Essay Three Part Two: Abstractionism -- Or, 'Science' On The cheap

 

Preface

 

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 then add this site.

 

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This Part of Essay Three has been written and re-written more times than any other at this site; the first half of it still contains rather too many mixed metaphors and stylistic monstrosities. I am in fact experimenting with new ways of expressing ideas that have been raked over countless times in the last 2400 years by Traditional Thinkers.

 

It will require many more re-writes before I am happy with it; hence, the reader's indulgence is required here more than elsewhere.

 

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

 

It is also worth pointing out that a good 50% of my case against DM has been relegated to the End Notes. Indeed, in this particular Essay, most of the supporting evidence is to be found there. This has been done to allow the Essay itself to flow a little more smoothly. This means that if readers want to appreciate fully my case against DM, they should consult this material. In many cases, I have added numerous qualifications and considerably more supporting detail 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 they might have will be missed, as will the extra supporting detail and the many qualifications I have included. [Since I have been debating this theory with comrades for over 25 years, I have heard all the objections there are! Many of the more recent on-line debates have been listed here.]

 

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

 

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

 

Finally, this Essay continues where Part One left off, so it should be read in conjunction with it since, in what follows, I take many of the points established there for granted.

 

As of April 2014, this Essay is just under 69,500 words long; a summary of some of its main ideas can be found here.

 

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

 

 

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(1) Introduction

 

(2) The Traditional Approach To Abstract General Ideas

 

(a) Dialectical Traditionalism

 

(b) How Not To Solve A Problem

 

(c) Descent Into A Metaphysical Abyss

 

(d) Empiricism And The Anthropomorphic Brain

 

(e) Bourgeois Individualism

 

(f) How Not To Solve Insoluble 'Problems'

 

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

 

(3) Yet More Headaches For Dialecticians

 

(a) Induction And The Social Nature Of Knowledge

 

(b) Driven To Abstraction

 

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

 

(d) Collective Error Over General Terms

 

(4) Abstractionism: Bury It -- Or Praise It?

 

(a) Public Criteria Versus Private Gain

 

(b) Particular Problems With Dialectical Generality

 

(5) Appearance And Reality

 

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

 

(b) Does Reality Contradict Appearances?

 

(i)   Contradictions Supposedly Generated By Science

 

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

 

(iii) 'Contradictory' Capitalism?

 

(c) Adrift In A Sea Of Appearances

 

(i)   Are All Appearances 'False'?

 

(ii)  Dialectics Engages Auto-Destruct Mode

 

(d) Why Science Can't Undermine Common Sense

 

(i)   Ordinary Language Confused With Common Sense

 

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

 

(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) 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

 

(8) Notes

 

(9) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

 

Introduction

 

In this Part of Essay Three, traditional answers to the 'problem' of generality (involving, inter alia, 'Universals', 'Forms', 'Abstract Ideas', 'Categories' and/or 'Concepts'), and the deleterious effect they have had on DIM, will be critically examined. In addition, the distinction between "appearance" and "reality", a dichotomy dialecticians have also inherited from Traditional Thought, will also be subjected to sustained and destructive criticism.

 

[DIM = Dialectical Marxism/Marxist; DM = Dialectical Materialism/Materialist; DL = Dialectical Logic.]

 

 

The Traditional Approach -- Rationalism And Original Syntax

 

Dialectical Traditionalism

 

As Part One of this Essay demonstrated -- and as Part Two will further confirm --, beyond one or two superficial differences, dialecticians have bought into the traditional view of 'abstract general ideas'.

 

Radical they are not.

 

In Metaphysics, reference to such ideas was intimately connected with the so-called 'problem' of "Universals".1

 

Rationalist Philosophers tended to argue that general words/concepts were either anterior to experience or were apprehended (using 'the light of reason') by means of generalisations drawn (or "abstracted") from, or even applied to, an unspecified number of particulars (i.e., individual objects of a certain sort) given in experience. The 'concepts', 'categories', or 'Ideas' so derived -- or deployed -- were supposed to represent the formal, constitutive or 'essential' properties of all particulars of that type: 'primary'/'secondary' qualities or properties (as they later tended to be known) which the latter either instantiated, or in which they were said to "participate".

 

Naturally, this made material objects seem less 'real' than the abstractions that supposedly lent them their substantiality, or which constituted their "essence". Because of this, the general -- the 'rational' -- came to dominate over the particular -- the material --, in all subsequent thought originating in the Rationalist tradition. What were in principle invisible and undetectable "essences" came to be seen as more real than the world we see around us.

 

Hence, in view of the fact that these abstractions were Ideal objects -- they were in fact abstract particulars --, meant that for Rationalists reality was essentially Ideal. In comparison, the material world was  a shadow world, not fully 'real', since it was characterised by contingency and brute fact. The rational structure that underpinned appearances was the real world, and that world was accessible to 'thought' alone. If general terms constituted (or even expressed) the 'essence' of material objects, then material objects were only such because of the Abstract/Ideal Particulars that underpinned them. Naturally, this implied that the material world was only real because it was in effect Ideal -- an abstraction in its own right.

 

[We will see Engels, Lenin, and other DM-fans reach similar conclusions, arguing that the concrete is only concrete because of the abstractions to which we have to appeal to make them concrete, and that matter is, therefore, an abstraction!  Hard to believe? Check out Essays Ten Part One and Thirteen Part One.]

 

To be sure, Descartes believed there were two substances -- Mind and Matter --, but 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 work), that there is only one rational/real substance: Mind. All else is an 'appearance', and hence 'accidental' and 'ephemeral'.

 

The traditional approach, which particularises general terms and nominalises verbs, has in different guises dominated Western thought -- and latterly dialectics -- for the best part of 2500 years. Its logical conclusion, in the work of Leibniz and Hegel (and their latter-day epigones) merely underlines the claim made in these Essays: that all ancient, medieval and early modern forms of rationalist Philosophy are but different forms of Idealism. And as we will see, this approach to generality has spread its tentacles in one form or another into all subsequent metaphysical forms-of-thought --, so much so that it is abundantly clear that all forms of Traditional Philosophy are similarly Idealist.1a

 

These "ruling ideas", invented by Greek thinkers, thus found a new home in more recent Bourgeois surroundings, albeit with fresh content to mirror the new social and economic conditions.

 

Even when this 'theory' is flipped "right-side up" (and "put on its feet"), allegedly in DM, material reality is still viewed as secondary, derivative, dependent, not fully real. The material world, as seen by dialecticians, requires the rational principles encapsulated in DL to give it life and form. After all, underlying "essences" 'contradict' "appearances", and in that punch-up, it is always "essence" which assumes primacy.1aa

 

[This, of course, helps explain why DM-fans find it impossibly difficult telling non-believers what their 'abstractions' correspond with in 'reality'. As we saw in Part One (and as we will see in more detail In Essay Twelve Part Four), if there were anything in the universe for these 'abstractions', these 'rational principles', to correspond, nature would indeed be 'Mind'. On the other hand, if there isn't, then what use are they?]

 

As the Book of Genesis noted, in an Ideal world it takes the word of 'God' (or something analogous) to give life and form to matter; without it, all would be lifeless, chaotic and would probably cease to exist:

 

"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 like manner, a 'Dialectical Logos' is required not just to add form to formless matter, but to call it into existence (from 'Nothing'), to give it life and make it move. Matter, even for DM-fans, isn't sufficient to itself. Which is, of course, why Hegel and DM-fans have to appeal to a linguistic form -- contradiction -- to make things move, and to give them life.

 

"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. Italic emphases in the original. Bold emphases added.]

 

Because of this, it isn't possible to find a single physical correlate in nature for the abstractions dialecticians have conjured into existence (or, rather, for the 'abstractions' they borrowed from Hegel and other boss-class theorists) --, and since they form the essential nature of material objects and processes, they must be Ideal, too.

 

And that is why the aforementioned dialectical "flip" is no flip at all.

 

Furthermore, and worse: over the last 150 years, dialecticians have conspicuously failed to say what they think matter is. As noted above, the very most they will say is that it is an 'abstraction'!

 

In that case, it is hardly surprising to find that DM-fans have had to denigrate ordinary language, and thus the experience of ordinary workers (accusing them of being dominated by 'commonsense', 'formal thinking' or 'false consciousness' -- thus aping a tactic initiated and perfected by ruling-class theorists), in order to 'justify' their appropriation of Hegelian concepts in their failed attempt to make DM work. [These allegations will be substantiated in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

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

 

Moreover, as indicated earlier, this form of 'upside-down Idealism' [DM] sees the material world as less real than the Ideal world that lends it its substance/'essence', and which determines what DM-theorists consider "concrete".

 

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

 

 

How Not  To Solve A Problem: Double It

 

Nevertheless, as Aristotle himself noted (in reference to Plato's Theory of Forms and the so-called Third Man Argument), it isn't a good idea to try to solve problems by immediately doubling them.

 

Hence, if there is a difficulty explaining the connection between particulars given in experience, there is surely a more intractable one accounting for the alleged link between these newly constructed abstract Universals and the particulars that supposedly instantiate them. Worse still, if the solution to this age-old conundrum implies that this link merely connects material particulars with 'a something we-know-not-what' -- i.e., with a specially invented 'Universal' --, situated in a mysterious world anterior to experience, and hence accessible to thought alone, then this is a 'solution' in name only.1b

 

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

 

Clearly, the addition of this new, third term, which was introduced in order to account for this connection, simply re-duplicates the original problem. Plainly, that is because questions would naturally arise over the link between this third term and the other two items it was introduced to connect.

 

Abstract Universals 'exist' in an Ideal realm, and they supposedly have connections with particulars in this world that are of a different order from those that material particulars enjoy among themselves. Plainly, this just leaves the 'abstract' side of this family of 'solutions' shrouded in total mystery.

 

Hence, if, for example, the introduction of Universal/Concept, C1, is required to account for the common features shared by objects A and B, then a new Universal/Concept, C2, a third term, will be required to account for the connection between C1 and A, and between C1 and B, and so on. The whole exercise thus threatens to inflate into an infinite regress, leaving nothing explained. Indeed, if C1 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 since C1 belongs to a different category to either A or B, so the above argument is misconceived.

 

Well, it would be if 'Universals' hadn't already been turned into Abstract Particulars (or the names thereof) by the syntactical dodge exposed in Part One of this Essay. But, because theorists have been doing precisely this since Ancient Greek times, Aristotle's point (suitably adapted) applies to every single version of this theory. In which case, 'Universals' (and/or 'Concepts'', "Ideas" and "Categories"), as they feature in Traditional Thought (and, alas, in DM), can't be general. They are just particulars of a rather peculiar sort.

 

Hence, the question returns: what new general term is there that can serve to link ordinary material particulars with these newly-minted abstract particulars?

 

This is one of the reasons why this 'problem' was addressed in the way it was in Part One of this Essay. There, the discussion was aimed at exposing the crass syntactical error that originally motivated it -- whereby predicate expressions were transformed into the names of these abstract particulars. To be sure, Aristotle himself half recognised this problem (as we have seen), but the logic he developed wasn't sophisticated enough to account for its origin (and thus for its solution -- or, rather, dissolution), and he ended up committing the same sort of error himself (in 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) is superfluous, if a new general term isn't needed in order to connect an abstract with a material particular, then it is far from easy to see why particulars themselves need a second term (i.e., C1) to relate them to one another, in the first place. This is especially so if that 'general term' can't do the job assigned it because it had been transmogrified into particular itself!

 

But, if objects in the world do in fact relate to one another without a whole menagerie of abstract intermediaries (the metaphysical equivalent of the Crystalline Spheres and epicycles of Ptolemaic Astronomy), or if speakers manage to use general terms with ease every day of their lives without such a fuss, what need is there for 'abstractions'?1bb

 

[As we will see in a later Essay, ordinary human beings (i.e., workers) solved this 'problem' long ago --, or rather they totally ignored it (even if they knew about it), since it isn't a problem to begin with.]

 

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 Ideal 'exemplar' is now mysterious. If Universals and Particulars do not resemble each other, how can they possibly be connected, or how could the one connect the others?

 

Indeed, it is far from clear what a Universal could possibly provide a particular that the latter can't supply for itself -- and that worry isn't mitigated in the least 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 been assigned to them -- explaining generality.

 

 

Descent Into A Metaphysical Abyss

 

Unfortunately, this archaic error has been passed down the centuries to later generations of Traditional Theories, as this ancestral fall from linguistic grace traduced the entire population of flawed 'solutions' that have descended from it by unnatural selection --, including the poor relation found in DM, the theoretical runt of this class-compromised litter.

 

 

Empiricism And The Anthropomorphic Brain

 

Philosophers of a more worldly and empiricist frame of mind approached this 'problem' from a different angle; they held that general terms were 'constructions' of some sort, cobbled together by the mind.

 

[It is worth noticing that this approach also implied that the 'mental' side of the equation comes first -- with 'mind' holding primacy over matter, once more.]

 

In fact, the 'mind' was somehow able to 'apprehend' the common elements supposedly shared by particulars given in experience (which process manifests itself internally in the production, or the 'processing', of "ideas", "impressions" and "sense data" -- or, of late, "qualia").

 

Minimal agreement aside, such theorists tended to be divided over whether universal terms were genuine features of reality or were just a by-product of an overactive mind --, or, indeed, whether they were empty words and thus perhaps just "useful fictions".

 

As things turned out, it mattered not, for on this view general words were once again demoted, and then transformed into 'mental particulars' (i.e., they were the names of ideas in the mind or of processes in the brain). Even though Berkeley saw the need to escape from this theoretical cul-de-sac, his 'solution' merely sank the empiricist tradition deeper into the same old Idealist quick sands.

 

Unfortunately, there were other problems over and above those that had been bequeathed to empiricist thought as a result of the syntactical sins of their philosophical forebears: if 'general' ideas are in fact particular to each mind (and, on this view, they had to be such, for no two individuals shared the same mind, or the same experiences), they couldn't be general in a population -- even in theory! [The point of that comment will soon emerge.] This is all the more so if the empiricist 'process of abstraction' merely creates yet more abstract particulars, just as earlier forms of the same bogus exercise had manufactured rationalist abstract particulars in ancient, medieval and early modern thought.

 

In that case, the empiricist tradition seemed quite happy to maintain and then elaborate upon these ancient misdemeanours. This particular set of "ruling ideas" (i.e., these 'abstractions') now colonised another set of willing brains.

 

To explain: assume thinker T1 has formed (by whatever 'empirical means' available to her) the putatively general idea, G1, and thinker, T2, forms the 'same' general idea, G2, of supposedly the 'same' objects. Now, in order to say of these 'general ideas' (G1 and G2) that they were indeed ideas of the same things (or, indeed, were the same general idea), a third term will be required to connect them (i.e., because in that case G1 and G2 would presumably both be exemplars of the same general idea, say, G), so that it could truly be said that these two were instances of the same 'concept'/'idea'/'impression'. But, this falls foul of Aristotle's objection, which in turn means that every single 'solution' offered up in the Empiricist tradition suffers from the same fatal defect that blighted those that had been dreamt up by the Rationalists.

 

As we will see, this not only made it impossible for every single Traditional Thinker to account for human inter-communication, representation and learning, it also emptied generality of all content, vitiating the whole exercise.

 

[Exactly how this approach would make communication (etc.) impossible will be examined briefly 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 its own little solipsistic universe, since it is itself a particular.

 

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

 

Naturally, this is just another way of saying that intentions can't create generality any more than wishes can make beggars ride.

 

Indeed, simply gluing the word "general" onto the word "concept" (as perhaps 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 yet another particular --, or, at least, it is the title thereof.

 

In fact, any attempt to derive generality from the atomised conceptual fragments that (on this view) floated freely in each individual mind will always hit the same brick wall: abstraction always creates the names of abstract particulars --, whosoever indulges in this black art, whenever it is practiced, and with whatever philosophical approach this conjuring trick is attempted.

 

Fortunately, however, for us genuine materialists, the logic of predication (as it features in ordinary language) has already fixed the result in our favour --, and there is no leave to appeal its uncompromising judgement. Generality is a feature of the way we use words, not a property of those words themselves.

 

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

 

It could be countered that inter-communication isn't threatened by empiricist versions of abstractionism, since communication with others is not only possible, it is actual -- because, manifestly, people can and do share their ideas.

 

But, this response itself 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 forged and now trapped in each socially-atomised brain.

 

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

 

In that case, we wouldn't just have the two theorists mentioned above with their two supposedly general ideas, we would have billions of minds with countless individual ideas to interconnect.

 

And the same difficulties will afflict anyone who aims to provide their own general solution to this bogus 'problem'. A strategy forged along these lines is doomed to fail because any explanation of how the particular ideas of general terms located in separate heads actually resemble the same general features of reality they supposedly express/mirror -- or even the same particular ideas of these alleged general terms located in any one else's head --, would each require its own linking term, on the lines detailed above. Accounting for these would, of course, make squaring the circle look child's play in comparison; this Sisyphean task would simply create yet more abstract particulars locked in the individual mind of anyone foolish enough to try.

 

In short: a 'general' silk purse cannot be made out of this atomised pig's ear.

 

Struggling to escape these metaphysical quicksands thus sinks the trapped Philosopher  deeper in the mire. Given the traditional view, Abstract Particulars (but not general terms) loom out of the shadows at every turn, as more and more are required to account for the last batch they have just conjured into existence. And since none of them is capable of evolving into a higher general form by its own efforts, this approach to knowledge/ontology simply creates a potentially infinite series of abstract dead ends.

 

 

Bourgeois Individualism

 

Just as ancient rationalist ideas can be traced back to Aristocratic notions invented and propagated by Greek Philosophers (concerning the 'natural' hierarchical or divine order underpinning the Universe, motivated by the need to justify social stratification and inequality, etc.), the origin of more recent Atomist theories of Universals can be linked to the rise of Bourgeois 'democracy', with its characteristic emphasis on "possessive individualism". [On this, see Note 2.]

 

If this new social order was meant to be democratic (but only "within certain limits"), and founded on the fabled Bourgeois Individual, then private ownership in the means of mental production made eminent good sense.

 

The fragmentation introduced into society by the development of Capitalism was mirrored in an analogous dissolution of the Universal into its particulars, now dispersed across countless million, isolated bourgeois heads.

 

Capitalism freed workers from the land, and so Empiricist Philosophy freed Ideas from their formerly 'oppressive'/hierarchical Platonic Forms and Aristotelian Universals; the old ontological pecking-order crumbled as new market conditions took hold. The need both to 'justify' undemocratic power and rationalise the newly emerging class relations meant that theorists had to concoct novel ways of conceptualising reality.

 

As we will soon see, in this respect Empiricism couldn't cut mustard. A fresh wave of rationalist thought was needed (a) to counter this fragmentation of knowledge, (b) to provide the unification that the (Absolutist) Bourgeois Nation State required, and (3) to 'justify' its rightful sovereignty. The ideas of Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Kant and Hegel, among many others, were thrown into the breach, as fresh waves of boss-class theory emerged from these newly commissioned ruling-class hacks.1c0

 

Even so, just as workers still got screwed in the new market economy (only now in novel ways), general ideas were likewise shafted (but in the same old way).1c

 

Once more, this turn to Rationalism was futile; the archaic fragmentation of general ideas cannot be reversed -- whoever tries to do it. Indeed, as the fabled soldiers found with respect to Humpty Dumpty, once in pieces, general concepts are impossible to put back together again.2

 

 

Figure One: Abstractionism Takes A Tumble

 

No surprise then that despite countless pretensions to the contrary, this 'modern' batch of theories found it equally impossible to account for the very thing they had been invented to explain: generality.

 

If generality is simply an aspect of the mind's operation (and not a feature of 'things-in-themselves' -- as some rationalists claimed) --, it was far from easy to see what it was about each particular idea of the general (located in each head) that made it general, or even appear to be general, now that one and all had been hived-off, lodged in individual bourgeois skulls.

 

Given this 'modern' account, there would be nothing but individual ideas loosely tied together in ways that became increasingly difficult to fathom, floating about in each socially-atomised mind. At a minimum, even a general idea like this (i.e., that which apparently concerns "every individual", and seeks to tell us what is in her/his head -- soon to be re-Christened 'Thought', 'The Understanding', or 'Speculative Reason') is, on this theory, itself devoid of any clear sense. If Philosophers couldn't now explain generality (because they had killed it stone dead long ago), then they had no way of accounting for its appearance, or lack of it, anywhere else --, either in the general population, or in the privacy of their own heads. Indeed, how is it even possible to speak about "every head" with anything other than a string of empty words if generality had already been done to death?2a

 

As noted above, some attempt might be made to attach to the word, "idea", another as-yet-to-be-explained term -- i.e., "general" (as in, say, "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" in the mind, as this family of empiricist theories consistently maintained), then a phrase like "the general idea of..." would still be particular to whoever thought it, whatever associationist incantations had been uttered over it.

 

The definite article, of course, gives the game away.

 

In that case, for Empiricists "general idea" would be as empty a phrase as "general particular" was for Rationalists.

 

[As we saw in Part One, the words Philosophers used in this context designated abstract particulars.]

 

Feigned generality like this meant that these terms amounted to little more than epistemological 'promissory notes' -- of little real value if there was nothing in the bourgeois vaults to settle these burgeoning 'semantic debts'.

 

Thus it was that in the empiricist tradition several more centuries of a priori, abstract 'science-on-the-cheap' unfolded, this time backed not even by printed currency, but by yet more empty words.

 

[It might be thought that empiricist epistemology is a posteriori, not a priori. However, it was, and still is, based on some rather fanciful a priori psychology. More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Of course, to suppose otherwise (i.e., to imagine that the particular word "general" -- or any other term, for that matter --, is quite up to the task of creating generality all by itself) is tantamount to thinking that words can determine, or project, their own meanings throughout the whole of 'semantic space' (with this feat miraculously coordinated across each and every epistemologically-isolated bourgeois brain), as if they words autonomous agents. But, unaided, as a mark on the page --, or even as an "idea" in the head --, the individual word "general" seems entirely incapable of unscrambling this very real metaphysical omelette.

 

On the other hand, if general ideas actually do represent "things-in-themselves" (that is, if there are indeed "real universals" that exist somewhere, to which general words supposedly 'correspond') -- as the scientific realist wings of this traditional journey into nowhere tended to maintain -- it would surely prove impossible to explain the signification of either term, as we are about to see.

 

If each general idea/word refers to something, somewhere in reality -- in Platonic Heaven, Hegelian Hell, or somewhere else -- it could only do so as a name, or as name surrogate. But, as we saw in Part One, if that were so, general ideas/words wouldn't now be general, just particular.

 

Even if one and all were grandiosely re-christened a "General Name", they would stubbornly remain humble particulars (in this case, they'd be a particular phrase (and/or what it supposedly referred to), for reasons outlined above). No matter what was done to each particular instance of the word "general", it would prove quite incapable of escaping from the atomised dungeon into which it had been so unceremoniously cast.2b

 

Hence, if each bourgeois mind had its own individual 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 was in the skulls of all who played this futile game, with these fractured rules.

 

The bottom line is, of course, that if anything supposedly general is capable of being named, it can't be general, it must be particular.

 

And, rather like virginity, once lost, generality cannot be restored.3

 

 

How Not  To Solve Insoluble 'Problems'

 

Empiricists attempted to solve this intractable 'problem' (wisely) by diverting attention from it: they invented an irrelevant 'mental' capacity, an ability the 'mind' allegedly had of being able to spot "resemblances" between the ideas and impressions the senses supposedly sent its way.

 

But, once again, Aristotle's objection rears its annoying head: if there is a problem over the existence of resemblances like this in the outside world, it is a bad idea to retreat from the Real into the Ideal in an attempt to resolve it. Indeed, if this process takes place only in the 'mind', the philosophical 'problem' this approach sought to resolve simply resurfaces in a completely intractable form, since inner processes of this sort are beyond both objective and subjective confirmation.4

 

Generality, driven inwards is even more difficult to coax out of its individualised shell.5

 

Platonic Realism, Aristotelian Conceptualism and Bourgeois Empiricism (along with a host of other metaphysical doctrines) all run aground on these unyielding particularist rocks.

 

By way of contrast, the words we use in ordinary language express generality (with ease) when left to social agents to breath life into them. However, they soon lose their semantic vitality when they are replaced by lifeless abstract singular terms, invented by work-shy 'thinkers' with more leisure time on their hands than is good for anyone.6

 

However, by placing all the emphasis on an individual's apprehension of generality (howsoever this is engineered), theorists found they could only explain it by re-employing generality surreptitiously somewhere else.

 

This unfortunate turn-of-events arose largely because traditional Philosophers tended to conceive of this 'problem' epistemologically. The logical fall from grace that created the original 'difficulty' for Greek thinkers (explained in detail in Part One) was simply ignored, buried now under centuries of irrelevant psycho-babble. And there it largely remains entombed to this day.6a0

 

As Empiricists conceived things, if experience presents the mind with particular ideas, then generality must be cobbled-together from whatever resemblances it notices in each alleged exemplar. This made the whole 'problem' seem one of recognition, as if the fragmented contents of the mind were like the faces of long lost friends who had wandered fortuitously into the same room, in strict order.

 

Friends one can recognise; but how could anyone recognise an idea they had never seen before?

 

No good doing a Police photo-fit.6a

 

Worse still, not one of these impromptu 'visitors' would resemble the next without the use of the general terms this 'theory' was meant to explain!

 

Anyway, given this family of theories, general terms had to be distilled painstakingly from a manifestly finite batch of examples, those that serially confronted each lone abstractor and/or observer in random order.

 

But, if each lone 'mind' is to extrapolate successfully from the few particulars that fortune tossed its way, then, in order to create the relevant abstract general ideas, each atomised fragment would have to be coaxed out of its lonely shell, and given a radical make-over.

 

In order to do that, the 'mind' would have to re-connect these inner atoms (these 'ideas') with others of the 'same sort', using whatever similar features it noticed in each. But, not only does this make it hard to explain how any two abstractors could ever form the same idea of anything, it makes the whole process dependent on similarity.

 

This new twist now introduced yet another general idea through the back door, while failing to explain either the general or the particular that had just slipped out the front. If two things are similar then plainly this must be with respect to some feature they hold common, which feature (of necessity) cannot itself be another particular (or it wouldn't be held in common).

 

Nevertheless, just as theologians discovered with respect to their ideas of the Trinity (in, for example, the Athanasian Creed: "Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance"), so empiricists found with regard to their fragmented ideas of generality: it was impossible for them not to confound the particular without dividing the Universal.6b Hence, if each individual shares exactly the same universal of resemblance (say G1, from earlier), then that term must be particular to that individual. The general, having thus been distributed over the entire flock of trainee abstractors, cannot now fail to partake of this fragmented nature.

 

Conversely, if the re-distribution of generality hadn't been carried out in a perfectly egalitarian manner, the relevant individuals wouldn't be collected under the same general term, shared equally between all.

 

On the other hand, once more, if generality is shared equally, it would be hard to tell the individuals apart.

 

And how might either of these be accurately ascertained across an entire population of lone abstractors?

 

No good doing a Gallup Poll.7

 

In that case, the choice between confounding the individuals, or dividing the substance plagued Empiricists (and Rationalists), as it had done Trinitarians -- and for the same basic reasons, since this entire family of doctrines had been sired in the same inherited syntactic sins.

 

All of which helps explain the continual oscillation in traditional Ontology between Monism, Dualism and Pluralism.

 

 

Intelligent Ideas Versus 'A Little Man' In The Head

 

These problems do not, of course, stop there. Any answer to the question how the 'Mind' sifts through the 'ideas' of particulars the senses supposedly send its way, sorting them correctly into the right groups, would surely have to appeal to a prior grasp of general words (in public use). This is a point Kant realised in his own confused way (confused since he situated this in 'the mind' and ignored the public use of language): experience without 'concepts' is useless; 'concepts' without experience are empty:

 

"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." [Kant (1998), p.193, A51/B75. Bold emphases in the original. By "intuition" Kant meant something like "immediate experience" -- Caygill (1995), pp.254-57.]

 

"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.]

 

Without this pre-requisite, inter-subjective 'objectivity' would surely be an empty notion.

 

Indeed, this is just another way of saying that 'impressions'/ideas can't be expected to sort themselves neatly into groups, since they have neither the motivation nor the wit to do so. They clearly need regimenting. But, in the age-old battle between the One and the Many, the Many have always proved to be far too rebellious to marshal themselves voluntarily in strict order; the One far too Ideal to crack the necessary whip.

 

However, if regimentation is possible, and achievable -- and if 'objectivity' is to be preserved --, then principles external to the said (Many) 'impressions'/ideas must be found to lend the 'Mind' (the One) a helping hand. Care in the community of ideas was never more needed than here. And yet, if the latter are to become more than a fragmented heap of conceptual dust (that is, if there is in this bourgeois community of ideas no such thing as "society", to paraphrase Mrs Thatcher), such 'care' must be sought elsewhere.

 

As seems plain, the sortal principles required to keep these unruly 'impressions'/ideas in check can't be self-explanatory, nor can they be self-regulatory. If they were, then there would seem to be no reason why 'impressions'/ideas themselves can't troop unaided into the right metaphysical categories -- certifying their own inter-subjective resemblances (with others of the same ilk) without an internal drill-sergeant on hand to whip them into shape.

 

Alternatively, if every 'impression'/idea were self-regulating and self-sorting, that would remove the need for a 'Mind' with its attendant goons to do the regimenting.

 

[Henceforth, I will drop the cumbersome phrase "'impression'/idea" and just refer to ideas.]

 

Clearly, the first option would see the 'Mind' as a sort of internal drill sergeant (thus anthropomorphising it); the second would put it out of work with a compulsory redundancy notice.

 

[There are echoes of both sides of this dilemma in Cognitive Psychology and Behaviourism: the first anthropomorphises the brain, the second banishes the 'Mind' altogether. More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Of course, Empiricists claimed that the 'Mind' was somehow capable of extrapolating way beyond the limited sets of particulars given in experience (or the 'impressions' they created) to general ideas that they supposedly instantiated. This handy 'solution' left unexplained how this 'extrapolation' could be carried out without the 'Mind' already having some notion of the general to guide it.

 

And, as Kant wondered: where on earth would that notion come from?

 

Nevertheless, if particulars are to be corralled into the correct sortal groups by the 'Mind', there seemed (to those fond of this way of talking) to be only two ways this could come about:

 

(A) The first involved an appeal to specific 'mental faculties' (these days called "modules"), which all novice abstractors supposedly possess -- mental "bodies of armed men", as it were -- to do the marshalling. Bourgeois Ideas, born free, would everywhere have to be put in chains. This is the mental equivalent, perhaps, of the Absolutist State.

 

(B) The second appealed to the "natural properties" that ideas and/or "concepts" were supposed to possess, which meant that they could regiment themselves, 'voluntarily' into the right sortal categories with no 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 so-called "innate ideas" of resemblance 'programmed' into the mind, activated or guided either by the "laws of thought", the "natural light of reason", or some other handy a priori 'mental structure'/architectonic. [Caygill (1995), pp.84-85.]

 

[Modern analogues have these 'hard-wired' into the brain as a sort of "transformational grammar" (now called "Unbounded Merge") or even a "Language of Thought." On this, see Cowie (2002).]

 

An older version of this theory held that innate ideas were capable of 'naturally' enabling each aspiring abstractor, so that he/she could classify particulars under the relevant general terms. Naturally, this seemed to place this option in the Rationalist camp, and perhaps because of this the temptation became irresistible to bury the source of these 'innate principles' in the mists of time -- boosted of late with a clutch of Neo-Darwinian fairy-tales. If so, original syntax was now based on Genetics, not The Book of Genesis.8

 

Other versions of option (A) weren't even remotely Empiricist: they were to be found in the Cartesian/Leibnizian/Kantian/Hegelian tradition of a priori myth-making.

 

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

 

Even more convenient was the fact that although abstract ideas were held somehow to be real, they also transcended actual or possible detection by any conceivable, materially-based techniques -- rather like the gods of yore. And, as was the case with these archaic divinities, such abstractions underpinned, gave substance to, or even created material reality (as they 'self-developed', for example, as part of Hegel's Hermetic universe).

 

In fact, given this approach, abstract ideas were more real than material objects and processes. The latter were lowly, contingent beings hardly fit to be mentioned in Ideal company.

 

Moreover, since these abstractions could be and had been named, they must exist somewhere; linguistic reification had in fact turned them into something Super-Real (since they were somehow above and beyond unreliable, contingent 'appearances'), in order to be worthy of the Super-Scientific truths they supposedly delivered. Even better, they had somehow been programmed into subject-copula-predicate sentences -- alas, however, only in the Indo-European family of languages.

 

As we saw in Part One of this Essay, science-on-the-cheap like this has dominated practically all forms of abstract thought since Greek times -- it is indeed a ruling idea:

 

"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 options implied that ideas 'naturally' congregated of their own 'free will', as it were, into their 'correct'/'natural' sortal groups. But, if ideas are capable of assembling themselves into classes under their own steam, they must possess a 'herding instinct' of some sort. Clearly, in order for them to gather together correctly, such ideas must either:

 

(B1) Possess an intellect of their own, or

 

(B2) Be capable of 'obeying' certain specific natural/logical 'laws'.

 

As far as (B1) was concerned, ideas were not only capable of 'recognising' those of the same kind, they were bright enough, and meek enough, to flock together with no further ado. This implied that they were able to, (B1a) 'Detect' for themselves the resemblances they shared with others of their clan -- which once more meant that they were really surrogate minds, skilled at identifying their own close 'mental relatives' correctly and unerringly.

 

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 belief that: (i) Ideas were just minds writ small, or (ii) Minds were little more than Incarnate Ideas.

 

The first of these options (B1a(i)) found safe lodging in Leibniz's own mind (whether this was his idea, or he was programmed to think it was is somewhat unclear) -- whereby everything in reality is 'really' composed of pre-programmed, inter-reflecting 'minds' (or "Monads").

 

The second (B1a(ii)), in a much grander form, parasitized Hegel's brain. There, Mind was self-developing Idea, the Supreme Controller of this Metaphysical Mystery Tour. To be sure, Hegel certainly thought he was the engineer of his own ideas, but if he was right, he was just the oily rag.

 

In connection with (B2) above, the idea seemed to be that natural 'laws' operating on the contents of the 'Mind' could account for their regimentation in strict battalion order (an old idea that resurfaces these days in naturalistic accounts of 'the mind'). Once again, this merely reduplicated the very problem it was meant to solve, for this implied that an external will ran both the 'inner' and the 'outer' world, as everything in this unified 'Mental Cosmos' obeyed orders as if one and all were law-abiding citizens.

 

Clearly, in order for something to be capable of obeying orders it must be intelligent (otherwise, the word "obey", used in such a context, must have a different meaning). But, in like manner, these 'inner ideas' must be intelligent, too, only now they were supposedly governed by the 'laws of thought'. They aren't simply passive lodgers in the human brain, but active citizens in this inner Cosmic/Cognitive State. In that case, the Inner Microcosm would once again mirror the Outer Macrocosm (and vice versa), as assorted mystics constantly remind us: the Mind is well-ordered because the Cosmos is, and vice versa.

 

Small wonder then that traditional accounts of causation (and of 'physical law') are shot through with anthropomorphism, mysticism and animism, and can only be made to seem to work if inappropriate modal terms (like "necessity" and "must") are press-ganged into service.8a

 

This in turn suggests that 'objective laws', and the objects that 'obeyed' them were merely a reification of the subjective mental capacities and dispositions of the one indulging in all this armchair speculation.9

 

Conversely, this also implied that the human mind was intelligent simply because the universe was (this notion can be found in the odd idea that the universe became conscious of itself as a result of the emergence of humanity (a doctrine implicit in Hegel, but openly propagated by Teilhard de Chardin, Bergson, and several Marxist dialecticians -- Ted Grant, for example), which conclusion itself was but a reflection of the tortured 'logic' used to mirror the thoughts of the superhuman alter-ego that allegedly ran the entire shown ('The Absolute'), which we met in Part One.

 

On this scheme of things, not only was the Real Rational, and the Rational Real, there was in fact only the Rational.

 

Be this as it may: these two options readily collapse into either Subjective or Objective Idealism -- as we have seen.10

 

 

Yet More Headaches For Dialecticians

 

Traditional 'solutions' to these bogus philosophical 'problems' -- "bogus" because, in the West, they were originally based on a class-motivated misinterpretation of a small and unrepresentative aspect of Indo-European grammar (as we saw in Part One of this Essay, and in Essay Two) -- created two further difficulties.11

 

Oddly enough, both of these re-surface (in a modified form) in the DM-account of 'abstract ideas'.

 

 

Induction And The Social Nature Of Knowledge

 

The first of these later came to be known in Traditional Philosophy as "the problem of induction". This centres on the theoretical possibility that future events might not conform to expectations or remain within the conceptual straight-jacket which the 'mind' has prepared for it.12 If 'the mind' is capable of experiencing only a limited range of exemplars from which it has to cobble-together its general ideas, subsequent experience could always refuse to play ball, metaphysically rebelling, as it were.

 

In that case, the future might not resemble the past in any meaningful sense. Not only might the Sun not rise tomorrow, but cats could refuse to walk about on mats, and might even conceivably turn into them. Worse still, fire might no longer burn books on Metaphysics -- as Hume had hoped -- but write them instead --, and Hegel might even begin to make sense.

 

[I hasten to add that this isn't my view; I am simply summarising the 'problem of induction'.] 

 

Of course, some philosophers have argued that it these niggling difficulties can be neutralised if the mind could somehow gain direct access to 'abstract' ideas (or Real Universals, or General Concepts/Categories, etc.), which are fully capable of regimenting the contingencies of nature, so that the future is guaranteed to resemble the past.

 

However, in order to control these potentially rebellious events/ideas, something a little more convincing than Locke's Social Contract, or Hume's feeble habitus (habit), is surely called for. Ancient Greek notions concerning the ordered Cosmos -- a limited Whole, an idea concocted at a time when an Aristocratic theory like this seemed to make sense to the ruling-class hacks who dreamt it up --, didn't translate well into the fragmented bourgeois world, one threatened daily by unruly material particulars.12a

 

In such inhospitable surroundings, not only must these controlling Concepts/Abstractions be robust enough to organise things behind the backs, as it were, of their producers (i.e., Traditional Theorists themselves), they must exist prior to, and be independent of experience -- or, suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune themselves.

 

Initially, for "crude materialists", at least, it wasn't easy to account for the source and effectiveness of these robust concepts, -- i.e., 'mental constructs' (aka 'concepts' and 'categories', etc.) that would countenance no exceptions, past, present or future. The theoretical rescue for materialists (if such it may be called), the explanation, arrived from an unexpected source: German Idealism. More specifically, and even more revealingly, this 'rescue' turned out to be an impossibly convoluted and obscure version of Ancient Greek Hermeticism.

 

The Seventh Cavalry had thus arrived in the nick of time, but it was, alas, blowing a very indistinct note, possibly none at all. Esoteric Flannel now replacing Errol Flynn.

 

The 'Epistemologically Imperialist Utopia' concocted by these Idealists required the invention of Super-Duper Concepts, Industrial Strength Categories, packing enough metaphysical clout to control things with an iron hand -- these days beefed up with impressive sounding phrases, like "natural necessity", "conceptual-", or "ontological-necessity" --, otherwise the semi-house-trained ideas the senses sent their way might revolt, and set up their own Anarchist Collective (where fires might actually freeze things instead of burn them, fish might break out in song, and Dialectical Marxism might become a ringing success).13

 

Such Concepts, Laws and Principles would have to be logical -- or indeed 'dialectical' --, if they were to exercise sufficient control over the future course of events, making sure that every single idea/object was sorted into the correct metaphysical box, collected under the right general term and never even thought to step out of line.

 

As noted earlier, free-born bourgeois ideas were now clapped in chains. The 'free market' revolution was over. This rationalist takeover was a veritable 'Mental Thermidor'.14

 

One awkward question remained: How could something even as powerful as a 'Logical Principle' guarantee that future contingencies will always do what they are told? Surely such 'rational principles' are particulars themselves -- especially if they reside in individual, bourgeois skulls?

 

The point here is that logical principles can't supply generality of their own; the latter derives from the application of a rule, which, naturally, words, neither concepts, nor principles can quite manage. Once again, it is human beings (as a collective, not as individuals) who determine what constitutes the correct application of a rule, since, as has been pointed out many times, words, concepts, principles have neither wit, intelligence nor social structure sufficient for the task. That was, indeed, the point of emphasising the atomisation underlying the bourgeois 'logical principles' discussed earlier in this Essay. The fragmentation introduced into bourgeois epistemology (in both its Rationalist and Empiricist wings) means that in the heads of socially isolated thinkers these 'concepts' could only operate as the names of particulars, or as particulars themselves, thus destroying generality and undermining the unity of the proposition.14a0

 

Clearly, these 'Logical Principles' could only regiment these unruly ideas/particulars if they controlled the future and were thus intelligent agents themselves. It was almost as if they existed in 'external' reality, too, and were those very ideas in 'self-development'. In Hegel, this doctrine sundered the distinction between Mind and Matter; control of future contingencies now became a question of the self-discipline of an army self-developing 'Concepts'.

 

Indeed, these 'Concepts' controlled the future because they controlled themselves, and with a glitzy 'new logic' -- a dialectical logic -- to light their path; a 'logic' itself based on a displaced metaphor about how an argument edges toward its conclusion. This new 'logic' laid down the Law, and everything in nature, Mind and Matter, had to bend the knee to its Will.

 

The World Soul in Plato was resurrected and now ran the entire show; the future was now under effective control as part of the supernatural self-expression of this animating spirit. In this way, the social application of linguistic rules was inverted and became the inner expression of 'Self-Developing Mind'. It is precisely here that the fetishisation of language -- referred to in Part One -- inserted itself into Dialectical Philosophy, and hence into Marxism.

 

As we saw, Ancient and Medieval Logic had destroyed generality in language. In its place, an ersatz form of generality was called into play as part of the operation of a Cosmic Mind inside Hegel's 'mind'. But, when Hegel's fantasy is "put back on its feet", the archaic errors on which it was based weren't reversed. They were fetishised all the more as the animating spirit of supposedly inert matter. This gave life to the empty imaginings of crude materialists -- without which, the universe would be like a 'clock without a spring'. Hegel's 'Self-Developing Mind', now "back on its feet", re-animated matter, and nature was peremptorily re-enchanted. [Harrington (1996).]14a1

 

Paradoxically, in this 'dialectical universe', the machinations of the Iron Laws of the Cosmos were now held to be wholly compatible with freedom! These Self-Developing Ideas were, of course, free because they were a law unto themselves. The good news for humanity was that the more they subjected themselves to these Laws, the 'freer' they became.

 

[As if they had a choice!]

 

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

 

You just couldn't make this stuff up! Hey, but that's Diabolical Logic for you...

 

Rousseau thought he could justify social control in this way, but all he had was an 'Ideal Thermidor' in mind to support his theory. Hegel later found his ideas controlled him, but only if he projected social being internally, and fetishised them inside his head. Hence, for him, what had once been the products of the social relations between human beings (language, argument and dialectic) not only upended themselves and manipulated his thought processes, they ran the entire universe. This is indeed the philosophical equivalent of the deranged who claim to be 'God'. So, instead of the psychologically-challenged contradicting themselves, Hegel's universe did it for them.

 

Feuerbach plainly got things completely the wrong way round; Hegel's 'God' is the projection of humanity inwards, not outwards. For DM-fans, ideas supposedly 'reflect' the world --, but they do so only if we allow Hegel's mystical and fractured 'logic' to control our thought, too.14a2

 

As Max Eastman noted:

 

"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 first before finally making up their mind.]

 

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

 

However, this Idealist 'solution' simply created another problem: If Autocratic Principles like these are required to control unruly reality -- as well as our ideas about it, and knowledge is still dependent on the frail vicissitudes of human cognition --, then they must undermine themselves. Indeed, if cosmic order can only be restored by anthropomorphising both reality and our ideas about it, 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 dark suspicions motivated this suicidal 'theory' in the first place, helping it engineer the 'logical' destruction of generality), then these 'inner human beings' (these anthropomorphised, Self-Developing Ideas), and their shadowy 'internal relations', must be equally, if not more, suspect.

 

If normal, very material human beings can't be trusted, then what confidence can we have in the reliability of these inner, ghostly spectres, these shadow human beings?

 

This worry arises not just because it is difficult enough to account for the social nature of knowledge in the individual case, but because this 'problem' becomes completely intractable when it is generalised to take into account the innumerable minds supposedly able to perform the same trick and arrive at the same conclusions (from their limited experience and finite stock of ideas). [As we saw earlier.]

 

Given this approach, humanity-wide conceptual coordination would be nigh on miraculous. Indeed, it would be no less miraculous for this to happen across the population of even a small village, let alone a large city.

 

In fact, it is far more likely that each and every member of the much smaller, self-selected group of 'professional abstractors' -- or, even, every single Hegel scholar -- is in fact dancing to a different dialectical tune echoed in each socially-atomised head under the direction of their very own quintessentially bourgeois brain.

 

The problem we met earlier (connected with the fragmentation brought about by the market economy) re-surfaces precisely here; the bourgeois psyche disunited will, it seems, never be re-united.

 

So, in the realm of ideas alone it proves impossible to undo the effects the bourgeois revolution introduced into epistemology. If each of us has to abstract away in our socially-atomised heads, then there can be no such thing as socialised knowledge.

 

This helps account for the many and varied, and failed, theories of knowledge we have witnessed over the last four hundred years -- to add to those of the previous two thousand.

 

Nevertheless, by these means the Individual was allowed to strike back, initially disguised as that Dialectical Guru, Hegel Himself. Only he (and his DM-descendants) were 'licensed' to interpret the development of thought, and thus the course of history (for the benefit of the rest of benighted humanity). Dialectical Philosophers were now Dialectical Prophets, a resolutely substitutionist ideology their gospel.14a

 

Given this approach to knowledge, no matter how robust the metaphysical coercion involved (operating inside each dialectical skull), coordinated knowledge across a whole population would be, as we have seen, quite miraculous --, unless it had been imposed on everyone involved by the Iron Will of the Glorious Leader, the Great Teacher -- or simply 'The Party'. The Invisible Hand was now replaced by the Mailed Fist of the Stalinist State- or the Guardians of Orthodoxy in the case of non-Stalinist parties. In the 'bourgeois market' of internally-processed ideas, Adam Smith's Invisible Hand couldn't leave so much as a smudged fingerprint. Hence, a very visible, mailed fist, belonging to the Dialectical Magus (sometimes in the shape of Gerry Healy -- elsewhere that of Mao, or even the Great One Himself, Stalin), was required to impose good epistemological order.

 

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

 

However, not only would each lone abstractor have no access at all to the ideas tucked away in the heads of other lone abstractors, they would have no way of checking whether or not they were even prodding their abstractions in the same direction, or in the same manner.

 

Despite this, the fact that inter-subjective agreement does actually take place (and countless times everyday) suggests that this fanciful neo-bourgeois picture is completely wide of the mark. Indeed, when the day-to-day requirements imposed by the material world on every socially-active agent are factored in, this myth falls apart faster than a WMD dossier.

 

The reason for this isn't just because it is highly unlikely that each mind would form the same general idea of the same objects and processes from its disparate and 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. It is because even the word "same" attracts the same difficulties (irony intended), and that in turn is because this very questions implicates an idea that looks suspiciously general in itself. If no two minds can check the supposed 'similarities' in or between anyone else's ideas -- howsoever dialectically orthodox these abstractors or these ideas, are -- then there is no way that a social process, if it is based on abstraction, could even so much make it to the starting grid, let alone begin the race. Questions would naturally arise as to whether the 'same' ideas of anything (abstract, particular, concrete, general, or even dialectical) had actually taken root in such disparate dialectical minds. And these worries would persist until it had been established whether or not each enquirer had the 'same' ideas about the word "same", let alone anything else.

 

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

 

Worse still: given the 'dialectical' view of identity, this problem can't even be stated, let alone solved. The peremptory rejection of the LOI returns to haunt DM-epistemology; by confusing a logical issue with an epistemological red-herring, the quest for superior 'dialectical' knowledge have become trapped in a dark and deep solipsistic dungeon.

 

[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 particular idea of anything at all -- even before the dialectical bandwagon begins to roll --, or how a check could be made whether or not either of them had accomplished this correctly. And that isn't so much because none of us has access to the minds 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 work "correct"!15

 

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

 

And it is no good 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 'concrete') idea of practice!

 

Once more, how on earth might...

 

[I am sure the reader can finish that question for herself.]

 

Furthermore, it is no less unclear how even this relatively minor worry (about the generality of our supposedly general ideas) may be communicated without making use of the very same notion that originally required explanation; i.e., generality itself -- as well as the application of the LOI as a rule of language.16

 

More problematic still (for those who at least gesture toward accepting even a minimally social view of language and knowledge) is the following question: How might it be ascertained whether or not the same ideas about anything (be they abstract, concrete, general, or particular) have been inherited correctly from former generations of intrepid abstractors? Without access to a time machine, mind probes -- and, once more, a prior grasp of the very things they have 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' allegedly belonging to this 'common inheritance'.

 

But, given DM-epistemology, no start could even be made to the building of knowledge: Not only would this 'intentional edifice' have no foundation, no two prospective labourers would have the same plot of land to work on, the same plan to guide them, the same materials to factor into it -- nor even the remotest idea about what could conceivably count as the same brick!

 

[Except, of course, by sheer coincidence; but even then aspiring abstractors would be unable to determine any similarities here -- plainly, since they'd need general ideas to do this, and the word "same" is itself subject to such artificially induced doubts, as pointed out earlier.]

 

Again, and to change the image, this is because dialecticians unwisely threw their hand in before the cards had even been dealt, for they are the ones who deny that anything could be exactly the same as anything else (except in the most tenuous and abstract of forms). If we insist on taking pot shots at the LOI, is it any wonder we keep shooting ourselves in the dialectical foot?

 

This means that, based on the strictures dialecticians have themselves placed on concrete applications of the LOI, no two people could have the same general (or particular) idea about anything -- ever. Nor could they even have the same idea about approximate identity (so that they could conclude that their ideas only really roughly coincided with those of anyone else; if the dread word "same" can't be the same in any two minds, 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 he or she once had about anything -- last week, yesterday, or even a few seconds ago --, so that they could say of their own opinions that they were even so much as approximately stable from moment to moment.

 

In that case, of course, the 'process of abstraction' can't even begin!

 

It should hardly need pointing out that abstraction can't make a start where there is nothing common to abstract, or no shared concepts to work with, from moment to moment, or no 'law of cognition' that remains the same from second to second, or which is shared across an entire population of these socially isolated dialectical skulls.16a

 

An appeal to memory here would be to no avail, either. That is because it would be unclear to anyone attempting to remember whether or not the general ideas they had even a few moments earlier were the same as, or were different from those they now possessed until they could recall whether or not they had the 'same' idea of "same" that they once had.

 

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

 

In this way, the theory of abstraction has not only destroyed each and every dialectical proposition (this was established in Part One of this Essay), the entire project succeeded in strangling itself before birth when it appropriated the regressive bourgeois idea that we all abstract in the privacy of our own heads -- just as it succeeds in mangling the thought processes of anyone foolish enough to give it so much as the time of day.

 

Of course, that is why an earlier claim was made (again, 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.

 

Indeed, as we have just seen.

 

 

Driven To Abstraction

 

The above points might be regarded by some as a grossly unfair misrepresentation 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 cannot cope with future contingencies. If scientists actually use abstractions -- and legitimately so -- why can't DM-theorists do likewise? And why can't they project their ideas into the future in like manner (especially if the latter are subject to constant empirical check)? Alas for Ms Lichtenstein, successful practice refutes her excessively negative conclusions.

 

Or, so it could be claimed.

 

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 will 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', no different in form from that which is envisaged in Objective Idealism.

 

[Why this is so seems pretty obvious (but reasons for concluding this were given at the beginning of Part One of this Essay); this topic will be examined in more detail in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

As Part One showed, the motivation to try to extrapolate from a finite body of 'partial' knowledge to infinitary conclusions about all of reality for all of time was originally prompted by an ideologically-motivated, but syntactically inept interpretation of general words as the names of abstract particulars. To compound this archaic error, the resulting abstractions were then projected back onto a 'shadow-reality' anterior to experience, which supposedly underpinned the material world in an as-yet-unexplained manner, and which was thus more real that the universe we see around us.

 

However, as far as dialecticians are concerned, they eagerly bought into this Idealist approach to knowledge, and it completely compromised their epistemology, since these moves were based on a limited set of linguistic malapropisms (and only on this), not on evidence derived from the sciences (or even everyday experience).

 

Worse still: as Part One also showed, these moves destroy the capacity language has for expressing anything whatsoever -- particular or general.

 

Indeed, quite apart from the fatal consequences noted above, if general ideas were in fact the names of abstract particulars, no general conclusions could be drawn from them -- and certainly not by means of another set of abstractions that simply replicated the very same error.17

 

 

Reality: Abstract, Concrete -- Or Both?

 

The second difficulty (mentioned earlier) is connected 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 (1) Anthropomorphised the brain and/or its ideas, or they (2) Fetishised language -- so that the products of social interaction were reified into the relations between objects and processes, or into those objects and processes themselves.

 

As we have also seen, in order to explain the operation of 'the mind', Empiricists found that they had to postulate the existence of 'intelligent ideas', which were either spontaneously gregarious, or were somehow capable of obeying rules intelligently as they went about their lawful business.

 

On the other hand, Rationalists held that apparently contingent events in the outside world couldn't account for our (or in reality, their) ideas about them. In fact, as they saw things, the reverse was the case: it was the nature -- or later, the development -- of our ideas/minds that explained the 'outer' world, which in the end, of course, implied that reality was fundamentally Ideal. All this is reasonably obvious. The next bit isn't.

 

On the basis of this world-view, theorists constructed (or 'discovered') what they took to be nature's "laws", but they weren't to suppose their theories were true merely because nature was law-governed. On the contrary, many held that the connection was much tighter than this; they were able to read these 'laws' into nature because the mind itself was structured in a particular way. The very possibility of experience meant the world had to be a certain way (or we couldn't know it).18 This put human cognition right back at the centre of the meaning/cognitive universe, and what was intended to be a 'Copernican Revolution' in Philosophy turned out to be its opposite, a Ptolemaic realignment.

 

If indeed the world was a reflection of 'God's Mind' -- and the human mind a pale reflection of that 'Mind', too --, the 'inter-reflection' between mind and world, world and mind, guaranteed that thought left to its own devices was able to penetrate beneath the surface of 'appearances' and into to the heart of 'Being' itself, uncovering its hidden 'essences'. General laws 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.

 

As Hermetic Philosophers had surmised, the Microcosm of the human mind reflected the Macrocosm of 'God's' creation because both were Mind, or were the product of it. Union with 'God' was thus at one with union with Nature, which helps explain the origin of what we are told is the main problematic of German Idealism: Subject-Object Identity. In Hegel's system, the union between the 'Knower and the Known' was guaranteed by the application of Divine/Dialectical Logic. The mystical Rosicrucian wedding was finally engineered.18a

 

Empiricist theories arrived at analogous conclusions, but from a different direction, albeit sometimes expressed atheistically.19

 

Either way -- as Hegel himself pointed out -- every branch of Traditional Philosophy sooner or later finds its way back to its Ideal home from whence it slithered.20

 

Nevertheless, serious problems this approach to knowledge brought in its train simply re-surfaced in DM, only now in a more acute form. Dialecticians claim that their system somehow reverses the above process of cognition (albeit after its "mystical shell" has been removed, leaving only the "rational kernel") in order to neutralise its Idealist implications. They declare that their theory has been rotated through 180 degrees to stand on its own two materialist legs -- hardly noticing that the Ideal backside is now where the materialist head used to be, and vice versa.

 

At least that explains all the hot air.

 

["Arse over tit", as we say up North.]

 

However, psycho-logical machinery like this was not designed to operate in reverse; an Ideal forward gear always seems to reassert itself.

 

As Essay Two has shown, dialecticians proceed as if it were quite natural -- hardly worth mentioning, in fact -- to extrapolate from thoughts, words or concepts to necessary and universal truths about the world. Not only do they proceed as if they think that their laws and a priori theses are applicable to all of reality for all of time, but, for these laws to appear to work like this, DM-theorists have to talk this way.

 

And we can now see why: it comes with the territory. The Dialectical Macrocosm meshes with the Dialectical Microcosm because this entire world-view was inherited (in modified form) from Aristocratic Greek thinkers who intended and who designed it to work this way. These ruling-ideas rule 'radical' heads because, to DM-fans, they seem so natural and quintessentially 'philosophical'.20a

 

If abstractions provide the glue that binds knowledge together (or if it enables the formation of knowledge, as Lenin argued), what else could these creatures of Greek Thought imply about nature except that it is just one Big Idea?

 

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

 

"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 pretend that these abstractions have been derived from the world (or from some sort of 'law of cognition'), tested in practice, but the above considerations cast serious doubt on the accuracy of that claim.

 

Presently, these infant doubts will mature quite alarmingly.

 

 

Collective Error Over General Terms

 

Nominalism excepted, legendary accounts of the origins 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, sometimes the other way round, unifying particulars under an 'objective law' --, as it progressively disregarded their unique ("accidental", "inessential") features, or as it looked for wider connections in order to uncover each of the many 'essences' that supposedly underpinned 'appearances'.21

 

That alone should have made erstwhile materialists pause for more than just a thought; what on earth could be so materialist about a theory that has to withdraw from the material into the Ideal in such an irresponsible manner?

 

The pay-off, so we have been led to believe, is the greater explanatory power (etc.) this approach supposedly brings in its train; but if this 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 material bodies themselves (and, as a consequence, dialecticians regard matter itself as an abstraction!), since these 'abstractions' are required to explain 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'? Or, that of Social Democracy over Capitalism? These questions become all the more ironic in view of the fact that dialectics is actually incapable of explaining anything (as we will see as the Essays unfold), a disconcerting outcome that is only aggravated by the additional fact that DIM is, and has been an abject and long-term failure.]

 

In fact, the reverse appears to be far more likely. Indeed, this whole approach looks for all the world to be based on the belief that material reality is insufficient of itself, inadequate and not fully real, and that nature requires the background operation of Ideal principles to make it work. For dialectical materialists, matter (would you believe!) seems to be far too crude or lifeless to do anything on its own -- even if matter is all that nature has to offer. Apparently, it needs a 'Logic' to make it tick. Well, we all know which religion is based on the Logos.

 

[Answer: the vast majority...]

 

And that explains why Lenin could declare that he preferred intelligent Idealism to "crude materialism".22

 

By nailing their colours to this ruling-class masthead, dialecticians have unfortunately placed themselves on the side of the 'Gods'.23

 

 

Abstractionism: Bury It -- Or Praise It?

 

Unfortunately, unlike Capitalism, Abstractionism has accrued few effective gravediggers. Those that it has managed to attract have proven to be even less successful in the overthrow of the latter than workers have been the former. That is largely because these erstwhile undertakers were (and still are) more often content simply to point out the psychological impossibility of the entire abstractionist process rather than reveal its logical flaws or its ideological motivation. So, these "ruling ideas" live on to rule another day -- and another dialectician.

 

More recently, however, abstractionism has been subjected to a series of destructive critiques, even though this archaic theory still lumbers on. This in turn is partly because many of those who avowedly came to bury it -- unlike Mark Antony -- wind up praising it by emulating it. In so doing they have helped breathe new life into this cadaver by inventing brand new 'essentialist' theories of their own.24

 

 

Public Criteria Vs Private Gain

 

In the event, as seems obvious, an ability to talk about, say, dogs depends on a prior grasp (in use) of the relevant general terms. This fact doesn't need an explanation -- nor could one be provided that didn't also employ the very things that required explaining in the first place, i.e., general terms.25

 

If the above observations possess one advantage, it lies in re-directing attention away from hidden, inner processes and private, individualised abilities -- allegedly possessed by expert 'lone abstractors' -- toward socially-acquired and publicly checkable skills and abilities in a endeavour to understand the use of language, generality and socially-constituted knowledge.

 

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

 

Which is why emphasis has been placed in these Essays on our capacity to use ordinary language in a public domain. This 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 out of desiccated discourse in the 'privacy of our heads'.

 

In contrast once more, the approach adopted here means that the scientific aspects of human cognition are open to view, subject to public scrutiny -- unlike the mysterious inner rituals that underlie the 'process of abstraction', a process, it is worth recalling, that fails to deliver even what was advertised for it.26

 

 

Particular Problems With DM-Generality

 

It has been argued at length 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 names of abstract particulars, which, unsurprisingly, then proceeds to go nowhere with them. This not only distorts the way language functions -- destroying the capacity it has for saying anything at all --, it demolishes the dialectical circuit before it can even be tested in practice.

 

The remainder of this Part of Essay Three will be aimed at widening, and then providing further substantiation for, these allegations.

 

 

Appearance And Reality

 

The Underlying 'Essence' Of 'Being'

 

A cursory reading of earlier sections might prompt the thought that they ignore the fact that scientists actually use the method of abstraction -- and have done so for centuries -- in their search for knowledge. According to this widely held belief, they do this in order to discover -- or 'uncover' -- the underlying, "objective" nature of reality.

 

[The first part of this counter-claim was examined in Note 24; both will be  examined in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two, to be published in 2013.]

 

However, this objection invites consideration of two further sets of ideas that DM-theorists have inherited from traditional Metaphysics: (1) The distinction between "appearance" and "reality", and (2) The difference between "essence" and "accident".

 

Once again, we see that dialecticians have (naively) bought into these ancient, Aristocratic distinctions, having meekly accepted the class-motivated idea that 'appearances' are not 'fully real', and that 'abstraction' is able to penetrate the outer 'shell' of the former in order to gain access to the underlying 'rational order' of the latter.

 

[The reason for doing this, so we are told, is that it enables theorists to comprehend 'appearances' (and/or objects and processes) more fully and scientifically. Ironically, we will soon see that this is the opposite of what actually happens.]

 

In this connection TAR makes 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 to the conventions adopted here.]

 

But, according to Rees, 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." [Ibid., p.188.]

 

And this is where abstraction enters the picture:

 

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

 

However, abstraction cannot simply function 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." [Ibid., pp.190-91.]

 

There are several points here that are worth examining in more detail, but for present purposes attention will be confined to the supposed contradiction between "appearance" and allegedly "deeper reality" (as this applies to the natural world).

 

["Social contradictions" will be examined below, and in Essay Eight Parts Two and Three.]

 

 

Does Reality Contradict Appearances?

 

Contradictions Supposedly Generated By Science

 

Despite the fact that dialecticians assert that appearance and reality (or, 'essence' and 'appearance') contradict each other, they seldom tell us what they mean by this, nor do they illustrate this alleged clash with examples drawn from the natural world. [Those that supposedly occur in the social sphere will be examined presently.] Nevertheless, even if they were to provide an explanation, it still isn't easy to see what the putative contradiction between 'appearance' and 'reality' is supposed to be.26a

 

If we examine a volunteered example we might be able to make sense of the wider claim that there is a clash of sorts between the way things appear and the truths scientists and/or Philosophers are supposed to be looking for that are somehow hidden beneath them.

 

The example below has been deliberately chosen both for its triteness and its familiarity. Something more arcane would have obscured the issues involved. Other examples will be considered as the argument unfolds, and 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 example doesn't illustrate a process in nature, and so it isn't relevant. However, it is relatively easy to adapt it so that this objection itself becomes irrelevant, as we will also see.

 

[Other examples of this alleged incongruity can be altered in like manner, but I will refrain from doing this here for obvious reasons. Hence, those examples should be read in the same way to prevent this section descending into obscure, scholastic pedantry.]

 

Nevertheless, this illusion could 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 R2b, form apparently contradictory pairs, but this type of incongruity is clearly not the sort to which Rees and other dialecticians are alluding -- which is the alleged contradiction between appearance and reality. That is, R1 and R2 are plainly both about appearances, hence, they aren't about the aforementioned clash between appearance and reality.

 

Perhaps then, the following will work:

 

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, they are not 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 contrast 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 these two is that they are not contradictories, since they can be (and are) both true at once, and they can both be false at once; there appears to be no logical connection between them. The truth of one does not imply the falsehood of the other, nor vice versa.

 

It could be objected to this 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 do not really bend when partially immersed. This clash could lead to a rejection of this unscientific belief, as indeed it does. In that sense, therefore, it could be argued that reality does indeed contradict appearances.

 

But, does all this make it false to say that sticks look bent in water? Clearly not. And yet if these two sentences were contradictory (recall, no two contradictory propositions can be true together), and given that R6 is true alongside R5, it would be false to say that they are contradictory.29

 

In connection with this it is also worth recalling that, according to physical theory, light rays are deflected as they pass between the air and water, creating the 'illusion' of bent sticks. However, if sticks didn't really look bent in water (or if it were false to say that they appeared to bend when immersed) this would refute the scientific belief that light rays themselves deviate upon entering or leaving the relevant media. Tinker around with such beliefs too much and far more serious problems would arise, threatening to undermine at least this part of Physics.

 

So, even in this sense, appearances are not contradicted by reality -– far from it, they play an essential part in the verification of scientific theory. Hence, the scientific truth that light deviates when passing between media is confirmed by the appearance recorded in R5!

 

Again, it could be objected that this is an entirely specious response. The fact is that scientific knowledge is inconsistent with the belief that sticks bend in water. No amount of re-interpretation can minimise the significance of this.

 

However, that would have been an effective rebuttal if (1) The argument above were about beliefs and not about appearances, and if (2) It could be shown that anyone actually believed (or has ever believed) that sticks bend in water -- since this version of the counter-response in the previous paragraph specifically mentioned what might plausibly be believed by naïve observers. Undeniably, such a belief would be incompatible with what we know to be true, but the DM-claim is that appearances contradict reality. It says nothing about beliefs doing this.

 

Indeed, the point made above is that, far from reality contradicting appearances, scientists themselves need appearances to be correct (to confirm such things as Snell's Law), and hence they have to take note of 'seemingly' bent sticks. Clearly, that is because scientists have to look at things, and if they saw sticks in water that did not appear to bend when immersed they would either question whether the liquid concerned was indeed water or they would wonder if they were hallucinating.

 

Hence, the above objection only seems to work by confusing appearances with beliefs. Now, it is certainly not being questioned here whether propositions drawn from science contradict certain beliefs about the world and what it contains. But, beliefs are not the same as appearances.

 

It could be argued that the argument above is inconsistent, for while it alleges that there can be no contradiction between appearances and reality there can be and are contradictions between scientific propositions and certain beliefs.

 

So, on the one hand, while these are contradictory:

 

B1: p.

 

B2: NN believes that not p,

 

on the other, these aren't:

 

B3: p.

 

B4: It appears to NN that not p.

 

How can the former be deemed contradictory while the latter aren't?

 

Or, so it might be wondered.

 

Of course, the wording of my earlier claim was specifically this:

 

B5: It is certainly not being questioned here whether propositions drawn from science contradict certain beliefs about the world and what it contains. But, beliefs are not the same as appearances.

 

Now while "not p" certainly is the contradictory of "p", "p" itself is not the contradictory of the back end of B4, i.e., "to NN that not p". If B2 were instead:

 

B6: It believes to NN that not p,

 

a case might be made against me, but it wasn't, and so it can't. In that case, B1/B2 and B3/B4 are not at all analogous. [B6 is deliberately stilted so that this point could be made. In addition, it mustn't be assumed that I believe B1 and B2 are contradictory; I am just seeing where this counter-argument might go.]29a0

 

It could further responded that if we re-word the above, they might still be contradictory; perhaps as follows?

 

B7: p.

 

B8: NN has a belief that not p.

 

B9: p.

 

B10: 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 contradict one another (irony intended) by a crass misuse of language (in B10). People can no more have appearances than they can have seemings or lookings. Of course, if we had sentences in language like these (mirroring those like B10):

 

B11: It believes to me that not p,

 

B12: It appears to me that not p,

 

then we might be able to make this response work, but we don't -- and it isn't difficult to see why. We form our beliefs based on all manner of contingencies, but appearances are things we undergo, like it or not -- we do not form them. Moreover, we use sentence like "NN believes that p", but not "NN appears that p".

 

So, as noted above, appearances are not beliefs.

 

Nevertheless, it could still be objected that while sticks might appear to bend in water, the fact is that they do not actually do so. In that sense, subjective appearance is contradicted by objective fact.

 

However, this latest objection itself labours under several misconceptions:

 

(1) First, appearances are part of reality. No one supposes, surely, that appearances are fictional or that they have been invented, or that they only exist in 'heaven'. It isn't as if our ancestors made this fable up and several millennia later we have finally rumbled to it. In that case, appearances are just as 'real' as unbent sticks are. [Of course, the problem here is with the word "real". I will say more about this in Essay Twelve.] 

 

(2) Moreover, and worse, since neither appearances nor reality are propositional, no contradiction could be possible between them.29a

 

It could be objected that the issue in hand is the contradiction between essence and appearance not that between appearance and reality, which is an invention of the present Essay.

 

But, even if the meaning of "essence" itself were clear, it is difficult to see how there could be such a contradiction, not unless appearances and essences were propositional, too. Hegelians might be able to get away with this idea (but as far as I know they haven't sought to do so yet), since, for them, everything is Ideal; but materialists can't.

 

Of course, that comment itself depends on a view of contradictions I do not expect dialecticians to accept, but until they tell us what they do mean by 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 would perhaps display a little too much impatience on my part to expect them to produce one in the next generation 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 features sticks that look bent in water. In that case, unless dialecticians have a theory about the 'essence' of sticks that differs from their notion of 'real sticks', this objection must fail. After all, Novack it was 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.]29b

 

Which more or less settles things; appearances are just as much a part of reality as essences are, if they coincide. [How they manage do this in the case of bent sticks, I will leave those addicted to this of this way of talking to fathom out for themselves, since I do not prefer it.]

 

(3) Thirdly, the claim that it is merely a 'subjective' experience that sticks appear to bend 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 be able to see it) -–, but this apparent bending of sticks forms a basis for the 'objective' fact that confirms the scientific belief that light changes its path when passing between media. If the appearance of bending sticks were merely subjective, what should we make of the idea that light alters its course? Is that subjective too? Is the 'objectivity' of science founded on such weak 'subjectivist' premisses?

 

Again, exception might be taken to the claim that appearances are "objective", since most philosophers and scientists agree that they are subjective. 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 metaphysical language like this. I have already noted above that I do not prefer this way of talking; obscure language like this is merely being employed here to assist in its own demise. Hence the frequent use of 'scare' quotes.

 

(B) Secondly, if appearances are subjective then, because the fact that philosophers and scientists believe that appearances are subjective is also an appearance, it too must be subjective -- in that it isn't "observer independent", either. In fact, as should seem plain, no observation made by scientists or philosophers could ever be "observer independent", and thus "objective".

 

In fact, if 'objectivity' is understood to be "observer-", or "mind-independent", then it would be impossible to form an 'objective' opinion of anything -- let alone an opinion about 'subjectivity' -– that is, while we humans irresponsibly 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 status of the opinions of anyone who holds that rash belief itself.

 

So, if 'objectivity' is defined as "observer-independence" etc., then plainly the notion that light bends when it moves between media (and every other belief we have) can't be 'objective'. As seems undeniable, the truth of this and every other scientific idea depends on centuries of observation (and no little human thought), as much as it depends on the current beliefs of human beings. Exactly how the former can be held to be independent of the latter is a mystery few 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 form any 'objective' beliefs whatsoever.

 

Of course, all this will be music to dialecticians' ears, since they already accept the 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.]

 

In that case, we must abandon the idea that "objective" means "mind-independent". [More on 'objectivity' here.]

 

However, if dialecticians are prepared to do that, then much of their epistemology will 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 do so in certain ways!

 

It could be objected here (no pun intended) 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, no more will be said about it here.

 

However, Dialectical Marxists surely can't accept Hegel's notion of objectivity, since it would transform them into Objective Idealists. So, until we are informed exactly what dialecticians mean when they say the sort of obscure things about 'objectivity' that Lenin does, little more can be done with it.

 

Nevertheless, 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 as it would be if there were no minds -– that is, it aims to depict reality as it is in-itself, in its ever-changing essence.

 

Of course, this take on 'objectivity' would undermine what Lenin has just said, since "nature in-itself" does not mean "nature-as-observed-by-some-mind-or-other".

 

Even so, the use of the world "picture" above is a give-away. Pictures are only such because of the observers who view them. Eliminate the latter aspect of science and its 'picturing' role must go with it. To be sure, the physical object that constitutes a picture (the canvas, the frame, the paint, and so on) will not vanish if humanity and all sentient life perishes, but the verb "to picture" is for us transitive; without our input, no picturing could take place. The Moon, for example, is not a picture for, or of, anything.

 

That is, of course, why we find 'ideal observers' -- and/or the presence of terms that imply that actual observers exist somewhere, who view events (even if only as part of a 'thought-experiment') -- cropping up all over the place in such quasi-'objectivist' accounts of nature. 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 forgot it was meant to be 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 will not be controverted here (although it is debatable whether the word "objectivity" is much help), but it is worth pointing out that R7 is not relevant to the doctrine presently being challenged, for if there were no observers then appearances could not contradict reality -- for, in that case, there'd plainly be no 'appearances' to conflict with anything, and, indeed, no one to do the 'contradicting'.

 

So, 'objectively' speaking (to adopt this confused mode of expression for the moment) appearances cannot contradict "things-in-themselves", if they are 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 eradicated or corrected by science.

 

However, this latest attempt to rescue the claim that reality contradicts appearances labours under another confusion: one that holds that 'commonsense' and ordinary language are somehow the same. They are not.

 

[This is a topic that is examined in greater detail in Essay Twelve (however, some of this material has been posted here temporarily). There, it will become apparent that since no one seems to have a clear idea what the term "commonsense" means (in its philosophical sense, that is), it is difficult to make much of this objection.]

 

It is also worth pointing out here that long before the scientific study of nature began, human beings were well aware of the fact that sticks do not bend in water. It hardly took a Newton or a Galileo to uncover this amazing fact. This is not to say that earlier generations were able to explain this phenomenon, but that fact is not relevant to the topic in hand.

 

[Several of the other alleged 'corrections' scientific advance has made to 'commonsense' are examined below, 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 these has a clear meaning or a fixed use -- even among those who think they know what they mean. Of course, this plainly implies that the distinction between these two words must be 'subjective' itself -- again, if we must accept this obscure way of talking.

 

Be this as it may, if the thesis that reality contradicts appearances really does depend on this obscure pair of words, then it would be impossible to assess it until these terms have been given a clear sense -- and, incidentally one that does not itself depend on a single instance of human/observer-motivated input --, for that would render it subjective, too.

 

['Objectivity' and 'subjectivity' are examined in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part One.]

 

Finally, as noted above, this entire issue reduces this discussion to a consideration of contradictory beliefs -– those engendered in us by scientific advance, as opposed to those derived from 'commonsense'. If this is all it means then this too will not be controverted here, for there is nothing in the least bit puzzling about contradictory beliefs. Indeed, they are as common as mud.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' (conflicts that many think have actually taken place), 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.

 

Again, while R8 and R9 might look contradictory they do not in fact illustrate the sort of conflict we seek since they are both about appearances again. And there is no obvious logical connection between R10 and either 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 the Sun moved, things would appear no different than if the reverse were true. And we would surely not conclude that R10 had been contradicted if sunrise could not be seen one morning because it was foggy, say; that is, if it didn't appear 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 a difficulty that John Rees and every other dialectician seem to have overlooked: it isn't possible to form a contradiction by concatenating a proposition that expresses matters of fact with one that reports appearances, as we saw above.

 

In short, the following schematic sentences:

 

R11: It appears to be the case that p.

 

R12: It is not the case that p.

 

cannot form a contradictory pair when interpreted in the manner specified, and then conjoined (where "p" is a propositional variable).

 

Moreover, unless we subscribe to the view that facts and appearances are intelligent and/or belligerent -– that is, that they are capable of picking arguments with one another -- it would make no sense to suppose that appearances could literally contradict (i.e., "gainsay") true propositions. Not only are appearances non-linguistic and non-sentient, but as far as propositions and appearances are concerned, they do not seem to oppose each other in any obvious way. They do not turn into one another (which is what dialectical opposites are supposed to do, so we are told), nor do they cause each other to change. So, 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. To be sure, we might interpret things differently today, but that does not affect how things still appear. In that case, a DM-'contradiction' here must be figurative, at best -- or perhaps it is merely terminological.

 

Nevertheless, it could be argued that there are aspects of scientific knowledge that do in fact contradict appearances, despite what has been argued here. 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. Hence, the following pair of propositions could illustrate the intended contradiction:

 

R13: The earth moves.

 

R14: It is not the case that the earth moves.

 

These certainly contradict one another, but even this pair is not what we are looking for, since neither of them is about appearances.

 

Moreover, Rees seems to be interested in contradictory pairs where both halves are true, those involving seemingly 'correct' appearances contradicted by genuinely 'objective' underlying realities -– otherwise the alleged superiority of DL over FL would be illusory. That is because, as already noted, DM-style contradictions must both be true at once (or, they must both 'exist' at once, to use the jargon), unlike their less contentious FL-cousins. Unfortunately, however, R14 is false.32

 

This means that we still do not have a DM-'contradiction', even in this relatively clear case. Nor are we ever likely to get one --, and that is for the reasons stated above.

 

Even if a case could be made out to show that scientific propositions contradicted indicative sentences expressing appearances, that still would not achieve all that dialecticians require of them. That is because (as noted in Essay Five) propositions that might look contradictory -- and which are both held to be true -– would normally be disambiguated or they would be given a background against which they might be understood, which would resolve the apparent contradiction.

 

This latest assertion is no mere 'bourgeois' prejudice or diktat. Consider the following examples, which are analogous to the previous pair:

 

R15: The strikers moved.

 

R16: It is not the case that the strikers moved.

 

This pair certainly looks contradictory (especially if both relate to the same strikers at the same moment, and thus both are held true) -- but that would cease to be the case once it was discovered 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 engendered by one set of observations would merely appear to contradict those motivated by another. But, as soon as a frame of reference is supplied the 'contradiction' simply disappears.

 

And it will not do to point out the trite nature of R15 and R16 --, not, that is, unless and until DM-theorists tell us what they mean by the obscure phrase "dialectical contradiction". [Since that topic is dealt with 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 DM-texts themselves contain little other than trite examples (boiling water, contradictory seeds, anecdotes from The Arabian Nights, characters who speak "prose all their lives", the differential fighting ability of Mamelukes, cone bearings, "Yea, Yea"/"Nay, Nay", etc., etc.) -- it is Mickey Mouse Science, after all.

 

As seems clear, apparent 'contradictions' are not presented to us by nature and/or society totally unadorned, as it were; they arise either from ambiguities inherent in language or from a lack of clarity (etc.) in the original 'problem' (or so it is claimed in these Essays). In the above case, the 'contradiction' plainly arose because of a (suppressed) change in reference frame.

 

Naturally, this would make such contradictions sensitive to choice of reference frame, not dependent on reality as such. However, that was certainly not the point DM-theorists wanted to make about their 'contradictions'. And yet, those mentioned above were either artefacts of a conventionalised choice of inertial frame or they are a consequence of confused thought -- they are certainly not based on reality (whatever that means).33

 

It could be objected that in a perfectly ordinary sense the following two sentences are contradictory:

 

C1: It appears to be φ-ing.

 

C2: No, it isn't φ-ing.

 

[Where "φ" stands for a verb clause.]

 

Consider this ordinary language interpretation of C1 and C2:

 

C1a: "It appears to be raining."

 

C2a: "No, you're mistaken, it isn't raining."

 

Or, consider this example:

 

C3: "The Sun appears to be moving."

 

C4: "No, you're mistaken, the Sun isn't moving."

 

Anyone who uttered C2a (or C4) would be correcting anyone who uttered C1a (or C3), contradicting them.

 

This shows that the earlier claim that "it isn't possible to form a contradiction by concatenating a proposition that expresses matters of fact with one that reports appearances" is false.

 

Or, so it could be argued.

 

Of course, C4 is wrong anyway, since the Sun is moving relative to the Galaxy, so it isn't too clear that C3 and C4 will be of much use to DM-apologists, especially since the obvious reply to anyone who tried to correct C3 by means of C4 would be:

 

C5: "Well, I didn't say it was moving, only that it appears to be -- and it still appears to be moving, despite what you say."

 

So, C3 and C4 aren't contradictories since they can both be true (and they can both be false). This is, of course, because of the equivocal nature of the verbs "move" "appear". [In Essay Five, We saw that the word "move" had many different meanings.]

 

The same sort of response applies to C1 and C2:

 

C6: "Well, I didn't say it was raining, only that it appears to be -- and it still appears to be raining, despite what you say."

 

Hence, this is still the case: "It isn't possible to form a contradiction by concatenating a proposition that expresses matters of fact with one that reports appearances."

 

 

'Contradictory' Capitalism?

 

Putting the natural sciences to one side for the moment, Rees and other DM-theorists in fact use examples drawn from HM to illustrate the alleged clash between "essence" and "appearance". [Several other examples are considered at length in Essay Eight Part Two, here, here and here.]

 

Perhaps an examination of these will help make the point clearer?

 

Rees's argument, for instance, goes as follows:

 

"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. Bold emphases added.]

 

This passage makes it plain that while Capitalism appears on the surface to be fair, its underlying 'essence'/nature is thoroughly exploitative. Hence, in that sense it could be claimed that appearances contradict reality.

 

Unfortunately, Rees's example isn't even a contradiction, however much we might deplore the things it reveals. [Why that is so is explained more fully here. On the highly misleading metaphor that certain truths, or even "essences", somehow lie "below the surface", see here.]

 

Perhaps this is too hasty? Maybe we can rephrase Rees's claim so that the alleged contradiction becomes more obvious:

 

R17: Capitalism appears to be fair.

 

R18: It isn't the case that Capitalism appears to be fair.

 

This pair of sentences certainly looks contradictory, but as we saw above, because both sentences are about appearances, they aren't what Rees intended.34

 

Well, maybe then the following are?

 

R19: Capitalism is exploitative.

 

R20: It isn't the case that Capitalism is exploitative.

 

This pair certainly seems contradictory, too, but once again, since these two sentences do not contrast appearance with reality they won't do either.

 

A more useful guide to Rees's intentions is perhaps contained in the relation he says exists between "essence and appearance" and "subjective and objective" views of the world:

 

"[F]or Lenin practice overcomes the distinction between subjective and objective and the gap between essence and appearance." [Ibid., pp.190-91.]

 

This could mean that these hard-to-pin-down DM-'contradictions' actually arise between "subjective" and "objective" views of the world. But, even if what Rees says were the case, what precisely is the contradiction here?

 

Perhaps the following 'argument' might help bring it out:

 

R21: Capitalism appears to be fair.

 

R22: This appearance leads people (including workers) to think that it is fair.

 

R23: Hence, Capitalism is fair.

 

R24: But, revolutionary theory and practice convinces some that Capitalism is not fair.

 

R25: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.

 

R26: Consequently, Capitalism is both fair and not fair.

 

R27: But, the contradiction in R26 implies that R23 can't be true (based on the truth of R25).

 

R28: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.35

 

Ignoring the fact that the above argument in hopelessly invalid, its message looks reasonably clear: the 'objectivity' of revolutionary theory (expressed in R24) makes plain the contradiction in R26.

 

However, even if that were the case, the contradiction is still not between appearance and reality, but between certain beliefs held about both, or perhaps the inferences made from each.

 

Anyway, few people (and certainly no revolutionaries) believe that capitalism is both fair and not fair at the same time. Anyone who gives the matter sufficient thought will agree either with R23 or R25, but not both at once. Indeed, that is why R28 would be held true by socialists. However, DM requires both R23 and R25 (and hence R26) to be true at once. But, we have been here already.36

 

It could be objected that the above appearances lead to the false belief that Capitalism is fair, which is contradicted by the fact that it isn't, and it is this which yields the required contradiction. But, no one is questioning the fact that there are all sorts of contradictory beliefs in people's heads. What is at issue here is (1) Whether any two can be (unequivocally) held true together and (2) Whether appearances contradict reality --, both of which have yet to be established.37

 

Hence, it doesn't look like we can construct a clear example of the sort of contradiction Rees had in mind -- even when we use his own choice of candidate!

 

Nevertheless, this latest impasse introduces yet another problem facing DM-epistemology: if appearances are finally acknowledged to be (in some way) deceptive, not entirely or fully accurate (or 'real'), or they are said to be limited or misleading to some extent, how can anything of value be learnt from them, or by means of them? Worse still, if revolutionary practice itself takes place at the level of appearances how can it serve as a test of the objectivity of Marxist theory?

 

The next few sections are aimed at resolving these unexpected difficulties.

 

 

Adrift In A Sea Of Appearances

 

I propose to examine the contribution revolutionary practice makes to the validation of theory in more detail in Essay Ten Part One, and Essay Nine Part Two, but for present purposes it is worth pointing out that practice can't in fact test 'objectivity' in the way imagined -- and this is not just because the word "objective" is itself hopelessly vague. As noted above, it is because practice clearly takes place at the level of appearances, which according to DM can't be anything other than 'subjective'.38

 

Admittedly, some Marxists claim that there is such a thing as "theoretical practice", but even here its deliverances can only surface in the world of appearances.

 

Unless we believe in telepathy or are committed to the bizarre idea that theoretical propositions live an abstract world accessible to the 'mind' alone, and are not embodied or expressed in anything material -– that is, that they cannot ever be written down or spoken out loud, or even whispered in soliloquy -– the deflationary conclusion that theoretical propositions are as material as sticks and stones must stand.

 

Plainly, this is because abstract objects (and the words used to express them) must appear in the phenomenal world at some point or forever be unknown to us. In the real world, even theoretical propositions have to be written down or uttered in a public language, and that immediately places them in the grip of these 'unreliable appearances'.

 

 

Are All Appearances 'False'?

 

Exception might be taken to the above since it seems to imply that dialecticians regard appearances as unreliable, misleading or false (even though, as we will see, Herbert Marcuse, for example, openly admits they are). On the contrary, it could be maintained that dialecticians (or the majority of them) do not believe this of appearances. Indeed, the following passage from TAR underlines this fact:

 

"…[T]his 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. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"There is a deeper reality, but it must be able to account for the contradiction between it and the way it appears." [Ibid., p.188.]

 

But if, as these passages say, superficial appearances aren't a guide to deeper "essences" -- indeed they "contradict" them --, then they must be deceptive at some point, especially if most human beings misread them or are misled by them, and it takes clued-in Marxists to disabuse them of their false beliefs. If the exploitative relations in Capitalism are not really as they seem, and if on this view they "appear in a form different from their real nature", then what they reveal can't be anything other than misleading, and hence false. There is no other way of reading this passage. [This topic is discussed more fully in Notes 33 to 35.]

 

Again, it could be argued that DM-theorists do not adhere to such a simple-minded view of the relation between appearance and reality; they hold that there is a dialectical interplay between theory and practice. This means that even though thought depends on appearances for its immediate content, it nevertheless ascends by means of abstraction and/or critical analysis/synthesis (subsequently confirmed in practice) to a more adequate, theoretical and concrete understanding of reality (rooted in past theory, which, in turn, isn't set in stone). In the long-term, this process leads to a more accurate account of the real processes at work in Capitalist society. At each stage, thought returns to the original world of experience where, after again being tested in practice, its content may be viewed in a more all-rounded, concrete manner. This process of cognition renders the conclusions drawn objective (even if they are still only partially/relatively true). Hence, appearances need not be regarded as merely subjective, as suggested above; their connection with underlying reality allows them to be viewed in a different, more complex, inter-connected, all-rounded light, allowing revolutionaries to understand why things seem the way they do, and why most individuals view them in this light.

 

Or, so it might be argued.

 

Despite the fanfare, the fact is that the old conservative adage, "A fair day's pay for a fair day's work", for instance, could not serve as a guiding principle for revolutionaries writing agitational leaflets, no matter how many hoops dialectical sloganeers force it through.

 

That is because at no stage in the execution of these elaborate dialectical gyrations would it be correct to say, think, or even imply that Capitalism isn't exploitative. No matter how many dialectical somersaults are expertly performed, only the most naïve of militants would believe a boss who said that he or she couldn't afford the latest pay demand from a strike committee.

 

If so, and in practice once more, no revolutionary would take the beliefs encouraged by the superficial appearances of Capitalist society as anything other than false, or self-serving. Certainly, no Marxist -- this side of a major sell-out, that is -- believes Capitalism is "fair" and acts according to that belief.39

 

Anyway, this rejoinder (from a few paragraphs back) seems to rely on the assumption that thoughts and theories are not themselves 'appearances' -– i.e., that they do not surface in a public language, in an open arena in a material form of some sort. In fact, reading DM-texts on the "dialectical method" one gets the distinct impression that familiar dialectical acrobatics -- like the ones that Rees mentions above -- take place in a sort of inner psychic sports arena, as it were, where concepts and abstractions are put through their paces in private. And not just that; it very much looks like these dialectical summersaults must be performed afresh each time, by DM-fans, in each individual head.

 

That was one of the main themes of the first half of this Part of Essay Three: the idea that DM-epistemology, for all its pretensions to the contrary, is trapped in a bourgeois individualist dungeon.

 

[The general principles underlying the social nature of language and knowledge will be addressed again in much more detail in Essays Twelve Part One and Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Hence, as was noted earlier, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the process of abstraction is a skill that adepts learn to perform as isolated individuals in their own private inner auditorium -- their heads. We have yet to witness teams of synchronised dialecticians all chanting in unison the latest verbal application of their most recent dialectical flip, under the direction of the Absolute as it Notions its way into glory, or, indeed, under the militant baton of a Gerry Healy or a Bob Avakian in full sectarian flow. So, how DM-fans imagine they are capable of coordinating their separate dialectical antics (if, as they imagine, these are all carried out in some sort of inner mental gymnasium) is entirely mysterious. In fact, given the truth of DM-epistemology, no two dialecticians would ever be able to determine whether or not their individual feats of abstraction actually converged on the same target, let alone the right target. [On that, see here and here.]

 

An appeal to a publicly accessible language would be no avail either, as pointed out here. Moreover, since such a language is also situated in this unreliable world of appearances, recourse to it would be like checking one's height put touching the top of one's head.

 

[And, as if to rub it in, HCDs are, to all appearances, petty-bourgeois intellectuals, and LCDs are by-and-large petty-bourgeois or de-classé martinets who arrived at (allegedly) the same individualist conclusions, but by far less salubrious methods.]

 

In short, the superficial gestures DM-theorists make toward their belief in the social nature of language and knowledge are at odds with their theoretical pronouncements. Given the latter, knowledge and language couldn't be social products. Conversely, if language and knowledge are social products, Abstractionism can't work. [On this, see here.]

 

Here, at least, 'essence' and 'appearance' neatly coincide; a genuine 'unity of non-opposites'!

 

[More on this in Essay Twelve Part One, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

To be sure, we see dialecticians reporting to all and sundry the results of their own 'inner' machinations (this they do verbally, or in print --, indeed they have no choice, they have to do one or both of these, and in this 'world of appearances'), but short of a hot-line connecting each dialectical brain to the next, there is no way that the contents of any one inner 'abstractorium' could be made available to any other member of the same 'dialectical display team', for validation, or even for comparison.

 

So, in order to compare their ideas (etc.), dialecticians have to record their deliberations in this material world, in some form or other, where those nasty 'appearances' reign supreme.

 

If so, and if we are to believe what we are told about this unreliable world of appearances, no DM-proposition could be "objective" in any sense of that word.

 

Of course, it could be argued that even if DM-propositions surface in the world of appearances, that doesn't affect their content, what they are about. And yet, anyone wishing to ascertain what they are "about" has to rely on what appears before them in this shady world of appearances, and thus what they conclude about their content will only appear to be this or appear to be that

 

There is no way round this obstacle for anyone who has bought into the boss-class distinction between 'appearances' and 'reality'.

 

Furthermore, even if it were true that abstraction takes place in the 'mind', unless DM-theorists are prepared to accept a quasi-Cartesian account of thoughts (whereby the latter guarantee their own veracity, as opposed to merely appearing to do so),39a this inner dialectical detour can't succeed in grounding DM-abstractions in objectivity (to use this jargon for the time being). Hence, without postulating the existence of abstractions that are self-authenticating, and thoughts that are self-certifying (and thus in need of no support from practice or evidence), these 'inner phenomena' can't by-pass the need to make a validating entrance into the world of 'subjective' appearances.40

 

Moreover, an appeal to 'inter-subjectivity' can't ground this theory, either, that is because, if this theory is correct, the reports others deliver are similarly trapped in this world of unreliable appearances, and thus 'contradicted' by underlying 'essences', as is any opinion formed about them.

 

Even in the mind's alleged 'inner chamber', a 'thought' is no less of an appearance than are deliverances of the senses. Even to the most solipsistically-incarcerated individual, his or her thoughts merely appear to him/her to be thus and so.

 

And even if such ideas and concepts were 'self-certifying', they would still only appear to be so.40a

 

If, on the other hand, the existence of self-interpreting and auto-confirming thoughts were part of DM-epistemology (however, there is an echo of this idea in Hegel, but as far as I can determine, no Marxist dialectician has gone the whole hog here and agreed with Hegel, or even much as half-hog, in that direction), and thoughts were deemed not to be part of the world of appearances, then they would be no different from the 'intelligent ideas' we met earlier.

 

However, as seems plain, if DM-theorists were argue along these lines, it would make a mockery of the materialist flip they supposedly inflicted on Hegel's system, for such thoughts would then be little different from Hegelian ideas, but now in fragmented self-development. So, if thoughts are to be excluded from the world of appearances, then there seems to be no way to distinguish them from Platonic/Cartesian/Hegelian self-developing, self-certifying ('semi-divine') ideas. And if that is so, their subsequent referral back to the empirical world for testing and verification would be an empty gesture. Why bother to test a god-like thought? Did Moses check the Ten Commandments or the creation story in the Book of Genesis?

 

[Moving higher up the cosmic pecking-order: did Gerry Healy check a single thing he ever said?

 

And, of course, we all know Bob Avakian doesn't need to.

 

But, the situation is worse than this might suggest: not even 'God' can side-step how things appear to 'Him'. Even to the 'Absolute Idea', at the end of time, things will merely appear to be as history has delivered them to 'Him/Her/It'.]

 

And we can console ourselves with the further thought that whoever denies these deflationary conclusions must do so in this world of appearances, or stay silent.

 

Indeed, even Hegel's system is accessible only to those who can read, speak or hear. That is because Hegel's writings (indeed, anyone's writings) confront us now as phenomenal objects, and in this world, appearances hold the whip hand.

 

Any appearance to the contrary is simply misleading.

 

 

Dialectics Engages Auto-Destruct Mode

 

Furthermore -- and this shouldn't need pointing out --, thoughts and theories can be every bit as mistaken as beliefs based on appearances can.41 For example, the thought that sticks bend when put in water is no less (potentially) misleading than is the analogous appearance to that effect. [That is partly what lay behind the point made above about contradictory beliefs.]

 

Indeed, the history of science is littered with erroneous and radically mistaken theories. With respect to DM, the situation is far, far worse. Given the DM-thesis that knowledge depends on an infinite asymptotic convergence on an ever-elusive absolute or Ideal limit, DM-epistemology is little different from radical scepticism. [That allegation is substantiated at length here.] If so, there is an extremely high probability that even the soundest of DM-theses only looks correct, and the very latest and best DM-abstraction just appears to be valid, when neither are, or even remotely are.42

 

Unfortunately, once the virus-like distinction between 'appearance' and 'reality' is introduced into thought, the downfall of the theory that invited it in is all but guaranteed. Indeed, for that theory, the hour of its birth is the hour of its death.

 

And, this is one idea that does self-develop, but not in a healthy direction, or in a direction DM-theorists should welcome. In fact, it rapidly goes into self-destruct mode. For if nothing in epistemology is indubitable (save we revert to comforting Cartesian certainties, once more --, which anyway only seem to be secure, and only to those who think ideas can interpret themselves), then the superiority of thought over phenomena, essence over accident, and reality over appearance is illusory -- given this crazy way of seeing things.

 

In which case, alongside misleading phenomena we now have to contend with even more dubious DM-theories and abstractions. And, like it or not, these latterly suspect theories cannot form a secure basis for any subsequent explanation of the "true nature" of those equally shaky appearances. An apparently correct theory is clearly incapable of providing the required certainty for the safe interpretation of suspiciously misleading phenomena. In which case, a radically suspect theory (such as DM) stands no chance.

 

Oscillate dialectically as much as you like -- between 'thought' and 'appearance', 'essence' and 'accident' --, loop the dialectical loop all day long, it matters not --, traditional philosophical notions like these (i.e., "essence", "reality", "appearance", "theory", and "objectivity", and their ilk), are now irredeemably lost in the shadowy world of misleading semblances.43

 

So, it now seems that the already suspect dialectical circuit locks DM in permanent orbit around these eternally shaky appearances. In that case, with respect to any given DM-theorist, who uses problematic concepts like these ('appearance' and 'reality'), the supposed route that leads him/her into abstract theory -- and then back again (via practice), as a way of delving behind phenomena to uncover their hidden "essences" --, is forever blocked. For just as soon as a single DM-abstraction is penned, typed, thought about or spoken, it enters and then remains trapped in this world of faded simulacra.

 

Despite -- and contrary to -- this, it could be argued that dialecticians actually locate abstraction in thought, and this associates it with theory and thus with essences, not with appearances.

 

But, this rebuttal won't do, for thought (according to DM) only becomes objective in practice. Thought does not become objective if it is confined in an inner, mental/abstract domain; it has to enter the phenomenal world through practice (minimally, it has to be spoken or written down, if it is to be acted upon, or tested) in order for it to mature into 'objectivity'. Unfortunately, given this unwise way of depicting things, in the phenomenal world appearances reign supreme, and any material representation of thought (and any attempt to resolve anything whatsoever in practice) must negotiate its peace with them.

 

Indeed, given the traditional view of things, they are unforgiving taskmasters.

 

Moreover, if the further restrictions DM places on thought are taken into account (i.e., those related to practice once more), there would be no way of corroborating a single DM-proposition -- at least, none that weren't themselves compromised by doubts initiated by the 'reality'/'appearance' distinction, too -- even more so if the 'asymptotic approach' metaphor is thrown in for good measure. Furthermore, as we discovered is the case with thought, confirmation is not self-certifying, either; it too has to earn its keep in this vale of appearances. Practice, too, is situated here. Hence any test of theory must take place in this allegedly unreliable world of appearances. If so, practice, even if it were a test of truth, can't supply the DM-epistemologist with a timely 'get-out-of-a-need-to-appeal-to-appearances-free' card.

 

Negotiate this rusty old DM-banger around as many dialectical bends as you like, it matters not: it still winds-up wrapped around the same old tree of appearances.

 

And this is just one more reason why genuine materialists distrust the Idealist non-sense dialecticians have unwisely imported into Marxism, courtesy of Hegel.

 

Indeed, as we have seen, this interminable muddle is a direct consequence of borrowing a set of ideas from Traditional Metaphysics; in this case, those connected with the 'appearance'/'reality' distinction.

 

It may be avoided with ease by rejecting this historically regressive clanger in its entirety.

 

Naturally, this does not mean that an HM-analysis of Capitalism, for example, is incapable of distinguishing between its genuinely exploitative relations and the false beliefs workers (and others) form of them --, nor of accounting for the contradictory ideas people develop as a result.44 But, it does mean that we may only construct these successfully (in HM) if the confused categories of traditional Metaphysics and DM are completely excised.

 

And good riddance, too...

 

 

Notes

 

1. A short, clear introduction to this topic can be found in Staniland (1973). More details can be found in Aaron (1967), although Aaron concentrates almost exclusively on post-Cartesian theorists. Also see Tugendhat (1982), as well as here, here and here.

 

In addition, DM-theorists have an idiosyncratic understanding of the word "metaphysics". I have discussed this in more detail here.

 

1a. As we saw in Part One of this Essay, and as we will see also in Essay Four, Traditional Theorists adopted a grammatical theory that altered the way general words functioned in indicative sentences, transforming predicate expressions into the names of abstract particulars. These misbegotten 'abstractions' were then projected onto the world so that material reality was made to conform to them rather than the other way round; the Ideal became the arbiter of the material.

 

In this way, the 'rational' world of Ancient Greek theorists (and that of the vast majority of subsequent Philosophers) was nothing more than the back-reflection of distorted language, as Marx himself noted:

 

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

 

Indeed, as Hegel let slip:

 

"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.]

 

[The ideological background that motivated these moves is exposed in Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

Moreover, our supposed ability to 'abstract' certain Concepts/Ideas into existence, or call them to mind, seems to be innate. Of course, hardcore Rationalists (like Descartes and Leibniz, and probably Hegel) held that these concepts themselves are innate (or they are innate to the architectonic (i.e., cognitive structure) of our minds; that is, our minds cannot but work this way -- this idea is up-front in Kant), which explains how we are supposed to be able to see these concepts/'abstractions' in the objects of experience, by what Lenin was to call a 'law of cognition'. In more recent terms, these concepts/'abstractions' 'organise experience'; they make experience possible. This line-of-attack was supposed to cut the ground from under Empiricism, since it stressed the supposed fact that without these concepts/'abstractions', we could/would learn nothing from experience.

 

There are very strong echoes of this approach to knowledge in DM-epistemology, which isn't surprising given the fact that the latter is supposed to be 'upside-down' Hegelianism. Indeed, it is quite clear in these words of Lenin's:

 

"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.]

 

"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." [Ibid., p.208. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

[I have discussed these passages in more detail in Part One of this Essay.]

 

There is an illuminating discussion of this trend in Rationalism, along with an exposé of its serious limitations, in Cowie (2002), pp.1-68. [Cowie also shows that the underlying assumptions of Rationalism and Empiricism are remarkably similar.] These 'limitations' are also apparent in DM-epistemology. I will return to this theme in later Parts of Essay Three. [See also Cowie (2008), and Stich (1975).]

 

1aa. Marcuse expresses the Idealism implicit in the Hegelian tradition (upside down, or 'the right way up') rather well:

 

"Prior to this formalisation, the experience of the divided world finds its logic in the Platonic dialectic. Here, the terms 'Being,' 'Non-being,' 'Movement,' 'the One and the Many,' 'Identity,' and 'Contradiction' are methodically kept open, ambiguous, not fully defined. They have an open horizon, an entire universe of meaning which is gradually structured in the process of communication itself, but which is never closed. The propositions are submitted, developed, and tested in a dialogue, in which the partner is led to question the normally unquestioned universe of experience and speech, and to enter a new dimension of discourse -- otherwise he is free and the discourse is addressed to his freedom. He is supposed to go beyond that which is given to him -- as the speaker, in his proposition, goes beyond the initial setting of the terms. These terms have many meanings because the conditions to which they refer have many sides, implications, and effects which cannot be insulated and stabilised. Their logical development responds to the process of reality, or Sache selbst ['thing itself' -- RL]. The laws of thought are laws of reality, or rather become the laws of reality if thought understands the truth of immediate experience as the appearance of another truth, which is that of the true Forms of reality -- of the Ideas. Thus there is contradiction rather than correspondence between dialectical thought and the given reality; the true judgment judges this reality not in its own terms, but in terms which envisage its subversion. And in this subversion, reality comes into its own truth.

 

"In the classical logic, the judgment which constituted the original core of dialectical thought was formalised in the propositional form, 'S is p.' But this form conceals rather than reveals the basic dialectical proposition, which states the negative character of the empirical reality. Judged in the light of their essence and idea, men and things exist as other than they are; consequently thought contradicts that which is (given), opposes its truth to that of the given reality. The truth envisaged by thought is the Idea. As such it is, in terms of the given reality, 'mere' Idea, 'mere' essence -- potentiality....

 

"This contradictory, two-dimensional style of thought is the inner form not only of dialectical logic but of all philosophy which comes to grips with reality. The propositions which define reality affirm as true something that is not (immediately) the case; thus they contradict that which is the case, and they deny its truth. The affirmative judgment contains a negation which disappears in the propositional form (S is p). For example, 'virtue is knowledge'; 'justice is that state in which everyone performs the function for which his nature is best suited'; 'the perfectly real is the perfectly knowable'; 'verum est id, quod est' ['the true is that which is' -- RL]; 'man is free'; 'the State is the reality of Reason.'

 

"If these propositions are to be true, then the copula 'is' states an 'ought,' a desideratum. It judges conditions in which virtue is not knowledge, in which men do not perform the function for which their nature best suits them, in which they are not free, etc. Or, the categorical S-p form states that (S) is not (S); (S) is defined as other-than-itself. Verification of the proposition involves a process in fact as well as in thought: (S) must become that which it is. The categorical statement thus turns into a categorical imperative; it does not state a fact but the necessity to bring about a fact. For example, it could be read as follows: man is not (in fact) free, endowed with inalienable rights, etc., but he ought to be, because be is free in the eyes of God, by nature, etc....

 

"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.110-17. Italic emphasis in the original; bold emphases added. Spelling corrected to conform to UK English. I have used the on-line text here, and have corrected any typographical errors I managed to spot.]

 

It is worth noting that Marcuse connects the subject-predicate form with the alleged 'contradiction' between 'essence' and 'appearance', which neatly confirms the analysis developed in Part One of this Essay.

 

The same basic point is made by John Rees, but in much plainer language:

 

"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....

 

"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.187-88. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

We will have occasion to return to these two, later. [However, see also Note 1b.]

 

The Idealism apparent here -- or, at least in Marcuse's analysis -- is brought out well by George Novack:

 

"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.]

 

1b. Donald Davidson puts the 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 to the conventions adopted at this site.]  

 

Of course, Davidson goes on to argue that Plato appears to have overcome this problem by arguing that it is a mistake, for example, to think that shapes also have a shape, or that Socrates resembles the concept of a man. This may be so, but it isn't easy to see how the Forms could be exemplars of the things they instantiate if they share nothing with them. Be this as it may, Davidson then adds that even if Plato managed to circumvent this 'difficulty', his theory falls foul of another and more recalcitrant infinite regress: the problem of predication and the unity of the proposition, covered in Part One of this Essay.

 

However, this doctrine immediately demotes the 'evidence' that sense experience delivers rendering it only of secondary importance (or even of no consequence) compared to that which is delivered by 'thought', or by 'tradition' (as Plato's Allegory of the Cave confirms).

 

This depreciation of the material and the contingent is what we find, too, in the Platonic and Neoplatonic traditions, both of which find echo in Hegel's work, and thus in DM. [On that, see O'Regan (1994). This theme will be explored in detail in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]

 

Indeed, if "What is rational is real, and what is real is rational" [Hegel (2005), p.xix.], then both of these (the real and the rational) must be inaccessible to the senses, and the outward appearance of things can't match their real form. That is because only 'the Mind' is 'rational', and since material things aren't 'Mind' they can't be 'rational' -- nor can they be governed by rational principles. [The various responses that could be made to that seemingly dogmatic assertion will be considered in detail in Essay Twelve Part Four.] Or, at least, the latter can only be reconciled with the former if the material world is regarded as an aspect of 'Mind', or even perhaps as an Ideal entity itself. Hence, the logical conclusion is that, despite appearances to the contrary, everything must be 'Mind', or an aspect of 'Mind'.

 

This means that, at best, appearances are misleading; at worst, they are 'contradicted' by underlying 'essences' -- as dialecticians indeed try to tell us. In any such clash between the 'evidence' that the senses deliver and the rational principles the 'Mind' supposedly employs, Traditional Thought has always privileged 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; again these authors record this erroneously as p.v, RL], then the mere intellectual vision does not penetrate the logical or metaphysical that to the why or wherefore…. For if we construe necessary propositions as truths about logical, mathematical or metaphysical entities which describe their essential properties, then, of course, the final products of our analyses will be as impenetrable to reason as the final products of physical theorising, such as Planck's constant." [Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.273-75. Referencing conventions in the original have been altered to conform to those adopted at this site.]

 

"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 a fruitless exercise (in that it can't deliver what had been advertised for it), it destroys the capacity we have for articulating any ideas at all. [We saw this in Part One.]

 

Even worse: Dialectical Marxists [DIMs] have shown that they, too, are only too willing to adopt this anti-materialist, and hence ruling-class view of 'reality'. Such 'ruling ideas' certainly rule these (formerly) radical minds. The sad truth is that the approach DIMs have adopted has been to no avail; it has gained them no knowledge at all. In fact it prevents any from being formed.

 

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

 

 

 

Figure Two: Jack Negotiates A Far Superior Deal

 

This also helps explain why DM-theses collapse into incoherence alarmingly quickly, as the next ten Essays will demonstrate.

 

On the "Third Man Argument", see  Allen (1960), Code (1985), Cohen (1971), Geach (1956), Owen (1953), Strang (1963), and Vlastos (1954, 1956).

 

It is important to add to what I said earlier: Plato himself doesn't make the sort of mistake I attribute to others throughout this Essay -- except in places were he argues that the forms also "participate" in their own form (when for example, he speaks of the Form of the Beautiful being beautiful itself, which implies it, too, is an abstract particular). In fact, he hypostatises the Forms in other ways (and not solely to provide a reference for predicate expressions), but as exemplars. The latter function rather like, say, the Standard Metre in Paris. [I owe this point to Peter Geach, who reveals it was communicated to him by Wittgenstein; on that, see Geach's article referenced above. However, there is a problem even with this interpretation of Plato; cf., Note 1bb, below.]

 

1bb. It is worth pointing out that if we accept Plato's more considered theory that the Forms are exemplars, then an anthropological and sociological account of generality becomes available, for in that case, as Berkeley began to appreciate (and Wittgenstein developed in detail), generality can be accounted for on the basis of rule-governed linguistic behaviour, rather than on the basis of a mystical theory of ghostly Forms, Concepts and Universals.

 

This undercuts a serious problem faced by those who view the Forms as exemplars. If they work like the Standard Metre in Paris (as I suggested above), then the 'Third Man' problem must reappear. That is because even the Standard Metre shares properties/features with an ordinary measuring rod or device. However, if the Standard Metre is regarded as the embodiment of a rule (in which case, it is how we apply the rule that is important), and not so much a physical exemplar, then these difficulties vanish. It makes no sense to suppose a rule shares anything with whatever it is applied to -- after all, the Standard Metre itself can't tell us how to apply it.

 

[Of course, the above is far too sketchy an account of this important idea, but this isn't meant to be an academic exercise in Philosophy! (On this, see the references listed in Essay Twelve Part One, where I develop some of these ideas in more detail.)]

 

1c0. This isn't to suggest that there weren't other important currents in political thought, but in this section of the Essay I am concentrating on the source of rationalist theories of the state and the world-view that underpinned them.

 

1c. This might not seem an crucially important point; that misconception will be laid to rest in Essay Twelve (summary here), where these philosophical moves will be linked with other themes running through the history of ruling-class thought, only to re-surface in DM and the substitutionism it helps rationalise. [On the latter, see Essay Nine Parts One and Two.]

 

2. The ideological background to "Possessive Individualism" is set out in detail in MacPherson (1964). An outline of the philosophical context can be found in Hacking (1975). Unfortunately, despite its other strengths, Hacking's book is largely a-historical --, i.e., in the sense that it fails to link changes in philosophical fashion to contemporaneous social forces, ideological pressures, and changes in the Mode of Production -- which is no surprise, since Hacking doesn't claim to be a Marxist.

 

A clearer Marxist account -- but, restricted to philosophical ideas connected with scientific change -- can be found in Freudenthal (1986), and a more sophisticated one in Hadden (1994). The latter is itself based on ideas found in Borkenau (1987), Grossmann (1987), and Sohn-Rethel (1978).

 

A Wittgensteinian slant on all this can be found in Robinson (2003), especially chapters 9, 10, 12 and 14.

 

More details can be found at Guy Robinson's website, here. [Unfortunately, this site is down right now. However, many of his Essays can now be accessed at this site, here. Sadly, I heard that Guy passed away in October 2011.]

 

2a. As should now be clear, if the traditional analysis of predication turned general terms into the names of abstract particulars, then even the sentence, "This is a general idea of F" must suffer the same fate, with the term "general idea of F" now naming yet another abstract particular!

 

The bowdlerised and corrupted 'Term Logic' employed by early modern Philosophers and Logicians (which sorry bunch includes both Kant and Hegel) even interpreted quantifiers (such as "every", "all", "nothing", and "some") as special sorts of names. This ancient error wasn't corrected until Frege's revolutionary logic hit the philosophical streets nearly a century later. [On this, see Geach (1972b). See also here, but note the caveats I have included here.]

 

This archaic syntactical screw-up resurfaces, too, in the way that concepts are interpreted by DM-theorists: just like names, they are held to refer to, or are said to "reflect", aspects of reality. These 'concepts' are thus capable of being true (or "relatively true") on their own, as isolated atoms. To be sure, dialecticians will reject this conclusion, but by turning them into the names of abstract particulars, that fact alone belies each and every such denial.

 

Unfortunately, this 'dialectical move' sees the unit of meaning (so to speak) the individual word/concept, not the sentence or the proposition. In this way, naming not saying becomes the model for understanding linguistic meaning, and anything else, for that matter. [On this, see Hacking (1975).] That, of course, 'allowed' Hegel to see the self-development of concepts as central to his system, thus ignoring how we actually use language. [On this, see here, and Note 6a, below.]

 

In that case, over the last few hundred years we have witnessed the production of more several hundred cubic metres of Idealist hot air, the motivation for which is this seemingly insignificant logical gaffe. As Wittgenstein noted: Metaphysics is merely a shadow cast on reality by grammar; in this case, distorted grammar -- as, indeed, Marx himself pointed out:

 

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

 

[More on this in Part Three of this Essay, and in Essays Twelve (summary here) and Thirteen Part Three.]

 

2b. As we saw in Essay Three Part One, it is human beings who supply the generality here, not words, concepts, or ideas. Plainly, that is because words, concepts, and ideas have no social structure, history, or language -- whereas we do.

 

3. A natural response to this would be to argue that general names aren't like Proper Names, they have a different "mode of signification". This is undeniable, but while it is clear that Proper Names name particulars (or individuals -- but even then, our use of such names is itself rather complex; on this see Baker and Hacker (2005, pp.227-49)), it is unclear what general names could actually name. Even to ask this question would be to give the game away, since, obviously, trades on the idea that general terms name something. Hence, in order to remain consistent with the use of ordinary names, general names have to be viewed as referring expressions, too, denoting an individual of some sort, be it a Universal, class, group, natural kind, set or concept. So, even though some might want to speak of "the set of…", or "the class of…", or "the natural kind…", named by the relevant general name, the use of the definite article nullifies the generality that such general terms once seemed to enjoy.

 

Hence, these 'abstract individuals' (i.e., "the Universal", "the set of…", or "the class of…", or "the natural kind…") become the referents of these supposedly general names, cancelling their generality. Plainly, they now work just like Proper Names.

 

Of course, giving such abstractions a name begs the question --, which is: Is there indeed one 'thing' here to be named?

 

Despite an ancient grammatical and logical tradition that treats general nouns as general names (an approach that was itself based on the metaphysical views being questioned here), as we have seen, we may only agree with it if we want to destroy the facility we have in language for using such terms to express generality (in the way outlined in Part One of this Essay).

 

It could be objected that classes, for example, are not necessarily or even typically singular, but are compound and can have (literally!) countless members. In that case, when a predicate designates the extension of a class, it is neither naming it, nor referring to it.

 

[The extension of a class is every object collected by that class; so the extension of the class human being is every human being.]

 

Of course, it isn't too clear whether predicates designate anything; if someone says "The boss is a crook", the use of "...is a crook" isn't to designate, but to describe. [On this see Slater (2000).]

 

Turning a description into a designation would, however, be to repeat the errors analysed in Part One of this Essay; that is, it would be to model all meaningful discourse on the naming relation, only in this case using a euphemism (i.e., "designate") as a fig-leaf to hide that fact.

 

Again, as Fraser Cowley pointed out:

 

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

 

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

 

On this, see Ryle (1949). In fact, Ryle called this error the "Fido-Fido Fallacy": the idea that to every word there must correspond something in reality (abstract or concrete) that it names or designates. His point is well summarised here. [This links to an article by Yorick Wilks (a one time student of Wittgenstein's), available as a PDF here.]

 

4. Why that is so will be revealed presently.

 

5. It is arguable that for all their apparent sophistication modern 'scientific' theories of the mind and language (cybernetically-, cognitively-, or physicalistically-based, etc.) have not advanced much beyond this point. That contentious claim will not be defended here (although it will be defended in depth in Essay Thirteen Part Three).

 

This entire approach to the Philosophy of Mind is criticised in Bennett and Hacker (2003, 2008).

 

6. We saw this happen (i.e., we saw the life drained out of general terms) in Part One of this Essay, with those lists.

 

The social and ideological reasons behind such moves will be explored at length in Essay Twelve (summary here, and here).

 

6a0. For example, witness the habit DM-fans have of speaking about logic as a study of the 'laws of thought'. [On this, see my comments over at Wikipedia.]

 

6a. No wonder Plato had to appeal to the alleged pre-existence of the soul to account for such recognitional powers. According to Plato, we all know (by acquaintance) the Forms since we were all introduced to them before we were born. Knowledge was thus a form of recollection, and our recognition of the Forms (in the objects that supposedly instantiated them) worked because the Forms were in effect rather like long lost acquaintances we had met and knew in our pre-existing life -- but these were 'acquaintances' of a rather peculiar sort. [On Platonic recollection, see Crombie (1963), pp.135-47, Guthrie (1986), pp.249-77, and Scott (1999). More on this here, and particularly here. See also Note 25, below.]

 

It is here, in this doctrine, that we can see yet another pernicious side-effect of traditional theories of meaning; if meaning is centred on single words, concepts or ideas, then isolated thinkers must relate to them as one individual does to another (or, as one mind does to one concept, one idea, or one 'representation', and so on), just as they do with all their 'ordinary' acquaintances. Knowledge and meaning thus become relational -- the Knower is linked somehow to the Known, the meaning of a word is related to whatever it supposedly refers, Signifier and Signified, each 'Mind' is connected with its ideas/concepts (which, as we have seen, are all objects of a rather peculiar sort) as they individually make themselves manifest to it, and so on.

 

[In a later Essay, we will see this error resurface in connection with Hegel's understanding of truth, among other things. See also here.]

 

But, these 'acquaintances' are in fact total strangers -- and featureless ones, at that. Furthermore, since ideas do not carry with them a 'Metaphysical Identity Card', how anyone could cognise, let alone re-cognise, these faceless spectres is no less problematic.

 

[There are echoes of this 'problem' in modern Nativist theories of language, based, for example, on the work of Chomsky. On this, see Cowie (1997, 2002, 2008), and Sampson (2005). Also see a summary of Sampson's criticisms, here. (I hesitate to refer anyone to Sampson's work since he is a right-wing Tory who holds offensive ideas on race, among other things; fortunately, this doesn't appear to have affected his work in this area.)]

 

Indeed, the article by Yorick Wilks (mentioned in Note 3, above) takes Jerry Fodor to task for rather similar errors. [These issues are discussed in extensive detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

6b. In fact, the insurmountable 'problems' encountered by the doctrine of the Trinity arose directly from Plato and Aristotle's attempts to account for generality; i.e., because of the 'Forms', 'Universals' and 'Substances' they invented. This fact has, of course, been known to anti-Trinitarian Christians for some time.

 

7. These points depend on an earlier argument, and might not be fully appreciated by anyone who has skipped it.

 

Even so, this isn't to suggest that there aren't countless 'solutions' to these brainteasers, only that this puzzle has resisted one and all for nigh on 2400 years.

 

An entirely new approach is long overdue, therefore.

 

Fortunately, one such was suggested a generation or so ago, the central point of which is that philosophical 'problems' like this can be resolved by dissolving them, by identifying the syntactical (etc.) blunders that gave them life, and which even now keep them alive.

 

So, a return to the use of ordinary language at least has the following merit (as far as Marxists are concerned): it locates knowledge and the search for knowledge in the public domain, thus, on home turf, basing it on the material language of the working class (a tactic we saw Marx himself advocate).

 

[This topic is examined in more detail in Essay Twelve Part Two (summary here).]

 

8. These rather gnomic comments will be expanded upon in Essay Thirteen Part Three.

 

8a. Again, this theme will be developed extensively in Essay Three Part Five -- along lines suggested by Bertrand Russell [in Russell (1917b)], and developed here, and here -- the first of these is Swartz (2009), the second, Swartz (1985).

 

How the traditional approach arises from a misuse of language is explored in Essay Twelve Part One. How it anthropomorphises the brain, see Essay Thirteen Part Three, more specifically, here and here.

 

More details can be found in Price and Corry (2007). The sort of line I will be adopting (but with a far less theoretical slant) can be found in Hacker (2007), pp.57-89.

 

9. We shall meet this particular option again in connection with the RRT in Essay Twelve Part Four (summary here).

 

[RRT = Reverse Reflection Theory; this will be explained in Essay Twelve Part Four. Basically, the idea is that given this theory, language and 'mind' do not in fact reflect reality (as DM-theorists maintain) -- quite the reverse: reality is engineered to reflect how both traditional and DM-theorists think we think. Indeed, the 'cardboard reality' that emerges as a result is but a shadow cast on the world by a misuse and misconstrual of language, to paraphrase Wittgenstein -- and Plato.]

 

10. That explains an earlier aside: Traditional Philosophy is based on alienated thought-forms and a fetishisation of language. More on that in Essay Twelve, too (summary here).

 

11. Again, more details will be given in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here).

 

12. The so-called "Problem of Induction" is focussed on the realisation that generalisations about the future course of nature -- based on a finite number of observations of how it has behaved in the past (etc.) --, cannot provide a deductively valid basis for an inference that events (of a certain type) that have not yet happened will always resemble those (of that type) which have; or, more generally, that the course of nature will remain the same. So, for example, just because water has always frozen at a certain temperature, that doesn't mean that it always will (i.e., at the same level of purity and atmospheric pressure, etc.).

 

This is brought out well in 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.'

"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 to the conventions adopted at this site; spelling modified to agree with UK English.]

 

[I hasten to add that the above doesn't represent my views; I am merely making a point about the traditional approach to this topic.]

 

However, as we have seen, the traditional approach to 'Universals' merely translates 'answers' to this 'problem' into another 'problem' of the same form, involving yet more Abstract Particulars --, which, of course, may or may not behave the same way tomorrow as they have done so today.

 

Although Abstract Particulars might be Ideal/heavenly creatures, there is no guarantee they too won't come off the rails one day. [On that see here.]

 

In short, an appeal to 'Universals' is to no avail if they too turn out to be particulars, which, because of that, cannot therefore guarantee their own future behaviour without another set of universals to do this for them, and so on ad infinitem...

 

Of course, any theory committed to the Heraclitean Flux (such as DM) has sunk itself much deeper in the mire than most branches of traditional confusion, for, given the universal flux, the future can't resemble the past! Indeed, the word "resemble" can't even resemble itself! [The 'relative stability' defence is defused here.]

 

This 'problem' partly originates in the mistaken view that scientific theory delivers special forms of truth. When that idea is rejected, a solution to the 'problem' of induction soon suggests itself. [These assertions will be substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Nevertheless, let us pose this 'problem' more acutely, pushing it a little further than it is usually pushed: Since both the flow of ideas in the mind (even in the heads of Über-Rationalists like Hegel), and the sensations that accompany them are also events, subjective experience can't avoid being thrown into irredeemable doubt concerning the future behaviour of these 'mental events', too.

 

In that case, our experience of anything that has yet to occur (and this includes our own future thoughts) might not 'resemble' what they had been, or seemed to have been in the past. Even the nature of our sensations and ideas could alter from moment to moment. If we experience an idea now as an idea of a certain sort, tomorrow it could be experienced as something totally different, even though it might be impossible to say right now what that might be (either because we haven't the language available to us to do this, or because it too will change before we can actually utter anything about it). If we need to appeal to 'Universals' to guarantee that this won't happen, then, because they too are particulars (given the theories under review here), this line of defence is of no help, either. That is because these 'Universal' particulars are no less subject to the very same doubts about their future behaviour (if we insist on thinking of problems like this in the traditional manner). In that case, no particular -- abstract or concrete -- can secure a general conclusion about the future (either about other objects and processes, or even of themselves).

 

Worse still: given this view, any 'solution' to this 'problem' could itself be experienced as a non-solution (or as anything whatsoever) at some point in the future -- especially if we are foolish enough to accept the Heraclitean Flux.

 

Naturally, expressed like this, and for theories that use traditional philosophical language, the 'problem' of how the present binds the future has already lost its way. In fact, as should seem obvious, phrases like "The present" and "The future" are particulars, too (or they 'refer' to particulars), and as such they possess neither the brain nor the brawn to assist Traditional Thinkers extricate themselves from this sceptical quagmire.

 

And herein lies a clue to the solution to this entire family of 'problems': reject this entire way of talking.

 

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

 

Since we now know -- partly because it was exposed in Part One of this Essay -- that the source of these 'difficulties' is the syntactical blunder committed by Greek metaphysicians, the above recommended dissolution of 2400 years of wasted effort in fact recommends itself.

 

[And that is why Wittgensteinians don't need a philosophical theory in order to deflate the hot air balloons ruling-class thinkers have inflated down the ages; these theories self-deflate when the source of hot air is switched off, and a very real, materialist pin is introduced into the equation.]

 

12a. David Hume attempted to solve this 'problem' by an appeal to habits of the mind (hence my use of the word "habitus"), which induce in us certain expectations. Clearly this rather vague notion is susceptible to the challenges laid out in the previous Note, at the very least.

 

However, the abandonment of the 'logical' or necessary connection between a Universal and its particulars -- which took place in the High Middle Ages with the rise of Nominalism (but the cracks were beginning to appear in the work of post-Aristotelian theorists in the Ancient world, the Nominalists merely prised them open) -- introduced radical contingency into theories about nature. [This development wasn't, of course, unconnected with the decline of the power of the Papacy, as Feudalism began to unravel and give way to early forms of the market economy.]

 

Rationalist Philosophers (like Spinoza and Leibniz) later found it necessary to repair the damage this 'revision' had inflicted on the 'rational order'. To this end, they devised novel 'necessitarian' theories of their own; unfortunately, these were still based on the same old "ruling ideas" -- i.e., the dogma that reality is 'rational', and that fundamental 'truths' can be ascertained by thought alone. [On the general background, see, for example, Copleston (2003a, 2003b).]

 

Here is how I have put things in Essay Eleven Part Two (in relation to a point I was making about Christian Fundamentalists and 'Intelligent Design', but it is equally relevant to the themes of this Essay):

 

There is an excellent summary of the two main ways theists have conceived of the relationship between 'God' and 'His' creation in Osler (2004), pp.15-35. [These neatly mirror the tensions in the DM-account of nature, too.]

 

Here follows a summary of part of Osler's thesis (with a few additional comments of my own thrown in): If 'God' is related to material reality by necessity, then there will be a logical connection between the properties exhibited by any given finite being and its "essence", just as there will be a link of this sort between created beings and 'God's' nature -- otherwise there would be contingency in creation, undermining 'The Almighty's' nature and 'His' control of 'Creation'. Because of this, language and logic must constitute reality (why this is so is outlined here). Of course, 'cosmic verities' like this can only be accessed by speculative thought. In which case, all that exists must ultimately be an expression of the logical properties inherent in 'God', and this in turn means that nature must be an emanation -- that is, material reality must be logically "emergent" -- from the 'Deity'. Everything in nature must therefore be inter-linked by "internal and necessary relations/connections", and the latter may be derived from the concepts implicit in 'God's' nature (since they are mirrored in fundamental aspects of creation). This idea is up-front in Plotinus and other Neo-Platonists, like Hegel.

 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of 'ordinary' human beings can neither access nor comprehend this 'rational view' of reality; they misperceive these logical properties as contingent qualities -- and hence, for them, appearances will fail to match underlying "essence". Naturally, this implies that "commonsense" and ordinary language are fundamentally unreliable.

 

Where have we heard that before?

 

On the other hand, if 'God' acted freely when 'He' created the world (that is 'He' wasn't acting under compulsion from 'His' logical properties), then there will be no logical/necessary connection between 'The Creator' and 'His' creation, nor, indeed, between created beings. Every aspect of reality will thus be genuinely contingent, and appearances will no longer be 'deceptive' (since they can't occlude the hidden, esoteric "essences" mentioned above -- for there are none). There are therefore no synthetic a priori truths (as these later came to be know), ascertainable by thought alone. The only path to knowledge is via observation and a careful study of the 'Book of Nature'. Hence, it isn't surprising that the foundations of modern science were laid down in the Middle Ages largely by theorists who adopted the latter view of 'God' -- for example, Jean Buridan. [Copleston (2003b), pp.153-76, Crombie (1953), Grant (1996), Hannam (2009), Lindberg (2007).]

 

In post-Renaissance thought, the former ('necessitarian') tradition resurfaced in Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Hegel; the latter (the 'voluntarist') tradition in an attenuated form in Newton and others who stressed 'God's' free will and the contingency of nature, the primacy of empirical over a priori knowledge, and thus the importance of observation and experiment over speculation and abstract theory -- the early empiricists, and the "mechanists".

 

[Although, these 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.]

 

So, when, for example, Fundamentalist Christians look at nature and they see design everywhere, they also 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 'God' and 'His' relation to the world).

 

To be sure, Christian mechanists saw design in nature, too, but their view became increasingly deistic, and then atheistic, since the introduction of a contingent link between 'God' and nature plainly severed the logical connection that earlier theorists had postulated, making the "God hypothesis" seem increasingly redundant. [On this, see Lovejoy (1964). There is a good account of this in Redwood (1976). Also see Dillenberger (1988).] The first signs of this novel development can be detected in the debate between Leibniz and Clarke. [Cf., Alexander (1956), and Vailati (1997).]

 

Much of this had, however, been apparent in the work of the Medieval Nominalists, whose work sundered the logical link between a substance and its properties, following on 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" (like Siger of Brabant). The latter argued strongly in favour of Aristotle's doctrine of natural necessity, undermining 'God's' free will -- at least, as the Roman 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).

 

The aforementioned reaction was occasioned by the 'Condemnations of 1277', whereby the Bishop of Paris, Étienne Tempier, condemned 219 propositions, among which were the Averroist interpretations 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 properties of bodies (their "accidents") logically linked to their nominal essence (as these later came to be called, by John Locke). [On this, see Osler (2004), and Copleston (2003a), pp.136-55, 190-95, 437-41; (2003b), pp.43-167.]

 

In the 18th century, the first tradition (the 'necessitarian' approach), motivated among other things the "re-enchantment" of nature in the theories invented by the Natürphilosophers, and later those cooked up 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). The Hermetic background to all this can be found in Magee (2002). See also Essay Twelve (summary here)....]

 

So, where Christians see design, DM-fans see "internal relations". Same problematic, same source, same bogus 'solution'.

 

I will say much more about this in Essay Three Part Five, were I will link these ideas with traditional theories of Mind, Will, Freedom and Determinism, connecting all this with the subsequent enchantment of DIM, in Essay Fourteen Parts One and Two (summary here).

 

13. Anyone who objects to the anthropomorphic terminology used at this point should recall that it is being employed in order to show how unbelievable Traditional Theories like this really are when this sort of language is pushed to the limit, and applied more consistently -- and its class roots exposed.

 

Anyone who still objects should rather take issue with those who first invented these theories, not those who seek to lampoon them.

 

14. This echoes Rousseau:

 

"Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer." [Rousseau (1952), p.3.]

 

14a0. The phrase "undermining the unity of the proposition" refers to the fact that traditional logic in effect reduced propositions to lists of names, disarticulating them, since lists say nothing. This was, of course, the main theme of Part One.

 

14a1. As Glenn Magee points out:

 

"What Hegel's system promises is a transformed experience of the world, in which we see familiar things in a new light. Science, poetry, art, religion, the state, are all seen to be expressions or embodiments of the Absolute. Ordinary things suddenly take on new meaning. That which had been thought to be a human contrivance, carried out only for finite human ends, devoid of any higher meaning, mystery or religious significance...is now suddenly imbued with spiritual significance.... Thus, Hegel attempts to heal the rift in the modern consciousness between thought and sensation, or thought and experience, by giving us a new form of experience. The very modern scientific and philosophical ideas that formerly seemed to cut us off from experience and from our intuitions of the divine are now seen to be moments of a system of experience that constitutes the divine itself. Hegel's system is an attempt to 're-enchant' the world, to re-invest nature with the experience of the numinous lost with the death of the mythical consciousness." [Magee (2001), p.97. Bold emphasis added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Link added.]

 

14a2. Which might help explain why Trotsky argued as follows:

 

"Dialectic training of the mind, as necessary to a revolutionary fighter as finger exercises to a pianist, demands approaching all problems as processes and not as motionless categories. Whereas vulgar evolutionists, who limit themselves generally to recognizing evolution in only certain spheres, content themselves in all other questions with the banalities of 'common sense.'" [Trotsky (1971), p.70. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

As with any opiate, a series of continual hits becomes necessary. In Essay Nine Part Two, we will discover why hard-nosed revolutionaries like Engels, Lenin and Trotsky each surrendered their will to this mythical Cosmic Will.

 

14a. This also helps account for the rather odd fact that the more 'dialectical' the party, the more autocratic it seems to be (and the more prone it is to split). When it comes to imposing order on the faithful, the dialectically-mailed fist soon replaces the invisible hand of reasonableness, and fights rapidly break out. This is especially true of Stalinists and Maoists when they actually manage to gain power. Their parties don't actually split or fragment (unlike us Trotskyists, who have turned this into an art form), they simply silence (or liquidate) every single dissenter.

 

[These ideas are developed extensively in Essay Nine Part Two in order to expose the damage DM and its petty bourgeois acolytes have helped inflict on Marxism.]

 

15. In fact, in the bourgeois intellectual universe -- populated by nothing but particularised ideas, atomised concepts, and lone thinkers -- any attempt to prove there are other minds faces an impossible task.

 

Some may be tempted to argue that a lone abstractor could extrapolate from her own experience to the conclusion that others are just like her and have minds, too, but any theory based on only one (self-) observation (like this) is plainly no better than a guess. Moreover, since the language used to formulate such a weak theory is hopelessly impoverished (since, as we have seen, every word has been tuned into a name), it would be impossible for this lone abstractor to be able to say towards what any such guess is directed. That is because, of course, belief in other minds requires the use of yet more general words, which this theory lacks -- or, rather, which it has just helped destroy.

 

[The details surrounding Wittgenstein's dissolution of these and other 'problems' won't be entered into here. I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Three. However, those new to his ideas should perhaps begin with Glock (1996), Kenny (1973), and Sluga and Stern (1996); also see here.]

 

16. This topic is discussed more fully in Essay Six.

 

16a. The 'relative stability' defence was demolished in Essay Six, too.

 

Be this as it may, any attempt to make use of the 'relative stability' response would be to no avail since, given DM-epistemology, no two dialecticians could possibly have the same idea even about relative stability, or even the same idea about relative stability as they themselves had only a few moments earlier.

 

And, it is no use replying that they'd have relatively or approximately the same idea about relatively or approximately the same idea, since the phrase "relatively or approximately the same" is up for grabs, too, having now no determinate sense. That is because if we have no idea what counts as exactly the same, we are surely in no position to declare that something only approximates to it. And, the same would be true of any other words thrown in for good measure in a vain attempt to sort this out -- including the word "word".

 

17. It would be no use appealing to the 'relative' or 'partial' nature of knowledge here, either, since, as we shall see in Essay Ten Part One, the implication of this particular doctrine is that, given DM, reality would be indistinguishable from Kant's Noumenon -- even if we could say that much!

 

18. This idea is up-front in Kant, although it was less clear in previous thinkers. However, since Hegel adapted Kant's view to suit his own ends, the passage in the text only needs to be true of post-Kantian Idealists for it to apply to DM (upside down or 'the right way up').

 

18a. The details behind Hegel's 'Rosicrucian leanings' can be found in Magee (2001), pp.35-36, 51-53, 248-57. See also Benz (1983) and O'Regan (1995). On Rosicrucianism in general, see Yates (2004). [The Introduction to Magee (2001) can be found here.]

 

This terminally obscure 'intellectual discipline' (i.e., the study of 'Subject/Object Identity') has dominated much of what passes for thought among HCDs, just as it has formed an important strand in 'Continental Philosophy' for the last two centuries or more. Its origin in mystical thought (indeed, this union forms the main objective of all mystical systems) hardly raises an eyebrow in either tradition, but especially not in ideologically-compromised HCD-cabals. In fact, I have lost count of the books and articles written (in both traditions) about the mystical union between the Knower and the Known, between 'Subject' and 'Object'. [Of course, HCDs do not see things this way, but mystical union is nevertheless what they seek; indeed, in some cases they are quite open about it. More on this, here.]

 

An excellent example of this sort of material can be found here.

 

A summary of the background to this sorry affair can be found in Beiser (2005), and in more detail in Beiser (2002).

 

One unfortunate HCD critic of this site has fallen under its spell too -- here. See also here, where the same Hermetic virus is to be found, perhaps in a more concentrated form. [Several more examples of this HCD/DM-affliction will be given in Essays Twelve and Fourteen (summaries here and here).]

 

[HCD = High Church Dialectician, explained at the latter link.]

 

19. If the 'mind' knows only its own ideas and impressions (etc.), then the outer world cannot fail to be little more than a back-reflection/projection of what that mind contains. Furthermore, since the 'world' is not just a mere idea, but the subject's own idea, there would be, on this view, no real difference between the 'objective' and the 'subjective'.

 

Naturally, Empiricists will want to deny this; but if they are right, each of them would simply be arguing with him/herself.

 

Others may object that this confuses Empiricism with Solipsism, but that isn't so. In fact, it goes further; it identifies them. This isn't just to pick on Empiricism; the logical outcome of the criticisms levelled here is that all metaphysical theories of knowledge collapse into some form of Solipsism.

 

That controversial claim will be defended in Part Four of this Essay. Also see Note 20, below.

 

20. Hegel:

 

"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.]

 

Of course, this means that even an upside-down and eviscerated version of his system -- "on its feet" (i.e., DM) or not -- is no less Ideal.

 

Hegel was quite clear: Logic and the Divine Logos are one, and Nature is Idea, and the Idea is Logos in self-development:

 

"Actuality is the unity, become immediate, of essence with existence, or of inward with outward. The utterance of the actual is the actual itself: so that in this utterance it remains just as essential, and only is essential, in so far as it is immediate external existence.

 

"We have ere this met Being and Existence as forms of the immediate. Being is, in general, unreflected immediacy and transition into another. Existence is immediate unity of being and reflection: hence appearance: it comes from the ground, and falls to the ground. In actuality this unity is explicitly put, and the two sides of the relation identified. Hence the actual is exempted from transition, and its externality is its energizing. In that energizing it is reflected into itself: its existence is only the manifestation of itself, not of another....

 

"Actuality and thought (or Idea) are often absurdly opposed. How commonly we hear people saying that, though no objection can be urged against the truth and correctness of a certain thought, there is nothing of the kind to be seen in actuality, or it cannot be actually carried out! People who use such language only prove that they have not properly apprehended the nature either of thought or of actuality. Thought in such a case is, on the one hand, the synonym for a subjective conception, plan, intention, or the like, just as actuality, on the other, is made synonymous with external and sensible existence. This is all very well in common life, where great laxity is allowed in the categories and the names given to them; and it may of course happen that, e.g., the plan, or so-called idea, say, of a certain method of taxation, is good and advisable in the abstract, but that nothing of the sort is found in so-called actuality, or could possibly be carried out under the given conditions. But when the abstract understanding gets hold of these categories and exaggerates the distinction they imply into a hard and fast line of contrast, when it tells us that in this actual world we must knock ideas out of our heads, it is necessary energetically to protest against these doctrines, alike in the name of science and of sound reason. For on the one hand Ideas are not confined to our heads merely, nor is the Idea, on the whole, so feeble as to leave the question of its actualisation or non-actualisation dependent on our will. The Idea is rather the absolutely active as well as actual. And on the other hand actuality is not so bad and irrational, as purblind or wrong-headed and muddle-brained as would-be reformers imagine. So far is actuality, as distinguished from mere appearance, and primarily presenting a unity of inward and outward, from being in contrariety with reason, that it is rather thoroughly reasonable, and everything which is not reasonable must on that very ground cease to be held actual." [Hegel (1975), pp.200-01, §142; I have used the on-line version here, and have left the MIA links in. Minor typos corrected.]

 

"The divine Idea is just this: to disclose itself, to posit this Other outside itself and to take it back again into itself, in order to be subjectivity and Spirit.... God therefore in determining Himself, remains equal to Himself; each of these moments is itself the whole Idea and must be posited as the divine totality. The different moments can be grasped under three different forms: the universal, the particular and the individual. First, the different moments remain preserved in the eternal unity of the Idea; this is the Logos, the eternal son of God as Philo conceived it.... The third form which concerns us here, the Idea in the mode of particularity, is Nature....

 

"A rational consideration of Nature must consider how Nature is in its own self this process of becoming Spirit, of sublating its otherness -- and how the Idea is present in each grade or level of Nature itself...." [Hegel (2004), p.14, §247. As far as I can ascertain, there is no on-line version of this work; the one published at the MIA isn't the same as this.]

 

And Hegel specifically links this conception of Logic and the world with Ancient Greek theorists:

 

"This objective thinking then, is the content of pure science. Consequently, far from it being formal, far from it standing in need of a matter to constitute an actual and true cognition, it is its content alone which has absolute truth, or, if one still wanted to employ the word matter, it is the veritable matter -- but a matter which is not external to the form, since this matter is rather pure thought and hence the absolute form itself. Accordingly, logic is to be understood as the system of pure reason, as the realm of pure thought. This realm is truth as it is without veil and in its own absolute nature. It can therefore be said that this content is the exposition of God as he is in his eternal essence before the creation of nature and a finite mind.

 

"Anaxagoras is praised as the man who first declared that Nous, thought, is the principle of the world, that the essence of the world is to be defined as thought. In so doing he laid the foundation for an intellectual view of the universe, the pure form of which must be logic.

 

"What we are dealing with in logic is not a thinking about something which exists independently as a base for our thinking and apart from it, nor forms which are supposed to provide mere signs or distinguishing marks of truth; on the contrary, the necessary forms and self-consciousness of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), p.50, §53-54. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

So, just another "ruling idea", then...

 

20a. On this, see Note 20, above. This topic will be covered in more detail in Essay Twelve Parts Two to Four, and Essay Fourteen Part One (summaries here and here).

 

21. The comments in the text do not imply that Nominalism is my preferred option, nor even that it is 'correct'. In fact, as the Introductory Essay pointed out, I reject all philosophical theories as non-sensical hot air, and that includes Nominalism. [Why this is so is explained in detail in Essay Twelve Part One.]

 

22. As Lenin noted:

 

"Intelligent idealism is closer to intelligent materialism than stupid materialism. Dialectical idealism instead of intelligent; 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...."

 

And now we know why: Lenin's fatal compromise with this archaic litany of "ruling ideas" undermined his materialist good sense. [How this happened (and what its ideological motivations were) will be the subject of Essay Nine Parts One and Two, Essay Twelve (summary here), and Essay Fourteen Part Two.]

 

On this, see Note 23.

 

23. Diodorus Siculus is, in think, the originator of this phrase:

 

"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.]

 

However, my reference in fact alludes to an image in Plato's Sophist, one of his more profound surviving works. Indeed, that dialogue is the principle source of much of subsequent Idealism. The section reproduced below features 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.]

 

The battle itself is described in Hesiod's Theogony (lines 675-715), available here.

 

From this it is clear that Marxist Dialecticians are far closer to the Idealist 'Gods' than they are to the materialist Giants!

 

[To be fair to John Rees, he does at least try to defend a DM-view of concepts that aren't somehow 'fully material' -- in his examination of "friendship", on pp.109-10, of TAR. His argument will be examined in detail in Essay Twelve Part Four (when it is published).]

 

24. The views of some of these will be examined in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

Mark Anthony:

 

"Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears; I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him." [Julius Caesar, Act 3, Scene 2.]

 


Anti-Abstractionism

 

Mental 'Strip-Tease'

 

[This forms 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 the colour blue, for example? Or the many 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 these examples, the use of other general terms might come into play -- but they too will attract the same sort of 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, what are the common features of "fruity bouquets"? One answer to that 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.]

 

[I owe this line of attack to Geach (1957).]

 

One of the more bizarre aspects of the mysterious process of abstraction (at least the Empiricist version (which is in fact also little different from that of certain dialecticians), and one that is rarely noticed) involves the drawing of an unintended analogy between the properties an object is supposed to have, and clothing. Hence, in the abstractive process, as each outwardly unique distinguishing feature of a particular is 'peeled off' (or "disregarded") by the intellect, the true form of the 'object' underneath gradually comes into view -- but, of course, only in the 'mind's eye'. This is, naturally, a disrobing ceremony only accessible to those capable of 'metaphysically undressing' things like tables, chairs, cats, dogs, electrons and galaxies. Such 'conceptual strippers' must be capable of deciding what must be true not only of all the many examples of 'the same sort' that have not been ideally fleeced like this (by anyone, and not just themselves), but also of the many more that no human will ever experience -- based solely on a brief 'internal' inspection of a highly limited sample of such ghostly spectres.

 

However, and this should hardly need pointing out, the properties of objects do not 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 are. 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 not at all apt, and never was. For one thing, it is surely abnormal to imagine clothing as causally related to -- or physically connected with -- the body of the wearer. Yet, the properties of an object are normally regarded as linked in some way to its constitution. For another, while clothing may perhaps serve to hinder the appreciation of underlying form, an object's properties advertise it, they do not mask it. They are 'metaphysically transparent', so to speak.

 

Furthermore, and more absurdly, properties can't be peeled away from objects in such an 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 is the case as each 'metaphysical burlesque show' advances.

 

If, for instance, a cat were to lose too many of its properties (as it is 'mentally skinned'), it would cease to be a cat. Clearly, this philosophically-flayed 'ex-cat' (now 'non-cat') would serve rather badly in any 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 one and all.

 

Moreover, 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 could begin by ignoring/attributing Tiddles's engaging purr, B might start with her four legs, whereas C might commence with her shape. But, do we/should they ignore a cat's colour first, or its fur, fleas, whiskers, tail, intestines, age, number...?

 

And, in the abstractive process, which number relevant to each cat is to be put to one side (or attributed to it): the one cat, the two ears, the four legs, the 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) its position on the mat, the last dozen or so things it did, its present relation to the Crab Nebula…?

 

It could be objected none of this really matters, the results will be the same anyhow. But how do we know? Where is the rule book to guide us? Is there a sort of abstractionists' script we all unconsciously follow, programmed into us perhaps as a set of tried-and-trusted 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 is to be done correctly, when and where did we all learn them? On the other hand, if there aren't, how might an intrepid abstractor know if he or she had abstracted Tiddles the same way each time?

 

Do we all keep a secret abstractor's diary?

 

And even if there were clear and plausible answers to these questions, the fact that (in principle) no one could check on any one else's abstractions to see if they tallied -- or if they had got them right (in fact the word "right" can gain no grip in such circumstances) -- means that this process can't form the basis of an allegedly 'objective' science. Plainly, that is because (1) no one has access to the results of anyone else's 'mental processes', and (2) there appear to be no rules governing them.

 

On the contrary, in the real world, agreement is reached by the use of publicly learnt and widely accessible general terms already in common use long before each of us was a twinkle in a lone abstractor's eye.

 

[That is, of course, just a roundabout way of saying that "abstraction" is a highly misleading euphemism for subjective, idiosyncratic classification.]

 

One obvious reply to all this might be that we abstract by concentrating only on those factors that are "relevant" to the enquiry in hand. But what are these, and who decides? And how might they be specified before an enquiry has begun?

 

Again, in response to this it could be argued that past experience guides us. But, how does it do this? Can any of us recall being made to study the heroic deeds of intrepid abstractors in days of yore? Does past experience transform itself into a sort of inner personal Microsoft Office Assistant, if we hit the right internal 'Help' key? But, what kind of explanation would that be of the allegedly intelligent power of abstraction if it requires such 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. In order to do this, 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, genetic or biochemical (etc.). Clearly, in each case, greater abstraction is required.

 

Or so the argument might go.

 

Nevertheless, if this is what "abstraction" means, it is surely synonymous with a publicly accessible and checkable set of 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 of 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 ever agree over the general idea of, say, a mammal, let alone that of 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, this does not impugn our abstractive skills.

 

This objection introduces topics discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. Nevertheless, a few comments are worth making:

 

Human beings have generally managed to agree on what animals they consider belong, say, to the class of Mammals -- i.e., those individuals who possess the relevant education/linguistic skills. However, this doesn't include those individuals who are supposed to possess unspecified abstractive powers. Trainee zoologists do not gain their scientific qualifications by demonstrating to their teachers their expertise over the 'inner dissection' of mental images, ideas, or concepts. The same is true of practising zoologists. On the contrary, these scientists have to show a mastery of highly specialised techniques, vocabulary and theory, which skills they must demonstrate publicly, showing they are capable of applying them in appropriate circumstances, etc., etc.

 

The widespread illusion that we are all experts in the 'internal dismemberment' of ideas is encouraged by another confusion that also originated in Traditional Philosophy: the belief that the intelligent use of general words depends on some form of internal, mental 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 an inner act of "meaning/naming" or "representation", matching words to images, sensations, processes, or 'representations' in the brain/'mind'.

 

At work here is another inappropriate set of metaphors, which trade on the idea that the mind functions like an inner theatre, TV or computer screen -- now refined with an analogy drawn against Microsoft Windows perhaps, wherein 'the mind' is described as "modular" (and operated, no doubt, by the internal analogue of a computer geek, skilled at 'clicking' on the right inner 'icons' at the right moment, filing things in the right folders and setting-up efficient 'networks', etc.). Given this family of metaphors, understanding is modelled on the way we now look at pictures (or "inner representations", again), using the equivalent of an inner eye to appraise whatever fortune sends its way.

 

This family of metaphors is but a faint modern echo of Plato's theory of knowledge by acquaintance, and his allegory of the Cave. [It must be added that the former and the latter were intended to make different points for Plato himself.] More modern versions of this family see knowledge as the passive processing of "representations" by socially-isolated, lone abstractors -- even if this approach was later beefed-up (by dialecticians) with a gesture toward the input of practice. Nevertheless, this view of knowledge turned it into a form of acquaintance. Believe it or not, the reasoning is little more complex than this: we all know our friends by personal acquaintance or sight, so we all know the contents of our minds by (internal) acquaintance or (inner) sight. This again reminds us why traditional theory argued that knowledge was a relation between the Knower and the Known. [More on this in Essays Three Part Four and Thirteen Part Three (here and here) and Six.]

 

Naturally, if this occult abstractive skill had ever been important in the history of science then we would find evidence to that effect in the work of great scientists. Alas there is none.

 

Even the attempt to investigate the truth of that particular assertion would automatically throw into doubt the role abstraction is supposed to play in science. That is because such an inquiry would have to examine the documents and writings (etc.) of scientists -- not their brains. Indeed, any recognition of the relevance of the publicly available, linguistic production of such scientists, their equipment and techniques (etc.), their social surroundings -- as opposed to the contents of their heads -- would confirm that in their practical activity no historian actually believes that abstract ideas (understood in the traditional sense, as the products of inner acts of intellection) underpin scientific knowledge -- whatever theoretical and/or philosophical views he or she might otherwise rehearse in public.

 

Here, as elsewhere, actions speak louder than abstractions.

 

[Again, a limited range of examples drawn from the work of great scientists -- which disprove the contention that they were/are abstractors extraordinaire -- will be given in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

But, Don't Scientists Use Abstraction?

 

Admittedly, this way of putting things might differ from the way that scientists themselves theorise about what they do. But, and once more: their practical activity belies whatever post hoc rationalisations they might advance concerning the nature of their work.

 

Except in certain areas of obsolete psychology, in seeking to advance scientific knowledge scientists report neither on the results of their processing of mental entities, nor on the contents of their heads. And they certainly do not 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, researchers develop new theories at the very least by extending the use and application of publicly accessible scientific language, theories and techniques. And they do this by employing analogy, metaphor and the novel use of familiar general terms already in the public domain. This is allied to the construction of specific models and "thought experiments", alongside the employment of other assorted rhetorical devices. [On this, see the references listed here.]

 

[Naturally, this doesn't mean that these features are unrelated to advances in technique motivated by the development of the forces of production, etc. However, as noted above, these 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 could run 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. To take just one example: an animal's essential nature -- arrived at by increased use of abstract terms -- turns out to be its DNA (or whatever). Another, but more general example could be the way that Physicists extend knowledge by developing increasingly abstract theories expressed in complex mathematical formulae and/or causal laws.

 

But, this can't be correct; scientists manifestly did not discover DNA by the use of greater or more refined abstractions. They used the theoretical and practical advances achieved by earlier and current researchers (which advances themselves were not arrived at by abstraction), and augmented them with their own ideas (often those developed by teams of scientists, working in a certain research tradition) and the results of other innovative experiments. All of these are based on cooperative work and observation -- frequently assisted by the use of models, yet more 'thought experiments', all expressed in a public language, subsequently published in an open arena.

 

None of these (save, perhaps, those 'thought experiments') even remotely looks like a mental process, still less an example of abstraction carried out in an isolated, inner arena. 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 connected with the 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 is listed in Essay Four.]

 

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

 

Again, this is not 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 say, or what they imagine they do, or, indeed, with what certain philosophers think they do) will be substantiated (and illustrated) more fully in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

 

Anti-Abstractionists

 

Berkeley And Frege

 

[This, too, is a continuation of Note 24.]

 

Nevertheless, anti-abstractionist thought is a relatively recent phenomenon. The first major thinker to subject it to detailed attack (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 and 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 since that would require it to possess and not to possess 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 same:

 

"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:

 

"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.]

 

Frege's sharpest criticisms were reserved for those of his day who imagined that a process of abstraction underpinned mathematical concepts, in particular the views of the 19th century mathematician and mystical Platonist, Georg Cantor and his followers (on the mystical aspect of Cantor's work, see Aczel (2000)):

 

"Many mathematicians react to philosophical expressions in a [magical] 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 following dialogue may serve as illustration:

 

"Mathematician: The sign Ö-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…. [And] 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….

 

"So let us get a number of men together and ask them to exert themselves to the utmost in abstracting from the nature of 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 [one] answer and the other with another?…. 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!'…. '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?'" [Frege (1979), pp.69-71. Unfortunately, the manuscript breaks off at this point.]

 

Frege's parody of Cantor illustrates just how ridiculous the idea is that abstraction can create mathematical concepts out of mere signs, or, indeed, out of anything.

 

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).

 

The Young Marx And Engels

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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 revealed in this passage. In many respects it anticipates Frege's and Wittgenstein's approaches 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 any '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.73-74. Bold emphases added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to 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 claim made in these Essays that abstract general ideas are the result of a syntactically inept interpretation of ordinary general terms (outlined in detail in Part One of this Essay). As they themselves pointed 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.75. Bold emphases added; italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Here, Marx and Engels quite rightly point out that it is the distortion of language that gives life to metaphysical abstraction. 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 motto of this site. [Indeed, Wittgenstein himself could almost have written it.]

 

In his perceptive analysis of Metaphysics, 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 to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Linguistic monstrosities like these -- and worse -- litter the pages of traditional philosophical texts 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 Far Eastern Deities have been resurrected in order to create the required temporal 'properties' out of thin air: "pastness", "presentness" and "futurity." There are countless pages of material like this in recent metaphysical literature, and not just those concerning the nature of 'Time'.

 

Sustained criticisms of abstract general concepts/ideas and 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.

 

Ollman's Traditionalism

 

Initial Disappointment

 

[This is still a continuation of Note 24. I am including Ollman's work in this Essay since many comrades recommend it as an excellent explanation of 'the dialectic' at work. A recent example can be found here, where I have also posted a series of fatal objections.]

 

Recently, Bertell Ollman has outlined what he takes to be Marx's use of abstraction -- in Ollman (2003), pp.59-112; this material also appears in Ollman (1993), pp.23-83).

 

However, readers of Ollman's work will be forgiven their sense of disappointment that after the opening fanfare (to the effect that 'abstraction' is centrally important to Marx and Marxist theory), no account is given beyond the usual superficial gestures at explaining what the actual process is itself:

 

"First and foremost, and stripped of all qualifications added by this or that dialectician, the subject of dialectics is change, all change, and interaction, all kinds and degrees of interaction. This is not to say that dialectical thinkers recognize the existence of change and interaction, while non-dialectical thinkers do not. That would be foolish. Everyone recognizes that everything in the world changes, somehow and to some degree, and that the same holds true for interaction. The problem is how to think adequately about them, how to capture them in thought. How, in other words, can we think about change and interaction so as not to miss or distort the real changes and interactions that we know, in a general way at least, are there (with all the implications this has for how to study them and to communicate what we find to others)? This is the key problem addressed by dialectics, this is what all dialectics is about, and it is in helping to resolve this problem that Marx turns to the process of abstraction." [Ollman (2003), pp.59-60. Bold emphasis added. As we will see, Andrew Sayer's attempt to characterise the 'process of abstraction' is no less disappointing.]

 

We have already seen that neither dialecticians nor their 'theory' are capable of explaining change -- indeed, we also saw that if this theory were true, change would be impossible (on that see Essays Five through Eight Part Three, but especially here and here), just as we have also seen in this Essay that no sense can be made of the 'process of abstraction'. So, the question is, has Ollman anything new to add that might turn the tide of theory back in favour of this discredited left-over from the Metaphysics of Ancient Greece?

 

Well, apparently not, for all he has to offer are a few pages of trite observations about what he thinks we all do when we allegedly engage in 'abstraction' (supported by no evidence at all), and what he thinks scientists engage in when they construct their theories (again, supported not by evidence, just a lively imagination).

 

The Privatised 'Process of Abstraction'

 

Perhaps this is being unfair? In which case, it might be wise to examine what Ollman actually said to see if the above comments are as peremptory and prejudicial as they might seem at first sight.

 

"In his most explicit statement on the subject, Marx claims that his method starts from the 'real concrete' (the world as it presents itself to us) and proceeds through 'abstraction' (the intellectual activity of breaking this whole down into the mental units with which we think about it) to the 'thought concrete' (the reconstituted and now understood whole present in the mind) (Marx (1904), pp.293-94; this is a reference to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy -- RL). The real concrete is simply the world in which we live, in all its complexity. The thought concrete is Marx's reconstruction of that world in the theories of what has come to be called 'Marxism.' The royal road to understanding is said to pass from the one to the other through the process of abstraction." [Ibid., p.60. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site, as they have been in the rest of the passages quoted from this source. Referencing conventions changed to agree with those adopted at this site, too.]

 

Now, we have seen that the way this 'process' is depicted by traditional theorists (like Ollman) means it is in fact an individualised skill -- and one that undermines belief in the social nature of knowledge and language.

 

True to form, Andrew Sayer's attempt to characterise this 'process' reveals that he, too, thinks this is an individual, if not 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. Italic emphasis in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

As is the case with Ollman, and everyone else who has pontificated on this obscure 'process', we aren't told how we manage to do this, still less why this doesn't result in the construction of a 'private language'.

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself points 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, 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 read (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 a lengthy 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 the fact that even though Marx gestured in its direction, HM doesn't need this obscure 'process' (even where some sense can be made of it) -- or, indeed, if he acknowledged the fact that Marx's emphasis on the social nature of knowledge and language completely undercuts abstractionism.

 

[Nor does Ollman take into consideration Marx's own refutation of abstractionism in The Holy Family.]

 

Nevertheless, the few things that Ollman does say about this 'process' do not inspire much confidence:

 

"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.

 

"Responding to a mixture of influences that include the material world and our experiences in it as well as to personal wishes, group interests, and other social constraints, it is the process of abstraction that establishes the specificity of the objects with which we interact. In setting boundaries, in ruling this far and no further, it is what makes something one (or two, or more) of a kind, and lets us know where that kind begins and ends. With this decision as to units, we also become committed to a particular set of relations between them -- relations made possible and even necessary by the qualities that we have included in each -- a register for classifying them, and a mode for explaining them.

 

"In listening to a concert, for example, we often concentrate on a single instrument or recurring theme and then redirect our attention elsewhere. Each time this occurs, the whole music alters, new patterns emerge, each sound takes on a different value, etc. How we understand the music is largely determined by how we abstract it. The same applies to what we focus on when watching a play, whether on a person, or a combination of persons, or a section of the stage. The meaning of the play and what more is required to explore or test that meaning alters, often dramatically, with each new abstraction. In this way, too, how we abstract literature, where we draw the boundaries, determines what works and what parts of each work will be studied, with what methods, in relation to what other subjects, in what order, and even by whom. Abstracting literature to include its audience, for example, leads to a sociology of literature, while an abstraction of literature that excludes everything but its forms calls forth various structural approaches, and so on." [Ibid., pp.60-61. Bold emphases added.]

 

As far as can be determined, that is all Ollman has to say about this 'process' as such (as opposed to his comments about how Marx is alleged to have used it).

 

Now, anyone reading through the above passage will surely conclude that Ollman has omitted the social aspect of knowledge. Sure, he gestures toward it with a comment that we must factor in "group interests, and other social constraints", but how this helps turn an individualised 'aptitude' into a socially-conditioned skill is left entirely unclear (which isn't surprising, since this trick is impossible to pull-off). How is it possible for Abstractor A to ensure that he/she has abstracted anything in the same way as Abstractor B? Given this theory, all they have to go on are their own subjective attempts to this end, but they will have no way of comparing their results with anyone else.

 

[Since this line of objection was rehearsed in detail here and here, I will not enter into it again in this section.]

 

An appeal to a public language here as a way out of this impasse would be to no avail, either, for this theory undermines the very possibility of there being such a language. That is because this theory bases language acquisition itself on the process of abstraction. In which case, anyone who accepts this theory can hardly appeal to language to bail it out -- at least, not without arguing in a circle.

 

As we have seen, this entire approach is entangled in, and has been compromised by the post-Renaissance, bourgeois view of language, cognition, and knowledge, which pictures these as skills we all learn as isolated individuals, but which we are later supposed to bring into society as social atoms in order to compare the 'contents of our minds' with those of others in the same market place of ideas. On this view, the social comes second, the individual first. Plainly, this only succeeds in undermining the social nature of language and knowledge. [More on this in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

As Meredith Williams notes of Vygotsky's views (which are, alas, highly influential among DM-fans):

 

"Vygotsky attempts to combine a social theory of cognition development with an individualistic account of word-meaning.... [But] the social theory of development can only succeed if it is combined with a social theory of meaning." [Williams (1999b), p.275.]

 

However, Williams could in fact be talking about any randomly-selected Dialectical Marxist who has written on this subject (including Ollman).

 

Again, these comments might seem a little too hasty, so we will have to wait to see how Ollman digs himself out of this particular bourgeois-inspired hole in his future work -- if he does.

 

Independently of this, Ollman has surely confused the capacity we have for concentrating on certain features of the world with this artificial 'process' of abstraction. So, when we are at the concert he mentioned, we might indeed concentrate on the soloist, say, but we do not abstract him or her.

 

It may be argued that this is indeed where abstraction kicks in; but what do we gain by saying this that the word "concentrate" has not already achieved for us? What extra feature does this alleged 'process' now add? Ollman doesn't say. In fact, this 'crucially important process' stalls at this point. It has nowhere to go (as the earlier sections of this Essay have demonstrated).

 

Of course, none of us begins with these skills. We all have to be socialised into them, and have to be taught what our words mean (we can see this from the way that individuals from other cultures focus on different aspects of their surroundings, especially when it comes to listening to music -- one area where we all have to develop 'trained ears'). Hence, even if there were such a mythical 'process' of abstraction, it wouldn't be needed, for we already have the skills necessary to advance knowledge using these socially-acquired capacities. Moreover, these skills possess the not inconsiderable advantage that they follow from, but do not undermine, the social nature of language and knowledge. They are also learned and performed in social contexts. Abstraction (supposedly) takes place in a hidden, inner world, where the individual reigns supreme.

 

Karl Marx's Magic Trick

 

Nevertheless, Ollman informs us that Marx in fact employed four different senses of "abstraction": (1) A division of the world into manageable "mental constructs"; (2) The results of the latter process; (3) In relation to a deficient, or ideological use of certain concepts; (4) In connection with his own method in Das Kapital (pp.61-62).

 

Now, it is undeniable that Marx used this word ("abstract" and its cognates), and he certainly imagined he had applied this 'process' in the pursuit of his studies, but there nothing in Marx's writings to show he actually abstracted a single thing. And this isn't just because the 'process' itself is impossible to carry out.

 

The passage that is usually quoted to show that Marx does in fact use abstraction actually fails in this respect, as we are about to see:

 

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

 

As I noted in Part One of this Essay:

 

In fact, Marx doesn't actually do what he says he does in this passage; he merely gestures at doing it, and his gestures are about as substantive as the hand movements of stage magicians. This isn't to disparage Marx. Das Kapital is perhaps one of the greatest books ever written; but it would have been an even more impressive work if the baleful influence of traditional thought had been kept totally at bay.

 

[Yes, I know the last but one quotation is from the Grundrisse, not Das Kapital!]

 

What Marx actually did was use familiar words in new ways, thus establishing new concepts that enabled him to understand and explain Capitalism with startling clarity. Anyone who reads the above passage can actually see him doing this. They do not need to do a brain scan on Marx (even if he were still alive), nor apply psychometric tests to follow his argument (or, indeed, re-create his alleged 'abstractions'), which they would have to do if the 'process of abstraction' were something we all do privately in our heads. And they certainly do not have to copy his moves -- and they most certainly can't copy them, for Marx failed to say what he had actually done with the concepts he used, or how he had 'mentally processed' them (if in fact he did!). Indeed, his 'instructions' how to abstract the "population" are about as useful as John Lennon's famous remark that to find the USA you just turn left at Greenland. Hence, no one could possibly emulate Marx here since there are no usable details -- which, of course, suggests that Marx did not in fact do what he said he had done, or proposed to do, otherwise, careful thinker that he was, he would have spelt them out. More significantly, no one since has been able to reconstruct these mythical 'mental' Marxist moves, or show that their own weak gesture at applying this method is exactly the same as the one used by Marx (or even that it yields the same results -- as I noted earlier).

 

Of course, none of this is surprising. As we have seen, abstractionists become rather vague when it comes to supplying the details of this mysterious 'process'; that is why, after 2400 years of this metaphysical fairy-tale having been spun -- over and above the sort of vague gesture theorists like Ollman offer their readers -- no one seems able to say what this 'process' actually is!

 

By way of contrast, the actual method Marx employed (we can actually see him doing this on the page -- i.e., indulging in an intelligent and novel use of language) is precisely how the greatest scientists have always proceeded. In their work, they construct arguments in an open arena, in a public language -- albeit this is often accompanied by a new use of old words --, which can be checked by anyone who cares to do so. This can't be done with Ollman's "mental constructs".

 

The Young Marx And Engels Torpedo 'Abstractionism'

 

Marx and Engels's earlier words are, therefore, surely a more accurate guide to what he actually did in Das Kapital:

 

"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.'" [Marx and Engels (1975), p.75. Bold emphases added.]

 

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

 

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

 

Here, the process of abstraction is shown up for what it is: capitulation to philosophical confusion based on a distortion of ordinary language (which is, oddly enough, the view adopted in these Essays).

 

Ollman Misconstrues Change

 

Ollman now advances the following highly clichéd comment about change:

 

"Beginning with historical movement, Marx's preoccupation with change and development is undisputed. What is less known, chiefly because it is less clear, is how he thought about change, how he abstracted it, and how he integrated these abstractions into his study of a changing world. The underlying problem is as old as philosophy itself. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, provides us with its classic statement when he asserts that a person cannot step into the same river twice. Enough water has flowed between the two occasions so that the river we step into the second time is not the same river we walked into earlier. Yet our common sense tells us that it is, and our naming practice reflects this view. The river is still called the 'Hudson', or the 'Rhine' or the 'Ganges'. Heraclitus, of course, was not interested in rivers, but in change. His point is that change goes on everywhere and all the time, but that our manner of thinking about it is sadly inadequate. The flow, the constant alteration of movement away from something and toward something else, is generally missing. Usually, where change takes place very slowly or in very small increments, its impact can be safely neglected. On the other hand, depending on the context and on our purpose in it, even such change -- because it occurs outside our attention -- may occasionally startle us and have grave consequences for our lives." [Ollman (2003), p.64.]

 

We shall see in Essay Six that Heraclitus in fact got into a terrible mess over the criteria of identity for mass nouns and count nouns. But, he had an excuse: he lived at a time when little was known about this distinction. This is no longer the case. So, Ollman's breezy conclusions (based on no reference at all to modern work in this area) are far less easy to excuse.

 

Now, had Heraclitus said that it was impossible to step into the same body of flowing water twice, he might have had a point. Even so, and despite what he said, it is quite easy to step into the same river. [On this, see here.] Indeed, without that particular capacity, not even Heraclitus could test his own 'theory' (or even imagine such a test being performed in his 'mind's eye'), for he would not be able to recognise the same river to test it on!

 

[The 'relative stability' argument is neutralised in Essay Six.]

 

"In contrast to this approach, Marx set out to abstract things, in his words, 'as they really are and happen,' making how they happen part of what they are (Marx and Engels (1964), p.57 -- this is the German Ideology -- RL). Hence, capital (or labour, money, etc.) is not only how capital appears and functions, but also how it develops; or rather, how it develops, its real history, is also part of what it is. It is also in this sense that Marx could deny that nature and history 'are two separate things' (Marx and Engels (1964), p.57). In the view which currently dominates the social sciences, things exist and undergo change. The two are logically distinct. History is something that happens to things; it is not part of their nature. Hence, the difficulty of examining change in subjects from which it has been removed at the start. Whereas Marx, as he tells us, abstracts 'every historical social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence' (My emphasis -- i.e., Ollman's emphasis -- RL) (Marx (1958), p.20 -- this is Capital Volume One -- RL)." [Ibid., p.65. Spelling changed to conform with UK English. Referencing conventions altered to agree with those adopted at this site.]

 

But, as we have also seen (in Essay Three Part One, here), abstraction may only penetrate to the heart of things if reality were itself abstract (i.e., if it were Ideal).

 

[What is more, the 'below the surface' metaphor explains nothing, either (on that, see here).]

 

Now, no one doubts that social development and science may or may not be able to tell us how things "really are", or how they "actually change", but it certainly can't do this by means of abstraction, for this 'process' deprives language of its capacity to express generality.

 

And even if abstraction could all that Ollman claims for it, dialectics would be the last theory that scientists would look to for assistance, for it would make change impossible!

 

So, all this labour has brought forth not even a mouse!

 

"The Mountain labor'd, groaning loud,
On which a num'rous gaping crowd
Of noodles came to see the sight,
When, lo! a mouse was brought to light!" [Phaedrus, IV, XXIV.]

 

Ollman spends the next few pages outlining several of the abstract terms he believes Marx employed (whereas Marx doesn't appear to call them this), in the course of which he makes the following substantive point:

 

"Before concluding our discussion of the place of change in Marx's abstractions, it is worth noting that thinking in terms of processes is not altogether alien to common sense. It occurs in abstractions of actions, such as eating, walking, fighting, etc., indeed whenever the gerund form of the verb is used. Likewise, event words, such as 'war' and 'strike', indicate that to some degree at least the processes involved have been abstracted as such. On the other hand, it is also possible to think of war and strike as a state or condition, more like a photo than a motion picture, or if the latter, then a single scene that gets shown again and again, which removes or seriously underplays whatever changes are taking place. And unfortunately, the same is true of most action verbs. They become action 'things.' In such cases, the real processes that go on do not get reflected -- certainly not to any adequate degree -- in our thinking about them. It is my impression that in the absence of any commitment to bring change itself into focus, in the manner of Marx, this is the more typical outcome." [Ollman (2003), p.67.]

 

Ollman is absolutely right to point out that ordinary language contains many words that depict change (and yet he, like so many others, confuses the vernacular with "common sense"), but he merely asserts that "thought" assumes/concludes that many of these words depict states or conditions (when no such 'assuming/concluding' goes on -- or if it does, Ollman omitted the evidence/argument to that effect), which, naturally, would only seem to undermine the other feature of language he has just mentioned (the fact that it contains many action words).

 

This is, of course, the problem with abstraction and reification, but, it isn't obviously related to "common sense". And yet, if what Ollman says does indeed happen with respect to ordinary language, that would be the result of the same set of crass syntactic errors that misled Philosophers in Ancient Greece (which errors were detailed in Part One of this Essay), and which now re-surfaces in dialectics! In that case, if "common sense" is at fault, so is DM! On the other hand, if ordinary language is not deliberately distorted in this way (and if we take seriously the advice Marx and Engels gave earlier), the action verbs to which Ollman refers won't be deformed in this traditional, metaphysical and Philistine way. Indeed, as pointed out in Essay Four:

 

As is well-known (among Marxists), human society developed because of its constant interaction with nature and as a result of the struggle between classes. In which case, ordinary language could not fail to have developed the logical multiplicity to record changes of limitless complexity.

 

This is no mere dogma; it is easily confirmed. Here is a greatly shortened list of ordinary words (restricted to modern English, and omitting simple and complex tensed participles and auxiliary verbs) that allow speakers to refer to changes of unbounded complexity:

 

Vary, alter, adjust, amend, make, produce, revise, rework, improve, enhance, deteriorate, depreciate, edit, bend, straighten, weave, merge, dig, plough, cultivate, sow, twist, curl, turn, tighten, fasten, loosen, relax, ease, tense up, slacken, bind, wrap, pluck, carve, rip, tear, mend, perforate, repair, renovate, restore, damage, impair, scratch, bite, diagnose, mutate, metamorphose, transmute, sharpen, hone, modify, modulate, develop, upgrade, appear, disappear, expand, contract, constrict, constrain, shrivel, widen, lock, unlock, swell, flow, ring, differentiate, integrate, multiply, divide, add, subtract, simplify, complicate, partition, unite, amalgamate, fuse, mingle, connect, brake, accelerate, fast, slow, swift, rapid, hasty, protracted, lingering, brief, heat up, melt, harden, cool down, flash, shine, glow, drip, bounce, cascade, drop, pick up, fade, darken, wind, unwind, meander, peel, scrape, graze, file, scour, dislodge, is, was, will be, will have been, had, will have had, went, go, going, gone, return, lost, age, flood, swamp, overflow, precipitate, percolate, seep, tumble, plunge, dive, plummet, mix, separate, cut, chop, crush, grind, shred, slice, dice, saw, sew, knit, spread, coalesce, congeal, fall, climb, rise, ascend, descend, slide, slip, roll, spin, revolve, oscillate, undulate, rotate, wave, splash, conjure, quick, quickly, slowly, instantaneously, suddenly, gradually, rapidly, briskly, hurriedly, lively, hastily, inadvertently, accidentally,  carelessly, really, energetically, lethargically, snap, drink, quaff, eat, consume, swallow, gulp, chew, gnaw, digest, ingest, excrete, join, resign, part, sell, buy, acquire, lose, find, search, pursue, hunt, track, explore, follow, cover, uncover, reveal, stretch, distend, depress, compress, lift, put down, fetch, take, bring, carry, win, ripen, germinate, conceive, gestate, abort, die, rot, perish, grow, decay, fold, empty, evacuate, drain, pour, fill, abandon, leave, many, more, less, fewer, steady, steadily, jerkily, smoothly, awkwardly, expertly, very, extremely, exceedingly, intermittent, discontinuous, continuous, continual, push, pull, drag, slide, jump, sit, stand, run, sprint, chase, amble, walk, hop, skip, slither, crawl, swim, drown, immerse, break, collapse, shatter, split, interrupt, charge, retreat, assault, squash, adulterate, purify, filter, raze, crumble, erode, corrode, rust, flake, demolish, dismantle, pulverise, disintegrate, dismember, destroy, annihilate, extirpate, flatten, crimple, terminate, initiate, instigate, replace, undo, reverse, repeal, abolish, enact, quash, throw, catch, hour, minute, second, instant, moment, momentary, invent, devise, teach, learn, innovate, forget, rescind, boil, freeze, thaw, cook, liquefy, solidify, congeal, neutralise, evaporate, condense, dissolve, process, mollify, pacify, calm down, excite, enrage, inflame, protest, challenge, expel, eject, remove, overthrow, expropriate, scatter, distribute, surround, gather, assemble, attack, counter-attack, charge, repulse, defeat, strike, occupy, picket, barricade, revolt, riot, rally, march, demonstrate, mutiny, rebel, defy, resist, lead, campaign, educate, agitate, organise...

 

Naturally, it wouldn't be difficult to extend this list until it contains literally thousands of words, all capable of depicting countless changes in limitless detail (especially if it is augmented with the language of mathematics, science and HM). It is only a myth put about by Hegel and DM-theorists...that ordinary language can't adequately depict change. On the contrary, it performs this task far better than the incomprehensible and impenetrably obscure jargon Hegel invented in order to fix something that wasn't broken.

 

If many of the above verbs are put in the present continuous tense (e.g., flowing, burning, running, turning, directing, dissolving, crumbling...), and situated in sentential contexts (e.g., "The cops are running away from the strikers", "Management's resolve is crumbling", "The strike committee is still directing the dispute"), or other more complex present tenses (e.g., the present iterative or frequentative) are used, only those ignorant of language would conclude the following (alongside Ollman):

 

"On the other hand, it is also possible to think of war and strike as a state or condition, more like a photo than a motion picture, or if the latter, then a single scene that gets shown again and again, which removes or seriously underplays whatever changes are taking place.... And unfortunately, the same is true of most action verbs. They become action 'things.' In such cases, the real processes that go on do not get reflected -- certainly not to any adequate degree -- in our thinking about them." [Ibid.]

 

If workers are striking, or a war is being fought, who in command of their senses would conclude that a "state or condition" was being described or even implied?

 

Moreover, it isn't too clear what an "action 'thing'" is supposed to be. Perhaps Ollman means that "most action" verbs can also be thought of as depicting a "state or condition", but, since dialecticians like Ollman make a virtue out of abstraction, which freezes verbs and predicate expressions into the names of abstract particulars, we would be well advised to take his comments with a lorry load of non-dialectical salt.

 

[For a much clearer and comprehensive account of state, activity and performance verbs (than Ollman offers his readers in his rather amateurish and superficial 'analysis' of this grammatical form), see Kenny (1963), pp.151-86.]

 

'Internal Relations' To The Rescue?

 

Ollman then meanders off into a consideration of "internal relations" (a topic that will be destructively analysed in Essay Four Part Two), which 'allows' him to make several wild and unsubstantiated claims about Marx's method. In the course of which he adds this comment:

 

"The view held by most people, scholars and others, in what we've been calling the common sense view, maintains that there are things and there are relations, and that neither can be subsumed in the other. This position is summed up in Bishop Butler's statement, which G. E. Moore adopts as a motto: 'Everything is what it is, and not another thing,' taken in conjunction with Hume's claim, 'All events seem entirely loose and separate' (Moore, (1903), title page; Hume (1955) p.85 -- see the References for details; the first reference is to Moore (1959) -- RL). On this view, capital may be found to have relations with labour, value, etc., and it may even be that accounting for such relations plays an important role in explaining what capital is; but capital is one thing, and its relations quite another. Marx, on the other hand, following Hegel's lead in this matter, rejects what is, in essence, a logical dichotomy. For him, as we saw, capital is itself a Relation, in which the ties of the material means of production to labour, value, commodity, etc., are interiorized as parts of what capital is. Marx refers to 'things themselves' as 'their interconnections' (Marx and Engels (1950), p.488 -- Briefwechsel Volume 3 -- RL). Moreover, these relations extend backward and forward in time, so that capital's conditions of existence as they have evolved over the years and its potential for future development are also viewed as parts of what it is." [Ibid., p.69. Spelling changed to agree with UK English. Referencing conventions altered to agree with those adopted at this site.]

 

So, on the basis of a quotation from Butler, and a comment of Hume's, Ollman is able to tell us what the "common sense" view is!

 

[I called this sort of 'evidential display', beloved of DM-fans, "Mickey Mouse Science" in Essay Seven Part One; and we can now see why!

 

However, in that Essay I merely accused LCDs of this, but here we can see a card-carrying HCD indulging in the same sport. And, Ollman isn't alone; other HCDs do likewise. That allegation will be substantiated in Essay Twelve.]

 

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

 

However, as we have seen in Part One, Ollman is only able to confuse relations with "things" because of yet another a linguistic sleight-of-hand (whereby nominalised relational expressions are taken to be the names of another set of abstract particulars); in this way Ollman finds he can to blur the distinction between "things" and "relations", and it is the only way he is able to do this.

 

In this case, Ollman merely adds the assertion (copied from Marx) that Capital (etc.) is a relation. Of course, what he means is that in order to understand Capitalism, it isn't enough just to look at "things", but at their connections, their history (and so on -- no problem with that!), and yet he fails to tell us why that makes Capital a relation. Naturally, if it were a relation, it could have no relations of its own. On the other hand, it could have relations of its own only if it were an object of some sort. [Note, I am not committing myself to either view here! Quite the reverse, in fact.]

 

Ollman (and other HCDs) may be happy with this syntactic slide, but his (their) only defence would once again involve an appeal to the crass syntactical segue that was analysed earlier. We also saw (here) that this slippery approach to the denotation of relational and nominal expressions is what underlies the egregious moves Hegel thought he could pull (in order to befuddle his readers, all the while imagining he was advancing logic!) -- moves that are on a par with the equally suspect linguistic tricks that 'underpinned' Anselm's Ontological Argument.

 

It thus seems that all that this interpretation of the nature of Capital -- the alleged relation, not the book -- can appeal to in support is a simple-minded view of "common sense" (backed up by an evidential 'ceremony' that makes WMD-dossiers look substantial in comparison), coupled with a crass view of the logic of relational expressions -- compounded by a Philistine approach to language!

 

[The reader will no doubt have noticed that this is precisely the accusation made at the beginning of Essay Three Part One, and will be repeated many times as these Essays unfold. Such moves are indeed a hallmark of ruling-class forms-of-thought -- i.e., of Linguistic Idealism [LIE] --, that is, the belief that profound theses about fundamental aspects of reality (valid for all of space and time) can be inferred from language/thought alone, which moves then 'allow' any who so indulge to by-pass the need to provide (adequate) material evidence in their support (indeed, as we have just seen is the case with Ollman and his appeal to what Hume and Butler had to say in support of his conclusions about "common sense").

 

This process will be described and criticised in detail in Essay Twelve (parts of which can already be found here, and here).]

 

Welcome To The Desert Of The Reification

 

Now, it could be argued that Ollman in fact rejects many of the above accusations, for example:

 

"In order to forestall possible misunderstandings it may be useful to assert that the philosophy of internal relations is not an attempt to reify 'what lies between.' It is simply that the particular ways in which things cohere become essential attributes of what they are. The philosophy of internal relations also does not mean -- as some of its critics have charged -- that investigating any problem can go on forever (to say that boundaries are artificial is not to deny them an existence, and, practically speaking, it is simply not necessary to understand everything in order to understand anything); or that the boundaries which are established are arbitrary (what actually influences the character of Marx's or anyone else's abstractions is another question); or that we cannot mark or work with some of the important objective distinctions found in reality (on the contrary, such distinctions are a major influence on the abstractions we do make); or, finally, that the vocabulary associated with the philosophy of internal relations -- particularly 'totality,' 'relation,' and 'identity' -- cannot also be used in subsidiary senses to refer to the world that comes into being after the process of abstraction has done its work." [Ibid., p.72. Bold emphasis added.]

 

But, this is precisely what Ollman does do (i.e., "attempt to reify" 'abstractions'), and flat denials can't alter that fact. Moreover, as we have seen (here and here), it isn't possible to halt or slow down the dialectical juggernaut as it careers off the road into the infinite beyond, nor deflect the fatal criticism that, given this 'theory', it is indeed necessary to "understand everything in order to understand anything".

 

Moreover, we have also seen that no sense can be made of dialecticians' use of words such as "totality" and "identity" (on that see here, here and here). Merely denying the untoward consequences of this Hermetic Horror Show isn't enough (just as it isn't enough for George W Bush, say, to deny he is a mass murderer). The evidence tells a different story.

 

[As noted above, I will return to the Idealist doctrine of 'Internal Relations' in Essay Four Part Two.]

 

Brain Scans Required?

 

Ollman continues:

 

"Once we recognize the crucial role abstraction plays in Marx's method, how different his own abstractions are, and how often and easily he re-abstracts, it becomes clear that Marx constructs his subject matter as much as he finds it. This is not to belittle the influence of natural and social (particularly capitalist) conditions on Marx's thinking, but rather to stress how, given this influence, the results of Marx's investigations are prescribed to a large degree by the preliminary organization of his subject matter. Nothing is made up of whole cloth, but at the same time Marx only finds what his abstractions have placed in his way. These abstractions do not substitute for the facts, but give them a form, an order, and a relative value; just as frequently changing his abstractions does not take the place of empirical research, but does determine, albeit in a weak sense, what he will look for, even see, and of course emphasize. What counts as an explanation is likewise determined by the framework of possible relationships imposed by Marx's initial abstractions.

 

"So far we have been discussing the process of abstraction in general, our main aim being to distinguish it from other mental activities. Marx's own abstractions were said to stand out in so far as they invariably include elements of change and interaction, while his practice of abstracting was found to include more or less of each as suited his immediate purpose. Taking note of the importance Marx gave to abstractions in his critique of ideology, we proceeded to its underpinnings in the philosophy of internal relations, emphasizing that it is not a matter of this philosophy making such moves possible -- since everybody abstracts -- but of making them easier, and enabling Marx to acquire greater control over the process. What remains is to analyze in greater detail what actually occurs when Marx abstracts, and to trace its results and implications for some of his major theories." [Ibid., pp.73-74. Bold emphases added.]

 

But, we have yet to be told what these 'abstractions' are, or how Ollman could possibly know anything about them if, as he says, they are "mental activities"! Has he exhumed Marx's body and held a séance over what remains of the corpse? Has he access to a time machine and travelled back to the 1870s to perform a brain scan on Marx? But, these seem to be the only ways he could possibly know anything about the alleged "mental activities" engaged in by Karl Marx.

 

And, as we have seen, it is little use appealing to the language Marx used, since that can't tell us anything about these hidden "mental activities", nor does it show that Marx actually indulged in the yet-to-be-explained 'process of abstraction' (over and above his use of the word "abstract" from time to time -- even while he failed to tell us with any clarity what it meant). Sure, Marx must have thought about what he was studying and writing, but this has nothing to do with the 'process of abstraction', since Marx had to use familiar words, taken from a public language in order to do this. And that language will already have contained general terms not themselves the product of 'abstraction' -- that is, not unless they had been subjected to the sort of distortion exposed in Part One, and which Marx himself had criticised and condemned.

 

But, is it even true that "everybody abstracts"? Well, as this Essay has shown, not only is there no evidence that they do, no one seems to be able to tell us what they are supposed to be able to do while they are allegedly doing it! Nor can anyone work out how the heroic "mental activities" of Abstractor A could possibly agree with those of Abstractor B, or, indeed, how it is possible for anyone to check the results.

 

"The process of abstraction, which we have been treating as an undifferentiated mental act, has three main aspects or modes, which are also its functions vis-à-vis the part abstracted on one hand and the system to which the part belongs and which it in turn helps to shape on the other. That is, the boundary setting and bringing into focus that lies at the core of this process occurs simultaneously in three different, though closely related, senses. These senses have to do with extension, level of generality, and vantage point. First, each abstraction can be said to achieve a certain extension in the part abstracted, and this applies both spatially and temporally. In abstracting boundaries in space, limits are set in the mutual interaction that occurs at a given point of time. While in abstracting boundaries in time, limits are set in the distinctive history and potential development of any part, in what it once was and is yet to become. Most of our examples of abstraction so far have been drawn from what we shall now call 'abstraction of extension.'

 

"Second, at the same time that every act of abstraction establishes an extension, it also sets a boundary around and brings into focus a particular level of generality for treating not only the part but the whole system to which it belongs. The movement is from the most specific, or that which sets it apart from everything else, to its most general characteristics, or what makes it similar to other entities. Operating rather like a microscope that can be set at different degrees of magnification, this mode of abstraction enables us to see the unique qualities of any part, or the qualities associated with its function in capitalism, or the qualities that belong to it as part of the human condition (to give only the most important of these levels of generality). In abstracting capital, for example, Marx gives it an extension in both space and time as well as a level of generality such that only those qualities associated with its appearance and functioning as a phenomenon of capitalism are highlighted (i.e., its production of value, its ownership by capitalists, its exploitation of workers, etc.). The qualities a given capital may also possess as a Ford Motor Company assembly line for making cars or as a tool in general -- that is, qualities that it has as a unique object or as an instance of something human beings have always used -- are not brought into the picture. They are abstracted out. This aspect of the process of abstraction has received least attention not only in our own discussion but in other accounts of dialectics. In what follows, we shall refer to it as 'abstraction of level of generality.'

 

"Third, at the same time that abstraction establishes an extension and a level of generality, it also sets up a vantage point or place within the relationship from which to view, think about, and piece together the other components in the relationship; meanwhile the sum of their ties (as determined by the abstraction of extension) also becomes a vantage point for comprehending the larger system to which it belongs, providing both a beginning for research and analysis and a perspective in which to carry it out. With each new perspective, there are significant differences in what can be perceived, a different ordering of the parts, and a different sense of what is important. Thus, in abstracting capital, Marx not only gives it an extension and a level of generality (that of capitalism), he also views the interrelated elements that compose it from the side of the material means of production and, simultaneously, transforms this configuration itself into a vantage point for viewing the larger system in which it is situated, providing himself with a perspective that influences how all other parts of the system will appear (one that gives to capital the central role). We shall refer to this aspect of abstraction as 'abstraction of vantage point.' By manipulating extension, level of generality, and vantage point, Marx puts things into and out of focus, into better focus, and into different kinds of focus, enabling himself to see more clearly, investigate more accurately, and understand more fully and more dynamically his chosen subject." [Ibid., pp.74-75. Bold emphasis added.]

 

And yet, if we still haven't a clue what this 'process' is (except that it is a "mental act"), and no idea what an 'abstraction' is supposed to be, either, then the distinctions Ollman draws in this passage are about as useful as the classification of the angels worked out by Medieval Theologians.

 

Now, Ollman's distinctions might prove to be useful in an analysis of Capitalism (I will pass no comment on this -- except to point out that the 'process of abstraction' destroys generality, so it would be wise to retain healthy scepticism, here), but if they are, that would be because he uses general terms drawn from a public language -- and he pointedly doesn't use abstractions (since the latter are "mental acts" about which we can know nothing) --, and because he doesn't ask us to scan his brain in order to comprehend these 'abstractions'. Indeed, he took care to explain (again, in an open arena, in a public language) what he was doing. That is, of course, what allows us to understand (or, in most cases, try to understand) his book, which we couldn't do if we paid attention to his theoretical deliberations while ignoring what he actually does.

 

Once again, actions speak louder than abstractions.

 

"As regards the abstraction of extension. Marx's general stand in favour of large units is evident from such statements as, 'In each historical epoch, property has developed differently and under a set of entirely different social relations. Thus, to define bourgeois property is nothing else than to give an exposition of all these social relations of bourgeois production.... To try to give a definition of property an independent relation, a category apart, an abstraction and eternal idea, can be nothing but an illusion of metaphysics and jurisprudence' (Marx (n.d.), p.154 -- This is a reference to The Poverty of Philosophy -- RL). Obviously, large abstractions are needed to think adequately about a complex, internally related world." [Ibid., pp.75-76. Bold emphasis added. Spelling changed to conform to UK English. Referencing conventions altered to agree with those adopted at this site.]

 

But, the passage Ollman quotes can't be an 'abstraction', and that isn't just because it isn't a "mental act", it is because Marx himself repudiates these mythical 'objects' in this very passage! And, it is worth recalling that this repudiation agrees with what we discovered earlier about his opinion of this backwater of Ancient Greek myth-making. This is also from The Poverty of Philosophy:

 

"Is it surprising that everything, in the final abstraction…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…." [Marx (1978), p.99.]

 

Ollman continues:

 

"The specifics of Marx's position emerge from his frequent criticisms of the political economists for offering too narrow abstractions (narrow in the double sense of including too few connections and too short a time period) of one or another economic form. Ricardo, for example, is reproached for abstracting too short a period in his notions of money and rent, and for omitting social relations in his abstraction of value (Marx (1968), p.125; Marx (1971), p.131 -- these are references to Theories of Surplus Value, Parts Two and Three -- RL). One of the most serious distortions is said to arise from the tendency among political economists to abstract processes solely in terms of their end results. Commodity exchange, for example, gets substituted for the whole of the process by which a product becomes a commodity and eventually available for exchange (Marx (1973), p.198 -- this is a reference to the Grundrisse -- RL). As Amiri Baraka so colourfully points out: 'Hunting is not those heads on the wall' (Baraka (1966), p.73 -- I have not been able to check this source -- RL). By thinking otherwise for the range of problems with which they are concerned, the political economists avoid seeing the contradictions in the capitalist-specific processes that give rise to these results." [Ollman (2003), p.76. Spelling changed to conform to UK English; referencing conventions altered to agree with those adopted at this site. Minor typos corrected. Bold emphases added.]

 

But, Marx's criticisms aren't aimed at any alleged 'abstractions' (which, even if they exist, are the hidden product of certain unspecified "mental acts"), but at the tendency classical economists have of concentrating on "results", and their penchant for substituting "commodity exchange...for the whole of the process by which a product becomes a commodity and eventually available for exchange." Similarly, Ricardo is taken to task for fixing on "too short a period in his notions of money and rent, and for omitting social relations...". Plainly, Marx relied on what these economists published in an open arena, and didn't once think to speculate about what might have gone on in their heads.

 

[Of course, Ollman inserted the word "abstraction" (or its cognates) in several places here, but since these are product of certain nondescript "mental acts", he can't have meant this, otherwise Marx couldn't have advanced the criticisms he did.]

 

And, as far as these alleged "contradictions" are concerned, until we are told what these obscure dialectical objects/relations are, Ollman might just as well have written this for all the good it does:

 

"By thinking otherwise for the range of problems with which they are concerned, the political economists avoid seeing the schmontradictions in the capitalist-specific processes that give rise to these results."

 

[As we will see in Essay Twelve, Ollman's attempt to define "contradiction" (pp.17-18) is no help at all.]

 

Now, I do not intend to pick away at the other things Ollman says over the next thirty-five pages of his book, not just because that would make this Essay tedious in the extreme, but because these pages add very little to his explanation of what 'abstractions' are -- as the reader is invited to check for herself.

 

To be sure, Ollman makes somewhat familiar claims about other areas of dialectics (which have, anyway, been batted out of the park elsewhere at this site, some of which will be examined again in Essay Twelve), however, he has little more to add concerning the nature of 'abstraction', certainly nothing which makes this mysterious process any clearer, more comprehensible -- or even vaguely plausible.

 

Ollman Versus Dm's Critics

 

In which case, this passage is all the more unfortunate:

 

"Is there any part of Marxism that has received more abuse than his dialectical method? And I am not just thinking about enemies of Marxism and socialism, but also about scholars who are friendly to both. It is not Karl Popper, but George Sorel in his Marxist incarnation who refers to dialectics as 'the art of reconciling opposites through hocus pocus,' and the English socialist economist, Joan Robinson, who on reading Capital objects to the constant intrusion of 'Hegel's nose' between her and Ricardo (Sorel (1950), p.171; Robinson (1953), p.23 -- references given at the end, RL). But perhaps the classic complaint is fashioned by the American philosopher, William James, who compares reading about dialectics in Hegel -- it could just as well have been Marx -- to getting sucked into a whirlpool (James (1978), p.174 -- again, reference given at the end, RL)." [Ibid., p.59. Referencing conventions altered to agree with those adopted at this site.]

 

In view of the continual slide into confusion and error that dialecticians experience -- exposed in these Essays --, the comments of the above critics plainly weren't nearly harsh enough. As I pointed out in Essay One:

 

Another aspect of the defensive stance adopted by dialecticians is the fact that few of them fail to point out that hostile critics of Marxism always seem to attack "the dialectic". This then allows DM-fans to brand such detractors as "bourgeois apologists", which in turn means that whatever the latter say can safely be ignored (as, 'plainly', ideological).

 

[This is the DM-equivalent of the Roman Catholic Church's old Index of Forbidden Books.]

 

However, it has surely escaped such comrades' attention that the reason the dialectic is attacked by friend and foe alike is that it is by far and away the weakest and most lamentably feeble aspect of traditional Marxist Philosophy. Far from it being an "abomination" to the bourgeoisie (even though the State Capitalist rulers of Eastern Europe, the former USSR, Maoist China and North Korea are, or were, rather fond of it), the dialectic has in fact proved to be an abomination for revolutionary socialism.

 

Hence: our enemies attack dialectics precisely because they have found our Achilles Heel.

 

Whereas, revolutionaries like me attack it for the opposite reason: to rid Marxism of its Achilles Heel.

 

25. This seems to be the import of the passage from TAR, quoted above:

 

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

 

As will be noted later, this is a rather odd way of making the point that knowledge is not solely derived from experience.

 

While several of the comments in the main body of this Essay might lead some to conclude that this objection centres on the recognitional capacities of, for example, trainee canine classifiers, it doesn't. As pointed out in Essay Six (and Note 6a, above) this metaphor trades on a confusion introduced into traditional Epistemology (by Plato) between two different uses of the verb "to know".

 

Knowledge of a friend or acquaintance is not the same as propositional knowledge; there is a difference between "Knowing that p" and "Knowing A" (where "p" is a propositional variable, and "A" is a name variable). We do not have in modern English a pair of words that brings this out very well, but they do in French: connaitre and savoir. "Acquaintance" is far too weak, and misleading. [I owe this point to Peter Geach.]

 

Knowledge (connaitre) of one's friends does, of course, involve recognitional capacities since it refers to an ability we are all supposed to possess of being able to identity over time specific individuals with whom we are acquainted as friends. Propositional knowledge (savoir) is not a relation between the Knower and the Known, unless we regard a proposition as an object of some sort. When we know, for instance, that the Nile is longer than the Thames, we are not adverting to a relationship we might have with a set of signs -- or even sound waves in the air, nor yet even the river.

 

So, from:

 

K1: NN knows MM,

 

we can't infer:

 

K2: NN knows.

 

But, from the following:

 

K3: NM knows that p,

 

we can infer:

 

K4: NM knows.

 

[Where "NN", "MM" and "NM" are name surrogates.]

 

This shows that we already distinguish the relational from the non-relational form of "know".

 

[These observations nullify a whole branch of modern Epistemology (much of which is to be found in French 'Philosophy').]

 

On the other hand, if we insist running these terms together, then generality will exit through the window --, for clearly, as individual objects, such reified propositions would be particulars, too. [The same comment applies if we were to conclude that knowing that the Nile is longer than the Thames puts us in a relationship with either or both rivers. (More on this in Part Four.)]

 

Moreover, if the applicability of a general term were indeed based on recognitional capacities we should then have to postulate a second order ability to recognise when a particular was of the right type, as well as recognising which word correctly applied to either or both (and so on, ad infinitem). But this merely re-introduces Aristotle's objection, since it multiplies by two the 'difficulties' we originally faced instead of eliminating them. Furthermore, this would involve the use of the very thing that was to be explained (i.e., generality), and recourse would have to be made to further mysterious inner "mental acts" to buttress the public use of words, and so on.

 

On this topic in general, see Hacker (1987), and Geach (1957). Problems associated with naive accounts of language acquisition are detailed in Cowie (1997, 2002) -- who has to her credit, on pp.x-xi of (2002), also spotted the connection between theories concerning the origin of language and regressive political ideologies.

 

26. That this is the correct approach can be seen from the fact that traditional philosophers themselves have to employ general words to account for general ideas, whatever else they later attempted to change them into.

 

However, the abstractions they tried to define (or identify) were said to reside either in: (1) A hidden region of the mind/brain, (2) A 'heavenly'/'Platonic' realm, or (3) The objects themselves, from where they could be apprehended by special 'acts of intellection', or 'intuition.' Plainly, as such, these 'abstract particulars' could only be accessed privately by individuals. Unlike material objects in the natural and social world -- which are openly and publicly available to those involved in collective labour/life/practice/conversation (etc.) --, abstract particulars are quintessentially unique to each mind. In that case, their nature and existence are in principle not only un-checkable they can't be compared with those of any other intrepid abstractor. In this respect, too, their postulation only serves to undermine the social nature of language by suggesting that key linguistic activities are private, atomistic, inner and representational.

 

It is worth recalling, too, that what had been touted all along as an ontological and epistemological expedition aimed at tracking down these elusive 'Universals', now turns out to be little more than a quibble about the meaning of general nouns, only surprisingly ineptly executed -- as Part One of this Essay demonstrated.

 

26a. Some of the dialectical background to this can be found here, and good luck to anyone trying to understand it!

 

Many dialecticians speak instead of the contradiction between "essence" and "appearance"; Herbert Marcuse, for instance, puts things as follows:

 

"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 (1972), pp.114-17. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

[We will see here how wide of the mark the first paragraph above is, and Marcuse's risible attempt to criticise Analytic Philosophy (and the ordinary language of working people) will be critically assessed 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, but with just enough obscure jargon thrown in to confuse the unwary.

 

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

 

"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 also adopted this way of talking about the distinction between 'essence' and 'appearance'; FL itself doesn't seem to enter into it.

 

Now this comment:

 

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

 

also displays the sort of confusion we have come to associate with our even more logically-challenged LCD-brethren. As we will see (here, for example), Hegel committed several egregious logical blunders upon which Marcuse has unwisely rested his faith.

 

Of course, this is quite apart from the fact that contradictions aren't the result of "incorrect thinking". They could be the result of (1) A genuine disagreement between two individuals, (2) A reductio ad absurdum argument, (3) A clash between theory and observation in the sciences (more on this in Essay Thirteen Part Two), (4) An illustrative example in logic (where there has been no mistake) or (5) An indirect proof. So, many contradictions are in fact the result of the application of 'correct' thinking.

 

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

 

"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 are, false.

 

George Novack also weighs in with this 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.

 

"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.]

 

It isn't my immediate concern to criticise this excellent example of mystical Natürphilosophie (however, it will be later), but merely to note (1) The fanciful way that the term "contradiction" is employed by Novack, and (2) His idiosyncratic use of the word "appearance". Exactly why a seed turning into a plant makes the seed an "appearance" Novack failed to say, and why any of this is a 'contradiction' is no less mysterious. Indeed, 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.

 

[Robin Hirsch makes the same sort of point here.]

 

Contrast the above with what Novack tells us elsewhere:

 

"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 tells us about "appearance" and "reality" is based on "abstract reason, intuition, self-evidence or some other subjective or purely theoretical source". And, as we will see in Essay Ten Part One, an appeal to "practice" here would be to no avail, either. [See also Note 29b, below.]

 

27. I have employed the rather stilted sentential prefixing clause (or as it is generally known, sentence-forming operator) "It is not the case that…" to avoid well-known scope ambiguities (this links to a PDF), which result from the incautious use of the negative particle in certain contexts.

 

28. R6 has also been left somewhat 'stylistically-challenged' to minimise the differences between the stated examples. The same applies to several other illustrative sentences used in this part of the Essay.

 

R6 was:

 

R6: It is not the case that this stick is bent in water.

 

29. Of course, if DM-theorists reject this contention (as it seems they will), then they must be intending to revise the meaning of the word "contradiction", as opposed to using a familiar notion drawn from ordinary language -- where, incidentally, the verb form ("to contradict") literally means "to gain-say". [Either that, or they intend to revise the typographically similar word ("contradiction") employed in FL.]

 

Naturally, dialecticians are at liberty to make revisions as they see fit, but any attempt to do this would have no more significance than would a similar attempt to revise the definition of, say, "relative surplus value" in order to show that because Marx ignored this 'new definition', his analysis of the falling rate of profit was misguided.

 

[I say much more about 'contradictions' in Essay Four, Essay Five, Essay Eight Parts One, Two and Three, and Essay Eleven Part One.]

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

29a0. The contradiction would in fact arise something like this (although it isn't being suggested here that this is indeed how the argument has ever proceeded, only how it might do so):

 

C1: NN believes that p.

 

C2: Science has shown that not p.

 

C3: Therefore, not p.

 

C4: NN accepts C3.

 

C5: Therefore NN believes that p and that not p.

 

[Where "p" is a propositional variable, and "NN" is a name surrogate.]

 

Of course, it is then up to NN to adjust her beliefs, or otherwise.

 

Manifestly, C3 does not follow from C2, unless we add the following:

 

C2a: Whatever science has shown to be the case, is true.

 

Or some such.

 

[Recall that not p is just as capable of being true as p. For example: "The Thames is not longer than the Nile" -- i.e., "It isn't the case that the Thames is longer than the Nile" -- is no less true than "The Nile is longer than the Thames".]

 

How observation and experiment (but not beliefs) can contradict scientific theory will be examined in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

29a. To be sure, it could be claimed that Hegel also believed this (i.e., that appearances are also part of reality -- although he would have refrained from calling them "real" -- on this, see Note 29b, below). In which case, it isn't too clear what the contradiction here is supposed to be.

 

Alas, what little help we get from DM-fans turns out to be no use at all in trying to comprehend any of this.

 

Anyway, what Hegel had to say about appearances is not only about as useful as a chocolate tea pot, it is as clear as mud.

 

I will say more about Hegel's views in a later re-write of this Essay. Until then, see the next Note.

 

29b. As noted above, Novack goes on to argue as follows:

 

"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.

 

"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.]

 

Why Novack wants to describe plants as unreal is somewhat unclear. If they were plastic, or imaginary, he might have a point.

 

However, he concurs with Hegel in regarding as not real, or not fully real, whatever perishes:

 

"We have already seen what great measure of truth there is in the proposition that the real is rational. We have ascertained that all things come into existence and endure in a lawful and necessary way. But this is not the whole and final truth about things. It is one-sided, relative, and a passing truth. The real truth about things is that they not only exist, persist, but they also develop and pass away. This passing away of things, eventuating in death, is expressed in logical terminology by the term 'negation.'

 

"The whole truth about things can be expressed only if we take into account this opposite and negative aspect. In other words, unless we introduce the negation of our first affirmation, we shall obtain only a superficial and abstract inspection of reality.

 

"All things are limited and changing. They not only force their way and are forced into existence and maintain themselves there. They also develop, disintegrate and are pushed out of existence and eventually disappear. In logical terms, they not only affirm themselves. They likewise negate themselves and are negated by other things. By coming into existence, they say: 'Yes! Here I am!' to reality and to thought engaged in understanding reality. By developing and eventually going out of existence, they say on the contrary: 'No, I no longer am; I cannot stay real.' If everything that comes into existence must pass out of existence, as all of reality pounds constantly into our brains, then every affirmation must inexorably express its negation in logical thought. Such a movement of things and of thought is called a dialectical movement.

 

"'All things...meet their doom; and in saying so, we have a perception that Dialectic is the universal and irresistible power, before which nothing can stay, however secure and stable it may deem itself,' writes Hegel. (Shorter Logic, p.128.) [I.e., Hegel (1975), p.118, §81 -- RL.]

 

"There is a fable in The Arabian Nights about an Oriental monarch who, early in life, asked his wise men for the sum and substance of all learning, for the truth that would apply to everything at all times and under all conditions, a truth which would be as absolutely sovereign as he thought himself to be. Finally, over the king's deathbed, his wise men supplied the following answer: 'Oh, mighty king, this one truth will always apply to all things: "And this too shall pass away".' If justice prevailed, the king should have bequeathed a rich reward to his wise men, for they had disclosed to him the secret of the dialectic. This is the power, the omnipotence of the negative side of existence, which is forever emerging from, annihilating and transcending the affirmative aspect of things.

 

"This 'powerful unrest,' as Leibnitz (sic) called it, this quickening force and destructive action of life -- the negative -- is everywhere at work: in the movement of things, in the growth of living beings, in the transformations of substances, in the evolution of society, and in the human mind which reflects all these objective processes.

 

"From this dialectical essence of reality Hegel drew the conclusion that constitutes an indispensable part of his famous aphorism: All that is rational is real. But for Hegel all that is real is not without exception and qualification worthy of existence. 'Existence is in part mere appearance, and only in part reality.' (Introduction to the Shorter Logic, §6.)  [I.e., Hegel (1975), p.9, §6 -- RL.] Existence elementally and necessarily divides itself, and the investigating mind finds it to be so divided, into opposing aspects of appearance and essence. This disjunction between appearance and essence is no more mysterious than the disjunction between the inside and outside of an object." [Novack (1971), pp.84-86. Quotation marks changed to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. I have reproduced the edition of Hegel's work used by the editor of Novack's on-line text, Andy Blunden, not that which appears here.]

 

Minus the openly religious language, the above is not much different from Hindu depictions of Shiva.

 

"Shiva (Sanskrit: Auspicious One), or Siva, is one of the main Deities of Hinduism, worshipped as the paramount lord by the Saivite sects of India. Shiva is one of the most complex gods of India, embodying seemingly contradictory qualities. He is the destroyer and the restorer, the great ascetic and the symbol of sensuality, the benevolent herdsman of souls and the wrathful avenger." [Quoted from here. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Shiva is 'shakti' or power, Shiva is the destroyer, the most powerful god of the Hindu pantheon and one of the godheads in the Hindu Trinity. Known by many names -- Mahadeva, Mahayogi, Pashupati, Nataraja, Bhairava, Vishwanath, Bhava, Bhole Nath -- Lord Shiva is perhaps the most complex of Hindu deities. Hindus recognize this by putting his shrine in the temple separate from those of other deities....

 

"Shiva, in temples is usually found as a phallic symbol of the 'linga', which represents the energies necessary for life on both the microcosmic and the macrocosmic levels, that is, the world in which we live and the world which constitutes the whole of the universe. In a Shaivite temple, the 'linga' is placed in the centre underneath the spire, where it symbolizes the naval of the earth....

 

"Shiva is believed to be at the core of the centrifugal force of the universe, because of his responsibility for death and destruction. Unlike the godhead Brahma, the Creator, or Vishnu, the Preserver, Shiva is the dissolving force in life. But Shiva dissolves in order to create, since death is the medium for rebirth into a new life. So the opposites of life and death and creation and destruction both reside in his character....

 

"Since Shiva is regarded as a mighty destructive power, to numb his negative potentials he is fed with opium and is also termed as 'Bhole Shankar', one who is oblivious of the world. Therefore, on Maha Shivratri, the night of Shiva worship, devotees, especially the menfolk, prepare an intoxicating drink called 'Thandai' (made from cannabis, almonds, and milk) sing songs in praise of the Lord and dance to the rhythm of the drums. [Quoted from here. Spelling altered to conform to UK English. Bold emphases added. Links in the original.]

 

The dance of the 'Hindu dialectic'?

 

Shiva, is the "most powerful god"; compare that with the following:

 

"This is the power, the omnipotence of the negative side of existence, which is forever emerging from, annihilating and transcending the affirmative aspect of things." [Ollman, op cit.]

 

Similar thoughts can be found in other religions (e.g., Buddhism, Manichaeism, Zoroastrianism, and Daoism). [What was that about "ruling ideas"?]

 

Even so, what we want to know, however, is this: Is it the "whole and final truth about things" that they pass away, or is that itself a "one-sided, relative, and...passing truth"? If the latter is the case, we can ignore it (since it might not be true tomorrow); but if it isn't, then some things are permanent (namely this truth), and dialectics is false, and we can ignore it.

 

Either way, we can ignore it.

 

Be this as it may, as we will see in Essays Seven and Fourteen Part One (summary here) -- and as we have just seen --, Novack's view is a mystical and a poetic way of depicting nature, which openly confuses linguistic/logical expressions with reality itself. It also represents an echo of the idea (and one Hegel certainly accepted) that only 'God' is fully real, since only 'He' exists of necessity. Everything else is merely contingent, and depends on 'Him' for its own insecure grip on the 'Real'. Indeed, Novack forgot to quote this part of the above passage:

 

"...we must presuppose intelligence enough to know, not only that God is actual, that 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." [Hegel (1975), p.9, §6; bold emphasis added.]

 

However, to spoil the Hermetic Hilarity, protons, for example, seem to have received an exemption certificate (perhaps from 'Being' itself), for they do not change; or if they do, they do not do so as a result of their 'internal contradictions'. Photons are similarly uncooperative, as are electrons. [More on that, here.]

 

To be sure, the sort of flowery sayings Novack toys with go down rather well in DM-circles (especially in the HCD wing -- even though they have a distinct and offensive air of Christianity/Hinduism/Buddhism about them -- especially when we are allowed to see the Hegelian quotations in full!), and clearly serve to maintain -- as they do in openly religious context -- the morale of its adepts. [There is more on how theses like this manage to do that in Essay Nine Part Two.]

 

And yet, these passages only make sense if we are prepared to anthropomorphise reality. Novack's "Here I am" and "No I am not" rather give the game away, one feels.

 

Last but not least: we have yet to be told what the 'contradiction' here actually is!

 

[HCD = High Church Dialectics/Dialectician, depending on context. This term is explained  here.]

 

30. There is something rather odd about the idea that appearances are capable of 'contradicting' reality, the facts  -- or, indeed, anything at all. That is because, plainly, an appearance can't contradict anything else unless both are expressed in indicative sentences -- or perhaps both induce beliefs conducive to that end. Clearly, this not insignificant detail now redirects our attention to the conflict that might or might not exist between contradictory beliefs. But, in that regard, and with respect to bent sticks, for example, who actually believes sticks are bent in water? More to the point: which person of sound mind believes that sticks are both bent and not bent in water?

 

And yet, if that is the sort of confusion that scientific advance encourages us to reject it would be no great loss to humanity.

 

However, none of this has anything to do with the alleged contradiction between appearance and reality, since, plainly, such contradictions would be between beliefs expressed in language; still less would it have anything to do with 'commonsense'.

 

31. Those who think this unlikely should read Note 32, below.

 

32. It hardly needs pointing out that Rees (and other DM-theorists) wouldn't be interested in pairs of allegedly contradictory propositions if they thought both were false, or one true and the other false. But, because DM-theorists without exception fail to specify clearly what they mean by "contradiction", it is impossible to say whether or not this supposition is itself correct. Or, indeed, if it only appears to be the one or the other -- or something else.

 

It could be objected here that modern, post-Copernican science has in fact contradicted Aristotelian and Ptolemaic ideas about the immobility of the earth. Of course, that is itself a controversial interpretation of the relationship between ancient and modern scientific theory -– and one that is not 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 alleged 'contradiction' disappears. In that 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 assumption.

 

On this, 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 to UK English.]

 

[It is worth recalling that the late Professor Mills was co-inventor of Yang-Mills Theory in Gauge Quantum Mechanics, and was thus no scientific novice.]

 

And, this is what 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.]

 

"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:

 

"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 idea pre-dates the TOR; as Robert DiSalle notes, it goes back to Leibniz:

 

"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, differing in their arbitrary choices of a resting point or origin, but agreeing on the relative positions of bodies at any moment and their changing relative distances through time." [DiSalle (2009). Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

[Although DiSalle goes on to point out that Leibniz's equivalence principle was actually inconsistent with his view of motion. It took the TOR to sort this 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 according to our notions of simplicity (or cares a fig about them), that response won't wash.

 

This is quite apart from the fact that 'simplicity' 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

 

(2) is algebraically 'simpler', but (1) is 'simpler' if we judge simplicity on the basis of the number of terms used. Naturally, the problem of deciding which 'law' (expressed mathematically) is 'simpler' becomes all the more difficult as the complexity level rises. [On this, 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 and the rest of the heavens revolve around it, the 'fixed stars' manage to travel quite so far and so fast. Indeed, if they manage to complete one revolution per day (as they must on this view), then they will have to travel many times faster than the speed of light. We might then wonder why they don't appear as series of blurs in the night sky. Even more puzzling, if any point anywhere can be taken as the centre of a stationary frame of reference, then, for example, when anyone sets off to walk somewhere, he/she could be considered stationary while the rest of the world moves past them! One might then wonder why all the objects (especially other human beings) that surround us when we travel anywhere fail to register the acceleration they must undergo to accommodate our ambulatory proclivities; why water in a nearby canal doesn't slosh about; why drinks in glasses don't spill when we get up to leave a bar; why houses or flats don't crumble to the ground as if hit by an earthquake whenever we exit via the front door, and so on.

 

Indeed, if we were to press these observations much further, they could stand as an effective 'common sense' refutation of a core principle of Relativity Theory. We'd perhaps better leave such puzzles to those in the know.

 

Having said that, it is worth pointing out that in relation to the relative motion of heavenly bodies, the above considerations do not apply (except, maybe, the one related to the superluminal velocity of the orbiting stars). Perhaps this just illustrates the fact that a mathematical theory might appear to be 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, it might not seem to be quite so sensible. In which case, the TOR makes very poor predictions about our experience of the everyday world. [I will say much more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Nevertheless, even if this were an accurate depiction of the relation between these two theories, it would still be of no use to DM -– that is, not unless dialecticians abandoned the requirement that DM-'contradictions' should both be true (or both 'co-exist'). But, as noted in the main body of this Essay, both sets of propositions (concerning Ptolemy's system and Copernicus's systems) can't be true at once, given their commitment to the superiority of the latter over the former. And should 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 the principle merely says that the validity of each depends on the frame of reference chosen, which means that when one frame is chosen, one system is left by the wayside (until a new frame is chosen). Dialecticians certainly can't appeal to the alleged contradiction between 'appearances' and 'reality' here, since there is no 'reality' for anything to contradict until a reference frame has been chosen -- and that makes each separate system a creature of convention. It is also worth recalling that there aren't just two competing reference frames up for grabs here; any point in space (and there are countless trillions of these) is equally valid.

 

It might, however, be interesting to see whether or not any DM-fans who accept the equivalence principle are prepared to countenance the rather odd consequences that follow from it (several of which were mentioned a few paragraphs ago), and their opposites. That is, would they be happy to accept that the stars both travel many times faster than the speed of light, and they do not. Or that, when dialectician DD, say, sets off for a demonstration, she in fact remains stationary and the demonstration actually comes to her (without those in the demonstration feeling any acceleration forces at the moment DD 'sets off' from home), and it doesn't.

 

Or even this new conundrum: comrade DD (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 without distortion. That is, the entire body of water in the pool must accelerate upwards at the same time, behaving like a perfectly rigid solid, not a liquid. Must DM-fans accept both this and its opposite?

 

Returning now to saner issues: as I pointed out above (and in more detail in Essay Five), the only 'contradiction' that could be cobbled together here would involve an undischarged ambiguity:

 

A1: The Earth moves.

 

A2: The Earth does not move.

 

But, this apparent 'contradiction' would vanish when this ambiguity is resolved:

 

A3: In Inertial Frame A the Earth moves.

 

A4: In Inertial Frame B the Earth does not move.

 

This is no more a contradiction than the following example is (which we met earlier):

 

R15: The strikers moved.

 

R16: It is not the case that the strikers moved.

 

This pair certainly looks contradictory (especially if both relate to the same strikers at the same moment, and thus both are held true) -- but that would cease to be the case once it was discovered 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 engendered by one set of observations would merely appear to contradict those motivated by another. But, as soon as a frame of reference is supplied the 'contradiction' simply disappears.

 

If Aristotelian (or Ptolemaic) Astronomy is now regarded by DM-theorists as representing 'appearances' (or perhaps the 'commonsense view' of the universe), and they still hold it true/'partially true' -- even if it is 'contradicted' by reality -- then it seems that they must also accept the truth/'partial truth' any number of erroneous ancient theories. And, if that is so here, it should apply to allegedly 'commonsense' theories, too –- such as, say, the ancient idea that a woman who sees a hare will give birth to a child with a hare-lip (etc). Or, it should apply to even the more modern tale that some women can, and have given birth to live rabbits. [Pickover (2000).] It seems they would have to accept the truth of this fable and its negation!

 

If we are meant to countenance DM-'contradictions' where both halves are true, then this conclusion seems unavoidable.

 

But, what is remotely true about such fanciful ideas? What, for example, was even vaguely correct about the ancient idea that angels pushed the planets around the earth? If there is nothing true about outdated theories like these, then a DM-'contradiction' can't be cobbled-together from these defective parts (that is, should we ever be told what a 'dialectical contradiction actually is!)

 

[Of course, some dialecticians, who cleave to the sacred Hegelian text a little too enthusiastically, have a different view of truth (i.e., as the conformity or lack of it between an object and its 'concept'). But, as we saw in Part One of this Essay, this theory of truth only works if the ancient syntactical confusion that concepts can be treated as objects themselves is correct, and which 'objects' can therefore be put in some sort of relation with something else. More on this in Essay Twelve (when it is published in full). See also, here and here.]

 

On the other hand, if an antiquated or obsolete theory is to be rejected because it is based on 'appearances', not 'reality', then DM-style 'contradictions' can't feature anywhere at all, it would seem. That is because we would have alleged truths (those depicting reality) facing putative falsehoods (those encapsulating the 'commonsense', ancient or obsolete view) -– but never two truths -– still less two 'partial truths' (i.e., those belonging to the outmoded picture confronting the less 'partial' ones found in more recent scientific theories).

 

Howsoever these options are reshuffled, there seem to be no winning cards in any of the hands DM-theorists have dealt, or could have dealt themselves.

 

33. Science Can't Undermine Common Sense

 

Ordinary Language Confused With Common Sense

 

[This forms part of Note 33.]

 

Philosophers and scientists frequently confuse ordinary language with 'commonsense'. With respect to the alleged contradiction between appearance and reality -- occasioned by modern theories that the earth moves, for instance -- such individuals have in mind perhaps the supposed link between certain "folk" theories (e.g., theories that hold that the Earth is stationary while the Sun moves) and everyday language. In that case, it seems incongruous to use the word "sunrise" when the Sun does not actually rise. This is supposed to show that ordinary language still retains concepts derived from defunct metaphysical, religious and/or quasi-scientific theories, which in turn is taken to mean that the vernacular is defective.

 

[It is worth pointing out that I restrict the phrase "commonsense" to the theoretical and/or philosophical use of this term, and "common sense" to its ordinary employment.]

 

However, even if this had anything to do with common sense, it would still fail to imply that the vernacular depended upon or encapsulated 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 modern theories of the Universe. We are not to suppose that when scientists, for instance, use the word "sunrise" they do so ironically 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 this is what scientists or philosophers in fact do.

 

[On this topic, see Button, et al (1995), Cowley (1991), Cook (1979, 1980), Ebersole (1967, 1979a, 1979b), Hacker (1982a, 1982b, 1987), Hanfling (1984, 1989, 2000), Ryle (1960), Macdonald (1938), Stebbing (1958) and Stroud (2000). This issue will be discussed in more detail in Essay Twelve Part Two. Since writing this, I have come across a somewhat similar approach adopted in Frank (1950), Chapter Seven, parts of which can be found here -- but not, unfortunately, the relevant chapter!]

 

However, a much more revealing fact about ordinary language -– and one easily missed -- is that we can readily form the negations of sentences that contain such allegedly obsolete notions (like the daily ascent of the Sun). Consider, for example, the following:

 

S1: The Sun rises in the morning.

 

S2: It isn't the case that the Sun rises in the morning.

 

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 controversial -- but, only to those who wish to depreciate or denigrate ordinary language!

 

[Ordinary language will be defended in depth in Essay Twelve Part Seven. Some of this material has already been published here.]

 

Of course, scientific theories extend, develop and replace the meanings of ordinary words by the use of analogy and metaphor (etc.), and they employ technical terms not found in the vernacular. But, unless these revisions and innovations were linked to ordinary language and practice, at some point, their meanings would remain completely indeterminate -- and the theories to which they belonged would be incomprehensible. [Again, this line of defence will be pursued in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two, to be published sometime in 2013.]

 

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.

 

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 (taken from the medieval Latin, influentia) was based on an ancient mystical theory about there being just such stellar influences. Still less would anyone be eager to accept the idea that when someone is described as "hysterical" it means that that person has a wandering womb (even though that particular idea was based on an obsolete scientific theory that wombs could wander -- from the Greek, hysteria or 'womb'). Nor do psychologists these days think that "lunatics" are sensitive to phases of the Moon, or even that phlegmatic individuals have a superabundance of phlegm, and so on.  In fact, if the term "Big Bang" were to be understood as unsympathetically as critics of common sense interpret "sunrise", we should be committed to the view that the origin of the Universe was rather loud and was witnessed by some form of sentient life (and that sound can travel through a vacuum!).

 

[On "influenza", type that word into the search box here. On hysteria, see here and here.]

 

On lunacy, we read this from the BBC:

 

"In folklore, a full moon is associated with insanity -- hence the word lunacy -- werewolves and all manner of unpleasant happenings. However, when psychologists and statisticians have looked into the matter, a lunar influence on the human brain and behaviour remains elusive. Overwhelmingly they have failed to discover a correlation between the timing of a full moon and events such as assaults, arrests, suicides, calls to crisis centres, psychiatric admissions, poisonings and vehicle accidents.

 

"Eric Chudler, who has compiled a long list of the research says: 'Most of the data -- and there have been many studies -- find that there is not an association between the phase of the moon and any of those abnormal behaviours.' Many believers of the full moon myth work in law enforcement and health professions. Police officers and hospital staff frequently witness horrific and upsetting events. Mr Chudler suggests that when these traumatic things happen, workers are much more likely to notice a full moon shining in the sky than they are to register more modest half or quarter moons. Consequently, they only make a connection with accidents or crimes when the moon is at its most obvious and symbolically significant." [Quoted from here. Paragraphs compacted to save space; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

But, this doesn't stop us using the words "lunacy" and "lunatic" (colloquialised to the politically incorrect "loony"), and we do this without anyone (or most people) being aware of the alleged connection between the phases of the Moon and madness, etc.

 

In addition, it is worth noting that there are many scientific terms in use today that are themselves derived from an unrelated use of language. For example: "Oxygen" (derived from the original Greek meaning "acid"); "Quark" (coined by Murray Gell-Mann from Finnegans Wake -- and are Quarks really "coloured"?); "Law" ("layer, measure, stroke", derived from Jurisprudence); "Atom" (meaning "indivisible"); "Acid" (meaning "of the taste of vinegar", "sour" or "sharp to the taste"); "Alkali" (Arabic, "the ashes of a plant"); "Algebra" (Arabic, "reunion of the broken parts", or "the reduction"); "Alcohol" (Arabic, al-kuhul, "powdered antimony", or eye-makeup), "Flow" (from Old High German flouwen, "to rinse"); "Force" (Latin, "strength, courage, fortitude; violence, power, compulsion"); "Root", used in Mathematics (part of a plant); "Matrix" also used in mathematics (from the Latin for "mother" or "womb"); "Vector" (again from the Latin, vehere, "to carry"); "Missing Link" (from the Great Chain of Being), "Planet" (late Latin, planeta, or "wanderer"), "vaccine" (from vacca, cow), and so on.

 

[Concerning the Great Chain of Being, see Lovejoy (1964). On this topic in general, see Crosland (2006).]

 

Moreover, the idea that words encapsulate ancient or defunct theories appears to commit those who accept it to the view that 'meanings' follow words about as if attached to them by some sort of 'semantic adhesive', so that once a word has gained a meaning it will always mean, or connote the same no matter what. But, that would imply that words were quasi-intelligent beings with 'memories' whose denotations and connotations are hard-wired into their 'memories', and which can't be altered by subsequent users.

 

Howsoever these metaphors are interpreted they clearly imply that users must have their meanings dictated to them by the words they use, or even that they somehow 'catch' the meaning of these words when young, rather like the way that they might pick up a virus from their parents or siblings.

 

[The recent infatuation with Richard Dawkins's 'memes' also trades on this fetishised myth. On the weakness of that particular 'theory, see McGrath (2005). See also Essay Thirteen Part Three, here. (Any who object to my referencing a book that defends belief in 'God' should also point a few fingers at DM-fans who look to Hegel, and who had the same aim in mind.)

 

Of course, I'm only recommending McGrath's arguments against 'memes', which seem to me pretty conclusive, not his Theology!]

 

In this case, something analogous to a foreign body will have taken speakers over, running their brains, governing their speech. Learning a language would be more like contracting a disease or being possessed, rather than a socially-acquired skill. Meaning in language wouldn't be a function of the communal life, social interaction or material existence of human beings; it would be a function of the social life of words and of disembodied 'meanings'. Hence, the claim that words still carry their ancient/obsolete meanings about with them would amount to their fetishisation -- in effect animating material signs, de-animating their users. In addition to the alienation inflicted on humanity by class society would come the alienation of their language. Language and meaning would be a creation of extra-human forces, mirroring the tale we are told in religious myths that language (and meaning) were bestowed on humanity by the 'gods'. [On this novel form of linguistic fetishisation, see here.]

 

Admittedly, TAR's general point appears to be that while science presents us with an 'objective' view of the world, ordinary 'commonsense' operates at the level of 'subjective appearance'.

 

"But Hegel is also difficult for reasons that are not the result of character and circumstance. His theories use terms and concepts that are unfamiliar because they go beyond the understanding of which everyday thought is capable. Ordinary language assumes that things and ideas are stable, that they are either 'this' or 'that.' And, within strict limits, these are perfectly reasonable assumptions. Yet the fundamental discovery of Hegel's dialectic was that things and ideas do change…. And they change because they embody conflicts which make them unstable…. It is to this end that Hegel deliberately chooses words that can embody dynamic processes…. It is the search to resolve…contradictions that pushes thought past commonsense definitions which see only separate stable entities." [Rees (1998), pp.45, 50.]

 

"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." [Ibid., p.187.]

 

Here, Rees appears to be arguing that while 'commonsense' might be alright in its own sphere, it is inadequate in more technical areas and in those that involve change. [These allegations will be examined in detail in Essay Twelve Part Seven; some of that material has already been posted here.]

 

Scientists Can't Afford To Undermine Common Sense

 

[This is a continuation of Note 33.]

 

Furthermore, and following on from what Rees says, because appearances can be -- and often are -- deceptive, scientific knowledge must be based on theories that go beyond or behind the phenomenal world to reveal its underlying "essence". These 'deeper realities' must be capable of explaining why appearances are what they are and seem how they seem.

 

Despite this, it is plain that scientists have to rely on their activity in this world -- the world of 'appearances' -- to test, refine and advance their hypotheses. No matter how sophisticated, technical or "elegant" a theory is, at some point (and after their education has been completed) researchers have to interface with the ordinary world in order to verify/falsify them. So, in order to test their ideas scientists have to check dials, read meters, mix substances, carry out measurements, handle and calibrate instruments, conduct surveys, look down microscopes, collect samples, consult computer screens, research the relevant literature, speak to colleagues, write reports, formulate equations, attend conferences, publish papers and books, etc., etc. All or most of these must be carried out if a theory is to become anything more than speculative, tentative or hypothetical, let alone an established fact. Clearly, all of these activities and performances take place in the ordinary phenomenal world.

 

Socially-conditioned practice in this world of phenomena enables the intelligent prosecution of scientific research. In addition to this, the vernacular not only enables the education and socialisation of scientists, it underpins the skills necessary for the comprehension and performance of standard laboratory routines, field operations and research techniques (etc.). Moreover, not only do mundane aspects of our material and social existence like these facilitate successful inter-communication between scientists, they provide a steady source of the metaphors, other figures of speech and models that breathe life into the vast majority of scientific theories.

 

[On this see, Arib and Hesse (1986), Baake (2003), Brown (2003), Cantor (1987), Fahnestock (2002), Gould (1988), Griffiths (2001), Gross (1996), Guttenplan (2005), Hesse (1966), Keller (1995, 2002), Kuhn (1993), Leatherdale (1974), Lynch (1996), MacCormac (1976), Polanyi (1962), Ravetz (1996), Way (1994), White (1996b), and Young (1985).]

 

All of the above routines are regulated by the same conventions that govern everyday behaviour, speech, and reasoning -– which, in turn, are mediated by familiar and mundane physical skills and practices, all of which are materially-, socially-, and historically-conditioned and constrained.

 

In which case, scientists can't risk undermining the deliverances of the phenomenal or the social world, just as they can't afford to depreciate ordinary language and everyday practice for fear that by weakening the branches upon which they collectively situate their own ideas and practices they risk a catastrophic fall.

 

Nevertheless, it could be argued at this point that Rees's account does not imply that appearances can't be trusted; indeed, as noted above, he actually argued that his own analysis:

 

"…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. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

But, as was pointed out in more detail in the main body of this Essay, the highlighted clause implies that the surface phenomena in Capitalist society are different from their underlying form -– which, of course, means appearances can't be relied upon. That accounts for the author's use of the word "real".

 

Consequently, to return to earlier examples, the idea that appearances are not "real" could encourage the belief that just as, say, the Sun appears to rise in the morning (but it doesn't really do so), and just as sticks, for instance, look as if they bend in water (but they are not really deformed in this way), and just as objects, for example, seem to shrink in size when they recede from us (when they don't really grow smaller), and just as tables and floors, say, give the impression that they are solid (when they are really 'composed' mostly of empty space), so the surface appearance of Capitalism only seems to be fair when 'underneath' it really isn't fair at all. If so, it is clear that for anyone who thinks this way, appearances can't deliver a true picture of reality.

 

That is why no one believes that deep down objects change their shape as we walk round them, that the Sun is really the same size as the Moon, or that ships slowly sink below the waves when they sail over the horizon. And, presumably, it is also why only deeply confused Marxists believe Capitalism really is fair.

 

[Note that I am not committed to the idea that appearances are deceptive, since only human beings (or what they produce -- in writing, speech or art, for example) can be deceptive. Quite the opposite, in fact. I'm merely drawing out the consequences of this batch of confused metaphors and metaphysical doctrines that DM-fans have unwisely imported in Marxism. However, further consideration of this would take us too far into HM, an area largely avoided in this work -- for reasons outlined in Essay One.]

 

Moreover, the objection that Rees does not really believe that appearances are deceptive implies that his own distinction between surface phenomena and underlying 'real essences' is pointless; his arguments would make no sense unless he believed that appearances were deceptive in themselves. Otherwise, why try to isolate or identify underlying "essences" if surface phenomena never misled anybody? Why delve deeper if Capitalism looks fair and therefore can be regarded as essentially fair (given this way of talking)? And, why try to explain to workers that their wages represent only a fraction of the value they produce if what they are actually paid does indeed represent a fair slice of the cake?

 

Doubtless, several of the above assertions might still attract severe criticism. However, critics can console themselves with the thought that the resolution of these issues may only take place in the phenomenal world -– that is, in the world of appearances and ordinary language, written documents and computer screens. Hence, if the superiority of science and/or dialectics may only be established by a defence situated precisely here, in the world of 'unreliable' appearances and 'untrustworthy' ordinary language -- using the printed page, books, articles, spoken/written words, argumentation, observation, experiment, and the like --, then any criticisms of the points made above must self-destruct. If those espousing such criticisms are only able to convince others of their correctness by arguing that no one can really trust what they read, see or hear -- except they can trust the material form of the argument that had just been used to express those very doubts --, then self-destruct they must.

 

If phenomena are untrustworthy, then any phenomenal statement of that 'fact' must be unreliable, too.

 

And, it is little use referring to the 'dialectical' interplay between "appearance" and underlying "essence" (as we saw Novack attempt to do earlier), since the first half of that "interplay" is defective; and that is because it is predicated on a series of logical blunders -- while the second half self-destructs.

 

Returning to the main theme of this section: if scientists themselves understand the meaning of the word "rise" (in S1, for example), then they can't simply re-define it to suite themselves -- perhaps under the mistaken impression that such a revision will uncover its 'real' meaning. To see this, consider this pair of sentences:

 

S1: The Sun rises in the morning.

 

S2: It isn't the case that the Sun rises in the morning.

 

If the word "rises" in S1 or S2 does not mean what we ordinarily take it to mean, then any scientist (or philosopher) using sentences like these would not in fact be clarifying or correcting ordinary language; he or she would be attempting to change (or replace) it.

 

Worse still, if the word "rises" in S1 or S2 does not mean what we ordinarily take it to mean, then those two sentences are incomprehensible since they contain at least one word ("rise") that no one seems to understand.

 

On the other hand, if the word "rises" in S2 is to be understood in a new and as-yet-unspecified or technical sense, then S2 would no longer be the contradictory of S1, and so it could not be used to clarify or correct it. Either way, it isn't possible to correct ordinary language in this way. [Why this tactic will always fail, no matter how it is re-packaged, is explained in extensive detail, here.]

 

Rees also claimed that underlying reality contradicts appearances:

 

"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.]

 

Perhaps giving echo to this famous statement of Marx's:

 

"Vulgar economy actually does no more than interpret, systematise and defend in doctrinaire fashion the conceptions of the agents of bourgeois production who are entrapped in bourgeois production relations. It should not astonish us, then, that vulgar economy feels particularly at home in the estranged outward appearances of economic relations in which these prima facie absurd and perfect contradictions appear and that these relations seem the more self-evident the more their internal relationships are concealed from it, although they are understandable to the popular mind. But all science would be superfluous if the outward appearance and the essence of things directly coincided." [Marx (1981), p.956. Bold emphasis added.]

 

[However, on this passage, see here.]

 

Although Rees does not himself use S1 or S2, they might nevertheless serve to illustrate the alleged conflict he seems to have in mind. If so, it could be argued that they reveal that the apparent motion of the Sun is in fact contradicted by later developments in science, which demonstrates the limitations of 'commonsense'.

 

The problem with this reading of S1 and S2 is that (as noted several times in the main body of this Essay) it doesn't actually depict a contradictory state of affairs. That is because this take on the situation interprets S1 as a report that the Sun appears to rise. But, if appearances were deceptive and it appeared to be the case that the Sun moved (even if it did not) then both of the following could be true:

 

S3: The Sun appears to rise in the morning.

 

S4: The Sun does not rise in the morning.

 

But, we have been here already.

 

Perhaps the worry exercising DM-theorists might be brought out by means of the following 'argument':

 

S5: The Sun appears to move.

 

S6: Therefore the Sun does move.

 

S7: But, modern science shows that the Sun does not move.

 

S8: Therefore, the Sun does not move.

 

S9: Hence, the Sun both moves and does not move.

 

S10: S9 is a contradiction, and so is false.

 

S11: If S8 is still held true, then based on the falsehood of S9, S6 is also false.

 

It looks like S9 is the contradiction DM-theorists require. The idea appears to be that while phenomena might lead us to accept one set of beliefs, science forces us to adopt an 'opposite' or 'contradictory' set. Once again, the conclusion seems to be that scientific knowledge contradicts 'commonsense' and ordinary language.

 

Of course, DM-theorists -- if they accept this line of reasoning -- must abandon one or both of the following theses:

 

(1) Contradictions are true. [The opposite of this was used in S10 to derive the falsehood of S6.]

 

(2) All of reality is contradictory.

 

The continued acceptance of (1) would mean that although scientific knowledge contradicts 'commonsense', incorrect and correct systems of belief are equally true. Clearly, this would completely undermine scientific knowledge. If mythical tales and allegedly erroneous 'folk' theories were true (even though they 'contradicted' fact and/or theory), then there would seem to be no point bothering with scientific research. On that basis, we would have to accept as true the idea that the Earth sits stationary at the centre of the Universe and the idea that it is in motion on the periphery of the Galaxy. Naturally, it would then be impossible to believe that science provides an 'objective' account of reality if the opposite of what scientists believe to be the case were also the case.

 

Some might want to respond here that earlier it was pointed out that the Ptolemaic view of the universe is just as valid as the Copernican. But, the above comment seems to suggest the opposite. Which is it to be?

 

In reply, it is worth pointing out that wherever the truth lies, no one would hold both of these beliefs true at the same time. If a scientist wants to use one approach, he or she will not use the other at the same time, otherwise irredeemable confusion would result. Anyway, the above example is somewhat unique; we certainly would not be as accommodating with other scientific theories. For example, no one -- it is to be hoped(!) -- accepts the literal truth of the Biblical account of creation and Darwin's theory of descent through natural selection, or the Humoral Theory and the Germ Theory of disease, and so on.

 

Despite these problems, S5-S11 present serious difficulties of their own:

 

[A] Plainly, S5 does not imply S6, which means that S9 can't be derived from S5-S8.

 

[B] S9 isn't a contradiction; it is far too ambiguous to be one. [We encountered a similar ambiguity here.]

 

[C] If all phenomenal reports are to be subjected to this sort of test, then it might not be possible to show that S7, for instance, is true. That is because the validation of S7 would require extensive reliance on other phenomenal reports, all of which would be susceptible to the same sort of destructive, sceptical analysis. [This is quite apart from the fact that S7, for example, is a phenomenal object itself, and is therefore 'untrustworthy', given this theory.]

 

In which case, S9 to S11 can't be derived from these premisses; this putative reductio is defective from start to finish.

 

34. Anyway, and once more, these two sentences are too ambiguous to be considered contradictory. ['Appears' to whom, and in what way? And what is the criterion of 'fairness' at work here?]

 

35. For the sake of argument (as was also the case in Note 33, above), I am assuming that this reductio is valid (whereas it isn't) and that R26 is a contradiction. Despite this, even if this argument were valid, it would still be of no assistance to DM-fans: If contradictory pairs of propositions can both be true at once, R27 would be false, and R28 would no longer follow from R21-R27. Given DM, therefore, the argument would be valid just in case it wasn't!

 

[I have also ignored what seems to be the correct implication of some of the sentences in this argument, which is that people (workers) hold contradictory beliefs about the fairness of Capitalism.]

 

[For ease of reference, R21-R28 were:

 

R21: Capitalism appears to be fair.

 

R22: This appearance leads people (including workers) to think that it is fair.

 

R23: Hence, Capitalism is fair.

 

R24: But revolutionary theory and practice convinces some that Capitalism is not fair.

 

R25: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.

 

R26: Consequently, Capitalism is fair and not fair.

 

R27: But, the contradiction in R26 implies that R23 can't be true (based on the truth of R25).

 

R28: Therefore, Capitalism is not fair.]

 

36. Naturally, the way this is expressed in the main body of this Essay prejudices any conclusions that might be drawn from it. Anyway, it isn't faithful to the aim of the argument constructed (i.e., that expressed in R21-R28). But, DM-texts themselves are the main source of the problem. As noted above, since it isn't possible to form a contradiction by conjoining a proposition expressing an appearance with one recording matters of fact, any attempt to do so (as in the argument in the main body of this Essay, reproduced above in Note 35) not unsurprisingly flounders. Moreover, and for the same reason, the comments in the main body about the options available to DM-theorists are also unsatisfactory.

 

So, until DM-theorists clarify what they mean by much of what they say, little more can be done to make sense of anything they do say.

 

37. The generation of contradictory beliefs (in the minds of the unwary) will not be entered into here, since that would take us too far adrift into HM. However, several examples are considered in detail here.

 

38. It might be objected that this latest assertion argues that appearances are 'subjective', when it was argued above that they were 'objective'. Which is it to be?

 

Of course, the philosophical terms "objective" or "subjective" are not ones I would prefer to use. This Part of the Essay is simply responding to the vague use of these words adopted by dialecticians. They seem to believe that appearances are subjective, and it is this assumption which is being used against them. But, that tactic does not imply that I accept that the terms "subjective" and "objective" have any clear meaning (when used 'philosophically', or, indeed, 'dialectically').

 

On the other hand -- to continue in this hopeless idiom --, appearances are also seemingly 'objective' in that they are presumably part of the real world (i.e., they do not belong to any other!); even if they were totally mistaken and entirely made up, they would still exist as a brain state/process (on this view, not mine!), or they would 'emerge' from one, independently of every other mind in the universe.

 

[Recall, I'm not advocating or asserting the truth of the above; their incongruity with other DM-notions is merely being underlined.]

 

39. The circumstances which prompt members of different classes to draw true or false conclusions about the nature of Capitalist society will not be entered into in this work.

 

39a. But, even for Descartes, his self-certifying ideas were only so as they seemed to him to be. After all, he admitted he needed 'God' to ratify them for them to be indubitable. And yet, they are appearances even to 'God'! And, plainly, 'He' couldn't appeal in turn to a superior 'Deity' to ratify them.

 

40. As we have seen so far, and as we will see even more as the Essays at this site unfold, dialectical thoughts are far from self-certifying. Indeed, many self-destruct with alarming ease, while the rest are based on a series of logical gaffs (which that Hermetic Humorist, Hegel, inflicted on his hapless readers), superficially executed examples of 'conceptual' analysis, and/or badly constructed 'thought experiments'.

 

To be sure, it is controversial to claim that thoughts should be classified with appearances, but since these terms-of-art (as they feature in Metaphysics) are devoid of clear meaning, the denial of that claim would be equally absurd -– either that, or it would be impossible to assess, and for the same reason.

 

This quibble aside, presumably the following would be counted as examples of thoughts, at some level:

 

T1: "That stick is bent in the water", said the philosopher.

 

T2: NN thought that the stick was bent until she realised it was partly immersed in water.

 

T3: NM thought that he had won the vote until the recount was announced.

 

On the basis of these (and countless other examples one could think of, it seems), it would be difficult to maintain that thoughts are neither appearances nor part of the 'world of appearances'. In fact, the above are not only about appearances, they are appearances themselves.

 

It might be objected that appearances arise from, or are related to sense perception; that is what distinguishes them from thoughts. But, T3, for example, is not about 'sensations', it is about how things appeared to NM at a certain moment during a re-count, and afterwards. It records the reported appearance that prompted NM's thoughts -- and he was wrong. What appeared to be the case turned out not to be so.

 

Of course, what has exercised Philosophers (and amateur metaphysicians) over the centuries is the picture that holds them in a vice-like grip that 'thoughts' are inner, shadowy 'mental' events, states or episodes (which represent things to us, or which 'process' things for us, in our heads), and which are accessible only to their owners in this private ante-chamber. Because of that, it then seemed obvious to many that since appearances derive from sensation, they couldn't be 'thoughts' (nor the other way round). But, given this metaphysical way of talking, appearances are equally shadowy and inner beings, so this can't be what distinguishes them from thoughts.

 

Naturally, the dualism underlying this entire picture is something materialists would want to reject, anyway. Unfortunately there is no way for DM-fans to do this.

 

[Why this is so is discussed in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three, where the idea that 'mental events' are 'inner objects/processes' will also subjected to sustained and destructive criticism.]

 

Once more, until a clear account of the nature of 'thoughts' and 'appearances' (as these are understood by DM-theorists) is produced, it is difficult to say whether the two are the same or different, or only appear to be such.

 

[On the inappropriateness of depicting sensations (and appearances) in the traditional way, see Hacker (1987).]

 

40a. As Wittgenstein noted, all we have here are yet more signs, and signs cannot interpret themselves. Peter Hacker is worth quoting on this:

 

"It is indeed true that a sign can be lifeless for one, as when one hears an alien tongue or sees an unknown script. But it is an illusion to suppose that what animates a sign is some immaterial thing, abstract object, mental image or hypothesised psychic entity that can be attached to it by a process of thinking. [Wittgenstein (1969), p.4: 'But if we had to name anything which is the life of the sign, we should have to say that it was its use.'] One can try to rid oneself of these nonsensical conceptions by simple manoeuvres. In the case of the idealist conception, imagine that we replace the mental accompaniment of a word, which allegedly gives the expression its 'life', by a physical correlate. For example, instead of accompanying the word 'red' with a mental image of red, one might carry around in one's pocket a small red card. So, on the idealist's model, whenever one uses or hears the word 'red', one can look at the card instead of conjuring up a visual image in thought. But will looking at a red slip of paper endow the word 'red' with life? The word plus sample is no more 'alive' than the word without the sample. For an object (a sample of red) does not have the use of the word laid up in it, and neither does the mental image. Neither the word and the sample nor the word and the mental pseudo-sample dictate the use of a word or guarantee understanding.

 

"...It seemed to Frege, Wittgenstein claimed, that no adding of inorganic signs, as it were, can make the proposition live, from which he concluded that [for Frege -- RL] 'What must be added is something immaterial, with properties different from all mere signs'. [Wittgenstein (1969), p.4.] He [Frege -- RL] did not see that such an object, a sense mysteriously grasped in thinking, as it were a picture in which all the rules are laid up, 'would itself be another sign, or a calculus to explain the written one to us'. [Wittgenstein (1974), p.40.] .... To understand a sign, i.e., for it to 'live' for one, is not to grasp something other than the sign; nor is it to accompany the sign with an inner parade of objects in thought. It is to grasp the use of the sign itself." [Hacker (1993), pp.167-68. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

There is a good account of this in Bloor (1997). A more profound analysis can be found in Kripke (1982), with another intelligent approach in Williams (1999a). [This topic is covered in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Bloor's book is one of the better contributions to the debate over the nature of rule-following to have appeared in the last ten years or so, however there are several serious weaknesses to his overall argument; they will be discussed in a later Essay. On this in general, however, see Kusch (2006).

 

41. Although TAR does claim the following:

 

"[C]oncepts which arise from direct interaction with the world cannot be false." [Rees (1998), p.92.]

 

Nevertheless, from the surrounding context it is unclear whether or not Rees actually agrees with these sentiments. If not, he was certainly wise not to. Clearly, concepts themselves can't be either true or false; it makes no sense at all to ask whether: "….cat" (or even "cat") is true or false. Hegel thought otherwise, but that belief was itself based on the ancient confusion between concepts and objects analysed in Part One of this Essay (and in Essay Four, here and here).

 

However, I will discuss this topic again in Part Three of this Essay, and in more detail in Essay Twelve Parts Five and Six.

 

42. In fact, this work is aimed at demonstrating that although DM appears to its supporters to be a good theory, in reality it is the exact opposite. A nice dialectical turn of events, and no mistake...

 

There would, of course, be no point arguing for or against the truth of DM, or seeking to confirm it in practice, if thoughts were self-certifying.

 

43. This word (i.e., "semblances") is not being used here in its Hegelian sense.

 

44. This topic will not be entered into here for reasons outlined in Essay One.

 

 

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