash/'contradiction' between 'commonsense' and 'science'.

 

Contradictions Supposedly Generated By Science

 

The following case in point has been deliberately chosen for its triteness and its familiarity. A more arcane example would have obscured the issues involved. As noted above, other instances of this phenomenon (where 'appearances' appear to 'contradict reality') will be considered as the argument unfolds in this Essay, as well as in other Essays posted at this site.

 

This volunteered example concerns the apparent incongruity that exists between the way that sticks look bent and the fact that they do not really bend when they are partially immersed in water. Of course, it could be objected that this phenomenon doesn't illustrate a process in nature, and so it isn't relevant. Nevertheless, it is relatively easy to adapt this example so that the objection itself becomes irrelevant, as we will also see.

 

[Other instances of this alleged incongruity can be modified in like manner, but I will refrain from doing so here for obvious reasons. Hence, they should be viewed in the same way in order to help prevent this section descending into recondite, scholastic pedantry.]

 

Be this as it may, this illusion, or incongruity, might be expressed as follows:

 

R1: This stick appears bent in water.

 

R2: It isn't the case that this stick appears bent in water.27

 

R1a: This stick appears to bend when immersed in water.

 

R2a: It isn't the case that this stick appears to bend when immersed in water.

 

R1 and R2, and R1a and R2a, form what appear to be contradictory pairs, but this type of incongruity clearly isn't the sort to which Rees and other dialecticians are alluding -- which is the alleged contradiction between appearance and reality. Plainly, R1 and R2 are both about appearances; hence, they don't illustrate the aforementioned clash between appearance and reality.

 

Perhaps the following will suffice?

 

R3: This stick bends when put in water.

 

R4: It isn't the case that this stick bends when put in water.

 

Again, these two seem to be contradictory, but, unfortunately once more they aren't what Rees and other dialecticians have in mind, either, since they fail to contrast appearance with reality. R3 and R4 merely express two contradictory propositions relating to a possible state of affairs; neither is about appearances.

 

However, the following pair of sentences does attempt to draw a contrast between appearance and reality:

 

R5: This stick appears bent in water.

 

R6: It isn't the case that this stick is bent in water.28

 

The problem with the above two is that they aren't contradictories since they can be both true at once, just as they can both be false at once. The truth of one does not imply the falsehood of the other, nor vice versa. There is therefore no logical connection between them. Nor do they even seem to be 'dialectically' connected: that is, they don't struggle with one another, nor do they turn into each other (as they should do if the DM-classics are to be believed). Moreover, they don't imply one another (in the way that the existence of capitalist class supposedly implies the existence of the proletariat, and vice versa).

 

[It is worth reminding ourselves that two propositions are contradictory just in case they can't both be true and they can't both be false, at once. Not only do they have opposite truth values, the truth of one implies the falsehood of the other, and vice versa. I only mention this since most DM-fans seem oblivious of it, often conflating the LEM, PB (propositional bi-polarity) and the LOC with one another -- and, indeed, all of them with opposites, inconsistencies, absurdities, contraries, paradoxes, puzzles, quandaries, oddities, irrationalities, oppositional processes, antagonisms, opposing forces, events that go contrary to expectations, alongside a whole host of other unrelated idiosyncrasies. In fact, they are so eager to see contradictions everywhere that they find they have to tinker with the meaning of "contradiction" so that (for them) it becomes synonymous with "struggle", "conflict", and "opposition". I have said much more about that in Essay Eight Part Two.]

 

[LOC = Law of Non-Contradiction; LEM = Law of Excluded Middle; PB = Principle of Bivalence.]

 

It could be objected that the fact that sticks appear to bend in water prompts the naïve belief that they do just that, which contradicts the fact that they don't really bend when partially immersed. That incongruity, or at least its realisation, could motivate someone into rejecting such an unscientific or false belief. In that sense, therefore, it could be argued that reality does indeed contradict appearances. [It is far from clear that anyone who accepts the line expressed here or here -- that appearances, or the beliefs they motivate, aren't false/'unreal'  -- can actually make this argument.]

 

But, does this mean it is false to say that sticks look bent in water? Clearly not. In which case, if these two sentences were indeed contradictory (recall, no two contradictory propositions can be true together or false together) -- and given that R6 and R5 are both true -- it would be incorrect to say that they are contradictory.

 

R5: This stick appears bent in water.

 

R6: It isn't the case that this stick is bent in water.

 

Of course, if DM-theorists reject this contention (as it seems they will), they must be intending to revise the meaning of the word "contradiction", as opposed to using a familiar term drawn from ordinary language. It is worth reminding ourselves that in ordinary language the verb form of this word (i.e., "to contradict") literally means "to gain-say", to say the logical opposite of what another says. Either that, or DM-fans are trying to revise a typographically similar word ("contradiction") found in FL, where two contradictory propositions have to have opposite truth-values, and where the truth of one implies the falsehood of the other.

 

In fact, dialecticians appear to oscillate between a hybrid understanding of "contradiction" (no pun intended), situated half-way between the meaning(s) it has in the vernacular and the connotations it has in FL, all the while somehow linking it with the maverick sense given to this word by Hegel -- which has yet to be explained by anyone (Marxist and non-Marxist) with any degree of clarity.29

 

Naturally, dialecticians are at liberty to make whatever revisions they deem necessary, and use words as they please; but any attempt to do so in this case would have no more significance, or effect, than would a similar attempt to revise the definition of, say, "relative surplus value" in order to 'prove' that because Marx ignored this 'new definition', his analysis of the (social) source of value was therefore misguided.

 

In connection with this, it is also worth recalling that according to physical theory light rays are deflected from their path when they pass between air and water, creating the 'illusion' that sticks bend. However, if sticks didn't really look bent in water (or if it were false to say that they appeared to bend when immersed) that would refute the scientific fact that light rays themselves deviate upon entering or leaving the relevant media. Tinker around with beliefs like this too much and far more serious problems will emerge that threaten to undermine much of Physics.

 

So, even in this sense, appearances aren't 'contradicted by reality' -– far from it, they play an essential part in the verification of scientific theory concerning light as it passes between media. Hence, the scientific truth that light deviates when passing between media is confirmed by, if not founded upon, the appearance recorded in R5! And this isn't even a transient appearance (as noted above, this will presumably last at least as long as the human race exists); so given what we found out earlier, this can't even be an Hegelian 'appearance'.

 

R5: This stick appears bent in water.

 

It could be objected that the above is an entirely specious response. The plain fact is that scientific knowledge is inconsistent with the belief that sticks bend in water. No amount of 're-interpretation' can minimise its significance.

 

However, that would have been an effective rebuttal if:

 

(i) The argument above were about beliefs and not about appearances; and if,

 

(ii) It could be shown that anyone actually believed (or has ever believed) that sticks really do bend in water.

 

That is because the pro-DM counter-response volunteered in the last but one paragraph specifically mentioned what might plausibly be believed by naïve or untrained observers. Undeniably, such a belief would be incompatible with what we know to be the case, but the DM-claim is that appearances contradict reality. It says nothing about beliefs doing that.

 

Indeed, the point made above is that, far from reality contradicting appearances, scientists themselves need appearances to be correct in order to confirm such things as Snell's Law, and hence that they have to take note of what seem to be bent sticks. Plainly, that is because scientists have to look at objects and processes in the world, and if they saw sticks in water that didn't appear to bend when immersed they would either question whether the liquid concerned was indeed water or wonder if they were hallucinating.

 

In that case, the above pro-DM objection only seems to work by confusing appearances with beliefs. Now, it certainly isn't being questioned here whether or not propositions drawn from scientific investigation contradict certain beliefs held about the world (expressed propositionally) that humanity might once have accepted or to which some still adhere. But, to state the obvious, beliefs aren't the same as appearances.

 

It could be objected that the argument above is inconsistent. On the one hand, it alleges that there can be no contradiction between appearances and reality but on the other it allows for the fact that there can be -- indeed, there are -- contradictions between scientific propositions and certain beliefs.

 

So, the above argument appears to hold that these are contradictory:

 

B1: p.

 

B2: NN believes that not p.

 

But, it also seems to hold that these aren't contradictory:

 

B3: p.

 

B4: It appears to NN that not p.

 

How can the first pair be deemed contradictory while the second isn't?

 

Or, so it might be argued...

 

Of course, the wording of my earlier claim was specifically this:

 

B5: It certainly isn't being questioned here whether or not propositions drawn from scientific investigation contradict certain beliefs held about the world (expressed propositionally) that humanity might once have accepted or to which some still adhere. But, to state the obvious, beliefs aren't the same as appearances.

 

Now, while "not p" certainly is the contradictory of "p", "p" itself isn't the contradictory of "NN believes that not p", although, it would certainly be paradoxical if NN believed that "not p" were the case while acknowledging that "p" itself was true.

 

[That conundrum has since come to be known as Moore's Paradox, after British Philosopher, G. E. Moore, one of Wittgenstein's tutors. I have comment on this Paradox in Part One, here.]

 

Nor is "p" the contradictory of the back end of B4 -- i.e., "p" isn't the contradictory of "to NN that not p" (in this particular sentential context).

 

B4: It appears to NN that not p.

 

In that case, B1/B2 and B3/B4 aren't comparable.

 

[B6 has been deliberately left in such a stilted form so that the point might be easier to see. In addition, it mustn't be assumed that I believe B1 and B2 are contradictories (they aren't!); I am just seeing where a DM-counter-argument might possibly take us.]29a0

 

It could be argued that if we re-word the above, they might still be analogous; perhaps in the following way:

 

B6: p.

 

B7: NN has a belief that not p.

 

B8: p.

 

B9: NN has an appearance that not p.

 

In response to this I will merely note that these two sets of sentences can only be made to appear to be analogous (irony intended) by a crass misuse of language (in B9). But, human beings can no more have appearances than they can have seemings or lookings. Of course, if we had sentences in language like B10 (mirroring those like B9, or even B11):

 

B10: It believes to me that not p,

 

B11: It appears to me that not p,

 

we might be able to make some sense of this response, but we don't, and it isn't difficult to see why we don't. We form our beliefs based on all manner of contingencies, but appearances are things we undergo, like it or not -- we don't form them. Moreover, we use sentences like these: "NN believes that p", but not "NN appears that p"; "NM believes in the branch secretary", but not "NM appears in the branch secretary"; "NP believes he can win", but not "NP appears he can win"; "MN has lost her belief in the Labour Party", but not "MN has lost her appear (sic) in the Labour Party", and so on.

 

So, appearances still aren't beliefs, nor are they analogous to them.

 

Nevertheless, it could be objected that while sticks might appear to bend in water, the fact is that they don't actually do so. In that sense, subjective appearances are contradicted by objective facts.

 

However, this latest pro-DM objection itself labours under several misconceptions:

 

(1) First, appearances are, I take it, 'part of reality' (for want of a better phrase). No one supposes, surely, that appearances are fictional in the way that The Tooth Fairy or Pixies are, or that they have been invented (like, say, Sherlock Holmes or Fake News). It isn't as if our ancestors made a fable up that there were such things as appearances and several millennia later we have finally realised this and have now seen through the con. If so, appearances are just as 'real' as unbent sticks. [Of course, the problem here centres on the word "real" and the profligate and incautious way it is used in Traditional Thought. I will say more about that in Essay Twelve. In the meantime, readers should consult Moore (1953), pp.216-33, and Austin (1964), pp.62-83.]29a

 

(2) Moreover, but perhaps worse, since neither 'appearances' nor 'reality' are propositional, no contradiction is possible between them.

 

It could be objected that the issue here is the contradiction between essence and appearance not between appearance and reality, which is an invention of the present Essay. [However from the quotations we have seen above, here and here, that isn't the case.]

 

But, even if the meaning of "essence" were itself clear, it is difficult to see how there could be such a contradiction, not unless appearances and essences were also propositional. Hegelians might be able to get away with that peculiar idea (but as far as I know they haven't wandered down that blind alley, yet), since, for them, everything is Ideal; but materialists can't.

 

Of course, that comment itself depends on a view of "contradiction" I don't expect dialecticians to accept, but until they tell us what they do mean by their use if this word, little progress can be made. Since we have only been waiting for 200 years to be informed what dialecticians actually mean by "contradiction", it might perhaps be a little impatient of me to expect them to produce one in the next century or so.

 

[This topic is discussed in more detail in Essays Four, Five, Eight Parts One, Two and Three, and Eleven Part One.]

 

Moreover, it is important to remember that the example under discussion here focuses on sticks that look bent in water. In that case, unless dialecticians have a theory about the 'essence' of sticks that differs from their notion, or any notion, of 'real sticks', this objection must fail, too. After all, it was Novack who argued that:

 

"...A thing is truly real if it is necessary, if its appearance truly corresponds to its essence.... Materialists...locate the roots of necessity in the objective world, in the material conditions and conflicting forces which create, sustain and destroy all things. But, from the purely logical standpoint, both schools of philosophy [i.e., Idealism and Materialism -- RL] agree in connecting reality with necessity. Something acquires reality because the necessary conditions for its production and reproduction are objectively present and operative. It becomes more or less real in accordance with the changes in the external and internal circumstances of its development. It remains truly real only so long and insofar as it is necessary under the given conditions. Then, as conditions change, it loses its necessity and its reality and dissolves into mere appearance." [Novack (1971), p.86. Paragraphs merged.]29b

 

Which, more-or-less, settles things: appearances are just as much 'part of reality' as essences are, if they coincide. [How they manage do that in the case of bent sticks I will leave those addicted to this of this odd way of talking to figure out for themselves, since I don't prefer this use of language and I, for one, can make no sense of it.]

 

(3) Thirdly, the idea that it is merely a 'subjective experience' that sticks appear to bend when put in water is itself mistaken. Not only does everyone see the same appearance (i.e., bent sticks) -– which means it can't be subjective (or only one person would see it) -–, but this apparent bending of sticks forms a basis for the 'objective' observation that confirms the scientific fact that light changes its path when passing between media. If the appearance of bent sticks were merely subjective, what should we make of the idea that light alters its course in such a way? Is that subjective too? Is the 'objectivity' of science founded on such weak 'subjective' foundations?

 

Again, exception might be taken to the claim that appearances are "objective", since most philosophers and scientists appear to agree that they are subjective (no irony intended). Since objectivity relates to something called "observer independence", appearances must be subjective -- or so it could be argued.

 

(A) First of all, I'm not advancing any such claim, since I reject the use of such metaphysical language, which this is. I have already noted above that I don't prefer this odd way of talking. Obscure language like this is merely being employed here to assist in its demise. Hence, the frequent use of 'scare' quotes.

 

(B) Secondly, since it is also an appearance that philosophers and scientists believe that appearances are subjective, that belief must itself be subjective; it plainly isn't "observer independent". In fact, as should seem reasonably clear, no observation made by scientists, philosophers or anyone else would or could ever be "observer"/"mind independent", and thus "objective", given this crazy way of talking.

 

So, if 'objectivity' is understood as "observer-", or "mind-independence", it would surely be impossible to form an 'objective' opinion of anything -- let alone about 'subjectivity' -– that is, while we humans unwisely possess 'minds' and foolishly go about the place observing things.

 

Indeed, as we shall soon see, any attempt to classify appearances as 'subjective' (hence not fully 'real') would fatally undermine not only science, but the opinions of anyone who holds such an unwise belief.

 

Hence, if 'objectivity' is defined as "observer-independence" (etc.), then, plainly, the notion that light bends when it passes between media (and every other such belief we have) can't be 'objective'. As now seems undeniable, the truth of this and every other scientific idea depends on centuries of observation (and no little human thought, too), as much as it depends on the current beliefs of yet more human beings. Exactly how these can be independent of one another is a mystery few dialecticians bother to explain. Eliminate the 'subjective' element from science -- if that is what it is -- and everything we believe to be 'objective' must go with it. If science dealt only with "observer-independent" realities, we wouldn't be able to acquire any 'objective' beliefs whatsoever.

 

Of course, all this will be music to dialecticians' ears, since they already accept the idea that there is a dialectical interplay between the 'objective' and the 'subjective':

 

"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.]

 

If so, we are forced to abandon the idea that "objective" means "mind-independent", thus contradicting Lenin:

 

"We ask, is a man given objective reality when he sees something red or feels something hard, etc., or not? This hoary philosophical query is confused by Mach. If you hold that it is not given, you, together with Mach, inevitably sink to subjectivism and agnosticism and deservedly fall into the embrace of the immanentists, i.e., the philosophical Menshikovs. If you hold that it is given, a philosophical concept is needed for this objective reality, and this concept has been worked out long, long ago. This concept is matter. Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them. Therefore, to say that such a concept can become 'antiquated' is childish talk, a senseless repetition of the arguments of fashionable reactionary philosophy. Could the struggle between materialism and idealism, the struggle between the tendencies or lines of Plato and Democritus in philosophy, the struggle between religion and science, the denial of objective truth and its assertion, the struggle between the adherents of supersensible knowledge and its adversaries have become antiquated during the two thousand years of the development of philosophy?...

 

"As the reader sees, all these arguments of the founders of empirio-criticism entirely and exclusively revolve around the old epistemological question of the relation of thinking to being, of sensation to the physical. It required the extreme naïveté of the Russian Machians to discern anything here that is even remotely related to 'recent science,' or 'recent positivism.' All the philosophers mentioned by us, some frankly, others guardedly, replace the fundamental philosophical line of materialism (from being to thinking, from matter to sensation) by the reverse line of idealism. Their denial of matter is the old answer to epistemological problems, which consists in denying the existence of an external, objective source of our sensations, of an objective reality corresponding to our sensations. On the other hand, the recognition of the philosophical line denied by the idealists and agnostics is expressed in the definitions: matter is that which, acting upon our sense-organs, produces sensation; matter is the objective reality given to us in sensation, and so forth....

 

"'Matter is disappearing' means that the limit within which we have hitherto known matter is vanishing and that our knowledge is penetrating deeper; properties of matter are likewise disappearing which formerly seemed absolute, immutable, and primary (impenetrability, inertia, mass, etc.) and which are now revealed to be relative and characteristic only of certain states of matter. For the 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), pp.144-45, 165, 311. Bold emphases alone added, quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

"To be a materialist is to acknowledge objective truth, which is revealed to us by our sense-organs. To acknowledge objective truth, i.e., truth not dependent upon man and mankind, is, in one way or another, to recognise absolute truth." [Ibid., p.148. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Knowledge can be useful biologically, useful in human practice, useful for the preservation of life, for the preservation of the species, only when it reflects objective truth, truth which is independent of man." [Ibid., p.157. Bold emphasis added.]

 

[There is much more on 'objectivity' here.]

 

It isn't easy to make the above comments consistent with one another.

 

However, if dialecticians are prepared to contradict Lenin, then much of their epistemology will soon follow it out the window, for, according to this latest turn-of-events, it seems that nature is 'objective' only if we know about it, and then only if we manage to do so in certain ways!

 

It could be objected here that this misconstrues Hegel's notion of objectivity; indeed, it confuses it with a much looser modern concept. Hegel drew many of his ideas from Kant's Critical Philosophy and adapted them accordingly. In fact, his ideas on this score can't be separated from his system as a whole.

 

However, since this topic will be examined in Essay Twelve Parts Five and Six, not much more will be said about it here.

 

Nevertheless, for present purposes it is worth pointing out that Dialectical Marxists surely can't accept Hegel's notion of objectivity, since it would mean they were in fact Objective Idealists. In that case, until we are informed exactly what dialecticians do mean when they say the sort of obscure things about 'objectivity' that Lenin comes out with, little more can be done with such confused ideas.

 

[It is important to remind ourselves that in Materialism and Empiriocriticism, quoted above, Lenin clearly meant by "objectivity" the existence of objects and processes independent of, and external to, the human mind, which doesn't appear to be what Hegel meant by this word (no pun intended); that is, if we could determine what Hegel actually meant by anything he came out with. I have said much more about that in Essay Thirteen Part One.]

 

In response it could be argued that an objective view of nature is one which attempts to picture it as it must be (or as it must have been) without observers, or even as it would be if there were no minds to observe and interact with it, That is, it aims to depict reality as it is in-itself (perhaps with respect to DM, as it is in relation to its constantly changing nature).

 

Of course, this take on 'objectivity' would clearly undermine what Lenin has just said, since "Thing-in-themselves" doesn't mean "Things-as-observed-by-some-mind-or-other":

 

"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.]

 

Here, Lenin appears to connect objectivity with what we determine it to be when we investigate it 'dialectically' (no pun intended again!). As usual, the pronouncements coming from DM-fans are about as clear and perspicuous as the Nicene Creed. I will leave it to others make what they can of this dialectical muddle.

 

Independently of this, the above use of the word "picture" is itself something of a give-away. Pictures are only such because of the observers who view them. Eliminate the observer and the 'picturing' role of science must go with it. Admittedly, the physical object that constitutes a picture (i.e., in one sense of that word, the canvas, the frame, the paint, and so on) won't immediately vanish if humanity and all sentient life perished (or, of course, it won't depending on how that happens!), but the verb "to picture" is for us transitive. Without human input, no picturing can take place. The Moon, for example, isn't a picture for, or of, anything. Nor is your favourite aunt (if you have one).

 

That is, of course, why we find the 'Ideal Observer' -- and/or the use of terms that imply that actual observers exist 'somewhere' --, cropping up all over the place, supposedly viewing events (even if only as part of some 'thought-experiment' -- such as, "Imagine you are travelling on a light beam, at the speed of light"; or "Imagine you live in two-dimensional Flatland!") in many 'objective' theories or descriptions of nature -- or, at least, in their popularisations. On that basis, the term "objective" would mean something like "observer-, but not ideal-observer-independent". In other words, science would be 'objective' only if we conveniently forget what is meant by "observer-independent".

 

Again, it could be argued that the objectivity of science is based on the following sort of counterfactual:

 

R7: Even if there were no observers, light would still bend as it passed between media.

 

Naturally, sentences like R7 won't be controverted at this site (although it is questionable whether the word "objectivity" is of any real help, here), but it is worth pointing out that R7 isn't relevant to the doctrine presently being challenged, for if there were no observers then appearances couldn't contradict reality -- for, in that case, there would plainly be no 'appearances' to conflict with anything, nobody to do the 'contradicting', no one to experience a single 'appearance' to begin with!

 

So, 'objectively' speaking (to adopt this confused mode of expression for the moment), appearances can't contradict "things-in-themselves", even if they were to be counterfactually depicted this way.

 

It might still be felt that there must be a contradiction between 'commonsense' -- or ordinary language -- and scientific knowledge if the latter is to make any progress. We no longer believe many things that once seemed obvious to 'commonsense', which, of course, means that most of our former erroneous ideas must have been either abandoned or corrected by science at some point.

 

Or so it might ne maintained...

 

However, this latest attempt to rescue the theory that reality contradicts appearances labours under another confusion -- one based on the belief that 'commonsense' and ordinary language are somehow the same. They aren't.

 

[This topic is examined in greater detail in Essay Twelve (however, some of that material has been re-posted here). There, it will become apparent that since no one seems to have a clear idea what the term "commonsense" means (as it is used in Philosophy), it is difficult to make much sense of this objection.]

 

It is also worth pointing out that long before the scientific study of nature began, human beings were well aware of the fact that sticks don't bend in water. It hardly took a Newton, a Galileo or an Einstein to uncover that amazing fact! This isn't to say that earlier generations were able to explain this phenomenon, but that plainly has no bearing on the topic in hand.

 

[Several of the other 'corrections' scientific advance has allegedly forced on 'commonsense' will be examined in the next sub-section, and again in other Essays posted at this site.]

 

As we have just seen, this entire topic revolves around the use of two obscure terms-of-art: "objective" and "subjective". Neither of them has a clear meaning or a fixed use (when employed metaphysically), even for those who think they know what they mean. Of course, this implies that the distinction between these two words must be 'subjective' itself -- again, if, for the moment, we accept as legitimate this obscure way of talking.

 

Be this as it may, if the theory that 'reality contradicts appearances' actually depends on this obscure pair, it must prove impossible to determine its veracity until those terms have themselves been given a clear meaning -- and, incidentally a meaning that doesn't itself depend on a single instance of human or observer-motivated input, for that would render it/them 'subjective', too!

 

Finally, as noted above, this entire issue reduces discussion to a consideration of contradictory beliefs -– the erroneous nature of which becomes obvious by scientific advance (as opposed to those derived from 'commonsense'). If that is all this means then it, too, won't be controverted here, for there is nothing in the least bit puzzling about false beliefs, still less about contradictory beliefs.

 

Indeed, and alas, they are as common as sand on Blackpool beach.30

 

The 'Contradiction' Between Science And 'Commonsense'

 

In view of the above, perhaps we should consider examples that illustrate the alleged conflict between science and 'commonsense' (disparities many think have actually arisen as scientists study of nature -- which, as we have seen, is a favourite topic much cited by DM-fans), in order to try to understand what the supposed 'contradiction' between 'appearance' and 'reality' is meant to be. To that end, consider the following:

 

R8: The Sun appears to rise each morning.

 

R9: It isn't the case that the Sun appears to rise each morning.

 

R10: It isn't the case that the Sun rises each morning.

 

Once more, while R8 and R9 might look contradictory they fail to match the sort of conflict we seek since they are both about appearances. In addition, there is no obvious logical connection between R10 and either one of R8 and R9. That is because the truth or falsehood of R10 has nothing to do with the truth or falsehood of R8 and R9, nor vice versa. In fact, if the earth were stationary, and it was the Sun that moved, things would appear no different than if the reverse were the case. Furthermore, we surely wouldn't conclude that R10 had been contradicted if sunrise couldn't be seen one morning because of, say, fog or thick cloud -- that is, if it didn't appear (to a local observer) to rise. Nor would R8 become false if, in the future, scientists changed their minds about the truth of R10 (or its corollary, the idea that the Earth revolves around the Sun, not the other way round).31

 

Clearly, this recurring problem is the result of an insurmountable (logical) barrier. In fact, it is more like a fatal objection that John Rees and other dialecticians seem to have overlooked: it isn't possible to form a contradiction from a proposition that expresses only matters of fact conjoined with one that reports only appearances, indeed, as we saw earlier.

 

In short, the following schematic sentences:

 

R11: It appears to be the case that p,

 

R12: It is not the case that p,

 

can't form a contradictory pair when interpreted in the manner specified, and then conjoined (where, again, p is a propositional variable).

 

These two aren't even inconsistent, since they can both be true (when they have been interpreted). Consider these pair interpreted sentences:

 

R11a: It appears to be the case that it is raining.

 

R11b: It appears to be raining. [Which is a more colloquial version of R11a.]

 

R12a: It is not the case that it is raining.

 

R12b: It isn't raining. [Which is a more colloquial version of R12a.]

 

R12c: The water main next door has just burst.

 

So, NN might look out of the window and truthfully utter R11b, while NM truthfully comes out with R12b a few seconds later. Both are speaking the truth since, unbeknown to NN, there has just been a major fracture in a neighbouring water pipe, which is cascading what looks like rain high into the air over NN's house, prompting NM to utter R12c soon after.

 

[Yes, this is yet another trite example, but it has the not inconsiderable merit of making things clear enough even for benighted DM-fans to get the point.]

 

Moreover, unless we subscribe to the view that facts and appearances are intelligent, or are perhaps both argumentative and belligerent -– that is, we assume they are capable of arguing with each other -- it would make no sense to suppose that an appearance could literally contradict (i.e., "gainsay", "speak against") a true proposition. Not only are appearances non-linguistic and non-sentient, but as far as propositions and appearances are concerned, they don't seem to oppose each other 'dialectically' in any obvious way, either. They certainly don't turn into one another (which is what dialectical opposites are supposed to do, so we are told), nor do they cause/motivate each other to change (which, once more, the DM-classics tell us they must do). The existence of one doesn't imply the existence of the other (unlike the existence of the proletariat, which is implied by, and implies in return, the existence of the capitalist class, so we are also told). So, even if this were a contradiction, it wouldn't be dialectical.

 

Hence, as such, this alleged contradiction makes little sense, even in DM-terms!

 

Furthermore, the apparent motion of the Sun is the same today (with respect to sunrise, at least) as it was thousands of years ago. Admittedly, we might interpret this particular phenomenon differently today, but that doesn't affect how things still appear to observers. In that case, at best, any DM-'contradiction' here must be figurative, if it is to apply in any meaningful way -- either that or it must depend on some sort of terminological re-definition (that has yet to be explained with any clarity). If this were a genuine DM-'contradiction', something should have changed at least since Copernicus wrote what he did (since 'dialectical contradictions' cause change, so we are also told). Has the apparent motion of the Sun each morning changed in all that time? Not that anyone has noticed. [Email me if you disagree.]

 

Nevertheless, it could be argued that there are aspects of scientific knowledge that do in fact contradict appearances, despite what has been argued above. It is surely true that those who relied on 'commonsense' at one time imagined that the earth was stationary, whereas scientists now know that our planet moves. In which case, the following pair of propositions could well illustrate the intended contradiction:

 

R13: The earth moves.

 

R14: It is not the case that the earth moves.

 

Even though these two certainly contradict one another they aren't what we are looking for -- since neither of them is about appearances.

 

In addition, Rees seems to be interested in contradictory pairs where both halves are true (or which relate to 'contradictory' states of affairs that somehow coexist) -- i.e., those involving seemingly 'correct' appearances which are 'contradicted' by genuinely 'objective' underlying realities -– otherwise the alleged superiority of DL over FL would surely be illusory. That is because, as already noted, both halves of a DM-style contradiction must both be true at once (or, once more, they must relate to 'contradictory' states of affairs that coexist), unlike their less contentious FL-cousins.

 

Unfortunately, however, R14 is false.32

 

[This theme is continued in the next sub-section.]

Does The Earth Move?

 

It hardly needs pointing out that Rees (and other DM-theorists) wouldn't be interested in pairs of supposedly contradictory propositions if they thought both were false, or that when one was true the other was false. [Or even that they both fail to relate to 'contradictory' states of affairs that coexist.] But, because DM-theorists without exception fail to specify clearly what they actually mean by "contradiction" in such contexts (or, indeed, in any contexts), it is impossible to say whether or not even this supposition is itself correct.

 

It could be objected that modern, post-Copernican science has in fact contradicted Aristotelian and Ptolemaic theories about the immobility of the Earth. Of course, that is itself a controversial interpretation of the relationship between ancient and modern science -– and one that isn't obviously correct. [I will explain why that is so in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

[TOR = Theory of Relativity.]

 

Be this as it may, one clear consequence of the TOR is that with a suitable change of reference frame it is possible to picture the Earth as stationary and the Sun (etc.) in motion relative to it. That done, the above 'contradiction' disappears. In which case, the only necessary 'correction' to Aristotelian/Ptolemaic Physics (in this respect) would involve the abandonment of the idea that the Earth is situated in a unique frame of reference. But science itself can neither confirm nor confute that particular metaphysical (or even theological) assumption.

 

On this topic, Robert Mills had this comment to make:

 

"Another way of stating the principle of equivalence, a way that better reflects its name, is to say that all reference frames, including accelerated reference frames, are equivalent, that the laws of Physics take the same form in any reference frame…. And it is also correct to say that the Copernican view (with the sun at the centre) and the Ptolemaic view (with the earth at the centre) are equally valid and equally consistent!" [Mills (1994), pp.182-83. Spelling altered to conform with UK English. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

It is worth recalling that the late Professor Mills was co-inventor of Yang-Mills Theory in Gauge Quantum Mechanics, and was hence no scientific novice.

 

Add to that what noted Astronomer, Fred Hoyle, had to say:

 

"Instead of adding further support to the heliocentric picture of the planetary motions the Einstein theory goes in the opposite direction, giving increased respectability to the geocentric picture. The relation of the two pictures is reduced to a mere coordinate transformation and it is the main tenet of the Einstein theory that any two ways of looking at the world which are related to each other by a coordinate transformation are entirely equivalent from a physical point of view.... Today we cannot say that the Copernican theory is 'right' and the Ptolemaic theory 'wrong' in any meaningful physical sense...." [Hoyle (1973), pp.78-79. Paragraphs merged.]

 

"We now know that the difference between a heliocentric theory and a geocentric theory is one of relative motion only, and that such a difference has no physical significance. But such an understanding had to await Einstein's theory of gravitation in order to be fully clarified." [Hoyle (1975), p.416.]

 

Similarly, Nobel Laureate Max Born commented as follows:

 

"Thus from Einstein's point of view Ptolemy and Copernicus are equally right. What point of view is chosen is a matter of expediency. For the mechanics of the planetary system the view of Copernicus is certainly the more convenient. But it is meaningless to call the gravitational fields that occur when a different system of reference is chosen 'fictitious' in contrast with the 'real' fields produced by near masses: it is just as meaningless as the question of the 'real' length of a rod...in the special theory of relativity. A gravitational field is neither 'real' nor 'fictitious' in itself. It has no meaning at all independent of the choice of coordinates, just as in the case of the length of a rod." [Born (1965), p.345. I owe this reference to Rosser (1967).]

 

However, this particular idea pre-dates the TOR; as Robert DiSalle notes (who also provides the background to these theoretical developments), it goes back at least to Leibniz:

 

"The term 'reference frame' was coined in the 19th century, but it has a long prehistory, beginning, perhaps, with the emergence of the Copernican theory. The significant point was not the replacement of the earth by the sun as the centre of all motion in the universe, but the recognition of both the earth and the sun as merely possible points of view from which the motions of the celestial bodies may be described. This implied that the basic task of Ptolemaic astronomy -- to represent the planetary motions by combinations of circular motions -- could take any point to be fixed, without sacrificing predictive power. Therefore, as Copernicus suggested in the opening arguments of On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres, the choice of any particular point required some justification on grounds other than mere successful astronomical prediction. The most persuasive grounds, seemingly, were physical: we don't perceive the physical effects that we would expect the earth's motion to produce. Copernicus himself noted, however, in reply, that we can indeed undergo motions that are physically imperceptible, as on a smoothly moving ship.... At least in some circumstances, we can easily treat our moving point of view as if it were at rest.

 

"As the basic programme of Ptolemy and Copernicus gave way to that of early classical mechanics as developed by Galileo, this equivalence of points of view was made more precise and explicit. Galileo was unable to present a decisive argument for the motion of the earth around the sun. He demonstrated, however, that the Copernican view does not contradict our experience of a seemingly stable earth. He accomplished this through a principle that, in the precise form that it takes in Newtonian mechanics, has become known as the 'principle of Galilean relativity': mechanical experiments will have the same results in a system in uniform motion that they have in a system at rest. Arguments against the motion of the earth had typically appealed to experimental evidence -- e.g., that a stone dropped from a tower falls to the base of the tower, instead of being left behind as the earth rotates during its fall. But Galileo argued persuasively that such experiments would happen just as they do whether the earth were moving or not, provided that the motion is sufficiently uniform.... Galileo's account of this was not precisely the principle that we call 'Galilean relativity'; he seems to have thought that a system in uniform circular motion, such as a frame at rest on the rotating earth, would be indistinguishable from a frame truly at rest. The principle was named in his honour because he had grasped the underlying idea of dynamical equivalence: he understood the composition of motion, and understood how individual motions of bodies within a system -- such as the fall of a stone from a tower -- are composed with the motion of the system as a whole. This principle of composition, combined with the idea that bodies maintain their uniform motion, formed the basis for the idea of dynamically indistinguishable frames of reference....

 

"Leibniz, later, articulated a more general 'equipollence of hypotheses': in any system of interacting bodies, any hypothesis that any particular body is at rest is equivalent to any other. Therefore neither Copernicus' nor Ptolemy's view can be true -- though one may be judged simpler than the other -- because both are merely possible hypothetical interpretations of the same relative motions. This principle clearly defines (what we would call) a set of reference frames. They differ in their arbitrary choices of a resting point or origin, but agree on the relative positions of bodies at any moment and their changing relative distances through time...." [DiSalle (2020). Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original; spelling modified to agree with UK English. Link added.]

 

[Although, DiSalle also points out that Leibniz's equivalence principle was actually inconsistent with his view of motion. It took the TOR to sort that conundrum out.]

 

Of course, as Leibniz argued, it could always be claimed that Copernican theory is simpler than the Ptolemaic system, but until we receive a clear sign that nature works in accordance with our notion of simplicity (or cares a fig about it), that response won't wash.

 

Here is physicist, Sabine Hossenfelder:

 

"They were so sure, they bet billions on it. For decades physicists told us they knew where the next discoveries were waiting. They built accelerators, shot satellites into space, and planted detectors in underground mines. The world prepared to ramp up the physics envy. But where physicists expected a breakthrough, the ground wouldn't give. The experiments didn't reveal anything new. What failed physicists wasn't their math; it was their choice of math. They believed that Mother Nature was elegant, simple, and kind about providing clues. They thought they could hear her whisper when they were talking to themselves. Now Nature spoke, and she said nothing, loud and clear." [Hossenfelder (2018), p.vi. Paragraphs merged; bold emphasis added.]

 

Again, this is quite apart from the fact that 'simplicity' itself is impossible to define in non-question-begging terms. For example, which is the simpler of these two formulae?

 

(1) θ = Ae-kt

 

(2) θ = At2 + Bt + C

 

Plainly, (2) is algebraically 'simpler', but (1) is 'simpler' if we judge simplicity on the basis of the number of terms employed. Naturally, the problem deciding which 'law' (when expressed mathematically, for example) is 'simpler' becomes all the more difficult as the complexity level rises. [On that, see Losee (2001), pp.228-29.]

 

Of course, the above interpretation of the relation between the Copernican and the Ptolemaic systems suffers from the not inconsiderable problem of trying to explain how, if we fix the frame of reference so that the Earth is stationary while the rest of the heavens revolve around it, the 'fixed stars' manage to travel quite so far and so fast. Indeed, if they complete one revolution per day (as they must given this view), then they will have to travel many times faster than the speed of light, as the stars and galaxies many billions of light years distant do a complete circuit in 24 hours. [Naturally, that assumes that the 'fixed stars' are thousands, millions or billions of light years away.]

 

Even more puzzling still: if any point anywhere can be taken as the centre of a stationary frame of reference and everything else moves in relation to it, then, for example, when someone sets off for a walk, and they are considered stationary while the rest of the world moves past them (again, on this view), one might very well wonder why every other object, and especially every other human being, fails to register the acceleration that they must undergo to accommodate that individual's ambulatory proclivities. Or, indeed, why water in nearby canals, rivers or lakes doesn't slosh about, why drinks in cups or glasses don't spill when anyone 'gets up' to 'leave' a bar. or even why houses or flats don't crumble to the ground as if hit by an earthquake whenever anyone sets off on a sprint. And so on...

 

It won't do at this point to complain that the above aren't inertial frames of reference but involve accelerated (i.e., non-inertial) frames of reference. The fact that not all of the above experience accelerations (and the 'inertial forces' associated with them) tells us which object(s) have changed their motion and which haven't.

 

However, let is assume that the relative motion between the ground and someone who sets off for a walk is zero before any change in motion, and that after this individual sets off it is a steady, not now accelerating, 4 km/hr. But, after she sets off, the ground isn't moving any faster relative to that individual (no matter what the mathematics of relative motion might tell us -- the ground hasn't accelerated!), that individual is moving 4 km/hr faster relative to the ground than before. In which case, even though a mathematical description of the relative velocities here can't discriminate between these two scenarios (i.e., the question concerning which one, the earth or the walker, is now moving faster relative to the other than they were before), a physical description, and more importantly our experience of the world, most certainly can distinguish between them. If we were to argue that the ground is now actually moving 4 km/hr faster relative to the walker than it was before, then we would be forced to conclude that the earth (not the walker) must have undergone an acceleration. But that is true of only one of these two factors involved, the walker herself. That is, of course, just a roundabout way of saying that we don't live in a mathematical universe, or even that the world we live and experience in isn't a mathematical object.

 

Indeed, if we were to press these considerations much further, they could stand as an effective 'common sense' refutation of a core principle of Relativity Theory. Well, we should perhaps leave such puzzles to the experts to sort out...

 

[I posted this conundrum on a physics discussion board a few years ago, but the answers I received were incomprehensible to anyone who doesn't think the universe is a mathematical object of some sort. (I certainly failed to understand them, and I have a mathematics degree!) Indeed, the ensuing discussion showed that if you know enough technical jargon, you can make anything appear to work (rather like the word salads bandied about in Medieval Theology -- anyone who has read enough of that material will know what I mean). They also illustrate how much disagreement there is among physicists over such basic issues as space, time and motion (indeed, as noted in Essay Eleven Part One and Essay Five)! A perusal of any advanced physics discussion board or forum will also amply confirm this. For example, I have been asking Professors of Physics on Quora for the last six years to explain what energy is; they all either ignore the question or change the subject pretty quickly!]

 

Having said that, it is worth pointing out that in relation to the relative motion of heavenly bodies, the above local considerations don't apply (except, maybe, the one related to the superluminal velocity of the orbiting stars). This might illustrate the fact that a mathematical theory could appear successful when it is applied to the entire universe, and might even make very accurate predictions, but when it comes to its application to the world as we know it, or as we experience it locally, it might not seem quite so sensible -- let alone believable.

 

In which case, the TOR makes very poor predictions about our experience of the everyday world. [I will say much more about that in Essay Thirteen Part Two. In the meantime on this topic, readers might like to watch this video which shows that General Relativity implies that, contrary to appearances, the earth rises to meet a 'falling body', the body itself does not move! Make of that what you will.]

 

Nevertheless, even if the above considerations were an accurate depiction of the relation between these two theories (the Ptolemaic and the Copernican), it would still fail to be of much use to DM-fans -– that is, not unless they abandon the requirement that DM-'contradictions' should both be true (or that they must reflect objects and processes that 'co-exist'). But, as noted earlier, both sets of propositions (concerning the Ptolemaic and the Copernican systems) can't be true at once, given their commitment to the superiority of the latter system over the former. And should any DM-fans decide that the Equivalence Principle vindicates their approach (in that it allows us to regard both systems as equally valid), that would be no help, either. That is because this principle merely says that the validity of each depends on the frame of reference chosen, which means that when one frame is chosen, one option is left by the wayside (until a new frame is chosen). Dialecticians certainly can't appeal to the alleged contradiction between 'appearance' and 'reality' here, since there is no 'reality' for anything to contradict until a reference frame has been chosen -- which, of course, makes each separate system a creature of convention, and not the least bit 'objective' (at least as Lenin defined "objectivity"). It is also worth recalling that there aren't just two competing reference frames up for grabs here; any point in space (and, plainly, there are countless septillions of these) is equally valid.

 

It might, however, be interesting to see whether or not any DM-fans who accept the Equivalence Principle are brave enough to countenance the rather startling consequences that follow from it (several of which were outlined above), as well as their opposites. Would they, therefore, be happy to accept that the stars both (really) travel many times faster than the speed of light and that they don't, at the same time? Or that when dialectician, D(1), say, sets off for a demonstration she in fact remains stationary and the demonstration actually comes to her (without those in the demonstration noticing the subsequent acceleration as D(1) 'sets off' from home, in the way they might feel such forces when sat in a car as it accelerates, or brakes), and it doesn't.

 

Or, even this puzzling conundrum: when comrade D(1) (still the centre of a frame of reference) dives into a swimming pool she is met with a wall of water accelerating upwards to meet her, but without any distortion to its shape. That is, every part of the entire body of water in the pool must accelerate upwards at the same time and the same rate, behaving like a perfectly rigid solid, not a liquid. Must DM-fans accept both that scenario and its opposite?

 

Returning to saner issues: as I pointed out earlier (but in more detail in Essay Five), the only 'contradiction' that can be cobbled together in this case would involve an undischarged ambiguity:

 

A1: The Earth moves.

 

A2: The Earth does not move.

 

But, this apparent 'contradiction' would vanish as soon as the following ambiguity is resolved:

 

A3: In Inertial Frame, IF(1), the Earth moves.

 

A4: In Inertial Frame, IF(2), the Earth does not move.

 

But, this is no more a contradiction than the following example would be (one that will be used again below):

 

R15: The strikers moved.

 

R16: It is not the case that the strikers moved.

 

That pair certainly looks contradictory (especially if both relate to the same strikers at the same moment, and both are held true), but that would cease to be the case when it was revealed that the said strikers were sat on a train that was travelling at 80 miles per hour. On the train, these militants could be sat perfectly still, but to an observer on a platform they would appear to be moving at speed. Since all motion is relative to an inertial frame, the beliefs motivated by one set of observations would merely appear to contradict those motivated by another. But, as soon as different frames of reference (or, indeed, different background circumstances) are taken into account, the 'contradiction' disappears.

 

[DM-fans might be tempted to respond that the above sort of contradiction isn't of the type they are interested in; their focus centres on 'dialectical contradictions'. I have dealt with objections like this in Essays Five and Eight Parts One, Two and Three, where we will see that dialecticians themselves haven't a clue what a 'dialectical contradiction' is -- or if they have, they have kept that secret to themselves remarkably well for over 150 years.]

 

However, if both Aristotelian and Ptolemaic astronomies are now regarded by DM-theorists as representing or 'reflecting' 'appearances' (or perhaps even expressing a 'commonsense view' of the universe), and they still hold either or both to be true, or 'partially/relatively true' -- whether or not they are 'contradicted' by 'reality' -- then it seems that they must also be prepared to accept the truth, or 'partial/relative truth', of any number of other debunked, erroneous or otherwise misguided theories from previous generations/centuries. And if that is so, they must also be prepared to accept the truth, or 'partial/relative truth', of what were once viewed as 'commonsense' ideas –- such as, say, the ancient belief that a woman who sees a hare will give birth to a child with a hare-lip. Or, the early modern 'urban myth' that some women not only can, they have actually given birth to live rabbits. [Pickover (2000).] It seems they would have to accept the truth (or 'relative truth') of fables like these and their negations!

 

If we are meant to countenance DM-'contradictions' where both halves are 'true' (or they represent coexistent 'contradictory' states of affairs), alongside the odd idea that there is some truth even in the most outlandish of theories (perhaps as knowledge 'spirals' in on 'absolute truth' -- that topic has been covered in much more detail in Essay Eleven Part One), then the above conclusions seem unavoidable.

 

Here, for example, is Cornforth:

 

"Just as truths are for the most part only approximate and contain the possibility of being converted into untruths, so are many errors found not to be absolute falsehoods but to contain a germ of truth.... We should recognise, then, that certain erroneous views, including idealist views, could represent, in their time, a contribution to truth -- since they were, perhaps, the only ways in which certain truths could first begin to come to expression...." [Cornforth (1963), pp.138-39. Bold emphasis added. Paragraphs merged.]

 

But, what is remotely true about such fanciful ideas? What, for example, was even vaguely correct about the ancient idea that angels push the planets along in their orbit around the earth? Or, the more recent dogma that AIDS is a punishment from 'God'? If there is nothing true in outdated or offensive theories or 'propositions' such as these (or, those listed here, for example), then a DM-'contradiction' can't be cobbled-together from defective part like these -- that is, should we ever be told what a 'dialectical contradiction' actually is!

 

[Of course, any dialecticians tempted to cling on to unvarnished Hegelianism a little too enthusiastically (upside down or 'the right way up') will have to adopt a radically different view of truth (i.e., they will have to regard it as the degree of conformity -- or lack of it -- between an 'object' and its 'concept'). But, as we saw in Part One of this Essay, that 'theory of truth' only works if another ancient syntactical confusion -- i.e., the belief that concepts can be treated as objects, or the Proper Names thereof -- is itself correct, and hence that such 'objects' can be put in some sort of relation with another 'object' ('truth'). (More on this in Essay Twelve (when it is published in full). See also, here and here.)]

 

On the other hand, if an antiquated, obsolete or debunked theory is to be rejected because it is based on 'appearances', not 'reality', then DM-style 'contradictions' couldn't feature in it anywhere, after all. That is because, in that case, we would have alleged truths (those supposedly depicting 'reality') facing putative falsehoods (those allegedly encapsulating 'commonsense', ancient, or obsolete views of, or ideas about, 'reality'). We would not have two truths, still less two 'partial truths' (i.e., those belonging to an outmoded conception confronting the less 'partially-true' theories found in more recent scientific theories of 'reality', or aspects of it) confronting each other.

 

Howsoever these options are reshuffled there appear to be no winning cards in any of the hands DM-theorists have dealt, or could have dealt, themselves.

 

This means that we still don't have a DM-'contradiction', even in this relatively clear case. Nor are we ever likely to get one --, and that is so for the reasons set out above.

 

Even if a case could be made in favour of the view that scientific propositions contradict indicative sentences that 'give expression to appearances', that still wouldn't achieve all that dialecticians seem to require of them. That is because (as argued at length in Essay Five) propositions that might look contradictory -- and which are both thought to be true -– would normally be disambiguated, or given a context against which they might be understood, which would resolve the apparent contradiction.

 

And this latest assertion is no mere 'bourgeois' prejudice or diktat. Consider the following example, again, which is analogous to the previous pair:

 

R15: The strikers moved.

 

R16: It is not the case that the strikers moved.

 

As we saw earlier, when a frame of reference is supplied the 'contradiction' here disappears.

 

And it won't do to complain about the trite nature of R15 and R16 --, that is, not unless and until DM-theorists tell us what they mean by the obscure phrase "dialectical contradiction". [Since this topic is dealt with more fully in Essay Eight Parts One, Two and Three, no more will be said about it here.]

 

All this is quite apart from the fact that the DM-literature itself contains little other than trite examples -- boiling water, contradictory seeds, cooks who add too much salt to soup, characters who speak "prose all their lives", the differential fighting ability of Mamelukes, "cone bearings", "Yea, Yea"/"Nay, Nay", etc., etc.

 

DM is Mickey Mouse Science, par excellence, so DM-fans have no room to point their ideologically-compromised fingers at critics like me.

 

Indeed, just as the above is quite apart from the fact that relative motion is hardly a "trite" topic in physics.

 

As seems clear, apparent 'contradictions' aren't presented to us by nature and society totally 'naked', as it were. They arise either from ambiguities inherent in our use of language or from a lack of clarity (etc.) in the original 'problem' (or so it has been argued in Essay Five). In the above case (i.e., R15 and R16), the 'contradiction' plainly arose because of an unacknowledged change of reference frame.

 

While this would make such 'contradictions' sensitive to a choice of reference frame, it wouldn't automatically imply they were dependent on 'contradictory states of affairs' or 'contradictory processes' in 'reality' (whatever that means). However, that was certainly not the point DM-theorists wanted to make about the 'contradictions' that interest them. And yet, those mentioned above were either artefacts of a conventionalised choice of reference frame or they were a direct consequence of confused thinking. They were certainly not based on 'reality' (again, whatever that means).33

 

Science Can't Undermine Common Sense

 

[The following material used to appear in Note 33.]

 

Ordinary Language Conflated With Common Sense

 

Philosophers and scientists often confuse ordinary language with 'commonsense', run the two together or argue that they (somehow) depend on each other. [On this topic in general, see Peels and Woudenberg (2020).] Part of the idea here seems to be that the former 'contains' or 'expresses' the latter.

 

However, concerning the alleged contradiction between 'appearance and reality' (discussed in previous subsections), the latter has itself been (partially) illustrated by the obvious clash between the Ptolemaic and the Copernican astronomical systems, that is between early modern theories that the Earth isn't sat motionless at the centre of the Universe and earlier theories that it was. These days those who tend to conflate the vernacular with  'commonsense' also seem to have in mind the supposed link between (what many have termed) "folk" theories of nature (e.g., that the Earth is stationary while the Sun moves) -- or those that apply to human psychology and behaviour --, and everyday language. So, given this rather widespread view of 'commonsense', it would seem incongruous, misguided or even mistaken to use the word "sunrise", for instance, when the Sun doesn't actually rise. Along with other notorious examples (some of which will be reviewed in Essay Thirteen Part Two), this is supposed to show that ordinary language still retains concepts based on, or derived from, defunct metaphysical, religious or quasi-scientific doctrines, beliefs and theories, which in turn is taken to mean that the vernacular is defective, at least in areas that involve science, psychology and philosophy.

 

[It is worth pointing out that I restrict the word "commonsense" to its theoretical and philosophical employment, and use "common sense" to refer its ordinary use -- as in, for example, "Use your common sense. Only an idiot will put their hand in a lion's cage!" What links, if any, there are between the two phrases I will put to one side for now.]

 

Notwithstanding the above, even if this seeming incongruity actually had anything to do with common sense, it would still fail to show that the vernacular depends upon or encapsulates outmoded scientific or metaphysical theories. This can be seen from the fact that all of us (scientists included) still employ terms like "sunrise" despite our assenting to contemporary theories of the Universe. We aren't to suppose that when scientists, for example, use the word "sunrise" they do so ironically, duplicitously, or thoughtlessly.

 

Moreover, unless scientists and philosophers used -- and already understood -- terms taken from ordinary language, they could scarcely begin to correct common sense, always assuming that it needed correcting or even that that is what scientists or philosophers in fact do, or wished to do.

 

[On this topic, see Baz (2012), Button, et al (1995), Cowley (1991), Cook (1979, 1980), Ebersole (1967, 1979a, 1979b), Hacker (1982a, 1982b, 1987), Hallett (2008), Hanfling (1984, 1989, 2000), Ryle (1960), Macdonald (1938), Peels and Woudenberg (2020), Stebbing (1958) and Stroud (2000). This issue will be discussed in more detail in Essays Twelve Part Seven and Thirteen Part Two. Since writing this, I have come across a somewhat similar approach to the line adopted at this site in Frank (1950), Chapter Seven.]

 

Nevertheless, a much more revealing fact about ordinary language -– and one all too easily missed -- is that we can readily form the negations of sentences that contain allegedly obsolete notions (like those about the daily 'ascent of the Sun'). Consider, for instance, the following hackneyed example (quoted earlier):

 

"As we know appearances can be deceptive. Each day the sun appears to circumnavigate the earth, when the reality is that the earth travels around the sun. We therefore need to penetrate the veil of appearance in order to reveal the reality that is disguised within." [Quoted from here.]

 

This yields the following pair of propositions:

 

S1: The Sun rises in the morning.

 

S2: It isn't the case that the Sun rises in the morning.

 

First of all, the fact that we can form the negation of every indicative empirical sentence capable of being written or uttered (in every language on the planet that has the relevant vocabulary) demonstrates that the vernacular is neither a theory nor is it dependent upon one. That is because -- to use another argument I owe to Peter Geach -- no viable theory could countenance the negation of all its empirical propositions, as ordinary language readily does.

 

Naturally, this claim is somewhat controversial -- but, only for those intent on depreciating or denigrating ordinary language!

 

[Ordinary language will be defended in depth in Essay Twelve Part Seven; some of that material has already been published here.]

 

Second, scientific theories extend, develop and even replace ordinary words, using typographically similar terms with new meanings (such as "time", "space", "solid" and "spin", etc.), the meaning of which has almost invariably been modified by re-definition, or analogically and/or metaphorically (etc.). In addition, scientists introduce technical terms not found in the vernacular (at that time), but which might subsequently appear in ordinary speech, such as "electricity", "protein" and "placebo" -- or which might not, such as "allele", "superposition" and "2,4-Dinitrophenylhydrazine". But, unless these revisions and innovations had been linked to ordinary language and practice, at some point, at some level, in some way, their meaning would be completely unclear if not entirely indeterminate. In turn that would mean any theories that used them would thereby be rendered incomprehensible. Which is, of course, part of the reason why several leading scientists tell us, for instance, that no one understands Quantum Mechanics:

 

"Those who are not shocked when they first come across quantum theory can't possibly have understood it." Niels Bohr

 

"If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it." John Wheeler

 

"Quantum mechanics makes absolutely no sense." Roger Penrose

 

"There was a time when the newspapers said that only twelve men understood the theory of relativity. I do not believe there ever was such a time. There might have been a time when only one man did, because he was the only guy who caught on, before he wrote his paper. But after people read the paper a lot of people understood the theory of relativity in some way or other, certainly more than twelve. On the other hand, I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics…. I am going to tell you what nature behaves like. If you will simply admit that maybe she does behave like this, you will find her a delightful, entrancing thing. Do not keep saying to yourself, if you can possibly avoid it, 'but how can it be like that?' because you will get 'down the drain,' into a blind alley from which nobody has yet escaped. Nobody knows how it can be like that." [Feynman (1992), p.129. Bold emphases added.]

 

 

Video One: "Nobody Understands Quantum Mechanics"

 

Clued-in physicists already seem to be aware that the language they use presents, or even generates, serious problems. Here, for example, is leading Physicist, the late David Peat:

 

"It hasn't been a great couple of years for theoretical physics. Books such as Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics and Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong embody the frustration felt across the field that string theory, the brightest hope for formulating a theory that would explain the universe in one beautiful equation, has been getting nowhere. It's quite a comedown from the late 1980s and 1990s, when a grand unified theory seemed just around the corner and physicists believed they would soon, to use Stephen Hawking's words, 'know the mind of God'. New Scientist even ran an article called 'The end of physics'.

 

"So what went wrong? Why are physicists finding it so hard to make that final step? I believe part of the answer was hinted at by the great physicist Niels Bohr, when he wrote: 'It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out about nature. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.'

 

"At first sight that seems strange. What has language got to do with it? After all, we see physics as about solving equations relating to facts about the world -- predicting a comet's path, or working out how fast heat flows along an iron bar. The language we choose to convey question or answer is not supposed to fundamentally affect the nature of the result.

 

"Nonetheless, that assumption started to unravel one night in the spring of 1925, when the young Werner Heisenberg worked out the basic equations of what became known as quantum mechanics. One of the immediate consequences of these equations was that they did not permit us to know with total accuracy both the position and the velocity of an electron: there would always be a degree of irreducible uncertainty in these two values.

 

"Heisenberg needed an explanation for this. He reasoned thus: suppose a very delicate (hypothetical) microscope is used to observe the electron, one so refined that it uses only a single photon of energy to make its measurement. First it measures the electron's position, then it uses a second photon to measure the speed, or velocity. But in making this latter observation, the second photon has imparted a little kick to the electron and in the process has shifted its position. Try to measure the position again and we disturb the velocity. Uncertainty arises, Heisenberg argued, because every time we observe the universe we disturb its intrinsic properties.

 

"However, when Heisenberg showed his results to Bohr, his mentor, he had the ground cut from under his feet. Bohr argued that Heisenberg had made the unwarranted assumption that an electron is like a billiard ball in that it has a 'position' and possesses a 'speed'. These are classical notions, said Bohr, and do not make sense at the quantum level. The electron does not necessarily have an intrinsic position or speed, or even a particular path. Rather, when we try to make measurements, quantum nature replies in a way we interpret using these familiar concepts.

 

"This is where language comes in. While Heisenberg argued that 'the meaning of quantum theory is in the equations', Bohr pointed out that physicists still have to stand around the blackboard and discuss them in German, French or English. Whatever the language, it contains deep assumptions about space, time and causality -- assumptions that do not apply to the quantum world. Hence, wrote Bohr, 'we are suspended in language such that we don't know what is up and what is down'. Trying to talk about quantum reality generates only confusion and paradox.

 

"Unfortunately Bohr's arguments are often put aside today as some physicists discuss ever more elaborate mathematics, believing their theories to truly reflect subatomic reality. I remember a conversation with string theorist Michael Green a few years after he and John Schwartz published a paper in 1984 that was instrumental in making string theory mainstream. Green remarked that when Einstein was formulating the theory of relativity he had thought deeply about the philosophical problems involved, such as the nature of the categories of space and time. Many of the great physicists of Einstein's generation read deeply in philosophy.

 

"In contrast, Green felt, string theorists had come up with a mathematical formulation that did not have the same deep underpinning and philosophical inevitability. Although superstrings were for a time an exciting new approach, they did not break conceptual boundaries in the way that the findings of Bohr, Heisenberg and Einstein had done.

 

"The American quantum theorist David Bohm embraced Bohr's views on language, believing that at the root of Green's problem is the structure of the languages we speak. European languages, he noted, perfectly mirror the classical world of Newtonian physics. When we say 'the cat chases the mouse' we are dealing with well-defined objects (nouns), which are connected via verbs. Likewise, classical physics deals with objects that are well located in space and time, which interact via forces and fields. But if the world doesn't work the way our language does, advances are inevitably hindered.

 

"Bohm pointed out that quantum effects are much more process-based, so to describe them accurately requires a process-based language rich in verbs, and in which nouns play only a secondary role....

 

"Physics as we know it is about equations and quantitative measurement. But what these numbers and symbols really mean is a different, more subtle matter. In interpreting the equations we must remember the limitations language places on how we can think about the world...." [Peat (2008), pp.41-43. Bold emphases and several links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

I don't want to suggest that I agree with everything the above author has to say about the nature of language (or even scientific language!), but Peat's comments certainly indicate that (some) leading scientists themselves are aware there is a problem. [A point brought out rather well by Becker (2018).] 

 

[Admittedly, Peat concurs with Bohm when he suggests that we need to learn from Native American languages, many of which seem to have a rather peculiar grammar, but it is to be wondered how a culture that has produced no science or technology of any note has much in this respect to teach one that has. (Again, this topic will be pursued in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two, to be published sometime in 2025.) Nor is it at all clear what it means to say that language contains certain assumptions. In fact, as this section of the present Essay seeks to show, it can't. Having said that, it is important to add that when I say Native American culture has produced "no science or technology of any note" I don't mean to disparage, demean or depreciate that culture. Plainly, Native Americans wouldn't have survived had they not developed any scientific ideas or any technology. Clearly, they did. What I am alluding to is the vastly superior scientific knowledge and technology the development of capitalism has enabled -- even if the class war has greatly distorted and abused both -- upon which the very possibility of socialism and human emancipation are predicated.]

 

Third, returning to the case in point, the view defended here means that the word "sunrise" is no more problematic than "nightfall" and "daybreak" are. No one imagines that the use of "nightfall" commits anyone to a "folk theory" of the susceptibilities of darkness to the law of gravity, or that "daybreak" suggests mornings are brittle. Or, indeed, that their use reflects a defunct or obsolete scientific theory, or even that they 'encapsulate common sense'. Consider the word "solstice" (from the Latin solstitium -- meaning "point at which the sun seems to stand still"). Even though that word is an echo of the old Geocentric Theory of the solar system, no one thinks that when Astronomers use it they are secretly -- or inadvertently -- committed to defunct Ptolemaic Theory.

 

Indeed, and to change the example, no one (certainly no scientist) believes that when someone catches the 'flu (or influenza) there is some sort of cosmic influence at work, even though, as matter of fact, the original use of this word (from the medieval Latin, influentia) was based on an ancient, mystical theory about there being just such stellar influence. Still less would anyone be willing to accept the idea that when someone is described as "hysterical" it implies they have a wandering womb (even though that word was originally connected with an obsolete scientific theory about 'wandering wombs' -- taken from the Greek, hysteria or womb, and from which we also get "hysterectomy"). Nor do psychologists these days believe that "lunatics" are sensitive to phases of the Moon, or even that phlegmatic individuals have a superabundan