Essay Twelve Part One: Why All Philosophical Theories -- Including Dialectical Materialism -- Are Incoherent Non-Sense

 

January 2024: This Essay Is Currently Being Completely Re-Written And Re-Structured So Some Links Might Not Work Properly And Some Numbering Might Be Out Of Sequence.

 

The Entire Process Should Be Finished By The End Of June 2024.

 

Technical Preliminaries

 

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Preface

 

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 thirty-five years ago.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

However, that 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).

 

[**Exactly how these comments apply to DM will be explained in the other Essays published at this site (especially here, here, and later in this Essay). In addition to the three links in the previous paragraph, I have summarised the argument (written for absolute beginners!) here.]

 

Second, this has been one of the most difficult Essays to write for at least three reasons:

 

(i) It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in human history. I hasten to add, though, that I claim no particular originality for what follows (except, perhaps its highly simplified mode of presentation and its political re-orientation); much of it has in fact been based on Frege and Wittgenstein's work, and, less importantly, on that of other Fregeans and Wittgensteinians.

 

(ii) It is far from easy to expose the core weaknesses of Traditional Philosophy in everyday language, even though after well over fifty re-writes I think I have largely succeeded. [I have explained why that is important here.]

 

(iii) Unfortunately, those to whom this material is primarily directed (i.e., Dialectical Marxists) are almost all totally ignorant of Analytic Philosophy (particularly the work of the above two philosophers -- in fact, many won't even have heard of Frege, fewer still will have read anything he wrote!). For that reason, I have tried as far as possible to keep the material presented below as basic as possible, free of academic complexity. Hence, this Essay isn't aimed at professional philosophers. In that case, those who would like to read more substantial versions of the approach to language and metaphysics I have adopted at this site should consult the relevant works referenced in the End Notes (and in several other Essays on language published at this site -- for example, Essay Three Parts One and Two, Essay Four and Essay Thirteen Part Three).

 

Apologies are therefore owed in advance to readers who know enough of Frege and Wittgenstein's work to make the ideas rehearsed in this Essay seem rather trite and banal, but, as noted above, my target audience isn't well-versed in this area of Analytic Philosophy, nor do they find it at all easy to appreciate the importance of this novel approach to theory, let alone grasp its significance.

 

[In fact, many regard Wittgenstein in a negative light, as both a mystic and a conservative; I have addressed those specific issues here, here and here.]

 

Hence, I have written this Essay with them in mind, which means I have had to make things as straight-forward and basic as possible.

 

Incidentally, some might be tempted to conclude that the ideas presented below are indistinguishable from the discredited theories put forward by the Logical Empiricists/Positivists. I respond to that erroneous inference here.

 

Also worth adding: the ideas presented below in no way affect the negative case against DM developed across this site, but the following material does help form the basis of a positive account of the origin of the dogmatic ideas that litter Traditional Thought and DM.

 

Finally, this Essay is much more repetitive than many of the others published at this site. Experience has also taught me that if the difficult ideas it contains aren't repeated many times over (often from different angles), they either tend not to sink in or their significance is easily lost. Unfortunately, that is especially so with respect to the Marxist readers mentioned above.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Fourth: a good 50% of my case against DM and Traditional Philosophy has been relegated to the End Notes. This has been done to allow the Essay itself to flow a little more smoothly. Naturally, this means that if readers want to appreciate more fully my case against DM (and Metaphysics), they should also consult this material. In many cases, I have added numerous qualifications, clarifications, and considerably more detail to what I have had to say in the main body. In addition, I have raised several objections (some obvious, many not -- and some that might have occurred to the reader) to my own arguments and assertions, to which I have then responded. [I explain why I have adopted this tactic in Essay One.]

 

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

 

Fifth, on a more technical note: Although I refer to the sense of a proposition (i.e., those conditions under which it would be deemed true or those under which it would be deemed false) in this Essay, that is merely shorthand for the requirement of true/false bi-polarity for empirical propositions (i.e., propositions concerning matters of fact). This contraction has been adopted to save on needless complexity in what isn't meant to be an academic exercise. Bipolarity (not to be confused with the so-called 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM]) is taken to be necessary for any (indicative) sentence to be counted as an empirical (i.e., factual) proposition.

 

[However, concerning my (presumed) appeal to, or my supposed use of, the LEM, see here and here.]

 

The subtle differences between these two ways of characterising the sense of a proposition -- indeed, what the sense of a proposition and what the LEM actually are -- are explained here, here, here and here. [See also Palmer (1996).] Once again, because this isn't meant to be an academic exercise, I have on occasion deliberately blurred the distinction between bi-polarity and the LEM. In addition, the reader's attention is also drawn to the difference between "non-sense" and "nonsense", as those two terms are used throughout this Essay. [Incidentally, my use of "sense" is explained here.] 01

 

Sixth: I have also blurred the distinction one would normally want to draw between propositions, sentences and statements since I don't want to become bogged down with technical issues in the Philosophy of Logic and the Philosophy of Language. Even so, it will soon become apparent that I prefer to use "proposition".

 

[On this, see Geach (1972b, 1972c). Also see Glock (2003), pp.102-36, and Hacker (1996), p.288, n.65. (Nevertheless, it shouldn't be assumed that Geach would agree with everything the other two authors have to say, nor vice versa -- or, indeed, with anything posted at this site!)]

 

Seventh: throughout this Essay, I have used rather stilted expressions such as: "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false", as opposed to "It is possible to understand an empirical proposition without knowing whether it is true or false". I explain why I have adopted that odd way of expressing myself, here.

 

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

 

As of July 2023, this Essay is just over 167,000 words long; a much shorter summary of some of its main ideas can be found here. I have now written an even more concise summary of one of the core ideas presented in this Essay, entitled Why All Philosophical Theories Are Non-sensical.

 

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

 

[Latest Update: 15/07/23.]

 

Quick Links

 

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

 

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(1)  Introduction: The Aims Of Essay Twelve

 

(2)  Lenin And Metaphysics

 

(a) Matter And Motion

 

(b) Indicative Sentences Aren't What They Appear To Be

 

(c) Certainty Based On Language Alone

 

(d) The 'Logical Form Of Reality' Ascertained From Pure Thought

 

(e) Traditional Philosophy -- Based On "Distorted" Language

 

(3) Lenin Appears To Contradict Himself

 

(a) Is Anything That Is Thinkable Actually Unthinkable?

 

(4) Interlude One -- Several Objections And Side-Issues

 

(a) This Was Just Hyperbole On Lenin's Part

 

(b) Dialectics Is Meant To Be Contradictory

 

(c) This Is A Specious, Anti-Lenin Argument

 

(d) Psychologically Impossible?

 

(e) Lenin's 'Psycho-Logic'

 

(f)  Contradictory -- Or Just 'Unthinkable'?

 

(g) Thinking The Unthinkable

 

(h) Use Confused With Mention

 

(i)  Motion Without Matter

 

(5)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part One

 

(a) The Conventional Nature Of Discourse -- 1

 

(b) Interlude Two - Representational Theories Of Language

 

(c) The Conventional Nature Of Discourse -- 2

 

(d) Interlude Three -- Representationalists And Dialecticians In A Bind

 

(e) The Conventional Nature Of Discourse -- 3

 

(i)   Camera Obscura

 

(ii)  'Dialectical' Atomism

 

(iii) The Usual Response From Dialecticians

 

(iv)  Meaning Precedes Truth

 

(v)   Avoiding An Infinite Regress

 

(f)  Interlude Four -- Scientific Knowledge

 

(g) The Inevitable Collapse Into Non-Sense

 

(i)    Private Ownership In the Means Of 'Mental' Production

 

(α) The Story So Far

 

(ii)   Semantic Overlap

 

(iii)  Semantic Suicide

 

(iv)  Content

 

(v)   Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma On Steroids

 

(vi)  The 'Evidential Pantomime' -- Mickey Mouse 'Dialectical Science' Strikes Back

 

(vii) Short-Circuiting The 'Power Of Negativity'

 

(g) Metaphysical Camouflage

 

(i)   While Mathematics Adds Up

 

(ii)  Dialectics Doesn't

 

(h) Metaphysical Gems

 

(i)   Incoherent Non-Sense

 

(ii)  Atomised Humanity Versus Socialised Language

 

(6)  Lenin's Rules -- Not OK

 

(7)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part Two

 

(a) Distortion By The Barrel, Confusion By The Ton

 

(b) On The Impossibility Of Any Future Metaphysics

 

(8)  Marx Anticipates Wittgenstein

 

(a) Quotations

 

(b) Marx Anathematises Philosophy

 

(9)  What Lies Beneath

 

(10) Appendix A -- Marx And Philosophy

 

(11) Notes

 

(12) References

 

Summary Of My Main Objections To Dialectical Materialism

 

Abbreviations Used At This Site

 

Return To The Main Index Page

 

Contact Me

 

Introduction -- The Aims Of Essay Twelve Parts One To Seven

 

Among the aims of Essay Twelve Parts One to Seven are the following -- to:

 

(1) Substantiate the claim that DM is a metaphysical theory (Part One);

 

(2) Demonstrate how and why all philosophical theories (and not just DM) collapse into incoherent non-sense (Part One);

 

(3) Show that Metaphysics and hence (derivatively) DM are ruling-class forms-of-thought (Parts Two and Three);

 

(4)   (i) Trace Metaphysics and DM (again) back to their origin in early forms of class society;

 

(ii) Connect them with the various 'world-views' directly or indirectly promoted or patronised by successive generations of ruling elites;

 

(iii) Demonstrate that, despite their many differences, there is an identifiable theoretical thread running through all of the above thought-forms; and,

 

(iv) Connect them all with ideology that finds expression in Traditional Thought and which serves the interests of ruling classes throughout history (Parts Two, Three, and Four);

 

(5) Substantiate the accusation that DM is a fourth-rate form of LIE (Part Four);

 

(6) Expose the Mystical Christian and Hermetic origin of Hegel's thought and then expose it for what it is: sub-logical and incoherent non-sense (upside down or 'the right way up') (Parts Five and Six); and finally,

 

(7) Show that the defence of ordinary language and common understanding is a class issue (Part Seven).

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism (follow that link for an explanation); DM = Dialectical Materialism/Materialist depending on the context; MEC = Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, i.e., Lenin (1972); TAR = The Algebra of Revolution, i.e., Rees (1998).]

 

This will make Essay Twelve easily the longest work at this site, hence its division into Seven Parts.

 

However, my ideas on many of these issues are still in the formative stage, so much of this material will be published far more slowly than has been the case with other Essays posted at this site, and, as such, they will all be revised continually.

 

As indicated above, each of these topics will be tackled in various Parts of this Essay, but to address the first two we need to examine a rather odd claim concerning matter and motion made by Lenin (in MEC).

 

Lenin And Metaphysics

 

Matter And Motion

 

In MEC, Lenin quoted the following assertion (by Engels):

 

M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

Which we can paraphrase slightly more neatly as:

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Here, is Engels on this:

 

"The whole of nature accessible to us forms a system, an interconnected totality of bodies, and by bodies we understand here all material existence extending from stars to atoms, indeed right to ether particles, in so far as one grants the existence of the last named. In the fact that these bodies are interconnected is already included that they react on one another, and it is precisely this mutual reaction that constitutes motion. It already becomes evident here that matter is unthinkable without motion." [Engels (1954), p.70. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here, both Lenin and Engels were asserting a typical metaphysical 'proposition'. Dialecticians will, of course, reject that particular characterisation of their words, but that repudiation would itself be as hasty as it is misguided. [Why that is so is explained below, and in Note 1, but more specifically, here.]

 

Sentences like M1/M1a purport to inform us of fundamental truths about 'reality', valid for all of space and time -- albeit in this case disguised as part of Lenin's admission of his own incredulity. [Henceforth, I will generally just refer to M1a.]

 

Nevertheless, we aren't meant to conclude from M1a that Lenin was merely recording his own personal beliefs, feelings or opinions. On the contrary, he certainly thought that matter and motion were fundamental features of "objective reality", that they were inseparable and that this was a scientific, or even a philosophical, fact. That was because, like Engels, he also held the view that motion was "the mode of the existence of matter" -– that is, he believed that matter couldn't exist without motion, nor vice versa. Motion was therefore one of the principal ways, if not the principle way, that matter expressed itself "objectively", exterior to the mind.1

 

Indeed, we find Engels saying things like the following:

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute, of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe, from mere change of place right up to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]2

 

As we will see, Lenin fully agreed with Engels on this.

 

In that case, the 'content' of M1a may perhaps be paraphrased in one or more of the following ways:

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

P3: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is necessarily false.

 

[M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.]

 

All of which are based on the presumed truth of P4:

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

[There is more about these and other alternatives later in this Essay. Why the word "content" has been put in 'scare' quotes will become apparent as this Essay unfolds.]

 

The metaphysical nature of Lenin's pronouncement can be seen by the way it bypasses the need for any supporting evidence. For Lenin (and Engels), this was such an obvious truth about the connection between matter and motion that its denial was deemed "unthinkable".

 

Nevertheless, if humanity had access to evidence and information about motion and matter many orders of magnitude greater than is available even today, that still wouldn't be enough to show that the separation of matter from motion is impossible, let alone unthinkable. No amount of data could warrant such an extreme view. While it might in the end prove to be false that the two can be separated, its "unthinkability" can't be derived from any body of evidence, no matter how large it happened to be. As, indeed, Engels admitted:

 

"The empiricism of observation alone can never adequately prove necessity." [Engels (1954), p.229. Bold emphasis added.]

 

So, evidence alone can't supply the necessity, the inconceivability or the unthinkability that these two DM-theorists claim to be able to see here.

 

If not, the question immediately arises: from where does this idea originate? As is the case with other DM-'Laws', maybe it arises from a "law of cognition"?

 

"This aspect of dialectics…usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum total of examples…and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)." [Lenin (1961) p.357. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

Be this as it may, the above claims (i.e., about the metaphysical nature of DM-theories like this and the lack of conclusive evidential support) might strike some readers as rather controversial, if not completely misguided. In that case, much of the rest of this Essay will be aimed at explaining, defending and substantiating them.

 

Indicative Sentences Aren't What They appear To Be

 

The seemingly profound nature of statements like M1a is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed; that is, they are connected with the fact that their main verb is often in the indicative mood. Sometimes subjunctive and modal qualifying terms are thrown in for good measure, which only succeeds in creating an even more misleading picture.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

As we are about to discover, this superficial indicative veneer hides a much deeper logical form that only becomes apparent when sentences like these are examined a little more closely.

 

As noted above, expressions like these look like they reveal, or express, profound truths about reality, and that is plainly because they resemble empirical propositions -- i.e., propositions about matters of fact. In the event, they turn out to be nothing at all like them.

 

This can be seen if we examine the following, similar-looking, indicative sentences:

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M3: Two is greater than one.

 

M4: Green is a colour.

 

M5: "Green" is a word.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M7: A material body is extended in space.

 

M8: Time is a relation between events.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.3

 

M2-M9 appear to share the same form: "ξ is F" -- or sometimes "ξ is a φ-er", or perhaps more accurately "ξ φ-ies".

 

Despite this, there are profound differences between them.

 

[The use of Greek letters as gap markers (i.e., "ξ") was explained in Essay Three Part One (here and here). "F(...)" is a general predicate variable (and goes proxy for clauses like "...is a colour", or "...is greater than one", etc.), while "φ(...)" is a more specific variable letter (standing for clauses like "...owns a copy of TAR", "...fibs more often than not", "...runs tens miles at least four times a week", or even "...thinks something is unthinkable", etc.). In what follows, when I refer to logical differences, I generally have in mind those aspects of indicative sentences that affect their capacity to be true or their capacity to be false --, or, indeed, those that are relevant to the inferences we can validly draw from, or with, them.]

 

The logical difference of interest here (between, for instance, M6 and M2) lies in the fact that knowing that M2 is true goes hand-in-hand with claiming to understand it, and, vice versa, claiming to understand M2 goes hand-in-hand with knowing it is true. Both conditions are inextricably linked. Hence, any claim to be able to comprehend M2 is one with knowing it is true, and anyone who failed to see things the way they are expressed in M2 would be judged not to understand the use of number words (like this).3a

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

On the other hand, it isn't necessary to know whether M6 is true, or know whether it is false, in order to (claim to) understand it. Indeed, it is a pretty safe bet that everyone reading these words will understand M6 even though they haven't a clue whether or not it is true. Hence, unlike M2, comprehending M6 isn't the same as knowing it is true.

 

[In future, I will omit the prefixing clauses "claim to" and "claiming to" (etc.), but in what follows they should be understood to be applicable where relevant, unless stated otherwise.]

 

Nevertheless, knowing what would make M6 true, or would make it false, is integral to understanding it even if neither of those options has yet been ascertained or, indeed, will ever be ascertained. Again, it is a pretty safe bet that the vast majority of those reading this Essay will be able to say what would make M6 true and what would make it false even if they have no idea which of those options is actually the case. Furthermore, they will still understand M6 even if they never find out whether it is true or whether it is false, nor care a fig about ascertaining either alternative.

 

[The significance of those comments will become apparent as this Essay unfolds -- for instance, here.]

 

So, it isn't necessary to know whether Blair in fact owns a copy of TAR to be able to understand someone who asserted that he does. In contrast, comprehending that two is a number is to know it is true (except with respect to a handful of trivial cases, about which, more later).

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

P3: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is necessarily false.

 

M9 (which is, perhaps, a more 'objective' version of M1a) is somewhat similar to M2. For Lenin (and anyone who agrees with him), comprehending M9 involves automatically acknowledging its veracity. The truth-status of sentences like M9 seems to follow from the 'concepts' they express (or the definitions from which they follow), which is why their veracity can be acknowledged without examining any evidence. Their validity appears to be based solely on language or thought -- or, perhaps even on a "law of cognition".4

 

Or, as noted above, the truth of M1a follows from a specific definition, such as:

 

P4: "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter."

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

In that case, it the truth of M9 seems to be based solely on the meaning of certain words -- i.e., those in P4.

 

Hence, with respect to M2 and M9, meaning and 'truth' appear to go hand-in-hand, so much so that as soon as their constituent words are comprehended, the 'truth' of both becomes obvious, if not "self-evident". The source of their veracity is 'internally generated', as it were. Indeed, that is why the negation (or the repudiation) of M9 (or the rejection of its content -- expressed in, for example, P1, P2 or P3) was so "unthinkable" to Lenin and Engels. Plainly, their overt certainty followed from the definition (expressed in P4) that "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter". So, it would seem P4 represents the core idea here, the bedrock principle that Lenin and Engels considered integral to the nature of, and the connection between, matter and motion. That helps explain why they asserted it so dogmatically, why Engels declared its opposite "nonsensical" and Lenin pronounced the latter "unthinkable".5

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

P3: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is necessarily false.

 

In stark contrast, once more, it is possible to understand M6 without knowing whether it is true or whether it is false.5a0

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

In fact, it is quite easy to suppose M6 is false (which it probably is). Even if M6 were true, and known to be true, it would still be possible to imagine it false (and vice versa). On the other hand, it isn't possible to imagine that M2 is false without altering the meaning of key words in that sentence. And, for those who agree with Lenin and Engels, the same is the case with M9 and P4. [Why that is so will be explained below.]

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

The actual or even possible falsehood of M6, on the other hand, would in no way affect the meaning of any of its constituent words.

 

Despite this, in order to establish the actual truth or actual falsehood of M6 evidence isn't an optional extra. An examination of the concepts/words involved wouldn't be enough. No matter how much 'pure thought' were devoted to M6, it would still be impossible to ascertain its truth or determine its falsehood. So, the veracity (or otherwise) of M6 can't be established by thought alone; its truth-status isn't 'internally generated', but 'externally' confirmed or disconfirmed, as the case may be. An appeal to evidence is clearly essential, here.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

However, and on the contrary, it isn't possible for anyone who agrees with Lenin and Engels to regard, suppose, surmise, imagine or even entertain the idea that one or both of M9 and P4 are false. This shows that there is a fundamental difference between these two sorts of indicative sentences -- one that their apparently identical grammatical outer form conceals.

 

As it turns out, the pseudo-scientific status and much of the 'plausibility' of metaphysical (or 'essential truths') like M9 and P4 derive from this masquerade.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

In that case, it looks like the obviousness of M9, for example, is what motivated Lenin's incredulity (reported in M1a), for it certainly seemed to him that as soon as the words M9 contains are read, or thought about, its truth would be clear for all to see -- so that its opposite would indeed be "unthinkable!".

 

[The objection that M1a and M9 in fact express a summary of the scientific evidence currently available -- or even the evidence that was available in Lenin/Engels's day -- has been neutralised in Note 4, Note 5 and Note 5a.]

 

So, for Lenin, the first half of M1a was "unthinkable" (i.e., the "Motion without matter..." part). As we will see, that is because its denial -- or the repudiation of M9 -- would undermine (or, at least, change) the meaning of words like "motion" and "matter", and hence would countermand the import of the concepts these words supposedly express (when put in sentential form), given that the definition of "motion" is that it is "The mode of the existence of matter" (P4). This would indicate that anyone rash enough question the veracity or P4 had simply failed to understand the words "matter" and "motion".

 

It is also why the rejection of M9, P1 and P4 can be ruled out without the need to examine any evidence. What these sentences say gains our assent on linguistic or conceptual grounds alone. Hence, it also seems impossible to deny the truth of M1a. Such a denial would be inconceivable -- or, as Lenin himself said, it would be "unthinkable". That is also why claims like M1a (i.e., P1 and M9) require no evidence in their support, and why none is ever given -- and why it is difficult to imagine any evidence that could even begin to substantiate them.5a

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Certainty Based On Language Alone

 

Hence, in connection with establishing the veracity of M1a, P1, P4 and M9, the actual state of the world drops out of the picture as irrelevant. No experiments need be performed, no data collected, no observations planned or carried out, and zero surveys undertaken.5b

 

That alone should have given someone like Lenin -- who wasn't ignorant of the scientific method -- pause for thought. Unfortunately, like so many others before him -- indeed, just like the vast majority of theorists since Ancient Greek times -- he failed to notice the significance of these seemingly trivial facts.6

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

The seemingly absolute certainty that M1a, M9, P4 and P1 appear to generate in all those who accept their veracity plainly derives from what their constituent terms are taken to mean. The subsequent projection of P1 onto the world, for instance, is clearly a reflection of that conviction. If such ideas express indubitable truths, who could possibly deny they apply across the entire universe? That is, of course, why DM-theorists like Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin were -- and others still are -- happy to continue imposing such ideas on reality (follow the next link for proof) and thereby regard them as valid across all regions of space and time. What else can the scores of passages from the DM-classics and the rest of the 'dialectical' literature imply?

 

But, the alleged truth of M1a, P1, M9 -- and particularly P4 --, bears no relation to the possibilities that the material world itself presents. This can be seen from the fact that if the truth of these sentences were related to what might or might not obtain in 'reality', evidential support would have been not only appropriate and imaginable, it would be absolutely essential. However, with respect to these sentences no such evidence is even conceivable. What fact or facts could possibly show that motion is inseparable from matter? Or that motion without matter is "unthinkable"? Or that motion is "The mode of existence of matter"?6a

 

This shows that M1a, M9, P1, and P4 aren't about the material world; they are (indirectly) about (or rather they arise from) a specific use of certain words -- or they reflect the (assumed) relation between the concepts they supposedly express.

 

[In fact, they indirectly 'reflect' an (Ideal) World anterior to experience, originally invented by ruling-class theorists, who began such talk in Ancient Greece, as the rest of Essay Twelve will seek to show.]

 

The 'Logical Form Of Reality' Ascertained From 'Pure Thought'

 

It might now prove instructive to compare M1a, P1, P4, and M9 with M7 and M8:

 

M7: A material body is extended in space.

 

M8: Time is a relation between events.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Claims like these litter the history of Metaphysics, but the above considerations help explain why Traditional Philosophers were only too ready to project them onto the world, dogmatically. The content of such 'Super-Truths' seem to be based on something much deeper than anything that empirical evidence or factual confirmation could provide. Indeed, they appeared to express indubitable, 'necessary truths' about 'God', 'The Mind', 'Essence', 'Being', 'Time', 'Existence', and the like. The truth of Cosmic Verities like these was prior to, but not dependent on, the deliverances of the senses. In fact, theories like these determined the logical profile of reality itself. That is, they give voice to concepts and categories that express not mere human judgement and opinion, but the logical form of the world, and for many the very 'Mind of God'.

 

Indeed, in subsequent versions of this idea, Super-Truths like this delineated the nature of any possible world.

 

In short, they pictured not just the logical form of any conceivable or possible world, they governed any and every 'philosophically true' thought about 'Reality Itself'.

 

In previous centuries, it was believed that such Cosmic Verities expressed 'God's Thoughts' about the world, or they depicted 'divinely-ordained laws' governing, all of 'Reality', which meant that Metaphysics was widely seen as an attempt to re-present or 're-flect' 'Divine Truth' in the human mind, and hence it was traditionally seen as a legitimate extension to Theology -- a point Marx himself made.7

 

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

 

In class divided society, this now intimately connected Metaphysics with the rationalisation of the status quo -- and hence with 'justifying' the inequality, oppression and exploitation that fed off it.

 

[There will be much more on this in Parts Two and Three of this Essay (summary here).]

 

This meant that if these Super-Truths reflected 'The Divine Mind' -- or, indeed, the 'Cosmic Order' --, they could be legitimately and dogmatically projected onto nature. No world was conceivable without them. Indeed, if no configuration of matter and energy could fail to conform to Universal Truths like these, supporting evidence became irrelevant. The material world itself could thus drop out of consideration, at least in so far as confirmation was concerned.

 

[To be sure, an after-the-event appeal to nature might be made in order to illustrate such 'Super-Truths', perhaps so they could be sold more readily to the easily fooled -- which is, indeed, what we find dialecticians doing in their dissemination of Engels's Three 'Laws', for example. But that would be the only use to which evidence (supposedly derived from the material world) could be put.]

 

As far as those who propounded them were concerned, 'Metaphysical Truths' appeared to be so obvious, so certain, that few were in any way concerned that they were regularly imposed on 'reality'. On the contrary, in fact; the role each philosophical theory was supposed to occupy (i.e., a sort of "master key" capable of unlocking the 'Underlying Secrets of Being') justified the whole sordid affair.

 

Of course, Super-Verities like these had to be distinguished from ordinary, contingent, everyday, hum-drum empirical truths. So, because they looked as if they pertained to a set of 'essences' that underpinned all possible worlds, these Cosmic-Truths were subsequently given a grandiose title -- they were now dubbed "necessary truths".8

 

However, philosophical theories like this were (and still are) based on the misuse of a severely restricted set of words, and thus on an aberrant and distorted use of language (as Marx himself noted -- quoted in the next sub-section). Their projection onto any and all possible worlds (based on no evidence at all) is proof enough of that. How else would it be possible for theorists to delineate what must be true across all possible worlds other than by a use of language that is rooted in this corner of the universe? Since the semantic status of these 'Super-Truths' is 'known' prior to the examination of any evidence, their supposedly 'necessary status' can't have been derived from anything other than the (presumed) meaning of the words they contained, and hence on the (presumed) linguistic rules that governed their employment in such highly specialised contexts.9

 

[Semantic status: this pertains to the truth or falsehood of an indicative sentence, whether or not that has already been established -- always assuming it can be. Any other (possible) option -- such as any such sentence being permanently truth-valueless (depending on the reason for that) -- would mean it wasn't an (empirical) proposition to begin with, whatever else it turns out to be.]

 

[In Essay Two, numerous examples were given of the many dogmatic assertions advanced by dialecticians, which were supposedly true for all of time and space, even though they were in fact supported by little or no evidence and argument --, that is, over and above a superficial gesture toward the analysis of a handful of specially-chosen examples, sketchy "thought experiments", compounded by the use of ill-defined, obscure jargon imported from Hegel and other assorted mystics.]

 

Traditional Philosophy -- Based On Distorted Language

 

As Marx 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.]

 

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

 

With the above in mind, we are now in a position to see why DM-theories appear to possess such universal validity. As we have see (in other Essays published at this site) that is because they are:

 

(i) Based on a radical misuse of language; or they,

 

(ii) Depend on a misconstrual of linguistic rules as if they represented substantive truths about 'reality'.

 

In short, such theorists confuse the means by which we represent the world for the world itself. The rest of this Essay (and the other Parts of Essay Twelve) will aim to substantiate these seemingly controversial claims.

 

Of course, Traditional Philosophers and DM-theorists will both reject this way of viewing their ideas, but their opinion of how they think they use certain words is at odds with how they actually employ them. Why that is so will also become clearer as this Essay unfolds.

 

Once more, as we saw in Essay Two, while DM-theorists never tire of telling anyone who will listen that they don't impose their ideas on nature and society, they simply 'read' them from the facts, their actual practice belies this. Dialecticians, en masse, regard their doctrines as universal truths, valid for all of space and time. Hence, in practice dialecticians do the exact opposite of what they say they do; they are quite happy to impose their ideas on the world, declaring them true prior to and independent of sufficient (or, in some cases, any) supporting evidence and argument. This dogmatic approach to knowledge places DM way beyond confirmation by any conceivable body of evidence.9a

 

M1a, P1, and P4 are just the latest examples of such dogmatic DM-apriorism. In common with other metaphysical systems, the projection of DM-theories like these onto any and all possible worlds reveals they are based solely on linguistic and/or conceptual considerations. Since the status of these Super-Truths is 'known' well in advance of supporting evidence, their veracity can't have been derived from anything other than the meaning of the words they employ, and thus on the linguistic rules that supposedly govern them.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Furthermore, the actual origin of every single DM-doctrine lends support to the above accusations. They weren't derived from a scientific study of nature but from Ancient Greek, Hermetic and Mystical Hegelian thought (upside down or 'the right way up').9b The origin of DM-doctrines dates back to a time when there was very little or no scientific evidence. And, as Marx pointed out, those theories were themselves based on distorted language.

 

Hence, the class-compromised origin of DM means that aprioristic, ruling-class ideas and thought-forms have been imported into revolutionary theory -- and "from the outside", too.10

 

Unfortunately for Lenin and other DM-apologists, a priori theories like this turn out to be incapable of reflecting reality. As we will see, reality can't be as metaphysical-, or as DM-theories attempt to depict it.11 There are logical features of language that prevent theorists like Lenin and Engels from (truthfully) saying the sorts of things they want to say about the world and which won't allow them to 'depict' nature in the way they think they can. Or, rather, they can't do so without those ideas collapsing into incoherent non-sense, as we will also see. This means that, in the end, DM itself ends up saying nothing at all.

 

DM-theories turn out to be little more than empty strings of words.

 

The above observations aren't unconnected with the origin and nature of metaphysical theories themselves. As will be demonstrated in later parts of Essay Twelve, at a linguistic level Traditional Philosophy was motivated by a determination to use a narrow range of expressions idiosyncratically -- that is, Ancient Greek thinkers were determined to employ words in ways they wouldn't normally be used in every day life. This odd use of language in turn involved a failure on the part of these 'linguistic innovators' to notice that it is only a misuse and distortion of language that 'allows' them to derive the 'universal and necessary truths' we find in Traditional Philosophy, and now in DM.

 

[Much of the mechanics (if that is the right word) underlying the above moves was exposed in detail in Essay Three Part One.]

 

As the detailed analysis below will show, the distortion and misuse of language (to which that Marx referred) results in the production, not of 'necessary' or universal truths, but of incoherent non-sense.11ao

 

Lenin Appears To Contradict Himself

 

Is Anything That Is Thinkable Actually Unthinkable?

 

In order to see this more clearly with respect to DM we need to examine Lenin's words a little more closely.

 

Concerning Lenin's assertion reported in M1a and P1 (both based on P4), it is worth asking the following question: What is it about these words (or what they express or 'reflect') that made them seem so "unthinkable"?

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Curiously, in Lenin's case at least, it is obvious that he must have thought the above words (or what they 'expressed', 'represented' or 'reflected') in order to declare that they were unthinkable! The phrase "motion without matter" and what it supposedly conveyed must have gone through his thoughts at some point. [The objection that this point confuses use with mention will be dealt with presently.] Even if Lenin then went on to think the additional words tacked on at the end (i.e., "…is unthinkable"), he must have cognised the three 'offending' words first (i.e., "motion without matter"). No one imagines that his thoughts switched on just as they reached the relative safety of the last two words in M1a!

 

In that case, Lenin must have done what he declared couldn't be done; he must have thought the "unthinkable" in the act of declaring that no one could do what he himself had just done.

 

Naturally, this means that in practice it looks like Lenin contradicted himself, for he managed to do what he said couldn't be done. That is why in practice Lenin's theory becomes not just impossible to comprehend, it is impossible even to state. That is, it is impossible to say what on earth Lenin meant by what he said. If he managed to do what he said no one could do (in the very act of telling us they couldn't do it), why can't anyone else do it? What is so special about Lenin? How was he able to think the "unthinkable" in the act of telling us it can't be done?

 

Worse still, if the rest of us can think M1a's offending words (i.e., what the phrase "motion without matter" seems to convey -- or maybe even "motion can exist without matter"), and understand their content whenever we read Lenin telling us that we can't do the very thing we must have done in order to grasp the point he was trying to make, we, too, must contradict Lenin in practice whenever we consult this part of his work. Indeed, the very act of telling us we can't think these words (or what they express/convey) prompts us to do just that!

 

Even those who agree with Lenin that "motion without matter is unthinkable" must think the three 'illicit' words along with what they convey. Hence, even the most slavishly obedient Lenin-groupie can't avoid disobeying the master every time he or she reads this contentious sentence.

 

Have such characters not noticed that to read Lenin -- and try to think/grasp the content of his words -- is to disobey him in that very act?

 

Interlude One -- Several Objections And Side-Issues

 

This was Just Hyperbole On Lenin's Part

 

Some might try to defend Lenin by arguing that his claims about matter and motion were plainly meant to be read as hyperbole. Hence, it could be maintained that Lenin certainly didn't think that the words "motion without matter" were literally unthinkable, merely that it made no sense to suppose there could be any motion without matter. It could even be argued that the wording of Lenin's 'controversial' sentence meant he was simply rejecting the immobility of matter out-of-hand, as a ridiculous or patently false supposition on a par with, say, denying (liquid) water is wet or fire is hot.

 

Or so the case for the defence might go...

 

That must mean the section of MEC entitled "Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?" was misnamed; but that is the very section in which M1 occurs, What is more, Lenin even italicised the word "unthinkable":

 

M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

The entire passage reads as follows:

 

"Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?

 

"The fact that philosophical idealism is attempting to make use of the new physics, or that idealist conclusions are being drawn from the latter, is due not to the discovery of new kinds of substance and force, of matter and motion, but to the fact that an attempt is being made to conceive motion without matter. And it is the essence of this attempt which our Machians fail to examine. They were unwilling to take account of Engels' statement that 'motion without matter is unthinkable.' J. Dietzgen in 1869, in his The Nature of the Workings of the Human Mind, expressed the same idea as Engels, although, it is true, not without his usual muddled attempts to 'reconcile' materialism and idealism. Let us leave aside these attempts, which are to a large extent to be explained by the fact that Dietzgen is arguing against Büchner's non-dialectical materialism, and let us examine Dietzgen's own statements on the question under consideration. He says: 'They [the idealists] want to have the general without the particular, mind without matter, force without substance, science without experience or material, the absolute without the relative' (Das Wesen der menschlichen Kopfarbeit, 1903, S.108). Thus the endeavour to divorce motion from matter, force from substance, Dietzgen associates with idealism, compares with the endeavour to divorce thought from the brain. 'Liebig,' Dietzgen continues, 'who is especially fond of straying from his inductive science into the field of speculation, says in the spirit of idealism: "force cannot be seen"' (p.109). 'The spiritualist or the idealist believes in the spiritual, i.e., ghostlike and inexplicable, nature of force' (p. 110). 'The antithesis between force and matter is as old as the antithesis between idealism and materialism' (p.111). 'Of course, there is no force without matter, no matter without force; forceless matter and matterless force are absurdities. If there are idealist natural scientists who believe in the immaterial existence of forces, on this point they are not natural scientists...but seers of ghosts' (p.114).

 

"We thus see that scientists who were prepared to grant that motion is conceivable without matter were to be encountered forty years ago too, and that 'on this point' Dietzgen declared them to be seers of ghosts. What, then, is the connection between philosophical idealism and the divorce of matter from motion, the separation of substance from force? Is it not 'more economical,' indeed, to conceive motion without matter?

 

"The fundamental distinction between the materialist and the adherent of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that the materialist regards sensation, perception, idea, and the mind of man generally, as an image of objective reality. The world is the movement of this objective reality reflected by our consciousness. To the movement of ideas, perceptions, etc., there corresponds the movement of matter outside me. The concept matter expresses nothing more than the objective reality which is given us in sensation. Therefore, to divorce motion from matter is equivalent to divorcing thought from objective reality, or to divorcing my sensations from the external world -- in a word, it is to go over to idealism. The trick which is usually performed in denying matter, and in assuming motion without matter, consists in ignoring the relation of matter to thought. The question is presented as though this relation did not exist, but in reality it is introduced surreptitiously; at the beginning of the argument it remains unexpressed, but subsequently crops up more or less imperceptibly.

 

"Matter has disappeared, they tell us, wishing from this to draw epistemological conclusions. But has thought remained? -- we ask. If not, if with the disappearance of matter thought has also disappeared, if with the disappearance of the brain and nervous system ideas and sensations, too, have disappeared -- then it follows that everything has disappeared. And your argument has disappeared as a sample of 'thought' (or lack of thought)! But if it has remained -- if it is assumed that with the disappearance of matter, thought (idea, sensation, etc.) does not disappear, then you have surreptitiously gone over to the standpoint of philosophical idealism. And this always happens with people who wish, for 'economy's sake,' to conceive of motion without matter, for tacitly, by the very fact that they continue to argue, they are acknowledging the existence of thought after the disappearance of matter. This means that a very simple, or a very complex philosophical idealism is taken as a basis; a very simple one, if it is a case of frank solipsism (I exist, and the world is only my sensation); a very complex one, if instead of the thought, ideas and sensations of a living person, a dead abstraction is posited, that is, nobody's thought, nobody's idea, nobody's sensation, but thought in general (the Absolute Idea, the Universal Will, etc.), sensation as an indeterminate 'element,' the 'psychical,' which is substituted for the whole of physical nature, etc., etc. Thousands of shades of varieties of philosophical idealism are possible and it is always possible to create a thousand and first shade; and to the author of this thousand and first little system (empirio-monism, for example) what distinguishes it from the rest may appear to be momentous. From the standpoint of materialism, however, the distinction is absolutely unessential. What is essential is the point of departure. What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter -- and that is philosophical idealism." [Lenin (1972), pp.318-21. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

[I have reproduced the entire passage to prevent accusations that I have quoted Lenin 'out of context'!]

 

It clear from the above that Lenin was denying what certain scientists claimed -- i.e., that motion without matter was conceivable. Or, as he puts it, once more:

 

M1: "[M]otion without matter is unthinkable." [Lenin (1972), p.318. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

Later he added the additional claim that matter and motion were inseparable (again quoting Engels):

 

"In full conformity with this materialist philosophy of Marx's, and expounding it, Frederick Engels wrote in Anti-Dühring (read by Marx in the manuscript): 'The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved...by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science....' 'Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, or motion without matter, nor can there be....'" [Lenin (1914), p.8.]

 

"[M]otion [is] an inseparable property of matter." [Lenin (1972), p.323. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Hence, the unthinkability of the separation of matter and motion was integral to his case against Idealism. Indeed, if motion is "The mode of the existence of matter" -- its "mode of expression" -- then these two 'concepts' can't be separated, even in thought. As soon as any attempt is made to try to separate them, the one trying would no longer be talking about matter, or even about motion (as far as Engels and Lenin were concerned), no more than someone who tried to separate the concepts "even number" and "two" (whatever that might mean!) would still be talking about the number two, or even about even numbers (which are defined in terms of their divisibility by two, the result being an integer).

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

[Incidentally, Lenin is wrong. Marx didn't read Anti-Dühring [AD] "in the manuscript". In fact, after Marx's death, Engels claimed he read AD to Marx. Just think how long that would have taken. Can you imagine how many times the ageing Marx will have nodded off, not realising the sub-logical material AD contained that would later also be attributed to him, or with which some would subsequently claim he acquiesced? Does anyone think that Marx would have approved of the ridiculous things Engels said about mathematics in AD? Marx was a competent mathematician (even though his knowledge in this area was at least half a century out-of-date), whereas Engels wasn't. Those who now tell us that Marx agreed with everything Engels said have plainly not thought through the implications of that unwise claim. (I have considered this issue in much more detail here and here.)]

 

As noted above, Lenin was simply echoing Engels's non-hyperbolic language:

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transferred.... A motionless state of matter is therefore one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas...." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

Not much hyperbole in there from Engels, then. He clearly meant every word he said to be taken literally -- and that is precisely how subsequent DM-theorists have understood him.

 

In fact, this is a core DM-principle. Both Lenin and Engels meant what they said.

 

The problem is: What on earth did they mean?

 

Dialectics Is Meant To Be Contradictory

 

At this point, someone could object that contradictions like this are only to be expected (i.e., when Lenin argues that what he had just thought couldn't in fact be thought). After all, this is dialectics! In that case, in the very process of thinking these supposedly controversial words, thought is driven to the opposite pole and is forced to conclude that they (or what they express) can't be thought.

 

[That response is in fact a variant of the 'Nixon Defence' we met in Essay Eight Part One. (Follow the link for an explanation!)]

 

Except: Lenin did say those words (or their content) could be thought, after all!

 

"What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter -- and that is philosophical idealism." [Lenin (1972), p.321. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

However, and what is far more likely, those who read Lenin and whose thought hasn't been compromised by swallowing far too much of what they read in the work of Mystical Idealists will conclude that in view of the fact that they, too, have just thought those very words (or their content) in the act of being told they can't do that, motion without matter (or its sentential equivalent, P1) is plainly not unthinkable!

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

Indeed, in view of the additional fact that belief in motionless matter was an integral part of Aristotelian Physics (which theory dominated scientific thought for the best part of fifteen hundred years), they would be right to conclude that the idea that there can be motionless matter is indeed thinkable. Manifestly, that thought is plainly more thinkable than its opposite given the fact that it lasted far longer than DM has!

 

Hence, far from thought being driven to an "opposite pole", the above considerations suggest it will be riveted to just the one, at least for many centuries.

 

This Is A Specious, Anti-Lenin Argument

 

It could be countered that the above material promotes what is in fact a specious anti-Lenin argument. Indeed, one critic has so argued:

 

"3. It is impossible to build a perpetuum mobile....

 

"An also quite clear illogicality -- or perhaps even a sophism -- is the discussion of Lenin's assertion that 'motion without matter is unthinkable'. It is held that, since Lenin obviously thought the words 'motion without matter', he has contradicted himself, showing that it is perfectly possible to think 'motion without matter'. But this is clearly an invalid reasoning. The use of the words 'motion without matter' doesn't actually imply thinking motion without matter. The example of sentence 3. above may explain what I am saying. A similar idea can be expressed by

"6. A functioning perpetuum mobile is unthinkable.

"If we follow the text, we will exclaim, 'but you have just thought of a functioning perpetuum mobile! You have just used those precise words!' What happens, though, is that when I think the words 'functioning perpetuum mobile' I am not actually thinking of a functioning perpetuum mobile. Indeed, any machine of that kind that I -- or anybody else -- can think of is either not functioning or not a perpetuum mobile (or, more probably, neither). So while I can utter the words 'functioning perpetuum mobile', I am at most thinking of the words, not of the actual thing. Same goes for 'triangular circle', 'the opposite side of a Moebius strip' (sic), or 'a man who is his own father'. And so the text incurs in a conflation between two things that a correct analysis easily shows are different." [From
here. (That links is now dead!) Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Emphases in the original. Minor typos corrected.]

 

However, a supporter of this site argued in reply:

 

"Rosa actually considered that objection in the long Essay she wrote (she had to since I posed that very point to her back in 1998 or 1999!), and posted a short version of it in the passage Chris quoted. The point is that Lenin would have to know what any sentence containing the phrase 'motion without matter' implied.

 

"As she says at her site:

 

'In order to rule motion without matter out of court, he would have to know what he was trying to exclude. He would have to know what motion without matter was so that he could exclude it as unthinkable, otherwise he might be ruling out the wrong thing. Hence, it would have to be thinkable for Lenin to tell us it wasn't!'

 

"So, he would have to think these words just to rule out the possibility that there was any motionless matter in the world. Otherwise, he would have no idea what he was ruling out. But, if he had no idea what he was ruling out, he'd have no idea what he was ruling in, either. So, the real problem is not that Lenin was contradicting himself, it's that not even Lenin knew what he was talking about.

 

"Moreover, as Rosa goes on to point out (I think you must have missed this), it's not possible to contradict non-sense. Since a non-sensical sentence cannot take a truth-value, no sentence can count as its contradictory. So Lenin wasn't contradicting himself (Rosa toys with that possibility until she shows that he isn't even doing that!); he is far too confused to be doing it. [It's the same point she makes about dialectics; it's far too confused for anyone to be able to say if it's true or if it's false, let alone contradict it!]

 

"You then offer us this example:

 

'6. A functioning perpetuum mobile is unthinkable.'

'If we follow the text, we will exclaim, 'but you have just thought of a functioning perpetuum mobile! You have just used those precise words!' What happens, though, is that when I think the words 'functioning perpetuum mobile' I am not actually thinking of a functioning perpetuum mobile. Indeed, any machine of that kind that I -- or anybody else -- can think of is either not functioning or not a perpetuum mobile (or, more probably, neither). So while I can utter the words 'functioning perpetuum mobile', I am at most thinking of the words, not of the actual thing. Same goes for 'triangular circle', 'the opposite side of a Moebius strip', or 'a man who is his own father'. And so the text incurs in a conflation between two things that a correct analysis easily shows are different.'

 

"And yet, how would you know what you were ruling out? Unless you know what a functioning perpetual motion machine is, or could be, your claim that it is unthinkable is just an empty phrase. [Suppose I say I can think it? Suppose inventors of these machines, who still turn up regularly, also say they can think it? And, isn't the universe in perpetual motion? According to some scientists, it is. So they can think of perpetual motion; even if they are wrong, they can certainly think it.]

 

"Same with the other examples you mention. If time travel is possible, a man can be his own father. Now, time travel might not be possible, but we can still think a man could be his own father. A triangular circle is also a possible object of thought; given homeomorphisms, it is possible to map a triangle onto a circle. So, topologically, a circle is the same as a triangle, hence, we can think it in mathematics! And we can easily define the opposite side of a Möbius Strip as follows: hold the strip between thumb and forefinger; the opposite side to that which touches your thumb is the side that touches your index finger. That might be a cheat, sure, but it allows us to think of the opposite side of a Möbius Strip.

 

"So, instead of asserting that, say, 'A triangular circle is unthinkable', you'd be better off following Wittgenstein's advice here (albeit given in another context) and say that certain combinations of words aren't part of the language; we have no use for them.

 

"However, this can't even be the case with Lenin's declaration, since immobile matter is not unthinkable; indeed, motionless matter had been a cornerstone of Aristotelian physics, which went largely unquestioned for over a thousand years....

 

"Now, the real problem with Lenin's declaration isn't that he ends up in an awful muddle, but that it follows from an a priori thesis invented by Engels: 'Motion is the mode of the existence of matter'. So, his declaration that 'motion without matter is unthinkable' wasn't based on evidence (since the latter is ambiguous), or on argument, but on this a priori thesis, which Rosa has shown is non-sensical."

 

And, as we have just seen, Lenin admitted it was possible to think what he said was "unthinkable" -- according to him, Idealists do just that!

 

Psychologically Impossible?

 

It could now be objected that this whole line-of-thought is thoroughly misguided. Consider, for example, the following sentence:

 

C1: Abandoning Taiwan is 'unthinkable,' ex-Obama administration official says.

 

C1 doesn't imply that the individual alluded to above has actually thought of abandoning Taiwan, which they would have to have done if the criticisms aired in this Essay were correct.

 

Or, so it could be argued...

 

[VP = Verb Phrase, which in this case is "Abandoning Taiwan...".]

 

Of course the clause "VP is unthinkable" can mean many things; for instance (in this instance):

 

C2: "We will never abandon Taiwan."

 

C3: "I can't think of any circumstances under which we would abandon Taiwan."

 

C4: "Abandoning Taiwan isn't an option, and never will be."

 

C5: "I personally can't bring myself to imagine we'll ever abandon Taiwan."

 

And so on.

 

Many of these alternative readings allude to the incredulity or intellectual stubbornness of the individual concerned; that is, they record the psychological impossibility of accepting -- or even the refusal of that individual coming to believe -- that the USA would ever abandon Taiwan. Now, if Lenin meant what he said about motion and matter in this sense, it would weaken considerably his opposition to the immobility of matter. That is because it would sever the connection his theory had with Engels's claim that "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter", which was for both of them a defining characteristic of matter not a throw-away property the existence of which depended on the limitations of human credulity. [Anyway, I have discussed this option further, below.]

 

More-or-less the same can be said of the other readings; they, too, cut that link.

 

I will return to this topic when we consider the deeper, logical problems associated with M1a.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

[See also Note 43a.]

 

Lenin's 'Psycho-Logic'

 

Continuing with the above objection, it could be argued that it is perfectly clear what Lenin meant: it is impossible to think about matter without conceiving of it as also moving in some way, and vice versa. In other words, B1 doesn't imply B2.

 

B1: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

B2: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.

 

In that case, and once more, maybe Lenin was merely making a psychological point. It could be that he was saying that given what we know about the world (and, indeed, about ourselves and our relation to the world), we are psychologically, conceptually or physically incapable of forming the thought, giving credence to the claim, that motion is possible without matter (and/or vice versa) -- or even of conceiving of that thought as true.

 

[That line of defence was partly neutralised earlier, and in the last sub-section.]

 

Alternatively, it could be argued that Lenin considered it impossible to agree with P1a:

 

P1a: It is thinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

But, if Lenin was saying we are psychologically, conceptually or physically incapable of forming the thought that motion is possible without matter, he offered no evidence to substantiate what would now be a scientific claim about what human beings are capable of cognising. And, if that was his reasoning, it is pretty clear why he wouldn't have been able to produce such data (even had he tried to do so). That is because, plainly, even to pose that question is not only to think the forbidden words (or their content), it prompts any target audience to think them, too!

 

Moreover, and alas for Lenin, there is abundant evidence to the contrary. As noted above, previous generations easily managed to think this very thought, and they did so for many centuries. The passivity of matter was a basic tenet of Aristotelian Physics. 11a

 

Having said that, Aristotle's own ideas about earthy matter are more complex than the above comments might suggest. Nevertheless, it is still true that he believed that when situated at the centre of the universe, earthy matter would be motionless. [On this, see Morison (2002), Sorabji (1988), and Copleston (2003a), chapter 30.]

 

As Aristotle himself argued:

 

"Now all things rest and move naturally and by constraint. A thing moves naturally to a place in which it rests without constraint, and rests naturally in a place to which it moves without constraint. On the other hand, a thing moves by constraint to a place in which it rests by constraint, and rests by constraint in a place to which it moves by constraint. Further, if a given movement is due to constraint, its contrary is natural." [Aristotle (1984b), p.458, 276:22-26.]

 

[By "constraint", Aristotle meant "enforced motion"; that is, something "forcibly moved by some other mover". On this see Bodnar (2023), Dijksterhuis (1986), pp,24-32, Guthrie (1990), pp.243-76, and Sorabji (1988), pp.219-26.]

 

So, Aristotle and his many followers could, and actually did think about motionless matter (i.e., at rest).

 

Moreover, as my former colleague, "Babeuf", pointed out, it has been possible to think of motion without matter since at least Biblical times:

 

"1. In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. 2. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters." [Genesis, Chapter One, verses 1 and 2. Paragraphs merged; bold emphasis added.]

 

Now, it won't do to argue that the above is false, mythical or even ideological, since the only reason it has been quoted is to show that, whether or not it is one or other of these, some human beings (hundreds of millions, possibly even billions, in fact) can think about motion without matter, and have been able to do so for at least 3000 years.

 

[PN = Philosophical Notebooks, i.e., Lenin (1961).]

 

Later, in PN, Lenin added the following comment about Feuerbach's essay on Leibniz:

 

"The feature that distinguishes Leibnitz (sic) from Spinoza: In Leibnitz (sic) there is, in addition to the concept of substance, the concept of force 'and indeed of active force...' the principle of 'self-activity'.... Ergo. Leibnitz (sic) through theology arrived at the principle of the inseparable (and universal, absolute) connection of matter and motion." [Lenin (1961), p.377. Italic emphasis in the original; paragraphs merged.]

 

This confirms, of course, the a priori nature and origin of this particular idea, since Leibniz manifestly did not obtain it via observation, and would have had a stroke at any suggestion he had done so. Also worthy of note is the fact that Leibniz was as heavily influenced by Hermetic mysticism as Hegel. [This will be one of the many topics discussed in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here); until then, see Ross (1983, 1998).]

 

As Lenin notes, the doctrine of the inseparability of matter and motion is connected with "self-activity", which is intimately linked with the contradictory nature of matter, as we saw in Essay Eight Part One. So, the 'inseparability thesis' is a 'logical' notion which 'follows' from Engels's Second 'Law'. Small wonder then that Lenin found its rejection "unthinkable".

 

However, if the above objection along with the alternative interpretation of Lenin's theory (i.e., that his claims about motion and matter relate to the psychological limitations of human beings) are to remain viable, then, at best, we would have to interpret what he said as perhaps a confession of Lenin's own limited powers of imagination --, even though he too seemed able to rise to the occasion and think the forbidden words (or their content) while casting them into outer psychological darkness in the very act of bringing us the good news that what he had done couldn't be done!

 

Furthermore, Lenin offered no evidence in support of the supposed limits on credibility, or otherwise, of anyone else, and he mentioned only two other individuals who thought as he did: Engels and Dietzgen. That being so, his confession merely records the limits of his, Engels and Dietzgen's own credulity (which, as we have seen, appeared to undermine itself in the very act of its own confession). Clearly, such asseverations (no matter how sincere) are out of place in what purports to be a scientific or philosophical analysis of matter and motion.

 

In any case, what could Lenin have said to someone who claimed that they could imagine motion without matter, or vice versa? What if Lenin had encountered a latter-day Aristotle? Several examples have been given (in this Essay) where it seemed quite natural to speak about motion without matter. They may only be ruled out if it can be shown they are either metaphorical or are judged irrelevant. But, who is to say that Lenin's employment of these words was itself literal? Or that that is their only correct use? Or even that it is the most natural way of using them? In fact, a rejection of the above counter-examples could only ever be based on Lenin's own lack of imagination (or on that of his modern day epigones), or, perhaps, on other criteria which Lenin unwisely kept to himself (as have subsequent DM-theorists).

 

However, as the above indicates, it is possible to form the thought that motion can take place without matter. Nothing is easier. Not only does the last sentence itself prompt such a cognitive infringement, so do the sentences Lenin himself committed to paper. If they are unacceptable, it can't be for psychological reasons -- since, manifestly, they are ridiculously easy to think. If both B3 and B4, for instance, are to be ruled out as examples of a thought, that would have to be done on logical or linguistic, not psychological, grounds, especially if the act of reading Lenin's words seems to disprove what he says in the very act of doing so.

 

B3: This particular instance of motion is separated from matter.

 

B4: This lump of matter is motionless.

 

At this point, it is worth reminding ourselves that Lenin himself acknowledged that this forbidden thought can be thought, after all (perhaps not realising what it was he was admitting):

 

"From the standpoint of materialism, however, the distinction is absolutely unessential. What is essential is the point of departure. What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter -- and that is philosophical idealism." [Lenin (1972), p.321. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Here, Lenin entertains the thought that motion could be "divorced from matter" (even if only to brand it "Idealist"), which means that he was wrong to conclude this was "unthinkable". He had just thought it! So, it can't be psychologically impossible to think these forbidden words, after all.

 

But that, of course, just takes us right back to the beginning. We are still no clearer what Lenin could possibly have meant by what he said.

 

Contradictory -- Or Just Unthinkable?

 

At this point, it is worth asking: "Why did Lenin conclude that motion without matter was 'unthinkable' as opposed to claiming it was simply contradictory?". Apart from saving him the trouble of having to do what he said couldn't be done -- think the very thoughts he wanted to convince the rest of us were "unthinkable" --, it would at least have allowed him to make his point much more succinctly, and, dare I say it, more 'dialectically'. Indeed, it would seem to be the obvious thing to say about matter and motion; that is, that immobile matter is contradictory -- or, rather, that propositions asserting there can be motionless matter imply a contradiction. Indicative sentences used to assert that matter is, or can be, motionless would certainly appear to contradict sentences used to claim motion is the mode of the existence of matter, or that motion is the way matter expresses itself.

 

On the other hand, it seems pretty clear why he didn't do this: if Lenin had done it, it would have given the 'dialectical' game away. That is because, if he had ruled certain things out on the basis that they were contradictory then much of DM would have disappeared down the U-bend with it. Clearly, the next question he would have faced is: And why is just this contradictory state of affairs considered so objectionable in contradistinction to all the other contradictions that DM-theorists believe litter the entire universe and aren't declared "unthinkable"? Why don't dialecticians tell us that motion itself, for example, is impossible (or "unthinkable") since it implies a contradiction? Or, that wave-particle duality is impossible (or "unthinkable") for the same reason?

 

In fact, the existence of matter without motion ought to make perfectly good 'dialectical' sense, if only because it is contradictory. After all, the Hegelian roots of DM seem to imply that matter moves because of its inherently contradictory nature (even though the precise details are somewhat hazy).

 

As Hegel himself declared:

 

"[B]ut contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity." [Hegel (1999), p.439, §956. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Indeed, it would seem from this doctrine that bodies must move because mobility and passivity are a product of the internal struggle going on in all objects or between them, since they are UOs. So, why not a 'unity of motion and non-motion'? Anyone inclined to believe the cracked 'logic' Hegel peddled shouldn't find it too much of a "leap" to derive motion itself from the 'contradictory nature of matter'. The mobility of matter could then be predicated on its lack of motion! Hence, far from immobile matter being "unthinkable", this theory seems to require it!

 

[Indeed, as this suggests it, too.]

 

[UO = Unity of Opposites.]

 

It could be objected that that is ridiculous. Dialecticians don't believe that motion is a UO of itself and its opposite, lack of motion. Indeed, it could be pointed out that the above caricature isn't the contradiction, or even the sort of contradiction, to which Hegel was referring when he spoke about motion --, as Engels himself indicated:

 

"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]

 

Or, so a response might proceed...

 

However, this (proffered, hypothetical) DM-reply merely highlights the profound confusion lying at the heart of the DM-'theory-of-change' -- highlighted here, here and here. The problem is that according to what DM-theorists themselves have to say, it is unclear whether things change:

 

(a) Because of their 'internal contradictions' or 'opposites';

 

(b) They change into these 'opposites'; or,

 

(c) They create such 'opposites' when they change.

 

So, if all things are UOs, and can only change because of this, it seems that a moving body must be a dialectical union of motion and rest, otherwise it couldn't change.

 

In that case, if the above objection is "ridiculous", it is only because it makes plain the incoherence at the heart of the DM-'theory-of-change'.

 

Moreover, as we saw in Essay Five, the alleged contradiction to which Engels refers (i.e., that a moving body is "both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it") can't be what makes an object move. In fact, it seems that that is what becomes apparent as it moves. But, then who can say with any clarity what this part of DM implies, if anything.

 

Nevertheless, if Hegel is right, and objects move because of their inherently contradictory nature, they must be a UO of some sort. And what else could that be but a union of motion and its opposite, rest. Nothing else appears remotely relevant.

 

Others might be tempted to argue that this is precisely the point: because matter is contradictory, it is incessantly mobile.

 

But once more, if matter is truly contradictory -- if we accept no half measures and express no "excessive tenderness" toward moving things --, matter must be mobile and at rest all at once. In that case, resolute Hegelians must at least be able to think, and actually do think, the illegitimate words (or what they 'represent') -- that matter is motionless (at least, in part).

 

In fact, the good news is that there is no need to speculate any further about this Hermetic conundrum, for that is precisely what we observe everywhere. The seemingly 'contradictory' nature of matter (i.e., that it both moves and does not move) is not only an everyday occurrence, it is a scientific fact --, for it is true that with respect to one inertial frame an object can be at rest, but with respect to another it can be moving, and these two conditions can both be true at the same time, and concerning the same body.

 

Unfortunately, however, for beleaguered dialecticians, this familiar fact doesn't imply that motion is fundamentally contradictory 'in itself' (whatever that means!), but that given different reference frames we can picture it in no other way: as mobile with respect one frame, at rest with respect to another, at the same time. There is nothing deeply metaphysical about this; it is a spin-off of the conventions we use to depict the world. This socially-motivated fact, though, does give sense to propositions about the mobility (or otherwise) of matter, and that is because we would currently have no other way of conceiving of movement scientifically except this way --, even if it doesn't actually make anything move (or, indeed, sustain movement), which is what one imagines DM/Hegelian 'contradictions' should do.

 

Of course, the implications of unhelpful conclusions like the above can only be resisted on linguistic, or conceptual, grounds. That is, they may only be defused by clarifying what words like "motion", "immobile", "inertial frame", "same time", and "contradiction" should be taken to mean. Naturally, anyone tempted to go down that route would merely end up underlining the fact that Lenin's own ideas in this area are, at best, creatures of convention (or the way he chose to talk about this), and hence aren't the least bit "objective".

 

Moreover, given the additional fact that Lenin's philosophical ideas fall apart so readily (as do Engels's -- on that see here and here), this DM-'convention' is never likely to catch on with the scientific community. In fact, neutral observers should feign no surprise if his ideas fail to make the bottom of the reserve list of viable candidates that scientists might even deign to consider.

 

Thinking The Unthinkable

 

As pointed out earlier, it seems that Lenin must have thought the words "motion without matter" (or their content) in order to deny they were thinkable. If so, it is difficult to see what he was driving at if the very act of saying what he said appears to undermine the point he wished to make.

 

Perhaps, as noted earlier, he meant the following?

 

B1: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

[B5: Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.]

 

However, B1 won't do either. Just as soon as the quoted sentence in B1 (i.e., B5) is entertained, it seems that that cognitive act itself will make B1 false!

 

Plainly that is because the embedded sentence in B1 (i.e., B5) appears to be false whenever anyone thinks it (or its content).

 

It could be objected that the above argument confuses B1 with the following:

 

B2: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.

 

Lenin certainly didn't mean B2. That riposte will be considered presently. [And anyone who thinks this confuses use with mention is referred to the next sub-section that deals with this.]

 

Moreover, it seems that B1 itself becomes false whenever B5 (or its content) is itself thought; and yet by thinking B1, B5 must be entertained. The only way anyone could agree with B1 is by thinking B5 (or its content). Unfortunately, this just means that we may only agree with B1 by doing what B5 says can't be done -- it looks like we have to think the unthinkable, thereby making B1 false. In that case, B1 would be 'true' just in case it were 'false'; we may assent to it only if we never allow its content to cross our minds.

 

B5:  Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

B1: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is true.

 

It could be argued that this shows that B1 is true since it is indeed the case that matter without motion is unthinkable. And yet, that is precisely the point: even to assert this alleged fact requires that the 'forbidden' words "matter without motion" (or their content) pass through the mind; so it looks like it isn't the case that these words (or their content) can't be thought.11b

 

But, what about the counter-claim that the above confuses B1 with B2? That objection will be considered in the next sub-section (and again later in this Essay).

 

B2: The sentence: "Literal motion without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.

 

Use Confused With Mention

 

As noted earlier, it could be objected that the above argument simply confuses these two propositions (in other words, I have confused use with mention).11c

 

R1: "Matter without motion" is unthinkable.

 

R2: Matter without motion is unthinkable.

 

Where R1 means:

 

R3: The words "Matter without motion" can't be thought.

 

Or even:

 

R4: Sentences that assert that matter without motion is possible are unthinkable.

 

Or, indeed, from earlier:

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

Clearly, R3 is susceptible to the points I have already made. But, it could be argued that Lenin plainly didn't mean this. He obviously meant R2. It is certainly possible to think the 'offending words' without imagining them to be true. So, the above argument is entirely spurious.

 

Or so it could be argued...

 

The question therefore becomes: Is R2 vulnerable in the same way? Is the claim valid that Lenin had to contradict himself in order to make his point?

 

R2: Matter without motion is unthinkable.

 

Indeed, it seems to be so. As we will see, in order to rule motion without matter out of court, Lenin would have to know what he was trying to exclude. But, to do that he would have to know what 'motion without matter' amounted to so that he could exclude that possibility from consideration on the grounds that it is unthinkable -- otherwise, for all he knew, he could be ruling out the wrong condition, or, indeed, he might be ruling out nothing at all. Hence, the content of R2 (i.e., what it was supposedly being used to say) would have to be thinkable so that Lenin could tell us it wasn't a viable possibility.

 

It could be objected that R3, R4, P1, and P2 aren't what Lenin was asserting when he argued that motion without matter is unthinkable. But, as we will see, it isn't possible to make sense of what he was trying to say whether or not he intended one or more of R3, R4, P1, P2 or even R2.

 

[That is a brief summary of a much longer argument I have developed below. I also explain what I mean by "content, here. See also here.]

 

R3: The words "Matter without motion" can't be thought.

 

R4: Sentences that assert that matter without motion is possible are unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

R2: Matter without motion is unthinkable.

 

Now, if we assume for the moment that Lenin was right after all, what on earth could he possibly have meant by what he said if it seems that everyone (including himself) could so easily disprove in practice this supposedly self-evident truth? That is, if it is so easy to think about matter devoid of motion?

 

Precisely what is so unthinkable here that is also so easily thought? What is it about M1a/R2 that is supposed to command our assent -- but only in the very act of undermining what it appears to say?

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Perhaps we are being too hasty? Maybe Lenin merely meant that the truth of an indicative sentence like M1a (containing the unqualified words "motion without matter") is unthinkable? Or, that such a sentence could never be true or thought of as true? Maybe he did mean one or more of R3, R4, P1, and P2?

 

R3: The words "Matter without motion" can't be thought.

 

R4: Sentences that assert that matter without motion is possible are unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

But, are these options faithful to Lenin's intentions --, or, even viable in themselves?

 

Motion Without Matter

 

Maybe not, for when Lenin's words are examined even more closely, it becomes impossible to understand what it was he was trying to say, or, indeed, precisely what 'truth' he was attempting to communicate to his readers. Or even whether what he appears to be saying could in any way be true, or even thought of as true.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

R3: The words "Matter without motion" can't be thought.

 

R4: Sentences that assert that matter without motion is possible are unthinkable.

 

P1: It is unthinkable that motion can exist without matter.

 

Consider the following as a possible variant of M1a, P1 and M9:

 

M10: Motion without matter can never be thought of as true.

 

P2: The proposition "Motion exists without matter" is never true.

 

M10 looks rather awkward and it isn't obviously correct. P2 looks a little less awkward. But, is it correct? Well, it is possible to think of many examples of motion that don't involve the movement of matter or the locomotion of bodies, as such. Several dozen such were aired in Essay Five. [Readers are directed there for more details.]

 

Here is another (a few more have been posted in Note 12):

 

M11: NN's thoughts moved to a new topic.

 

Indeed, Engels indirectly endorsed this possibility:

 

"Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute, of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe, from mere change of place right up to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]

 

M11 could be true even if no matter was relocated in the process, or even as a result.12

 

Alternatively, maybe Lenin meant the following?

 

M12: The occurrence of literal motion without matter can never be thought of as true.

 

Which appears to imply, or be implied by, the following:12a

 

M13: Literal motion without matter can never take place.

 

This seems to be closer to what Lenin might have meant, even if it still looks a little stilted. Be this as it may, M13 presents problems of its own. Consider this apparent counter-example:

 

M14: NM moved the date of the strike from Monday to Tuesday.13

 

Now, M14 seems to depict literal movement, and yet it isn't easy to see whether any matter has to be re-located as a result. Perhaps we might appeal to the movement of atoms in NM's brain, or the re-arrangement of ink molecules in a diary or on wall planner -- when the new date is committed to paper, etc. (as examples of matter in motion, here). But, at best, that would simply mean motion was indirectly associated with matter, since even in a real life situation the supposed strike itself wouldn't actually exist to be moved anywhere, even though it has still been moved.

 

It might be objected here that this sense of "move" wasn't at all what Lenin had in mind. But, Lenin himself appealed to a wider sense of "move" in his argument against the Idealists he was criticising:

 

"Let us imagine a consistent idealist who holds that the entire world is his sensation, his idea, etc. (if we take 'nobody's' sensation or idea, this changes only the variety of philosophical idealism but not its essence). The idealist would not even think of denying that the world is motion, i.e., the motion of his thoughts, ideas, sensations. The question as to what moves, the idealist will reject and regard as absurd: what is taking place is a change of his sensations, his ideas come and go, and nothing more. Outside him there is nothing. 'It moves' -- and that is all. It is impossible to conceive a more 'economical' way of thinking. And no proofs, syllogisms, or definitions are capable of refuting the solipsist if he consistently adheres to his view.

 

"The fundamental distinction between the materialist and the adherent of idealist philosophy consists in the fact that the materialist regards sensation, perception, idea, and the mind of man generally, as an image of objective reality. The world is the movement of this objective reality reflected by our consciousness. To the movement of ideas, perceptions, etc., there corresponds the movement of matter outside me. The concept matter expresses nothing more than the objective reality which is given us in sensation." [Lenin (1972), pp.319-20. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

Here, Lenin appeals to the movement of ideas as examples of motion (indeed, as did Engels before him), so it can hardly be objected when this wider meaning of the relevant words is used against his assertion in M1a.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Again, it could be objected that in this particular example what has actually changed is the date of the said strike. It is this that has been moved not the strike itself. But again, if it were only a date that had been moved, it would still be unclear whether any matter has to be relocated as a consequence. Once more, the date is in the future, and doesn't exist yet, even though it has still been moved.

 

Now, it would be little use referring to the altered marks in a diary or on a wall-planner (or those located anywhere else, for that matter) in order to illustrate the material changes directly or indirectly implied here. Certainly, such things may change, but if anyone were to imagine that the dates of strikes, or even strikes themselves, are simply marks on paper, then bosses could easily put a stop to trade union militancy just by tippexing-out the relevant marks (or by destroying such wall-planners/diaries), and be done with it. The class struggle surely can't be so easily erased, can it?

 

At best, therefore, the movement reported in M14 is indirectly associated with matter. Nevertheless, M14 appears to indicate that we can at least understand sentences where the connection between motion and matter isn't obvious or clear-cut as Lenin seems to think it is. So, maybe we can think the unthinkable, despite what Lenin said?

 

M14: NM moved the date of the strike from Monday to Tuesday.

 

This still leaves the status of M12 and M13 unresolved. However, if we ignore awkward cases like M14 and concentrate on examples of movement located only in the present, we might perhaps be able to ascertain Lenin's intentions.

 

[Unfortunately, this restriction would make the temporal quantifier (i.e., "never") in M12 and M13 seem rather superfluous, if not redundant. I will ignore that awkward complication.]

 

M12: The occurrence of literal motion without matter can never be thought of as true.

 

M13: Literal motion without matter can never take place.

 

However, if we are careful to stipulate that "literal motion" involves change of place, then maybe the following re-write of M12 and M13 might work?

 

M15: Literal motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Of course, M15 is just a variant of M1a. But, is it/are they, true?

 

Maybe not.

 

One obvious example of literal movement that takes place without matter -- which is not only thinkable, it is actual -- is the motion of the Centre of Mass [CoM] of the Galaxy [CMG]. The CMG is located in empty space, but it exerts a decisive causal influence on everything in the Galaxy while not being material itself (it isn't made of anything, it is merely a theoretical point, a 'mathematical abstraction'). In its turn, it moves under the influence of something else that isn't material either -- the centre of mass of the cluster of galaxies of which ours is a part, and so on.14

 

This example, of course, omits any reference to the geodesics of Spacetime as causal factors in this case. However, introducing that complication at this stage wouldn't affect the point being made since geodesics are, of course, non-material. Arguably, they aren't even 'extra-mental'. Of course, exactly what makes matter, or, indeed, anything, move along geodesics is a moot point itself, which I will leave no less moot for now.

 

Despite this, it could be argued that because matter 'creates' these geodesics, all movement in the end is related in some respect to matter. If so, Lenin's original claim needs to be watered-down to something like the following:

 

N1: Motion without matter causing it somewhere is unthinkable.

 

[Of course, that response assumes geodesics are extra-mental entities when they are in fact mathematical objects, and, like lines of force, their physical status is rather puzzling, if not entirely dubious. (On that, see here and below.) If so, it isn't easy to see how matter can 'create' a single geodesic.]

 

But, N1 might not even be true (and that is quite apart from the fact that it, too, is "thinkable"; you, dear reader, have just thought it, or what it supposedly 'represents'!), and that could even be the case with or without the need to appeal to a single DM-precept. Anyway, as we saw in Note One, according to DM-fans, motion is "The mode of the existence of matter"; its demotion to a factor that merely plays a causal role in the whole affair would seriously undermine yet another core DM-theory.

 

More importantly, of course, it isn't what Lenin actually said.

 

[QM = Quantum Mechanics; CMG = Centre of Mass of the Galaxy.]

 

The reason why N1 might not be true is discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part One. Briefly, that is because we do not as yet have a theory that connects QM with General Relativity, and, to date, the leading candidates manifestly depend on the reification of some highly abstruse mathematics, which strategy itself has serious Idealist implications for Physics (as Lenin himself recognised). Such acts of reification either imply -- or are based on the unacknowledged pretence -- that mathematical entities (differential equations, tensor, vector and scalar fields (or 'the field' in general) etc.) can act as causal agents. Unless we subscribe to some form of Mystical, Cosmic, Pythagorean-Platonism, that idea isn't even plausible. [I have said more about CoMs -- also called "Barycentres" -- in Essay Eleven Part One, here.]

 

It could be argued that the CMG is external to the mind, and so the above claims are subject to the following rebuttal by Lenin:

 

"If energy is motion, you have only shifted the difficulty from the subject to the predicate, you have only changed the question, does matter move? into the question, is energy material? Does the transformation of energy take place outside my mind, independently of man and mankind, or are these only ideas, symbols, conventional signs, and so forth?" [Lenin (1972), p.324.]

 

Hence, in view of the fact that scientists' ideas about the nature of matter and energy are constantly changing and developing, the facts of Relativity in no way embarrass DM. Whatever is objective and external to the mind is matter, and that includes the CMG. Again, as Lenin argued:

 

"[T]he sole 'property' of matter with whose recognition philosophical materialism is bound up is the property of being an objective reality, of existing outside our mind.... Thus…the concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Ibid., pp.311-12. Italic emphasis in the original. Paragraphs merged.]

 

Or so it could be maintained, once more...

 

But, the CMG doesn't actually exist -- at least, no more than any other averaged quantity does. Is there in existence anywhere an individual answering to the following descriptor: "The average man/woman in the UK"? How then either that or the CMG can be 'objective' is still a mystery. And if 'objectivity' is supposed to be "existence independent of the mind", and since both are creations of the human mind, they can't be 'objective' in Lenin's sense.

 

[Naturally, the above comment about averages depends on whether we are talking about the mean, the median or the mode.]

 

Of course, Lenin's catch-all definition -- that whatever has "objective existence outside the mind" is material -- would plainly include the CMG by definitional fiat. But, why should we accept such a definition? Lenin's continual assertion that this is what matter is, isn't, I'm sorry to have to announce, a sufficient reason for the rest of us to accept it -- unless, of course, we conclude that Lenin was a Minor Deity of some sort.

 

Would we be prepared to accept a 'definition' of "fairness" promulgated by a supporter of the current system which meant that word applied to everything and anything that happened inside Capitalism and had been initiated by the ruling-class or their ideologues? Or that wages paid to workers were "fair"? I suspect not.

 

Indeed, would we be happy to accept a definition of 'God' as "The Supreme and Eternal Being who exists of necessity but whose existence can't be proved"?

 

Well, since 'His'/'Her'/'Its' existence can't be proved, the sentence "God is The Supreme and Eternal Being who exists but whose existence can't be proved" must be true, by definition.

 

But then, if 'His'/'Her'/'Its' existence can be proved, 'He'/'She'/'It' exists anyway. So, either way, 'He'/'She'/'It' must exist.

 

Now, it is little use pointing to the weaknesses, nor even the 'contradictions' in the above 'argument', since a smart theologian will simply play the Nixon card (beloved of DM-fans) to silence all opposition. And, if you persist, you will simply be accused of not "understanding" 'Theological Dialectics'.

 

The problem, of course, began with the definition.

 

Same with Lenin's.

 

Now, I don't expect the DM-fraternity to accept any of this, but when they see what odd entities permitted by Lenin's overly generous definition of words like "material" and "matter", I think they might be among the first to disown it.

 

Perhaps we should modify M15 to accommodate or neutralise such annoying counterexamples --, in the following way:

 

M16: Literal motion without some matter somewhere causing it is unthinkable.

 

Alas, M16 now concedes the point that motion can take place while spatially-, or, perhaps even temporally-, divorced from matter, since it isn't specific about contiguous or concurrent causation (which, of course, may not be what Lenin meant by M1a anyway -- who can say?). And, as we will see in Essay Thirteen Part One, Lenin's concept of matter (if such it might be called) is so vague and confused that little sense can be made of it.15

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Nevertheless, despite these apparent problems, M15 and M16 face far more serious difficulties than the inconvenient astronomical (or even ordinary) facts mentioned above.

 

Metaphysics And Language -- Part One

 

The Conventional Nature Of Discourse - 1

 

As we have seen, and as we will continue seeing as the rest of Essay Twelve unfolds, the problems Lenin and other metaphysicians face are a direct result of the peculiar nature of the language they use, compounded by the rather odd way they employ it. But, there are other aspects of such language that are less well appreciated (or, rather, they aren't appreciated at all), which means that this slide into metaphysical incoherence doesn't just involve DM. With respect to Metaphysics in general, that slide is unavoidable.

 

While it is true that Marxists hold that language is both a social product and a means of communication, few seem to have fully thought through the ramifications of those basic tenets.17 On the contrary, one of their least recognised implications is that language is conventional. Indeed, if language is social, how could it be other than conventional? Human beings invented language. It wasn't bestowed on them from 'on high' or introduced by aliens. This means that at some point in their history human beings must have adopted, acquired or integrated linguistic conventions of some sort or description.17a

 

Furthermore, an even less well appreciated corollary of the above is that language is primarily a means of communication, not representation.18

 

It is undeniable that some Marxists have acknowledged the (perhaps limited) applicability of the former corollary -- that language is conventional --, but hardly any (perhaps none at all) have considered the full implications of the second (that language isn't primarily representational). Certainly Marx and Engels failed to do this, as have subsequent Marxists. Indeed, much of what they have to say about this topic -- especially about 'abstraction', 'cognition' and knowledge -- suggests the opposite is in fact the case.18a

 

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

 

Interlude Two -- Representational Theories of Language

 

Undermining a commitment to the social nature and origin of language -- replacing it with what turns out to be a mystical theory that language in effect contains a secret code capable of reflecting the underlying 'Essence of Being', and which code has also been stitched into the 'fabric of reality' so that the one can 'reflect' the other, in a like-recognises-like sort of basis -- helped motivate the theory that language is primarily representational (as we will see in the next two Parts of Essay Twelve -- summary here).

 

If the world was created by a 'Deity', and is therefore essentially mind-like, then human thought is capable of re-presenting to itself 'God's Mind', there being some sort of isomorphism between the two (since 'we' are supposed to be made in 'His image'). In this way Representationalism is little other than the flip side of Idealism -- as Hegel himself noted:

 

"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.]

 

Which idea also lies behind Marx's comment:

 

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

 

According to this ancient approach, language itself contains a hidden message -- that is, an esoteric code that may only be accessed and 'understood' by the elite, their ideologues, their hangers-on, their lackeys, or specially-trained professional 'philosophers'. Cosmic Verities like this are way beyond the comprehension of ordinary mortals -- or so the story goes -- trapped as they are in a 'banal' world of 'commonsense', their lives dominated by 'appearances', 'formal thinking' and ordinary language. In the Christian Tradition, this 'Hidden Code' was thought to have been stitched into the 'primary language' given by 'God' to Adam, but similar myths abound in other religions and cultural traditions. Indeed, much of Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, Alchemical and Kabbalistic Mysticism is based on this view of the relation between 'God', language and 'reality'.

 

[On that, see Bono (1995), Eco (1997), and Vickers (1984b). This topic will be explored more fully in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here), and other Parts of Essay Twelve.]

 

Signs and 'hidden messages' were also believed to be written in the stars, in sacred books, tea leaves, the flight of birds, the organs and entrails of slaughtered animals -- or, indeed, in its more recent incarnation, they have somehow been encrypted in our central nervous system as a "transformational grammar" ("unbounded merge") or "language of thought". [On that, see Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

What was that again about "ruling ideas"?

 

In DM-circles, this idea resurfaces as part of the theory that thought is dialectical because reality is dialectical -- which 'profound secret' is, alas, hidden from those who refuse to see, or those who just do not "understand" dialectics. For believers, though, DM can be called an "Algebra of Revolution", which seems to work because it alone is tuned to the "pulse of reality" -- or, perhaps even because reality 'dances' to its highly syncopated rhythm.

 

As I argued in Essay Four Part One (here slightly modified) in relation to the mystical dogma that there is a 'dialectical logic' of some sort that runs the entire universe:

 

To be sure, the confusion of rules of inference with 'logical' or metaphysical 'truths' dates back to Aristotle himself (and arguably even further back, to Plato, Parmenides, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras, Anaximander and Anaximenes). And, it isn't hard to see why. If a theorist -- or, indeed, if practically everyone -- believes that everything was created by a 'deity' (or 'deities') of some sort, they won't find it too difficult also to believe that fundamental principles underpinning that 'creation' somehow express how 'the gods' actually went about creating all we see around us -- including their own capacity to think -- and therefore that their own thought processes were capable of reflecting how 'he'/'she'/'it'/'they' reasoned while so doing. This idea would then automatically connect 'correct thinking about reality, society and human cognition' with the divinely-constituted order that governs absolutely everything. Logic itself would then be seen as an indirect way of studying 'divine thought', but interpreted now as a sort of Super-Science supposedly capable of reflecting core principles underlying 'Reality Itself'/'Being'.

 

This general approach to 'philosophical knowledge' later came to be known as "Metaphysics".

 

However, when Logic is re-described as the study of 'how we actually think and reason', that only succeeds in conflating it with psychology and hence with science itself. In light of the foregoing, such moves originally aimed at connect Logic with how the 'deity' also 'thinks'. This meant that early on Logic became intimately linked with the search for 'ultimate truth, 'divine truth', not simply the study of inference (which role was largely sidelined until recently).

 

Furthermore, if only a select few are capable of 're-presenting' 'God's thoughts' (for instance, by studying Logic), why would they concern themselves with anything as menial as evidence? That is indeed how Hegel 'reasoned', except in his case such 'thoughts' were buried under several layers of gobbledygook -- for example, here dutifully echoed for us by Herbert Marcuse:

 

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

 

[I have covered this topic in much more detail in Essay Three Part Two (here, here and here), where this overall attitude was traced back to an ancient, aristocratic view of 'philosophical knowledge' and with the theory that 'surface appearances' -- i.e., those that result from sense impressions caused by the material world, a world largely occupied by the great 'unwashed', which produces in them a 'superficial', 'un-philosophical' and 'uneducated' comprehension of 'reality' -- are fundamentally deficient/flawed, an idea later transmogrified into the Hegelian dogma that 'appearances' are 'contradicted' by 'underlying essence', a belief itself motivated by the Platonic idea that all 'true knowledge' must be based on the latter, not the former.]

 

As a result, those who had been (and still are) seduced by this almost hypnotic way of thinking and talking felt fully justified in imposing such ideas on 'reality' -- with no evidence to back them up (since, according to them, none was needed).

 

[Essay Seven Part One and Essay Two demonstrated this was also the case with DM-fans, who have been only too ready to copy Hegel (and Plato) in this regard, imposing their theory on the world.]

 

As Umberto Eco points out (in relation to the 'Western', Christian Tradition -- which, of course, drew heavily on Greek Philosophy and Religion):

 

"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status.... In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself.... Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]

 

Fast forward a score or more centuries and these ancient presuppositions re-surfaced in Hegel's work (which, ironically, was supposed to be presuppositionless!) where they now became a part of a mystical/ontological doctrine connected with what he took to be a series of 'self-developing' concepts -- which idea itself arose out of an egregious error committed over the nature of predication (a topic covered in detail in Essay Three Part One), further compounded by an even more serious blunder over the nature of the LOI.

 

[LOI = Law of identity.]

 

'Presuppositionless'? Attentive readers might be able to spot the 'non-existent presuppositions' (and Hegel's acceptance of the above traditional thought-forms) in the following passage:

 

"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-determinations of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.50-51, §§53-54. Bold emphases and link added. Italic emphases in the original. I have reproduced the published version, since the on-line version differs from it; I have informed the editors over at the Marxist Internet Archive about this. They have now corrected the on-line version! Several paragraphs merged.]

 

In the above book alone, readers will find page-after-page of 'presuppositionless', dogmatic assertions like these. Hegel even manages to contradict himself (somewhat ironically, one feels) within the space of just two paragraphs, in the following quotation taken from his Shorter Logic:

 

"Philosophy misses an advantage enjoyed by the other sciences. It cannot like them rest the existence of its objects on the natural admissions of consciousness, nor can it assume that its method of cognition, either for starting or for continuing, is one already accepted. The objects of philosophy, it is true, are upon the whole the same as those of religion. In both the object is Truth, in that supreme sense in which God and God only is the Truth. Both in like manner go on to treat of the finite worlds of Nature and the human Mind, with their relation to each other and to their truth in God. Some acquaintance with its objects, therefore, philosophy may and even must presume, that and a certain interest in them to boot, were it for no other reason than this: that in point of time the mind makes general images of objects, long before it makes notions of them, and that it is only through these mental images, and by recourse to them, that the thinking mind rises to know and comprehend thinkingly.

 

"But with the rise of this thinking study of things, it soon becomes evident that thought will be satisfied with nothing short of showing the necessity of its facts, of demonstrating the existence of its objects, as well as their nature and qualities. Our original acquaintance with them is thus discovered to be inadequate. We can assume nothing and assert nothing dogmatically; nor can we accept the assertions and assumptions of others. And yet we must make a beginning: and a beginning, as primary and underived, makes an assumption, or rather is an assumption. It seems as if it were impossible to make a beginning at all." [Hegel (1975), p.3., §1. Bold emphases alone added; links in the on-line version.]

 

So, in one breath, Hegel says we can "assume nothing and assert nothing dogmatically", but in the previous paragraph he has done just that, dogmatically asserting that the object of Philosophy is "Truth" and that "God and only God is Truth", that "the mind makes general images of objects long before it makes notions of them", all the while asserting that "philosophy may and even must presume" certain things about "objects", and that to make a start in Philosophy is to make an "assumption" (paragraph two)!

 

After having read that one may well wonder why anyone takes this bumbling fool seriously!

 

Well, WRP-theorist, the late Cliff Slaughter, certainly did:

 

"Hegel insisted on a Logic which was not something separate from the reality which confronted man, a Logic which was identical with the richness and movement of all reality, a Logic which expressed the whole process of man's growing consciousness of reality, and not just a dry summary of formal principles of argument, reflecting only one brief phase in the definition of reality by thinking men." [Slaughter (1963), p.9.]

 

I suspect many will agree that that, too, looks like a pretty dogmatic set of pre-suppositions.

 

Be this as it may, when this ideologically-compromised 'ontological' interpretation of Logic is abandoned (or 'un-presupposed'), the temptation to identify it with science (i.e., with the "Laws of Thought", or even with 'absolute' or 'ultimate' truth) loses whatever superficial plausibility it might once seemed to have possessed. If Logic is solely concerned with the study of inference, then there is no good reason to saddle it with such inappropriate metaphysical baggage, and every reason not to. On the other hand, if there is indeed a link between that discipline and metaphysical, scientific or 'ultimate' truth -- as both legend, Hegel and DM-theorists would have us believe --, then that theory will need substantiating. It isn't enough just to assume or merely assert that such a connection exists (especially since it has easily confirmed links with mystical theology, as we have seen), which has generally been the case in Idealist and DM-circles ever since.

 

Despite this, the idea that 'fundamental truths about reality' may easily be discovered by an examination of how human beings think they reason is highly suspect in itself. But, like most things, much depends on what is supposed to follow from that assumption; and that in turn will depend on what it is taken to mean. As we will see, the many differing views that have been expressed on this topic sharply distinguish materialist theory from Idealist fantasy. Unfortunately, DM-theorists have so far shown themselves to be far more content to tail-end Traditional Philosophers by supposing (alongside Hegel) that logic functions like a sort of cosmic code-cracker, capable of revealing profound truths about (what would otherwise be) 'hidden aspects of reality' buried beneath 'appearances' -- aka the perennial search for all those elusive 'essences' -- than they have been with attempting to justify this entire approach with a single cogent supporting argument. In its place they have shown they prefer a heady mixture of dogmatic assertion and unsubstantiated presupposition (again, rather like Hegel). Nor have they been at all concerned to examine any of the motivating forces that gave rise to this class-compromised approach to Super-Knowledge, concocted over two thousand years ago in Ancient Greece by card-carrying ruling-class ideologues.

 

[Concerning the other (ancient) dogma that language somehow 'reflects' the world, and that truths about it can be derived from words/thought alone, see Dyke (2007). However, the reader mustn't assume that I agree with Dyke's own metaphysical conclusions (or, indeed, with any metaphysical conclusions whatsoever). As Essay Twelve Part One shows, the opposite is in fact the case: I regard them all as non-sensical and incoherent.]

 

Of course, contemporary logicians are now much clearer about the distinction between rules of inference and logical truths than their counterparts were in the Ancient World -- or even in the Nineteenth Century. That fact alone means the criticisms DM-theorists level against FL are even more anachronistic and difficult to justify.

 

[FL = Formal Logic.]

 

[The clear distinction between assumptions and rules of inference (between propositions that can be true or false, and rules than can be neither) was neatly illustrated by Lewis Carroll over a century ago in his dialogue, What the Tortoise Said to Achilles. A PDF of that classic paradox can be accessed here.]

 

Anyway, if materialists are to reject the mystical view of nature prevalent in Ancient Greece, which view is both implicit and explicit in Hegelian Ontology --, as surely they must --, then the idea that FL is just another branch psychology -- or physics, or even that it is the 'science of thought' -- becomes even more difficult to sustain.

 

Indeed, how is it possible for language to 'reflect' the logic of the world if the world has no logic to it? Which it couldn't have unless Nature were 'Mind', or the 'product of Mind'.

 

If the development of Nature isn't in fact a (disguised or camouflaged) development of 'Mind' (as Hegel supposed), how can concepts drawn from the development of 'Mind' apply to Nature, unless, once more, it were itself 'Mind', or the 'product of Mind'?

 

Of course, dialecticians have responded to this sort of challenge with an appeal to the RTK (i.e., the sophisticated version of that theory); but, as we will see (in Essay Three Part Five and Twelve Part Four), that, too, was an unwise move.

 

[RTK = Reflection Theory of Knowledge, to be covered in Essay Twelve Part Four.]

 

This means that if FL is solely concerned with inferential links between propositions and conclusions -- and isn't directly concerned with their truth-values -- then the criticism that FL can't account for change becomes even more bizarre.

 

This means that if FL is solely concerned with the study of the inferential links between propositions and conclusions -- and isn't directly involved with their truth-values -- then the criticism that FL can't account for change becomes even more bizarre.

 

It is instructive to recall that since the Renaissance, 'western' society has (largely) learnt to separate religious fantasy from scientific knowledge, so that the sort of things that used to be said as a matter-of-course about science (for example, that it was the "systematic study of God's work", etc., etc.) look rather odd and anachronistic today (that is, to all but the incurably religious or the naively superstitious). In like manner, previous generations of logicians used to confuse logic not just with science, but with the "Laws of Thought", also as a matter-of-course; and they did so for theological and ideological reasons, too. In that case, one would have thought that avowed materialists (i.e., dialecticians) would be loathe to promote and then spread this ancient confusion.

 

Clearly, they aren't.

 

As will be argued at length later on at this site, only if it can be shown (and not simply presumed or even merely asserted) that nature has a rational structure, would it be plausible to suppose that there is any connection at all between the way human beings think they think and the underlying or inner constitution of nature. Short of that, the idea that there is such a link between the way we think we draw conclusions and fundamental aspects of 'reality' loses all credibility. Why should the way we knit premises and conclusions together mirror the structure of the universe? Why should our use of words have such profound 'ontological' implications, valid for all of space and time?

 

Did the rest of us miss a meeting?

 

It could be objected that if language is part of the world, it must have coded into it all sorts of things that are also part of or which reflect aspects of reality.

 

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

 

Added To End Note 6a:

 

For present purposes it is sufficient to note that it requires human beings to code anything, which further implies that this coding, if it exists, was:

 

(a) Intentionally inserted into language by an individual or group of individuals; or it was,

 

(b) Incorporated into language by a non-human 'mind' of some sort.

 

Option (b) directly implies a form of Idealism (for instance, LIE, as noted earlier). So does (a), but only indirectly. In Essay Twelve Parts One and Two, it will be shown just how and why that is the case. [I have also dealt with option (a) briefly again, below.]

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

It could be countered that our minds work the way they do because it proved evolutionarily advantageous for our species. Individuals whose thoughts didn't mirror the world would find it difficult to survive and hence reproduce.

 

That is in fact a rather poor argument, which I will dispose of in Essay Thirteen Part Three. Again, for present purposes, all we need note is that even if that were the case, our thoughts need only 'mirror' the material world, not all those 'underlying essences'. How, for example, could the thoughts of our ancestors have 'mirrored' the hidden world of 'essences' -- a world only 'revealed' to us by the speculations of Traditional Philosophers and Mystics a few thousand years ago -- if they are, by definition, inaccessible to the senses? How could such invisible imponderables assist in our survival in any away at all?

 

It could be objected that a capacity to form abstract thoughts would enable humanity to grasp general ideas about nature, which would free them from the "immediacy of the present", allowing them to take some -- albeit limited -- control of their lives and their surroundings. That would definitely assist in their survival.

 

However, as argued at length in Essay Three Parts One and Two, abstraction in fact destroys generality. Hence, if our ancestors had access to these 'hidden essences' by means of a 'process of abstraction', that would have seriously reduced their chances of survival. [On our ancestors' alleged use of abstractions, see here.]

 

That is, of course, quite apart from the fact that it is bizarre in the extreme to claim that our ancestors, hundreds of thousands of years ago, were aware of these invisible 'essences' -- and thus coded them into language --, but which 'essences' were in fact conjured into existence only a few thousand years ago by a set of grammatical and logical verbal tricks concocted by Greek Philosophers! [On that, see Essay Three Part One, again, link above.]

 

[The verbal tricks performed by Ancient Greek Philosophers that 'allowed' them to invent such fanciful ideas are detailed in Barnes (2009), Havelock (1983), Kahn (1994, 2003), Lloyd (1971), and Seligman (1962) -- although, the latter authors don't characterise the aforementioned terminological gyrations in the pejorative way that I have! I will be dealing with this topic in more detail in Essay Twelve Part Two (summary here).]

 

This isn't to argue, either, that our ancestors didn't use general nouns, but general nouns aren't the same as the 'abstract general ideas' of Traditional Lore. Readers are directed to the above Essays (and the academic studies listed in the previous paragraph) for more details.

 

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

 

Even to ask such questions is to answer them: how is it possible that 'metaphysical truths' were only capable of being derived from, or expressed in, Indo-European languages, which is the only language family that has the required grammatical structure -- the subject-copula-predicate form -- that allows such moves? Was that group of humans blessed by the 'gods'? Are there really 'subjects', 'copulas' and 'predicates' out there in nature for just this language group to 'reflect'?

 

[Follow the first of the above links for more details.]

 

On the other hand, if it could be shown that the universe does have an underlying, 'rational' structure, the conclusion that nature is 'Mind' (or, that it was 'constituted by Mind') would be all the more difficult to resist. If all that is real is indeed 'rational', then the identification of rules of inference with the "laws of thought" and then with fundamental metaphysical truths about "Being Itself" would become nigh on irresistible.

 

As noted above: the History of Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism reveal that from such esoteric assumptions it is but a short step to the derivation of 'philosophical truth' from thought/language alone. Dogmatic, a priori theory-mongering and Idealism thus go hand-in-hand. If Nature is Ideal, then it would seem truths can legitimately follow from thought/language alone -- a point underlined 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.]

 

In several other Essays posted at this site (for example, this Essay and Essay Two) we will see that this is a step DM-theorists and metaphysicians of every stripe were only too eager to take -- and, many times over, too.

 

Nevertheless, there is precious little evidence to suggest that DM-theorists have ever given much thought to this specific implication of the belief that DL reflects the underlying structure of reality -- i.e., they have given little or no consideration to the idea that their 'logic' actually implies 'Reality is Ideal'. If logic does indeed reflect the structure of 'Being', then 'Being' must be 'Mind', after all.

 

[On this, see Essay Twelve Part Four (to be published in 2024) -- a partial summary of which can be accessed here.]

 

The above considerations further strengthen the suspicion that the much-vaunted materialist "inversion" -- supposedly inflicted on Hegel's system/'method' by early dialecticians -- was either illusory or merely formal. That in turn implies DM is simply a version of inverted Idealism, which still means it is a form of Idealism. If so, questions about the nature of Logic cannot but be related to the serious doubts raised at this site about the supposedly scientific status of 'dialectics'. In that case, if Logic is capable of revealing fundamental, scientific truths about nature -- as opposed to its only legitimate role in the systematic study of inference -- then it becomes much harder to resist the conclusion that DM is indeed just another form of Idealism that has yet to 'come out of the closet'.

 

Whatever the precise details turn out to be in each case, this almost universally-held doctrine, this ruling idea, only succeeded in 'populating' nature with invisible "Forms", Essences", "Abstractions", "Universals", "Concepts", "Ideas",  and other immaterial 'rational principles', which were somehow capable of being reflected in and by language/'thought'. These clandestine 'principles' were supposedly encoded in language in an abstract form, and were revealed only to those capable of performing complex feats of mental gymnastics (and, of course, those with sufficient leisure time that allowed them to indulge in the sport) -- a perverse skill compounded by an even more impressive ability to invent increasingly baroque but, nonetheless, entirely vacuous jargon.

 

This meant that the attack on the social nature of discourse represented just one wing of this class-motivated assault on ordinary language and common understanding, and hence on grass-roots materialism, which soon degenerated into LIE. [More details will be given in the next two Parts of this Essay (summary here).]

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

As noted above, this anti-materialist view of language sees discourse as primarily representational. However, as we will soon discover, instead of the arcane terminology Philosophers invent, which they imagine is capable of mirroring 'reality', the vacuous jargon mentioned earlier actually reflects constantly changing ruling-class priorities, and hence mirrors their overall perception of the 'natural-' and 'social-order', conducive to their aims, interests and the maintenance of power.

 

[Dialectical Marxists are generally aware of the above facts but they then fail to see how these ancient ideological priorities have fed into their own use of DM. That was one of the main topics of Essay Nine Parts One and Two, and will be covered again from a different angle in Essay Fourteen Part Two.]

 

Theorists who (because of their class position) were removed -- or alienated -- from the everyday world of work seem 'naturally predisposed' to remove -- or 'abstract' -- ordinary words from their role in communal life and inter-communication. This approach to language thus helped form a feed-back loop, helping to reinforce the idea that 'Reality' was itself linguistic and fundamentally abstract, the product of some 'Mind': if that is true of language it must be true of the world, and if it is true of the world it must also be the case with language. These two ideas fed into and reinforced one another.

 

Again as Umberto Eco pointed out in relation to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim traditions (but, as we will see in Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve, this view of the magical connection between language and 'Reality' can be found across many religions, cultures and philosophical traditions -- until then, readers are directed to this site for more details):

 

"God spoke before all things, and said, 'Let there be light.' In this way, he created both heaven and earth; for with the utterance of the divine word, 'there was light'.... Thus Creation itself arose through an act of speech; it is only by giving things their names that he created them and gave them their ontological status.... In Genesis..., the Lord speaks to man for the first time.... We are not told in what language God spoke to Adam. Tradition has pictured it as a sort of language of interior illumination, in which God...expresses himself.... Clearly we are here in the presence of a motif, common to other religions and mythologies -- that of the nomothete, the name-giver, the creator of language." [Eco (1997), pp.7-8. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Paragraphs merged.]

 

This in turn implied that only those capable of forming greater, broader, deeper or more general abstractions (based less and less on any real connection with the material world) were capable of truly grasping such esoteric mysteries. Or, since Hegel's day, were able to "understand" the 'dialectic', feel the "the pulse of reality", capable of 'dancing' to its tune, interpret the "algebra of revolution".

 

Unfortunately, as we will also see, metaphysical 'profundities' can't be based on ordinary language. That is, they can't be derived from a medium that serves primarily a means of communication. The vernacular actually prevents such flights-of-fancy from being concocted in a comprehensible form. It is precisely for this reason that ordinary language -- along with its roots in the communal life and the experience of working people -- had to be down-played, denigrated and then set-aside by theorists possessed of a well-focussed ruling-class agenda. Such theorists were intent on showing that the oppressive and exploitative social system from which they just so happened to benefit was ordained of the 'gods', was 'natural', and was predicated on, or was an expression of, a hidden, 'rational' order based mysterious 'essences', which (surprise! surprise!) they alone were capable of detecting and identifying. This complex web of ideas was motivated by a systematic fetishisation of language, so that what had once been the product of the relation between human beings (language) was inverted and then transformed into the relation between those invisible 'essences' and a few select human minds -- or, indeed, they were transformed into those 'essences' themselves. In Hegel (and later in DM) 'dialectical logic' -- supposedly implicit in discourse -- thus became the logic that ran the entire world 'behind the backs of the producers', as it were.

 

Here is Hegel again:

 

"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-determinations of thought are the content and the ultimate truth itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.50-51, §§53-54. Bold emphases and link added. Italic emphases in the original. Some paragraphs merged. I have reproduced the published version, since the on-line version differs from it; I have informed the editors over at the Marxist Internet Archive about this. They have now corrected the on-line version!]

 

"[B]ut contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity." [Ibid., p.439, §956. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Instead of speaking by the maxim of Excluded Middle (which is the maxim of abstract understanding) we should rather say: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth, neither in the world of mind nor of nature, is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or' as the understanding maintains. Whatever exists is concrete, with difference and opposition in itself. The finitude of things will then lie in the want of correspondence between their immediate being, and what they essentially are.... Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world: and it is ridiculous to say that contradiction is unthinkable. The only thing correct in that statement is that contradiction is not the end of the matter, but cancels itself. But contradiction, when cancelled, does not leave abstract identity; for that is itself only one side of the contrariety. The proximate result of opposition (when realised as contradiction) is the Ground, which contains identity as well as difference superseded and deposited to elements in the completer notion." [Hegel (1975), p.174; Essence as Ground of Existence, §119. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

The philosophical result of these (ancient) ideological moves was then imported into the workers' movement, and that was done by appropriating Ideas Hegel himself lifted from earlier Mystics and Idealists. And that remains the case whether or not Hegel's system is left 'upside-down' or subsequently flipped the 'right way up', These moves were facilitated by revolutionaries who unwisely introduced this alien-class approach to language, logic and 'cognition' into revolutionary socialist theory, and who thereby implicitly rejected Marx and Engels's insistence that discourse was rooted in communal life and arose out of collective labour, and which operated as a means of communication, not representation.

 

[More details on this were given in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, which were then elaborated upon in Essay Thirteen Part Three. They will be further discussed in later Parts of Essay Twelve (summary here).]

 

[It is important to add that neither the social-, nor the representational-nature of language is being asserted or denied as philosophical theories in this Essay. It is possible, however, to develop an understanding of the social and communicative role of language as a "form of representation" -- indeed, as just such a form integral to HM -- which is also easily expressed in ordinary language and is thereby consonant with the experience of working people. (The term "form of representation" is explained here. See also Note 18b, and Note 19.)]

 

However, that won't be attempted in this Essay.

 

Nevertheless, what has been taken for granted at this site is that ordinary language is "alright as it is" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein). Having said that, it will be agued -- indeed, it will be demonstrated -- that any attempt to undermine the vernacular results in the inevitable production of incoherent non-sense on the part of anyone who goes down that blind alley.

 

The rest of Essay Twelve (all Seven Parts) will be devoted to substantiating many of the above rather bald, seemingly dogmatic, statements.

 

[The only other alternative here would be to claim (alongside Chomsky) that language is 'innate', that it isn't a social phenomenon and isn't therefore primarily a means of communication. Despite what some revolutionaries say, there is no way that that theory can be made consistent with Marxism -- nor can any sense be made of it. Again, I have dealt with that specific topic at much greater length in Essay Thirteen Part Three. Readers are directed there for more details.]

 

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

 

The Conventional Nature Of Discourse - 2

 

In this respect, once more, dialecticians aren't alone. Until recently, little critical attention has been paid to the traditional view that language is primarily representational, i.e., that it enables human beings to re-present the world in "thought", in the "head", the "mind", "consciousness", or in "cognition" first before communication can begin.18b

 

This underlying assumption has rarely been questioned (again until recently): that is, that only after language users have learnt to picture reality to themselves are they then able to communicate their thoughts to others, That observation also applies to those who at least give lip service to the idea that the primarily role of language lies in communication (i.e., DM-theorists). This means that, despite what they might say, the social nature of language is seen by the vast majority of Marxists as a consequence of the isolated (but later pooled) cognitive resources of each individual, as an expression of their attempt to share the 'contents' of their 'minds', their 'abstractions', with one another, not the other way round.19

 

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

 

Interlude Three -- Representationalists And Dialecticians In A Bind

 

As Baz pointed out (quoted in Note 18b), theorists who privilege the representational nature of language tend to focus on its ability to 'reflect' the 'objective' world in 'thought' -- or, rather, they emphasise our ability to 'reflect' it in 'thought', mediated perhaps by language. Although social factors are often mentioned in passing, the prevailing opinion only succeeds in undermining the role such factors play in meaning and communication. So, if we all (naturally) 'reflect' the world (or part of it) in our heads, or in 'consciousness', what need is there for socialisation in the formation of language and thought? What role can it possibly play in that respect? That is why Representationalists often view ordinary language as an obstacle, something to be 'revised', overcome, by-passed, or even undermined in the quest for 'philosophical', 'objective' or scientific truth. For such theorists, if language were indeed social (or conventional), philosophical -- and allegedly scientific -- notions of 'objectivity' could gain no grip. This also helps explain why Representationalists of every stripe advance the same complaints against ordinary language and 'commonsense' -- that they both stand in the way of building an 'objective picture of reality'. That is also why they all invent obscure jargon, by means of which they hope to by-pass the vernacular (and confuse those not 'in the know'). It also explains their hostility both to OLP and Wittgenstein's work.

 

[In addition, that approach is tantamount to conceding the point (advanced at this site) that the vernacular actually prevents such obscure theories from being successfully constructed.]

 

[OLP = Ordinary Language Philosophy.]

 

Naturally, this puts dialecticians in something of a bind. On the one hand, they can't acknowledge the conventional nature of language without ditching their commitment to 'objectivity'. On the other, they can't reject the conventional nature of language without compromising their (avowed) commitment to its social nature. This dilemma, this fittingly 'contradictory' approach to discourse (along with the arcane and convoluted thinking it motivates in both theorists and active revolutionaries who have written on this topic) will be examined in more detail Essay Thirteen Part Three. There, we will see that these remarks also apply to Voloshinov and Vygotsky, as well as who look to them for inspiration.

 

[The philosophical use of the word "objectivity" is subjected to detailed criticism in Essay Thirteen Part One -- here. See also Note 20.]

 

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

 

The Conventional Nature Of Discourse - 3

 

Camera Obscura

 

It seems to many (even on the revolutionary left) that here (at least) we have an example of private (mental) production that somehow contributes to public gain. That is because, on this view, it is the isolated activity of lone abstractors that enables cognition, which is what supposedly helps drive the social advancement of knowledge -- but only after the resulting 'abstractions' have somehow been pooled or shared.

 

The order of events, therefore, appears to be something like the following (give or take a few additional steps, expressed in suitably 'dialectical language' and 'tested in practice'):

 

(i) Sensation;

 

(ii) Abstraction;

 

(iii) Representation/reflection;

 

(iv) Inter-communication.

 

[Readers are referred to Essay Three Part One for supporting evidence and argument that the above indeed forms a core part of the DM-Epistemology, and in the order specified. The only thing missing is that there is a feed-back loop that flips each lone abstractor back to Stage (i), which is reinterpreted in light of Steps (ii), (iii) and (iv), all modified and shaped by practice.]

 

The fact that inter-communication is last in the list is something that at least one leading dialectician has acknowledged (indeed, as noted in Essay Three Part Two):

 

"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 this problem!

 

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

 

[In fact, Ollman is the very first dialectician I have read (in over thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'! Be this as it may, I have devoted Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for further details.]

 

Hence, this approach to the acquisition of language by each user relegates meaning to a private domain located in that individual's 'mind', something each one of us then brings to language --, perhaps as an expression of their own biography or the ideological and socials influences that constrain and shape us all. So, on this scenario, the individual, her cognition and her abstractive skills come before any social input, which is somehow then constructed out of separate contributions we all make to an overall 'pool of meaning' and knowledge.

 

[In Essay Thirteen Part Three (Section (4) onward) we will see that this is certainly true of the approach taken by theorists like Voloshinov and Vygotsky, along with those influenced by them.]

 

Alternatively, meaning is viewed a consequence of the 'objective rules' which nature has supposedly hard-wired into each brain, perhaps as a 'language of thought' or as a 'transformational grammar' (now called "unbounded merge").

 

Dialecticians will even speak about ideas living in 'tension' with one another, in our heads!

 

"How do our brains and our consciousness develop? That's one of the biggest conundrums in science, and one that Engels' work on human evolution brings us on to. Some of the most interesting arguments came from thinkers in revolutionary Russia, before it was crushed by Stalinist counter-revolution in the 1920s and 30s. Lev Vygotsky helped develop a number of sophisticated views on how we develop consciousness. Building on Engels' theory of how humans evolved, he argued that language can be understood as a tool that early humans used -- a tool that then shaped their consciousness.

 

"This is important in theories of teaching. A child's ability to learn is not predetermined by some limit in their DNA. If children are nurtured they have the potential to achieve and to develop in ways that you couldn't imagine. Valentin Voloshinov took this further. He argued that our consciousness develops through struggle. There's a constant dynamic tension between the ideas inside our head. Through struggle our ability to consider new ideas increases." [Parrington (2012), p.15. Several paragraphs merged. It is important to note that comrade Parrington does not accept Chomsky's view of language and mind.]

 

This back-to-front theory -- which transforms ideas into agents and humans into patients -- is examined in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. Suffice it to say that Parrington's commitment to the social nature of language and thought is fatally compromised by his bourgeois individualist theory of 'consciousness'.

 

[I am here using the word "patient" with its older meaning, as that which is acted upon not that which acts.]

 

Whatever the aetiology, this is one idea that has ruled in one form or another for over twenty centuries.

 

As we saw in Essay Three Part Two, post-Renaissance thinkers (Rationalists and Empiricists alike) took the public domain (where meaning is created), inverted it, and then projected it back into each individual skull, privatised and then re-configured as the social relations among 'images', ideas or 'concepts'!

 

This resulted in the systematic fetishisation of language and thought, leading to the conflation of the 'objective' world with the subjective contents of the 'mind'. ["Fetishised", since, as noted above, words themselves were now viewed as agents.] The outer, social world was thus re-located in each individual head, the latter seen as primary, the former as secondary (or non-existent, in some cases!). In this way, the social was privatised, internalised and hence neutralised. Knowledge this became as function of the social life among ideas, the battle fought out  in each head, as Parrington tried to argue.

 

No wonder then that modern philosophy soon lapsed into full-blown, overt Idealism (subjective at first, later 'transcendental', later still, 'objective'), with Immanuel Kant complaining that it was scandal that philosophers had so far failed to prove the existence of the 'external' world! Small wonder, either, that Dialectical Marxists felt they had to re-invert things -- supposedly putting them 'back on their feet' -- all the while failing to notice that their (individualist) theory of 'mind', language and 'cognition' actually prevents that from happening.

 

More recently, this ruling-class thought-form has re-surfaced in several new disguises: sometimes reduced to, and re-configured as, an inter-relationship between neurons (as they 'communicate' with one another), supposedly controlled by the overarching power of the gene, which now seems to operate as a sort of surrogate inner Bourgeois Legislative and Executive Authority; sometimes as the expression of a computational device lodged in each head (or at least a device that helps 'the mind' write/use the 'software').

 

Given this view, while human beings might be born free (of language), everywhere they are chained by linguistic constraints manufactured and controlled by an inner surrogate 'state' -- 'consciousness' -- and a cognitive system comprised of 'modules' or 'neural nets', dominated by each individual's genetic inheritance). The social doesn't even get a look in -- except perhaps as a by-product, or even as a mere afterthought.20

 

The aforementioned inversion (the political and social roots of which will be analysed briefly below, but more fully in Parts Two and Three of this Essay) completely undermines the claim that language is a social phenomenon. And no wonder: it perfectly mirrors the bourgeois view of language and 'mind', not Marx's view of the social nature of language and cognition.

 

In fact, this is one ideological inversion that has remained upside down (but in different forms), not just for hundreds, but for thousands, of years, and which is largely the source of the other 'inverted ideas' concocted both by Traditional Philosophers and dialecticians. Inverted now, as in a camera obscura, these rotated concepts cloud the thoughts of all those whose brains they have colonised -- which, of course, helps explain why the ideas of the ruling-class always rule.

 

In this case, among DM-fans, they find willing accomplices and subjects.

 

[This recent (2023) video, by a rather sophisticated Maoist, underlines this collective slide into subjective Idealism. In the comment section I tried to point this out, but that message sailed right over the heads of those so easily led astray, including the author of the vide himself!]

 

'Dialectical' Atomism

 

Nevertheless, there seems little point arguing that language is a social phenomenon -- its key role lying in communication -- if it is in fact primarily representational (or, if it is representational first, and only communicational second). If that were the case, the social nature of language would be anterior to, if not parasitic upon, its supposedly primary, private role. No surprise then that this view of discourse introduces its own Robinsonades, analogous to those that Marx railed against in politics and economics. Except in this case, Robinsonades were introduced to explain the supposed origin of language in each private -- if not each socially-atomised skull -- and not just in connection with the 'social contract' or the economy.

 

If there is a point to be made here, it is perhaps as much ideological as it is anything else: If language is primarily representational then human beings must acquire language, meaning and knowledge first (as social atoms) before they are capable of entering into, joining or participating in a linguistic community.

 

But, that presents this entire (neo-bourgeois) approach with intractable problems: How is it possible for anyone to represent the world to themselves first, as an individual, and then later use language to communicate with others? Given that view, as far as language is concerned, each human being would be first and foremost a semantic individual, and only second a communicating, social being.

 

[That was the point of referring to those Robinsonades, earlier; a similar worry also lay behind Ollman's comments.]

 

In fact, as is easy to show, given this approach to language, communication would be impossible. Indeed, if it were the case that we represent the world to ourselves first before are capable of conversing with others, we would find ourselves incapable of communicating, and humanity would be, for all intents and purposes, universally autistic.

 

[This point will be elaborated upon and substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Given the representational approach, the role that communal life plays in the shaping of language would drop out as irrelevant.

 

Atomistic implications like these shouldn't be lost on those cognisant of the History of Philosophy and its relation to ruling-class interests and their associated ideologies (particularly as the latter were represented in thought-forms that have dominated Traditional Philosophy since the Seventeenth Century -- i.e., ideas that are intimately connected with Bourgeois Individualism).

 

However, the record shows that, as far as Dialectical Marxists are concerned, they almost invariably have been.

 

The Usual Response From DM-Theorists

 

Revolutionaries have generally resisted the idea that language is conventional because it would seem to imply that science is conventional, too, which would in turn threaten to undermine its 'objectivity'.21

 

In fact, revolutionaries have in general rejected the connection between the conventional nature of language and the 'objectivity' of science with arguments that have only succeeded in undermining both. Either that, or they have simply assumed that conventionalism must always collapse into relativism or some form of Idealism.22 However, the truth is the exact opposite: it is the rejection of the conventional nature of language and science that compromises both. How and why that is so will be explained briefly below, but in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two. In this Essay, I propose only to examine the connection between the above considerations and Metaphysics.

 

Meaning Precedes Truth

 

If language is a social phenomenon, then, clearly, what human beings say or write must be guided by normative conventions that govern discourse in general, if they are to make sense. That is why it isn't possible to utter absolutely anything, make random noises, and hope to be understood. Naturally, scientific language will have its own specialist and technical protocols layered on top, over-and-above or in place of, the ordinary conventions underlying the vernacular. In addition, this entire ensemble will change and develop in accord with wider social and historical forces.

 

But one thing is reasonably clear: if language is to be a means of communication, whatever lends sense to its empirical propositions must be independent of (and prior to) any truths they supposedly express.23

 

If that weren't so, language users would have to know whether an empirical proposition was true before they could understand it!

 

That is patently absurd, since no one could even assent to the truth, let alone repudiate the falsehood, of a proposition before they had first comprehended it. Indeed, as seems obvious, if they failed to understand what was said, they wouldn't even be able to begin finding out whether or not it was true.24

 

Plainly, this connects the social nature of language with the earlier discussion of propositions like M1a-M9. There, we saw that in the case of ordinary empirical propositions (like M6), it is possible to understand them before their truth-status is known:

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

The overwhelming majority of English language speakers will understand M6 on hearing or reading it -- providing, of course, they know who Tony Blair is and that The Algebra of Revolution is a book -- even if they haven't a clue whether it is true or whether it is false (or, indeed, whether or not they ever find out which of these is the case, or even care to know which is the case). Communication (at least with respect to the conveying of information) would cease if that weren't so.

 

After all, how would anyone be able to convey their thoughts to someone else if that individual had to ascertain that what was said to them was true before they could understand it? How could they even go about discovering its truth if they hadn't the faintest idea what they were being told?

 

By way of contrast, it was also argued that with respect to metaphysical/DM-propositions things are radically different: understanding a proposition like M9 is of a piece with knowing it is true. To reject it as false would amount to changing the meaning of "matter" and/or "motion". Why that is so will be explained later on in this Essay, but it is intimately connected with the status of P4:

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

These two options hang together: to understand M9 is ipso facto to accept it as true; to reject M9 as false is to change the meaning of some of its key terms.

 

We are now in a position to understand why that is so.

 

Avoiding An Infinite Regress

 

If, per impossible, the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on truth, or, indeed, on other truths (which would themselves have to be expressed by still further propositions), they, too, would have to be understood first before their truth-status could be ascertained. If not, then it would plainly be impossible to determine their truth-status. Once again, it isn't possible to ascertain the truth of a proposition before it has been comprehended.

 

[CNS = Central Nervous System.]

 

So, if, per impossible, the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on knowing still further truths, on knowing the facts of the matter, or even on some form of ontology, this process or hierarchy of dependency (of facts upon further facts, upon further facts, upon...) couldn't continue indefinitely. There appear to be only two ways an infinite regress [henceforth, IR] like this can be avoided (in such circumstances) as language users learn to employ it (in what follows I have left the word 'truths' deliberately vague so that several options aren't closed off from the start):

 

(1) Language users must have -- or have had programmed -- in their 'minds'/brains a 'set of truths' (possibly even a 'set of rules') that aren't themselves expressed in, or expressible by, empirical propositions. That is, such speakers must have direct access to what can only be called 'non-linguistic truths', or maybe even a set of 'linguistic rules' that have been 'hard-wired' into the CNS -- perhaps written in a 'code' of some sort (which, paradoxically, wouldn't be a code or the above IR would simply kick in again; why that is so is explained in Note 25).25

 

Or:

 

(2) The 'truths' upon which the sense of empirical propositions depend must be 'necessary truths', whose own truth can't be questioned (hence the word "necessary"), and whose semantic status follows directly from the meaning of the words or concepts they contain, but not from still further truths. In other words, these 'necessary truths' act rather like the buffers at the end of a railway line. The buck stops there -- at least in terms of semantic status.

 

 

Figure One: Are Buffers Necessary To Halt A Train-Of-Thought?

 

Unfortunately, as we will soon see, 'necessary truths' themselves have no sense and are incapable of being either true or false (so, they incapable of acting like literal or metaphorical buffers, too). That will, of course, rule out Option (2).

 

Anyway, Option (2) concedes an earlier point -- that meaning has to precede truth -- since the truth-status of such 'necessarily' true propositions follows from the meaning of their constituent terms. In that case, there would be no good reason to postulate the existence of such 'necessary' truths in order to support the opposite idea -- that meaning in the end depends on truth, not truth on meaning -- since, as seems plain, Option (2) relies on the fact that meaning is sui generis, and hence that truth depends on meaning, after all.

 

With respect to Option (1), as we will also discover, the idea that there could be sets of 'non-linguistic truths' (or 'rules') in nature (whether we are aware of them or not) that govern the sense of propositions is fundamentally based on the ancient belief that Nature is Mind, the product of Mind, constituted by Mind, or that it is in fact Ideal (i.e., it comprised of Ideas "all the way down", as it were).

 

In this particular case, this overall theory originally traded on the (quasi-religious) belief that language itself is governed by:

 

(i) Nature's own 'pre-linguistic ideas' (perhaps those that pre-exist in the 'Mind of God', or which are expressed in physical form, somewhere, somehow); or,

 

(ii) Physical 'laws' of some sort;

 

and hence that it is the intelligent or rational universe (or, indeed, its ultimate originating, supernatural cause) that lends to human discourse the meaning it has.

 

As should now seem obvious, this set of ideas meshes seamlessly with certain forms of Representationalism, for, given this approach, human beings represent meaning to themselves automatically and naturally (by means of principles 'programmed' into us 'lawfully' by 'God', nature or even by evolution). On this view, meaning is once again created in each individual human being, as if each one were a social or linguistic atom.

 

Hence, on this account, meaning is a 'natural', not a social, phenomenon.

 

[The above ideas are explored at greater length in Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three.]

 

In fact, more-or-less the same comment could be made in relation to the idea that language is governed by rules that are genetically programmed into the CNS. This would, of course, make such 'rules' part of the 'rational structure' of the universe, only more widely understood. However, as we will see (mainly in Essay Thirteen Part Three), that idea would only be acceptable if we were prepared to anthropomorphise the brain, and view it as intelligent, rather than human beings.

 

The (traditional) view of discourse is now also based on the (suppressed) premise that language users rely on 'intelligent' neurons that 'communicate' with each other, sending and carrying 'messages' to various areas of the body, or to one another. They are the linguists; we merely bend to their 'will'. This further implies that 'intelligent' neurons decide for each language user what their words mean, and it is this that enables their brains to mirror the outside world. In addition, as a sort of spin-off, that would help explain how we end up using language that suggests nature itself is intelligent/'rational'. If nature is (simply) assumed to be rational then the language we use will in return only seem to confirm that assumption.

 

So, this entire view implies that language, or something pre-linguistic -- alongside the neurons underlying one or bo -- are the agents here, we are the patients. In turn, it ends up fetishising the products of social interaction as if (a) they mirrored the real relation among things, (b) they represented or reflected the real relation between intelligent neurons, or (c) they are those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx).

 

In short, this confuses the means by which we hope to represent the world with the world itself.

 

[The liberal use of obscure jargon, inappropriate analogies, opaque and misleading metaphors, countless neologisms and 'scare' quote encrusted words by those who attempt to give concrete expression to this ideological inversion (i.e., that nature is the agent while human beings are the patient, at least with respect to the meaning of words) rather gives the game away, one feels.]26

 

Naturally, philosophers of a more 'robust' theoretical temperament might be inclined to rejected responses like this (for all manner of reasons), arguing that there must be physical or causal laws of some sort governing the way human beings form empirical propositions or sentences, or which give meaning to the words they use --, concluding, perhaps, that our understanding of language should be 'naturalised' accordingly.26a

 

There are however several serious difficulties with that approach. [This links to a PDF.]

 

First, we have as yet no idea what such 'laws' would even look like, let alone what they are.

 

Second, this account of the origin and nature of language would simply reduplicate the 'problem' it was meant to solve. There is and could be no conceivable 'law' (or set of 'laws') capable of doing all that is claimed for 'it' (or 'them') which doesn't at the same time anthropomorphise nature, or read into it the very linguistic categories it was originally introduced to explain.27

 

Third, if language is a product of, or has been caused by, a set of laws (that allows users to acquire language in order picture the world to themselves -- i.e., if discourse is fundamentally representational) then reference to its social nature will, of course, be an empty gesture. As noted above, Marxists who have been seduced into accepting one or other version of the above 'robust view' -- as a result perhaps of their unwise adherence concepts promoted in and by DM (originating, for instance, with Lenin and what he had to say in MEC) concerning the nature of cognition, or, perhaps, ideas based on Chomsky and/or Quine's work -- have universally failed to appreciate this anti-Marxist corollary.28

 

Finally, but more importantly, another implication of the idea that understanding language is at some point parasitic on truth (as set out in Option (1) and Option (2) from earlier) is that if, per impossible, that were the case, paradoxically, it couldn't be the case. That is because this way of viewing discourse gets things the wrong way round (i.e., the supposed relation here has once again been inverted); as we have seen, the establishment of the truth-value of a proposition is consequent on its already having been understood. Humans do not first appropriate or ascertain 'truths' and then proceed to comprehend them. Both communication and representation would be impossible if that were so.29

 

On the contrary, as was also noted earlier, if the sense of a proposition weren't independent of its actual truth-value, then, plainly, the mere fact that a proposition had been understood would entail it was true, or, as the case may be, it would entail that it was false! Naturally, if either alternative were correct, linguistic or psychological factors would determine the truth-status of empirical propositions and science would become little more than a branch of hermeneutics.29a

 

Hence, given the above 'inverted' approach, as soon as a proposition had been understood, its truth (or its falsehood) could be inferred automatically. Clearly, that would destroy the distinction between empirical and non-empirical propositions, for, on such a basis, as soon as anyone understood M6, for example, they would know it was true, or they would know it was false.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

Evidence either way would thus become irrelevant.

 

In this way, we can see how representationalism requires all indicative sentences to be of the same logical form (whether or not that was immediately obvious). At some point, given representationalism, all indicative propositions would be, or would depend on, a 'necessary truth' or set of such 'truths', which would 'reflect' in our 'minds' how things must be and can't be thought of as otherwise -- i.e., that their opposite was "unthinkable".

 

And, that is why this view of language, knowledge and 'mind' so naturally aligns itself with aprioristic dogmatism, with the idea that fundamental truths about nature are accessible to thought alone, and which can be safely imposed on reality because of that.

 

Hence, if M6 ultimately depends on a necessary truth of some sort, or if it is a disguised necessary truth itself (that is, in relation to M6, if, despite 'appearances to the contrary',  Blair had absolutely no choice, his ownership of TAR was determined by the operation of a necessary law of some sort (maybe, a là DM), or by the unfolding of his 'concept' (perhaps, a là Hegel), by his implicit predicates (possibly, a là Leibniz), or even by 'God' (could be, a là Calvin)), then ultimately its truth would be ascertainable without any need for supporting evidence. All one would need do is 'comprehend' the associated indicative sentence/'law', or the 'concepts' either supposedly express, for it to be deemed automatically true.

 

[Naturally, that would make falsehood difficult, if not impossible, to explain. Why that is so is reasonably obvious -- for those to whom it might not seem all that obvious, the answer is hinted at below. A much fuller explanation will be set out in in Essay Three Part Four, where it will be argued that this theory also implies there can't be any false propositions! Until that Essay is published, the argument supporting this controversial claim has been summarised here. See also Essay Eleven Part One, here.]

 

As should now seem plain, this theory, or family of theories, implies that scientific knowledge is based on some form of LIE; that is, it is founded on the belief that truths about the world may legitimately follow solely from language or 'thought'. The 'mind', when it 'reflects the world' would merely be reflecting itself, or even the thoughts of a more grandiose version of itself -- perhaps even a 'Cosmic Mind' in 'self-development' -- because, on this view, the world is either 'Mind' or it is the product of 'self-developing Mind'.

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

[The last of the above was, of course, the conclusion Hegel himself drew. It is revealing, therefore, to find out that the same result follows from the alleged 'inversion' of Hegel, in DM.]

 

Apriorism and LIE thus go hand-in-hand -- indeed, as George Novack noted:

 

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

 

Small wonder then that Marx connected Philosophy with religious mysticism:

 

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

 

Fortunately, it turns out that this way of looking at language and knowledge is undermined by the vernacular itself -- which is, perhaps, one reason why Marx himself recommended a different approach.30

 

"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 alone added.]

 

In that case, whatever lends sense to empirical propositions (i.e., whatever sets the conditions under which they are true or under which they are false) can't itself be a set of antecedent truths. Neither could it be a set of ex post facto truths (that is, truths established, or recognised as such, at a later stage).

 

In contrast, since the socially-motivated rules governing our ordinary use of language are incapable of being true or false, they aren't subject to the above constraints. [These points will be explained more fully below and then defended.]

 

The above constraints also apply to scientific language -- that is, if it is also to function as a means of communication (and, derivatively, as a means of representation). [On that, see Note 31 and Note 33. But this particular topic will be covered in much greater detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

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

 

Interlude Four --  Scientific Knowledge

 

[The following material used to form part of Note 31.]

 

Given the above considerations, we can now add this remark: whatever lends sense to empirical, scientific propositions, it can't be a set of truths, either. If the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on just such a set, scientists would only be able to understand each other after they had ascertained or learnt the truth-status of this extra set. In which case, of course, they couldn't be learnt. Clearly, there are no propositions by means of which this could be achieved that are exempt from the above constraints.31 32 33

 

If the sense of an empirical proposition or indicative factual sentence were dependent on the truth of a set of propositions or, indeed, other sentences of the same type, comprehension and hence communication could only be achieved at the end of each individual's education. [Which couldn't be delivered to each aspiring student, plainly because they wouldn't understand anything said to them until the end.] Hence, their education couldn't even commence until mastery had been achieved of these further 'truths', which would be required at the very beginning so that each one could grasp the sense of even one of the propositions that expressed these elusive 'extra truths' -- each of which would in turn require the same stage-setting, which is absurd.

 

[Notice, I have spoken about the sense of these propositions as opposed to their truth-value. This is an important distinction to keep in mind in order to understand the points made in the first half of Note 31. More on that as this sub-section unfolds.]

 

So, if the sense of an indicative sentence, S1, for example, were dependent on the truth of another sentence, S2, then in order to understand S1 (note, not in order to ascertain the actual truth of S1), the truth of S2 would have to be known, first. But, in order to ascertain the actual truth of S2 (note, not in order to grasp its truth-conditions), it, too, would also have to be understood first. [Plainly, as noted several times already: it isn't possible even to begin ascertaining the truth of a sentence one hasn't already understood.]

 

However, if the sense of S2 were itself dependent on the truth of yet another sentence, S3, then the truth of S3 would have to be known, too. But, in order to ascertain the truth of S3, it, too, would have to be understood, first -- and so on, ad infinitem...

 

Hence, if this approach to scientific knowledge were to be believed, in order to understand any sentence the truth of a potentially infinite set of sentences -- {S2, S3, S4,..., Sn} -- would already have to be known. In that case, communication would only begin at the (infinite?) end of one's education, which makes no sense at all.

 

[There seem to be only two ways this infinite regress can be halted; they were discussed earlier and were both shown to fail.]

 

It could be objected that the above reasoning depends on an appeal to human understanding. Surely, a scientific account of language should consider only objective truths, which will be such independently of human cognition. In that case, the above argument is misguided, at best.

 

Or so it might be maintained...

 

That objection is itself misconceived. Plainly, scientists have to understand their own sentences and those of other researchers, let alone those of their teachers, if they are to function effectively -- or at all! To state the obvious, scientists are social beings; they are only able to develop their ideas, construct their theories and hypotheses, and then test them when the empirical propositions that follow from them are expressed, or are expressible, in a comprehensible form, in some language or other. Even supposing that such theories, hypotheses and propositions were highly technical, and were related to a world that is independent of, and anterior to, human cognition, scientists can neither rise above nor countermand constraints placed on them by social interaction and learning (briefly outlined above).

 

[More details can be found in Stroud (2000), particularly pp.21-60.]

 

As we have seen several times already, the supposition that this can be done (i.e., that this presents a possibility) relies on a fetishisation of language: the reading of human cognitive and social capacities into nature. That clearly defeats the whole point of the exercise; far from avoiding LIE, it collapses right into it.

 

[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]

 

Nevertheless, for some readers, the above rejoinder might itself look like an a priori, transcendental argument, but that, too, would be a mistake. When spelt-out in detail it is analogous to reductio, as should be plain from all that has gone before. [More on this again in Essay Thirteen Parts Two and Three.]

 

Such a reductive technique has been employed many times throughout this site. On those occasions, metaphysical- and DM-theories have been reduced to absurdity -- for example, by demonstrating that they either imply an infinite regress, as we have just seen, or that they are based on a radical misuse of language --, which means, of course, that they are incapable of being true and incapable of being false. As such, they aren't just non-sensical, they are incoherent non-sense.

 

Naturally, any and all analyses of this sort (presented in these Essays) is reactive, if not therapeutic. [On that, see Fischer (2011a, 2011b).] They aren't aimed at the derivation of a new set of truths about language (or even the world itself), nor are they directed at the construction of an alternative set of philosophical theories. They simply respond to the claims made by metaphysicians and DM-supporters alike, just as they endeavour to expose the latent non-sense expressed by both sets of theorists. Their main objective (other than their overt political orientation) is to remind us of what we already know by constantly turning the argument back toward the ordinary use of language -- indeed, as Marx himself enjoined. Any technicalities or neologisms employed to that end are dispensable or can be paraphrased away; they merely serve as shorthand.

 

Even so, whatever its motivation happens to be, the above argument might still appear to be, at least, factually wrong, for it is plain that when they are studying science, students, for example, have to learn countless facts before they can even begin to understand the subject. Hence, an understanding of science is manifestly based on the acquisition of a body of truths, data and information -- contrary to the clams advanced earlier.

 

Or so it could be objected...

 

That picture is also misleading.

 

First of all, a broad understanding science isn't the same as understanding an empirical proposition.

 

Second, science and mathematics are taught and learnt in a variety of ways, but novices must first have some grasp of ordinary language, everyday skills and techniques before their scientific and mathematical education can even commence. These include the ability to count, listen, concentrate, follow instructions (basic skills, alas, beyond some students in the present capitalist system), read, write, handle equipment reliably without breaking or misreading it, check dials, take notes, operate a computer, and (often later) carry out independent research, etc., etc. If students are to progress beyond Science and Mathematics 101, these skills must also be amplified by careful attention to detail, an emphasis on accuracy and precision, coupled with a suitable 'work ethic'; they must also display 'natural' curiosity, resourcefulness, self-motivation and a willingness (independently) to study way beyond the subject matter in hand. The vast majority of these skills are based on knowing how rather than knowing that -- although the latter will in turn modify the former, and vice versa. Their understanding is then extended by means of illustrative examples, analogical and metaphorical reasoning, augmented by leading questions -- all of which are themselves modulated by the setting of (numerous) practical exercises, the use of simple models, pictures and graded tasks, among many other things. Only when an extension to their vocabulary, understanding and mastery of practical skills like these have been established are students capable of comprehending -- as opposed merely to regurgitating -- any of the new facts, explanations or theories they encounter, or which are presented to them by their teachers. Indeed, only then are they able to extrapolate beyond this into new areas of knowledge (even if many do not choose to go down that route). All of these are presented to students by their teachers as integral parts of countless inter-linked forms of representation -- rules which are used interpret the facts learnt, unifying them into a comprehensible explanation that also conforms with other areas of current knowledge -- or, "normal science" as Thomas Kuhn has called it.

 

[I say more about this below, where I outline a distinction Wittgenstein drew between "criteria" and "symptoms".]

 

This means that any novel truths or facts learnt by students depend on (and are concurrent with) an extension to their understanding, practical expertise and technical competence. As seems obvious, unless students understand what their teachers have to say -- or, unless they succeed in grasping the import of what they read or study, and only if they are capable of successfully carrying out the graded tasks and exercises set --, new facts could only ever be accepted as such on trust or on the basis of deference to authority. If students are to advance beyond the parrot-learning and regurgitating stage, they must undergo an extension to their comprehension. Indeed, if education were just about fact learning, no facts would actually be learnt, merely parroted. That is why, of course, the word "learning" is attached to the word "rote" only ironically.

 

[To be sure, some forms of rote-learning are an integral part of the mastery of several specific techniques -- for example, learning the "Times Tables" in mathematics -- or when preparing for an exam, when attempting to follow directions in order to find an address in a strange town, etc., etc. If the aforementioned Times Tables haven't been leant by heart, a student's mathematical education will be seriously impaired, if not crippled. The use of electronic calculators doesn't mean this necessary step can be bi-passed, either (as any mathematics teacher will attest, a view also supported by educational research). The above doesn't imply that facts are unimportant or that they don't assist in further comprehension. Indeed, as noted earlier, learning of any sort depends on one or more "webs of belief". However, further excursion into this area would take us too far a-field into Wittgenstein's ideas about the nature of human understanding and learning. An excellent account of this aspect of his work can be found in Greenspan and Shanker (2004); cf., also Williams (1999a), pp.187-215, Williams (2010), and Erneling (1993). See also Robinson (2003b) and Hanna and Harrison (2004), especially pp.159-90.]

 

This is, indeed, partly how scientific advance itself is motivated and initiated -- i.e., by means of an extension to the meaning of the words used in other, possibly similar, maybe even analogous contexts and practices (alongside the establishment of new inter-relations between them), as I hope to show in Essay Thirteen Part Two. In this way, 'old' facts are set in a new light and novel connections become possible --, which, in effect, change these 'facts' by analogical and figurative extension. [On this, see Sharrock and Read (2002) and the work of Thomas Kuhn in general. Cf., also Hadden (1994).]

 

This also takes care of the objection that if this were true -- that is, only if a proposition were part of a body of propositions would it be possible to ascertain its truth-value --, speakers wouldn't be able to understand what was said to them until they had mastered an entire language. As education and socialisation grows, so does comprehension of language itself (hence, alongside that understanding of science, too). Neither takes precedence.

 

There is also a "division of labour" with respect to science, and, indeed, knowledge in general, as the late Hilary Putnam, for example, pointed out:

 

"[T]here is division of linguistic labour. We could hardly use such words as 'elm' and 'aluminium' if no one possessed a way of recognizing elm trees and aluminium metal; but not everyone to whom the distinction is important has to be able to make the distinction. Let us shift the example; consider gold. Gold is important for many reasons: it is a precious metal; it is a monetary metal; it has symbolic value (it is important to most people that the 'gold' wedding ring they wear really consist of gold and not just look gold); etc. Consider our community as a 'factory': in this 'factory' some people have the 'job' of wearing gold wedding rings; other people have the 'job' of selling gold wedding rings; still other people have the job of telling whether or not something is really gold. It is not at all necessary or efficient that every one who wears a gold ring (or a gold cufflink, etc.), or discusses the 'gold standard,' etc., engage in buying and selling gold. Nor is it necessary or efficient that every one who buys and sells gold be able to tell whether or not something is really gold in a society where this form of dishonesty is uncommon (selling fake gold) and in which one can easily consult an expert in case of doubt. And it is certainly not necessary or efficient that every one who has occasion to buy or wear gold be able to tell with any reliability whether or not something is really gold.

 

"The foregoing facts are just examples of mundane division of labour (in a wide sense). But they engender a division of linguistic labour: every one to whom gold is important for any reason has to acquire the word 'gold'; but he does not have to acquire the method of recognizing whether something is or is not gold. He can rely on a special subclass of speakers. The features that are generally thought to be present in connection with a general name -- necessary and sufficient conditions for membership in the extension, ways of recognizing whether something is in the extension, etc. -- are all present in the linguistic community considered as a collective body; but that collective body divides the 'labour' of knowing and employing these various parts of the 'meaning' of 'gold'.

 

"This division of linguistic labour rests upon and presupposes the division of nonlinguistic labour, of course. If only the people who know how to tell whether some metal is really gold or not have any reason to have the word 'gold' in their vocabulary, then the word 'gold' will be as the word 'water' was in 1750 with respect to that subclass of speakers, and the other speakers just won't acquire it at all. And some words do not exhibit any division of linguistic labour: 'chair', for example. But with the increase of division of labour in the society and the rise of science, more and more words begin to exhibit this kind of division of labour." [Putnam (1973), pp.704-05. (This links to a PDF.) Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling modified to agree with UK English.]

 

[Putnam was a Marxist, once, which perhaps helps explain the economic metaphor/analogy he drew here. I distance myself, however, from his theory of meaning/reference. I will say more about that in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

To state the obvious, if a student wishes to become proficient in any of the specialised areas of science, for example, he or she will have to master the technical use of such terms as: "electron", "allele", "self-adjoint operator", "wave function", "base pair", "subduction zone", "aldehyde", and the like.

 

Incidentally, this helps explain why new theories often look plausible only to those prepared to move into the new conceptual landscape carved out by the aforementioned novel theories ('forms of representation'), practices, vocabularies or "world-views" (even if these are motivated by a differentially-situated class-inspired, or, indeed, class-biased reaction to social change and any of its associated ideologies), while to others who aren't so amenable/flexible, or who are more, shall we say, conservative-minded, novel developments like this will seem paradoxical, ridiculous or even patently false. This also explains why older members of the scientific community find it much more difficult to accept such new conceptual landscapes; indeed, to them they often appear to be totally false, or even incomprehensible.

 

This fact alone would be inexplicable if science advanced by the mere accumulation of facts or was predicated on the development of greater and greater 'abstractions'.

 

This also helps account for the way that new theories not only (partially or completely) change 'our view of the world' (by modifying the language we use to depict it). Often that is done by feeding off discourse and vocabularies that have already been altered or reshaped by social and economic development elsewhere -- an example of which is given below (in relation to the work of Richard Hadden). These novel theories enable new discoveries that had been unavailable to those whose ideas were still dominated or held fast by older theories/world-views. [There is an excellent description of this very process at work today, in Smolin (2006), although the author, I think, fails to see its significance.]

 

In addition, the above considerations link scientific advance to conceptual change -- i.e., to changes in the use of a range of general terms -- motivated by, and coupled with, developments in the ambient Mode of Production, and hence in connection with innovative areas of research that have been promoted or enabled by such changes. Both of these factors locate and place such developments in the open, in the social arena, thus removing them from the world of 'inner representations' and 'abstractions' beloved of traditional 'abstractionist' and/or representationalist theories of language and knowledge, and that includes ideas held by DM-theorists. [On this, see Note 32 as well as Essay Thirteen Parts Two and Three.]

 

As far as Marxism is concerned, this theoretical re-orientation allows an HM-account to be given of the entire process. For example, as Richard Hadden (in Hadden (1994)) shows, developments in medieval society (mainly concerning the growth of market relations) motivated the establishment of novel conceptual connections between certain specific general nouns -- the possible relation between which had either made no sense in earlier centuries, which had different Relations of Production and Exchange, and which were thus of no use to anyone because they were regarded as incommensurable (often for the same reason), and hence weren't capable of being connected by analogy.

 

[There is more on this here.]

 

Social Constructivists have also more generally explored the close connection that exists between linguistic innovation and scientific change, but, as far as I am aware, there has been no serious attempt made by Marxists (other than, perhaps, Hadden (1994) and Robinson (2003) -- but see also Robinson's essays, posted at this site and those referenced earlier) to link these developments with changes in the Relations of Production or to innovative conceptual possibilities that became available because of the emergence of a new Mode of Production.

 

However, in general, the Social Constructivists lack a scientific account of history (i.e., HM) to provide their piecemeal theories with an overall structure, direction and rationale.

 

[Nevertheless, for a clear survey of work accomplished in this area, up until recently, see Golinski (1998). These issues will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two. See also Note 32, Note 33, Note 40a, and Note 45a, below.]

 

Finally, if the sense of empirical (scientific) propositions were dependent on certain truths about the world -- so that, for example, their the comprehension implied they were automatically true --, that would mean that scientists could abandon experimentation and simply take up linguistic analysis. Science would then become indistinguishable from Metaphysics, or, indeed, from LIE. In that case, the simple expedient of understanding an empirical proposition would automatically mean that that proposition was true.34

 

Naturally, this confirms the claim (surely uncontroversial for Marxists) that scientific language is, like the vernacular, conventional.

 

Admittedly, these claims are controversial.35 They appear to imply that science isn't 'objective'. However, that belief is itself based on a misconception. [As noted above, this entire topic will be addressed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two. Readers are also referred to important remarks made about 'objectivity' in Essay Thirteen Part One.]

 

The above assertions are in fact a consequence of a commitment to the social nature of language. They can't be swept under the 'dialectical carpet' or negotiated away without seriously undermining that fundamental Marxist insight.36

 

The rest of this Essay will be devoted to:

 

(i) Explaining in more detail why the above conclusions are valid; and,

 

(ii) Defending them.

 

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

 

The Ineluctable Slide Into Non-Sense

 

Private Ownership In the Means Of 'Mental' Production

 

We are now in a position to understand what went wrong with Lenin's claim (expressed in M1a) and explain why it is that certain indicative sentences (i.e., especially those that litter metaphysical systems and theories) lapse so readily into non-sense, which some even aggravate by collapsing into incoherence, as a sort of encore.36a

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

The Story So Far

 

[Much of what follows in this short sub-section depends heavily on results established earlier.]

 

As argued above, this problem (if such it might be called) is connected with the use of what appear to be empirical sentences to state necessary truths (or even to exclude their opposite); such moves end up distorting fundamental features of language, rendering them non-sensical and incoherent. Exactly why that is so has yet to be explained, however.

 

The supposed truth of metaphysical sentences follows directly from the meaning of the words they contain, and as a result Traditional Theorists claim to be able access, in the comfort of their own 'minds', Cosmic Super-Facts that supposedly reflect fundamental truths about reality. Metaphysics thus goes hand-in-hand with representational theories of language and thought.

 

Moreover, as noted above (and as we saw here), this entire way of viewing meaning and language inverts and then internalises externally-ratified social practices (i.e., comprehension and communication), re-configuring them as private, individual acts of intellection, which are supposedly 'immediate to consciousness', etc.

 

On this view, meaning isn't a social aspect of discourse, it is a result of the internal processing of 'images', 'ideas', 'concepts' and 'abstractions' in and by the 'mind', integrated these days (according to some) with the supposed use of "inner speech" --, or, even more recently, as a component in the 'language of thought'. Plainly, this is a thoroughly bourgeois way of viewing language, thought and meaning, an accusation that has itself been amplified by an earlier allegation that this area of Cognitive Theory and the 'Dialectical Philosophy of Mind' haven't advanced much beyond the methods and ideas concocted by Hobbes, Descartes and Locke.

 

Alas, DM-theorists who have bought into this way of doing philosophy clearly failed to appreciate how it undermines their commitment to the social nature of language, meaning and knowledge, just as they failed to see that this approach to 'cognition' doesn't even deliver what had all along been claimed for it.37

 

When trying to inform us about the supposed relation between matter and motion, Lenin asserted that "motion without matter" is "unthinkable". Unfortunately, the content of that assertion involved him in doing the exact opposite of what he said could not be done. That meant he had to think the very thoughts (i.e., the content) he was trying to rule out as "unthinkable". Clearly, he had to understand what it meant for motion to exist without matter so that he could rule it out as something that could even be entertained -- otherwise he would have had no idea what it was he was excluding, rendering that exclusion an empty gesture. Unfortunately, that involved him in a radically non-standard use of language, which meant he was unable to say what he thought he wanted to say. In practice his own words implied the opposite of what he imagined he intended.

 

In fact, this now suggests that there wasn't actually anything there for Lenin to have intended to say or to have thought. That is because it isn't possible to say (in one sense of "say") anything meaningful that is in principle incomprehensible -- even when that 'something' is incomprehensible to the one trying to say it. While a speaker might utter complete babble, it isn't possible for them to mean anything by it (unless, of course, it is part of an elaborate code or it is aimed at simply creating a desired effect of some sort, such as eliciting surprise or inducing puzzlement and consternation). One might intend to utter babble, but not intend to mean anything comprehensible by it (if the above trivial examples are put to one side).38

 

With respect to sentences like M1a, it now becomes impossible say what it was that Lenin intended to communicate to his readers. Every attempt to translate his words into less confusing terms only seems to undermine them further. Hence, it is pertinent to wonder what (if anything) Lenin could possibly have meant by what he said.39

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Semantic Overlap

 

We have already encountered similarly incoherent DM-claims (for example, in connection with 'dialectical logic', Trotsky's attempt to critique the LOI, Engels's 'analysis' of the 'contradictory' nature of motion, Lenin's endeavour to argue that everything is "self-moving" and "interconnected", and TAR's effort to explain DM-Wholism, among many other things). This regular and unremitting slide into unintelligibility isn't just bad luck. It is a direct result of the careless use, and reckless distortion, of language, among other factors (such as interpreting claims (like the one expressed in M1a) as super-empirical propositions that purport to reveal fundamental truths about reality, when they turn out to be nothing of the sort.39a

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

An empirical proposition derives its sense from the truth possibilities it appears to hold open, which options can then be decided one way or the other by a confrontation with evidence. That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M6 (or its contradictory, M6a) doesn't need to be known before it is understood, but it is also why evidence is relevant to establishing its truth-value as "true" or rejecting it as "false".

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

All that is required here is some grasp of the same possibility that both of the above hold open. M6 and M6a both have the same content, and are both made true or false by the same situation obtaining or failing to obtain.40

 

When a proposition and its negation picture the same state of affairs they have the same content, That is what connects the two and make one of them the negation of the other. If that weren't so, they wouldn't be contradictories, for there would be nothing (relevant) that linked them. One of them has to be capable of being used to deny what the other one can be used to assert, or vice versa. If they failed to 'overlap' in this way, they couldn't be used to contradict each other. So, if a given proposition is true, the state of affairs it expresses will obtain; if it is false, the same state of affairs won't obtain.

 

[Of course, what constitutes a specific or relevant state of affairs will be intimately connected with the proposition concerned. I will leave that gnomic remark in its currently obscure form, but I will say more in Essay Thirteen Part Two -- but the reasons for this should become a little clearer as this Essay unfolds.]

 

These factors enable us to know what to look for or what to expect in order to ascertain whether the proposition in question is true or, indeed, declare it false (if we are so minded). This is just another way of saying that negation does not alter the content of an empirical proposition. If negation could alter content -- or, as we will see, if negation seemed to be able to do this -- then the sentences involved can't have been empirical, or, alternatively, can't have been contradictories, to begin with.

 

[The significance of those remarks will become clearer as this Essay unfolds. But, it should be clear that that paragraph, if correct, strikes at the heart of Hegel's theory of negation.]

 

Consider again the following two empirical propositions:

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

The same situation obtaining -- i.e., Tony Blair's owning a copy of TAR -- will make one of M6 or M6a true and one of them false. If he does own a copy, M6 will be true and M6a false; conversely, if he doesn't, M6a will be true and M6 false. This intimate intertwining of the truth-values of M6 and M6a is a direct consequence of the same state of affairs linking them.

 

If a given speaker didn't know that M6 was true (and hence that M6a was false) just in case Blair owned a copy of the said book, and that M6 was false (but M6a was true) just in case Blair didn't own a copy of the said book -- or they were unable to determine or recognise what to look for, or to expect, if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 or M6a -- that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two sentences stand or fall as one; so, when one stands, the other falls, and vice versa.

 

This might seem an obvious point, but its ramifications are all too easily missed, and have been missed by the vast majority of Philosophers. [More on that in these references and much of the rest of this Essay (especially here and Note 45a).]

 

Of course, it could be argued that:

 

(1) Owning or not owning a book is a complex social fact; and,

 

(2) Owning something is a rather vague term.

 

Both of these objections (which overlap somewhat) will be considered in more detail in Note 40a.

 

The above considerations also help explain why it is easy to imagine M6 as true even if it turned out to be false, or false even if it is true. That is, it is easy to imagine what would have made M6 false if it is actually true, and what would have made M6 true if it actually false. [Vice versa with M6a.] In general, the comprehension of an empirical proposition involves an understanding of the conditions under which it would or could be true, or would or could be false. As is well known, these are otherwise called their truth conditions. That, of course, allows anyone so minded to confirm the actual truth status of any given empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for or expect.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

These non-negotiable facts about (at least this area) of discourse also turn out to underpin the Marxist emphasis on the social nature of language and knowledge (advocated at this site). The above facility allows interlocutors to exchange information which they can grasp independently of knowing whether what they have been told is true and independently of knowing whether what they have been told is false. If that weren't the case, if they had to know something (i.e., some other proposition) was true before they could understand any given empirical proposition, the entire process would stall, and communication (at least in such contexts) would be impossible.

 

[Naturally, it is certainly possible -- in fact, it is quite common -- that in order to ascertain the actual truth-value of an empirical proposition, the truth-value of other such propositions will also have to be known; but, as has already been indicated, truth-values aren't the same as truth conditions.]

 

These everyday truisms about language fly in the face of metaphysical theories, which emphasise the opposite: that in order to understand a metaphysical proposition is ipso facto to know it is true (or ipso facto to know it is false, depending on circumstances, or the theory in question), by-passing the confirmation and disconfirmation stage, thus reducing the usual 'truth conditions' to one option only.

 

[How this relates to what we might call 'patent truths' (about matters of fact) -- such as "Fire is hot" and "Water is wet" -- has been dealt with in Note 40a, link below.]

 

Which is, of course, why Traditional Theories of knowledge found it hard to account for falsehood. If we represent the world to ourselves 'in our heads', how could anything be false? It is no use replying that we can check these representations against the facts, or against the world, since, if that were so, all we would be doing is checking one set of representations against another. Furthermore, relying on testimony, evidence or argument provided by other individuals would be no help either. Again, if representationalism were true, all we would be relying on in such circumstances would be representations of testimony, representations of evidence and representations of argument.

 

As a species, we have, as yet, found no way of 'leaping out of our heads' in order to check our 'representations' against 'reality' in order to by-pass the need for any further 'representations'.40a

 

[So, for example, how would the 'contents' of one mind be communicated to another if there were no prior means of communication by means of which it might be effected? In fact, this pre-condition is undermined (or even denied) by representational theories. Indeed, how would it be possible for anyone to communicate with anyone else if they could only figure out what their interlocutors had meant, or what their words might mean, after they had ascertained the truth of what was said? (There is more on this in Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three.)]

 

However, there are other serious problems that this approach to language faces over and above the fact it would make knowledge incommunicable, if not impossible.

 

Semantic Suicide

 

As we are about to see, intractable logical problems soon begin to multiply (in relation to such supposedly empirical but nonetheless metaphysical sentences) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- i.e., truth and falsehood.

 

This occurs, for example, when an apparently empirical, or seemingly Super-Empirical, proposition is declared to be "only true" or "only false" -- or, more pointedly, 'necessarily' the one or the other. Or, more likely, when a 'necessary truth' or a 'necessary falsehood' is mis-identified as a particularly profound sort of empirical claim that employs the indicative mood (etc.), once more.

 

As we will soon see, this results in the automatic loss of both options, and with that goes any sense the original proposition might have had, rendering it non-sensical.

 

That is because an empirical proposition leaves it open whether it is true or whether it is false. That is why its truth-value (true/false) can't simply be read-off from its content, why evidence is required in order to determine its semantic status (true/false), and why it is possible to understand it before its truth or its falsehood is known. If that weren't so, it would be impossible to establish its truth-status. Once again, it isn't possible to confirm or confute an 'indicative sentence' if no one understands what it is saying, or what it is being used to say.

 

When that isn't the case -- i.e., when either option (truth or falsehood) is closed-off, or when a proposition is said to be "necessarily true" or "necessarily false" -- evidence clearly becomes irrelevant.

 

So, whereas the truth or falsehood of an empirical proposition can't be ascertained on linguistic, conceptual or semantic grounds alone, if the truth or falsehood of a proposition is capable of being established solely on the basis of such linguistic, logical, or structural factors, that proposition can't be empirical -- despite its use of the indicative mood, despite its users trying to reveal Super-Facts about 'Reality'

 

If, however, such a proposition is still regarded by those who hold it true --, or, indeed, who promote it as a Super-Fact about the world, about its "essence" -- then it plainly becomes metaphysical.40b

 

Otherwise the actual truth or the actual falsehood of such a proposition would be world-, or evidence-sensitive, not solely meaning-, or concept-dependent. That is, its actual truth or actual falsehood would depend on how the world happens to be, not solely on what its words are taken to mean. [Note the use of "solely" here.]

 

And that explains why the comprehension of metaphysical propositions appears to go hand in hand with 'knowing' their 'truth' (or 'knowing' their 'falsehood', as the case may be): their truth-status is based solely on thought, language or meaning, not on evidence.

 

Of course, it could always be claimed that such 'essential' thoughts 'reflect' deeper truths about the world, those that are far more philosophically significant or profound than common-or-garden 'empirical truths'.

 

But, if thought does indeed 'reflect' the world, it should be possible to understand a proposition that allegedly expressed such a thought in advance of knowing whether it is true, or knowing whether it is false, otherwise confirmation in practice, by comparing it with the world, would become an empty gesture.

 

In response, it could be argued that "essential" truths are different. That particular objection will be examined presently.

 

So, if the truth of such a thought or sentence could be ascertained from that thought or sentence alone (i.e., if either were "self-evidently true"), then plainly the world would drop out of the picture, which would in turn mean that this 'thought' (or sentence) couldn't be a reflection of the world, whatever else it was.41

 

Furthermore, but worse, if a proposition is still supposed to be empirical -- or if it is said to be about underlying "essences" --, and can only be true or can only be false (as seems to be the case with, say, M20, below, according to Lenin), then, as we will see, intractable paradox must ensue.

 

Consider the following sentence (which Lenin would presumably have declared necessarily false, if not "unthinkable"):

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Unfortunately for Lenin, in order to declare M20 necessarily and always false (or "unthinkable"), the possibility of its truth must first of all be entertained even if only to be ruled out immediately, otherwise he would have no idea what he was ruling out. But, if the possible truth of M20 couldn't even be entertained by Lenin (howsoever briefly), then that would either mean M20 was incomprehensible (because of what M1a has to say) or that even if it were comprehensible, Lenin himself couldn't understand it. Either way, Lenin would have absolutely no idea what it was he was rejecting. As we will see, that would have a knock-on affect on the status of M1a itself

 

Of course, it could be argued Lenin needn't entertain M20 in the first place, still less its possible truth. But, as we are about to see, if Lenin (or anyone else for that matter) didn't, or couldn't, do that, they would be in no position to assert M1a, or comprehend its alleged content, either.

 

Thus, if the truth of M20 is to be permanently excluded by holding it necessarily false, then whatever would make it true would also have to be ruled out conclusively. But, anyone doing that would have to know what M20 rules in so that they could comprehend what was being ruled out by its rejection as always and necessarily false. And yet, that is precisely what can't be done if what M20 itself says is permanently ruled out on semantic or conceptual grounds.42

 

[I cover this ground again from a different, perhaps more profound, angle, below.]

 

Consequently, if a proposition like M20 is necessarily false this charade (i.e., the permanent exclusion of its truth) can't actually take place, since it would be impossible to say (or even to think) what could possibly count as making it true so that that possibility could be rejected. Indeed, Lenin himself had to declare it "unthinkable", so he not only couldn't inform his readers what would make it false, he couldn't even think these words (in the sense that he couldn't think their supposed content -- the state of affairs this sentence supposedly pictured or represented -- more on that presently). Hence, because the possible truth of M20 can't even be conceived, no one, least of all Lenin, would be in any position to say what is excluded by its rejection.43

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

Unfortunately, this now prevents any account being given of what would make M20 false, let alone 'necessarily' false. Given this twist, paradoxically, M20 would now be 'necessarily false' if and only if it wasn't capable of being thought of as necessarily false! But, according to Lenin, the conditions that would make M20 true can't even be conceived, so that train-of-thought can't be joined at any point. And, if the truth of M20 -- or the conditions under which it would be true -- can't be conceived, then neither can its falsehood, for we wouldn't then know what was being ruled out.43a

 

In that case, the supposed negation of M20 can neither be accepted nor rejected by anyone, for no one would know what its content committed them to so that that content could either be countenanced or repudiated. Hence, M20 would lose any sense it had, since it couldn't under any circumstances be considered true, and hence under any circumstances be considered false. [That is, if we accept M1a.]

 

If, according to Lenin, we are incapable of thinking the content of the following words, we certainly can't declare M20 false.

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Content

 

[In what follows, by "content" I mean what an indicative empirical sentence purports to tell us about the world (or any other legitimate subject matter), what state of affairs it supposedly expresses.]

 

Our inability to conclude that certain 'propositions' -- or indicative sentences -- are false is in fact a consequence of several of the points made earlier: i.e., that an empirical proposition and its negation have the same content (they express the same possible state of affairs). If one of these options is ruled out, the other automatically goes out of the window with it. And that is what we have just seen happen with Lenin's words. In order to appreciate why this is the more fundamental reason for the collapse of his -- and other metaphysical -- sentences into non-sense we need to back-track a little.

 

We can see why these problems arise if we consider another typical metaphysical sentence, L1, and its supposed negation, L2:


L1: Time is a relation between events. [Paraphrasing Leibniz.]
43b

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.


As we have seen, the alleged truth of L1 is derived directly from the meaning of the words it contains (or the concepts it supposedly expresses)  -- or even in some cases from related principles, precepts and definitions (that also depend on the meaning of the words they contain). The supposed truth of L1 manifestly hasn't been derived from evidence (even if some attempt were made to "illustrate" its truth from 'evidence', or it was used to help explain certain phenomena -- more about that in Note 45a).

 

However, the unique semantic status of sentences like L1 has the consequence that if some attempt were made to deny its truth by means of, say, L2, that would amount to a change in the meaning of the word "time".

That is because sentences like L1 define what a given philosopher means by "time", how he or she intends to use that word or conceive of its related 'concept'. Elsewhere L1-type sentences are sometimes call "essential propositions". They purport to reveal or even define 'the essence' of the concept(s) involved. So, the word/concept, "time", with a different 'essence' -- or where the 'essential properties' that had been attributed to it were denied of it -- would now have a different meaning. If time isn't a relation between events then the word "time" (used to assert this) can no longer mean the same as it once did, in L1. "Time" must either have no meaning in L2 or it must possess a new meaning yet to be given it. Either way, the bottom line is that the meaning of "time" has a different meaning in L1 and L2 -- that is, if we also understand by "no meaning" a "different meaning". (But even then "time" would not mean the same between these two sentences). And, if that is so, L1 and L2 can't represent or 'reflect' the same state of affairs. They thus have a different (supposed) content.

In that case, and despite appearances to the contrary, L2 isn't the negation of L1! That is because the subject of each sentence is different.

To see this point, compare the following:

 

L3: George W Bush crashed his car on the 3rd of May 2012.

 

L4: George H W Bush didn't crash his car on the 3rd of May 2012.


Whether or not one or both of these is true, L3 and L4 aren't negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. L3 and L4 thus have two different subjects. They are true or they are false under entirely different circumstances; they don't have the same sense, the same empirical content. Plainly, they express different possible states of affairs.

 

[That isn't to suggest L3 and L4 are like L1 and L2 in any other respect. The change of subject matter is less easy to see in relation to L1 and L2 since they both use a typographically identical word, "time". The difference between them is nevertheless made obvious by the fact that L1 defines a specific meaning for the word "time" while L2 denies it that very meaning. L3 and L4 are only being used to make this particular point abundantly clear.]

Mutatis mutandis, the same comment applies in general to all metaphysical propositions (like L1) and what appear to be their negations (i.e., in the case of L1, that was L2).

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

Why is this important? Well, if L1 is deemed "necessarily true", under normal circumstances (to be explained presently) that would be tantamount to declaring its alleged negation (L2) "necessarily false". And yet, L2 isn't the negation of L1. Again, L1 and L2 are logically unrelated sentences since they have a different (supposed) content, they 'express different states of affairs'. The 'truth' or 'falsehood' of the one has no bearing on the 'truth' or 'falsehood' of the other -- unlike M6 and M6a.43c

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution. [TAR]

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

As was argued earlier:

 

The same situation obtaining -- i.e., Tony Blair's owning a copy of TAR -- will make one of M6 or M6a true and one of them false. If he does own a copy, M6 will be true and M6a false; conversely, if he doesn't, M6a will be true and M6 false. This intimate intertwining of the truth-values of M6 and M6a is a direct consequence of the same state of affairs linking them.

 

If a given speaker didn't know that M6 was true (and hence that M6a was false) just in case Blair owned a copy of the said book, and that M6 was false (but M6a was true) just in case Blair didn't own a copy of the said book -- or they were unable to determine or recognise what to look for, or to expect, if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 or M6a -- that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two sentences stand or fall as one; so, when one stands, the other falls, and vice versa.

 

This might seem an obvious point, but its ramifications are all too easily missed, and have been missed by the vast majority of Philosophers...

 

The above considerations also help explain why it is easy to imagine M6 as true even if it turned out to be false, or false even if it is true. That is, it is easy to imagine what would have made M6 false if it is actually true, and what would have made M6 true if it actually false. [Vice versa with M6a.] In general, the comprehension of an empirical proposition involves an understanding of the conditions under which it would or could be true, or would or could be false. As is well known, these are otherwise called their truth conditions. That, of course, allows anyone so minded to confirm the actual truth status of any given empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for or expect.

 

So, if and when we find out that M6a is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M6 -- and vice versa if we discover M6 is true. Hence, we can reject M6 if M6a is true just as we can reject M6a if M6 is true. The same content tells us what we can rule in and what we can rule out. Again, it is this shared content that connects the two sentences, and allows us to make these safe inferences. We couldn't do this if they didn't have this shared content.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

However, as we have seen, between a metaphysical proposition and what might appear to be its negation, there is no shared content because of a change of subject. Two metaphysical sentences like L1 and L2 fail to relate to the same supposed state of affairs, which means they have a different content. [In fact, as we are about to discover, they have no content at all.] So, there is nothing that connects them in the above manner.

 

In which case, the truth of L1 can't be ruled out by means of the truth of L2 (nor vice versa), since we now have no idea what we are ruling out -- and thus no idea what we are ruling in.

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

[Why that is so will also be explained presently, but it is connected with the fact that L1 and L2 express no actual or possible state of affairs.]

 

Or, rather, what we might imagine we are trying to rule out by the use of L1 (i.e., L2) won't in fact have been ruled out since L2 has a different subject and hence a different 'content'.

 

This is important because, to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". These two semantic conditions go hand-in-hand.

 

[Some might think the above represents an unwise concession to the so-called 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM]. I can't enter into that topic here, so any who do so think are advised to read Note 39a, follow the link at the end of that Note, and then maybe think again.]

 

But, if we can't do that, if we can't declare L1 "not false" (and we plainly can't do that if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- as soon as we attempt to do so by means of L2 we end up changing the subject!), we can't then say the original sentence is true.

 

Why that is so will now be explained.

 

By declaring a sentence like L1 "necessarily true", we appear to be conclusively ruling something in, and thus conclusively ruling something else out (as "necessarily false"). Hence, if L1 is deemed 'necessarily true', that would seem to imply L2 is 'necessarily false'. In that case, we would seem to be talking about -- and hence, appear to be ruling out -- the same state of affairs. But, in this case there is no shared state of affairs to be ruled out, and that is because the two sentences have a different subject.

 

In fact, there is no state of affairs here at all, shared or otherwise. L1 picks out no state of affairs -- even in theory.

 

As we will see, L1 concerns the use of certain words, in a specific way; it isn't about the world as such. L1 actually expresses an idiosyncratic rule for the use of "time", but it is usually interpreted, or misconstrued, as a fundamental truth about the world. We can see that since L2 changes that meaning, which shows this is about the meaning of words, not 'facts about reality'.

 

If, per impossible, there were a state of affairs that L1 expressed, we would be able to negate L1 legitimately (i.e., by using L2), and conclude that the state of affairs it supposedly expresses doesn't actually obtain, even in theory. But, as we have just seen, we can't even do that. In relation to L1, what we think we are ruling out is what L2 expresses. But, L2 has a different content to L1, so we aren't in fact ruling out what L1 says!

 

L1 thus has no content at all, and neither has L2. They are both telling us nothing at all about the world, just about an idiosyncratic use of "time".

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

 

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

When sentences like L1 are entertained, a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean (i.e., "say") something determinate, that they are capable of being understood and hence that they are capable of being true or are capable of being false. That is, in this case, that they at least depict a theoretical state of affairs. To that extent, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what might make such propositions true -- and ipso facto, what might make their 'negations' false -- so that propositions like L2 can be declared "necessarily false", and ruled out accordingly.

 

So, we imagine they (both) actually depict (at least) a theoretical state of affairs -- which, as we have just seen, they can't. That is because, as we have just seen, L1 and L2 concern the use of a given word, not 'reality'. Neither expresses a fact about the world (unlike M6 and M6a) since they are both express a rule for the use of the word "time" (albeit opposing apparent rules).

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

The truth or the falsehood of the above two has no effect on the meaning of its words, unlike L1 and L2. Again, unlike L1 and L2, M6 and M6a are about the world, are about the same state of affairs, either holding or failing to hold.

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

 

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

If there were a state of affairs that L1 pictured, we would be able to negate it legitimately (by means of L2), but as we have seen we can't do that without changing the subject.

 

Hence, the use of philosophical 'propositions' like L1 and L2 is completely vacuous; the entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to such indicative sentences. They depict no state of affairs, even in theory.

 

Again, in order to declare L1 true, we pretend that a theoretical state of affairs (at least) is being ruled out (i.e., that which is expressed by L2); but, we have just seen that that isn't so. Nothing is being ruled in or rule out, since L1 is incapable of depicting anything, even theoretically! It has no content.

 

Hence, anyone who accepts L1 as true is in no position say what it depicts, even in theory. That isn't because it would be psychologically impossible for them to do so; it is because it is logically impossible. If L1 could depict something (even in theory), we could legitimately negate it; but doing so changes the subject (in L2). It isn't possible to specify conditions that would make L2 false, even in theory, without changing the subject.

 

But, if we can't say under what conditions L1 is true (since it depicts nothing at all), we can't say it is or isn't false, either. In which case, we are in no position to declare L1 either true or false! Any attempt to do so falls apart, for that would imply that two logically unrelated sentences (L1 and L2) were related after all.

 

Hence, metaphysical propositions can't be true and they can't be false. They have no content. They express no state of affairs, even in theory.

 

In that case, given what was said here about sense and non-sense, metaphysical 'propositions' lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

 

Our use of language actually prevents them from expressing a sense, let alone being true.

They are therefore non-sensical, empty strings of words.

 

And that includes the 'propositions' DM-theorists have cobbled-together (or have imported from Hegel, upside down or the 'right way up').

 

[Incidentally, the word "proposition" is in 'scare quotes' above, since it isn't clear what is being proposed, or put forward for consideration (since, in such cases, sentences like L1, L2 and P4 have no content). Hence, nothing (i.e., no content) has been proposed or put forward for consideration. (On vagueness, see here.)]

 

P4: Motion is the mode of existence of matter.

 

Some might wonder why there can't be necessary states of affairs that are independent of language and independent of human beings, which are, or can be, reflected by metaphysically-, or necessarily-true, propositions. The above argument just assumes (without proof) that there can't be any such.

 

In fact, the answer to that objection was given earlier.

 

Let us assume, therefore, that L1 is necessarily true and that there is a necessary or even a 'metaphysical state of affairs' in the world (or 'behind appearances', etc.) accurately reflected by L1 (independent of language, independent of humanity); i.e., that time is indeed a relation between events. That is what time actually is.

 

L1: Time is a relation between events.

 

L2: Time isn't a relation between events.

 

We have already seen that this would automatically throw the semantic status of L2 into doubt, since there is a change of subject in that sentence which means it isn't talking about what L1 is talking about, despite appearances to the contrary. Anyone who holds L2 true (for example, a Newtonian), can't now mean by "time" what anyone who holds L1 true means by that word. On the other hand, if L2 is declared false (for instance, by a Leibnizian), it can't now suddenly be about "time", as that word is understood by anyone who holds L2 true. In such circumstances, it would be impossible to explain how, when L2 is true, it could fail to be about time (again, as understood by a Leibnizian), but, when it is false, it is about time!

 

Impossible, unless, of course, we acknowledge the fact that these are two different uses of typographically identical words.

 

As we have also seen, if L1 is declared "necessarily true", its falsehood is automatically ruled out. However, it now becomes impossible to rule out the falsehood of L1, for to do that we should have to entertain the truth of L2, or at least know what would make it true. By declaring L1 "necessarily true" we are ruling out its falsehood and ruling out the truth of L2. But, L2 is totally unrelated to L1. They both have a different subject. In that case, we can't rule out the falsehood of L1 on the basis of the actual falsehood of L2, in which case we can't declare L1 "necessarily true", either. If so, L1 can't reflect a 'necessary state of affairs in reality'.

 

As noted earlier, our use of language actually prevents metaphysical sentences from being either true or false. In that case, they are incapable of reflecting anything.

 

But, it might now be objected that there could be states of affairs in the world that language can't reflect, which are nevertheless metaphysically necessary. Surely, the incapacity of language to reflect the world doesn't imply there are no such necessary states of affairs. Any attempt to assert that there are none based on the presumed fact that they can't be represented in language would be guilty of the very thing such an approach aims to criticise. That is, by denying there are such metaphysical states of affairs, the above analysis attempts to derive certain truths about reality -- namely, that there are no metaphysical states of affairs -- from language (i.e., from its supposed inability to represent their actual existence).

 

Attentive readers will no doubt have noticed that nowhere was it asserted that metaphysical or necessary states of affairs do not or cannot exist, only that any attempt to state such supposed truths will always be non-sensical and incoherent.

 

However, as soon as it is asked what is implied by "necessary states of affairs" the whole sorry mess falls apart. A "necessary state of affairs" is one that can't be otherwise -- for instance, if time is necessarily a relation between events (independently of language) it can't fail to be a relation between events, It is necessarily a relation between events and "can't be otherwise". But, for such an "otherwise" to be the case would be for time to fail to be a relation between events. And yet, as we have just seen, there is no such thing as "otherwise" when it comes to such 'necessary/metaphysical states of affairs'. In that case, it is impossible even to describe an "otherwise" when it comes to a 'necessary/metaphysical state of affairs', for to do so would be to change the subject again! And if we can't do that, no coherent (or even comprehensible) possibility has been presented for consideration -- or, at least, no more than would be had someone asked about offside in chess or the square root of your left foot. No one is capable of theorising about offside in chess, or even begin to do so about the square root of your left foot, and the same is the case with 'necessary/metaphysical states of affairs'.    

 

Moreover, because the negation of DM-propositions (like P4) also fail to picture anything that could be the case in any possible world (for logical, not psychological or scientific reasons), they, too, have no content. Naturally, that automatically empties the content of the original non-negated DM-'proposition' (such as P4, again), rendering it non-sensical, too.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of existence of matter.

 

Once again, the above might appear to be yet another example of a priori dogmatics pushed at this site -- in that it denies that DM-propositions could "picture anything that could be the case in any possible world", but that isn't so. It is rather to say that it makes no sense to suppose they were capable of picturing anything. They present us with nothing that can be given a sense, even in theory. Indeed, for all the 'sense' they do make, DM-propositions might as well have been taken from The Jabberwocky, a poem that makes about as much sense as Hegel's 'Logic':

 

Twas brillig, and the slithy toves,

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:

All mimsy were the borogroves,

And the mome raths outgrabe.

 

[On that, see also here.]

 

Except, of course, The Jabberwocky is more obviously incoherent non-sense.

 

This brings us full circle to a point made earlier:

 

[I]ntractable logical problems soon begin to multiply (in relation to such supposedly empirical but nonetheless metaphysical sentences) if an attempt is made to restrict or eliminate one or other of the paired semantic possibilities associated with ordinary empirical propositions -- i.e., truth and falsehood.

 

In which case, it isn't possible to restrict or exclude one of these paired semantic options (for instance, falsehood) in favour of the other (i.e., truth), as metaphysicians generally try to do -- without the above problems preventing them for doing just that.

 

On the other hand, if a proposition and its negation have the same content (which will be the case if one is to count as the negation of the other) they stand and fall together. But, that isn't so with DM-propositions; they stand alone, since they have no content and hence can't share content with anything, least of all with their supposed negations. But that just means they too collapse into incoherent non-sense, indeed, as we have seen happen with M1a.

 

This means that we need to find another way of explaining why DM-propositions were invented in the first place. [More on that presently. Why they all (and not just M1a) collapse into incoherence will also be explained below.]

 

As we can now see, the radical misuse of language that results in the production of what look like empirical propositions (e.g., M1a, again) involves an implicit reference to the sort of conditions that underlie the normal employment of such propostions.44

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

Hence, and once again, when sentences like the above are presented for consideration, or are entertained (even for a short while). a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean something, that they are capable of being understood  and hence that they are capable of being true or are capable of being false.45 [This is done even if certain restrictions are later placed on 'theoretically processing' them any further, as was the case with M1a.] In that case, a further pretence has to be maintained that we understand what (in nature or society) might make such propositions true, or their 'negations' false -- so that those like M20 can be declared 'necessarily' false, or even "unthinkable".

 

[This 'display of comprehension' (if that is the right way to put this) is on display whenever dialecticians are confronted with the fact that they don't actually understand the weird sentences they come out with. They are genuinely shocked, if not puzzled and offended by such an accusation. I used to make this point in public 'debates' I had with DM-fans many years ago -- that is, when they were actually prepared to discuss such things. {The word "debates" is in 'scare' quotes because DM-fans can't actually debate this theory, they are far too emotionally invested in it, as I demonstrate in Essay Nine Part Two, perhaps most notoriously in relation to Trotsky's extreme reaction to anyone who questioned DM.} Comrades used to heckle me, shouting: "You don't understand dialectics!", to which I always replied "Well, in that case, I'm in good company since no one understands dialectics!" That used to shut them up. But, those days are long gone. The 'DM-Counter-Reformation' has well and truly set in, and, en masse, DM-fans have circled the wagons and now refuse even to debate this misbegotten theory, content merely to post abuse and personal attacks (even when they deign to respond!). Here is an example from a few years ago. (I have covered that non-debate in more detail here.) And here is another recent example where I accused an HCD of not understanding the obscure quasi-Hegelian gobbledygook he kept spouting. Needless to say, he was somewhat miffed that I had the temerity to so accuse him, but, try as hard as I could, I couldn't get him to explain what he actually did mean by his use of the odd language he kept using. The irony of his total incapacity to make himself understood without using yet more obscure jargon (which he also couldn't explain) to try to 'explain' the last batch was clearly lost on him, despite the fact that I kept making that very point to him! Of course, he isn't the only comrade who has bought into this 'pretence' --, in effect they have ideologically sold their 'radical souls' to the other side in the class war. As is easily demonstrated, they haven't a clue what their theory means any more than Christians have about the Doctrine of the 'Holy Trinity'. Nevertheless, theologians and dialecticians are both avid users of jargon they can't explain to anyone, least of all one another.]

 

[HCD = High Church Dialectician; follow the link for an explanation.]

 

The entire exercise is a theoretical and practical pantomime, for no content can be given to propositions like M20 or M1a, nor in fact to any metaphysical 'proposition'.45a

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.

 

Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma on Steroids

 

There is another rather odd feature of metaphysical theories that is also worth highlighting: since the supposed truth-values of defective sentences like those below aren't determined by examining actual evidence, they have to be given a 'truth-value' by fiat. That is, they have to be declared "necessarily true", or pronounced "necessarily false". That in turn is because their supposed truth-status hasn't been derived from the world, but from the supposed meaning of the words they contain. As we will see, this divorces them from the world, with which they can't now be compared.

 

Or, perhaps with much more grandiosity, their opposites are anathematised as "unthinkable" by a sage-like figure -- an 'Edgy', 'Radical' Philosopher, a Dialectical Magus, maybe even a "Great Teacher".

 

Metaphysical pronouncements like the following are as common as dirt in Traditional Thought -- and, as we can now see, in DM, too:

 

P4: Motion is the mode of existence of matter. [Engels and Lenin.]

 

L1: Time is a relation between events. [Paraphrasing Leibniz and Kant.]

 

L5: To be is to be perceived. [Paraphrasing Berkeley.]

 

L6: God and God only is the Truth. [Hegel.]

 

L7: Self-relation in Essence is the form of Identity or of reflection-into-self. [Hegel.]

 

L8: Everything is opposite. Neither in heaven nor in Earth...is there anywhere such an abstract 'either-or'. [Hegel.]

 

L9: Contradiction is the very moving principle of the world. [Hegel.]

 

L10: All bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour etc. They are never equal to themselves. [Trotsky.]

 

L11: And so every phenomenon...sooner or later, but inevitably, is transformed into its own opposite. [Plekhanov.]

 

L12: Motion is a contradiction. [Paraphrasing Zeno, Hegel, Engels, Plekhanov and Lenin.]

 

L13: Internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature ['The Great Teacher Himself' -- Stalin.]

 

L14: It is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion. [Engels.]

 

L15: All true knowledge of nature is knowledge of the eternal, the infinite, and essentially absolute. [Engels.]

 

L16: Cognition is the eternal, endless approximation of thought to the object. [Lenin.]

 

L17: Truth is always concrete. [Hegel, Plekhanov and Lenin.]

 

L18: Every universal is (a fragment, or an aspect, or the essence of) an individual. [Lenin.]

 

L19: Contradiction is universal and absolute...present in the...development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end. [Mao.]

 

L20: The unity of opposites...is relative and transient...the struggle of opposites is absolute, expressing the infinity...of development. [Kharin, paraphrasing Lenin.]

 

[Most of the above have been quoted or excerpted from Essay Two. The incoherence of many of them was exposed in Essays Two to Thirteen Part One.]

 

Of course, the aforementioned 'ceremony' (whereby a sage-like figure promulgates the Universal Veracity of sentences like those above) must be performed in abeyance of the evidence (as we saw in Essay Seven Part One). Indeed, no evidence need ever be sought. Quite the contrary, in fact. Evidence would detract from the pre-eminent status granted these Super-Truths; they are all Metaphysical Gems, many now credited with apodictic certainty by their promulgators. Such claims by-pass by simple decree the usual 'grubby' social practices that govern the determination of the veracity of ordinary, boring empirical propositions. Such banausic protocols are way too proletarian for the soft, un-sullied hands of genuine philosophers.

 

We have already seen Lenin declare that:

 

"This aspect of dialectics…usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum total of examples…and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)." [Ibid., p.357. Bold emphasis alone added.]

 

So, the need to provide evidence appears to be a distraction, an otherwise necessary step dedicated dialecticians should rightly avoid. In this particular case, the claim that 'dialectical opposites' exist everywhere -- governing every single example of change, right across the entire universe for all of time -- expresses a "law of cognition", a "law of the objective world", and it is those very "laws" that justify, if not "demand", the imposition of dialectical dogmas like these on nature and society.

 

"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…. [D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth is always concrete, never abstract', as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel." [Lenin (1921), pp.90, 93. Bold emphases added.]

 

"Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world." [Lenin (1961), p.110. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Knowledge is the reflection of nature by man. But this is not simple, not an immediate, not a complete reflection, but the process of a series of abstractions, the formation and development of concepts, laws, etc., and these concepts, laws, etc., (thought, science = 'the logical Idea') embrace conditionally, approximately, the universal, law-governed character of eternally moving and developing nature.... Man cannot comprehend = reflect = mirror nature as a whole, in its completeness, its 'immediate totality,' he can only eternally come closer to this, creating abstractions, concepts, laws, a scientific picture of the world...." [Ibid., p.182. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

"Nowadays, the ideas of development…as formulated by Marx and Engels on the basis of Hegel…[encompass a process] that seemingly repeats the stages already passed, but repeats them otherwise, on a higher basis ('negation of negation'), a development, so to speak, in spirals, not in a straight line; -- a development by leaps, catastrophes, revolutions; -- 'breaks in continuity'; the transformation of quantity into quality; -- the inner impulses to development, imparted by the contradiction and conflict of the various forces and tendencies acting on a given body, or within a given phenomenon, or within a given society; -- the interdependence and the closest, indissoluble connection of all sides of every phenomenon…, a connection that provides a uniform, law-governed, universal process of motion -– such are some of the features of dialectics as a richer (than the ordinary) doctrine of development." [Lenin (1914), pp.12-13. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Hence, the search for evidence begins and ends with DM-fans leafing through Hegel's Logic or the work of some other obscure Mystic, like Heraclitus, Zeno, Plotinus, Spinoza and Jakob Boehme.

 

"Hegel brilliantly divined the dialectics of things (phenomena, the world, nature) in the dialectics of concepts…. This aphorism should be expressed more popularly, without the word dialectics: approximately as follows: In the alternation, reciprocal dependence of all notions, in the identity of their opposites, in the transitions of one notion into another, in the eternal change, movement of notions, Hegel brilliantly divined precisely this relation of things to nature…. [W]hat constitutes dialectics?…. [M]utual dependence of notions all without exception…. Every notion occurs in a certain relation, in a certain connection with all the others." [Lenin (1961), pp.196-97. Italic emphases in the original. First bold emphasis only, added.]

 

Here is Herbert Marcuse endorsing this a priori (evidence-free) approach to knowledge:

 

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

 

'Observable facts' just get in the way of all such dedicated dogmatists.

 

[Again, I have posted well over a hundred examples of this doctrinaire frame-of-mind in Essay Two (and that number is no exaggeration, either!).]

 

James White highlighted this attitude to 'philosophical knowledge', in this case exhibited by the German Idealists, the intellectual grandparents of DM:

 

"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 (1996), p.29. Bold emphasis added.]

 

In fact, the above approach to 'philosophical truth' has dominated this ruling-class discipline since its earliest days in Ancient Greece, reinforced more recently and more forcefully in and by the work of early modern Rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Wolff.

 

In this, they followed in Plato's footsteps (minus the overt polytheism); true knowledge is 'of the mind' and bypasses the senses:

 

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

 

As we saw in Essay Three Part Two (here and here), DM-theorists do likewise; that is, when they also speak about unreliable 'appearances', telling all who will listen that genuine knowledge is based on all those invisible 'underlying essences' (which 'contradict appearances').

 

[Follow the previous two links for quotations from the DM-classics and subsequent DM-theorists in support.]

 

Nevertheless, Super-Scientific Gems like these had to have their semantic pre-eminence bestowed on them as a gift. They couldn't be expected, nor must they be allowed, to consort with vulgar empirical sentences, besmirched as they are by so much worldly, working-class 'grime', otherwise known as the "banalities of common sense".

 

Instead of being compared with material reality to ascertain their (supposed) truth-status, the veracity of Super-Truths like this was derived solely from, or compared only with, other related claims of similar Intergalactic Status, part of a bogus 'terminological gesture' at 'verification'. 'Confirmation', therefore, takes place only in the head of whichever theorist cuts and polishes these Philosophical Gems.

 

Their bona fides are thus thoroughly Ideal -- and hence completely phony.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1b: Motion without matter isn't unthinkable.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

As we have seen in a previous section, in relation to M1a it is impossible to outline the material conditions under which M1b, for instance, could be declared true so that DM-theorists could specify what was in fact being ruled out by the 'necessarily true' status of M1a. As is the case with other metaphysical claims, there is no legitimate negation of M1a that would (ordinarily) make M1b true. That is because the DM-concept of matter is predicated on the 'necessary truth' of P4. That sentence tells us what DM-theorists mean by the word "matter". So, it isn't just an empirical fact about matter -- that it moves (which could be otherwise in some other possible world, or even in this world had the universe developed differently) -- it is one of its defining characteristics. Change that and the meaning of the word "matter", as DM-theorists conceive it, must change, too.

 

So, Lenin's acceptance of P4 is what makes 'motion without matter' "unthinkable". Anyone who attempted to deny M1a by means of M1b, for instance, would be operating with a different understanding of the word "matter". In effect, they would be rejecting P4, and that would in turn mean that there had been a change of subject between M1a and M1b. M1b is therefore no longer about "matter", as Lenin and other DM-fans conceive of it, but about 'matter'. Hence, despite appearances to the contrary, M1b isn't the negation of M1a. They both have different subjects.

 

Unfortunately, this means that there is no state of affairs in the world that M1a could 'reflect'. If there were, there would be a legitimate negation of M1a. But, as we have just seen, M1b can't assume that role since it is no longer about matter, but about 'matter'. This means that M1a has no content, since, as we have also seen, there is no state of affairs answering to it. It is devoid of content; there are no circumstances under which it could be false, and hence none under which it could be true.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M1b: Motion without matter isn't unthinkable.

 

M1a can't be false, since, if it were, M1b would be true. But, M1a and M1b aren't logically linked. There is no state of affairs they share because of the change of subject between them, and hence no state of affairs answering to either.

 

Once again, compare M1a and M1b with M6 and M6a, from earlier:

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution. [TAR]

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution....

 

The same situation obtaining -- i.e., Tony Blair's owning a copy of TAR -- will make one of M6 or M6a true and one of them false. If he does own a copy, M6 will be true and M6a false; conversely, if he doesn't, M6a will be true and M6 false. This intimate intertwining of the truth-values of M6 and M6a is a direct consequence of the same state of affairs linking them.

 

If a given speaker didn't know that M6 was true (and hence that M6a was false) just in case Blair owned a copy of the said book, and that M6 was false (but M6a was true) just in case Blair didn't own a copy of the said book -- or they were unable to determine or recognise what to look for, or to expect, if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 or M6a -- that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two sentences stand or fall as one; so, when one stands, the other falls, and vice versa.

 

This might seem an obvious point, but its ramifications are all too easily missed, and have been missed by the vast majority of Philosophers...

 

The above considerations also help explain why it is easy to imagine M6 as true even if it turned out to be false, or false even if it is true. That is, it is easy to imagine what would have made M6 false if it is actually true, and what would have made M6 true if it actually false. [Vice versa with M6a.] In general, the comprehension of an empirical proposition involves an understanding of the conditions under which it would or could be true, or would or could be false. As is well known, these are otherwise called their truth conditions. That, of course, allows anyone so minded to confirm the actual truth status of any given empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for or expect.

 

So, if and when we find out that M6a is true, we can automatically infer the falsehood of M6 -- and vice versa if we discover M6 is true. Hence, we can reject M6 if M6a is true just as we can reject M6a if M6 is true. The same content tells us what we can rule in and what we can rule out. Again, it is this shared content that connects the two sentences, and allows us to make these safe inferences. We couldn't do this if they didn't have this shared content.

 

In that case, DM-'propositions' lack a sense and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation. Once again, our use of language actually prevents them from expressing a sense, let alone being true.

They are therefore non-sensical, empty strings of words.

 

Just like other metaphysical 'propositions', M1a was conceived in an Ideal World divorced from the language of everyday life and ordinary workers. The Super-Verities concocted in the brains of individual thinkers (as if they 'reflected' the 'essential form of reality') relate to nothing whatsoever in nature or society -- despite appearances to the contrary and irrespective of the intentions of those who dreamt them up. The conventions of ordinary language -- the language of the proletariat -- actually prevent them from doing this, rendering them contentless, as we have seen.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Since it isn't possible to specify what would count as evidence that showed a proposition like M1a was true -- or even showed it was false -- they fail to be materially-grounded. That is, their semantic status isn't sensitive to any state of affairs in the world, and that is because they have no such status. As such they can't assist us in understanding the world, nor can they be used to help change it.

 

[But, as we will see in Essay Nine Part Two, they often manage to get in the way.]

 

That, of course, helps explain why it was concluded (in Essay Nine Part One) that DM-theories can't be used to propagandise and agitate workers, nor can they even be employed during a revolution, such as 1917 -- as we have also seen.

 

Instead of reflecting the world, these sentences do the exact opposite -- the world reflects them. They determine the way the world must be, not the way it happens to be. The Ideal World of Traditional Philosophy reflects the distorted language and ruling-class interests on which it is based. Again, they don't reflect the material world, they reflect an ersatz 'world', one that exists only in the imagination of ruling-class theorists.

 

And, just like Traditional Philosophers, DM-theorists also dictate to the world how it must be and how it can't be otherwise.

 

By way of contrast, genuine scientists allow the world to tell us how it happens to be.

 

That is why 'profound philosophical truths' can only be read from distorted language (as Marx himself put this) -- found in sentences like M1a and P4 -- but not from nature, since they represent an attempt to impose a set of ideas on the world. They are 'true' because they reflect the Ideal World of their inventors, not the material world we see around us. And that is why their actual truth, or their actual falsehood, was never, and could never, be determined by a confrontation with the facts, but has to be bestowed on them as a gift by those who dreamt them up.46

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

The normal cannons that determine when something is true or when something is false (i.e., a systematic search for evidence that we witness, for example, in the genuine sciences) have to be set aside, a spurious 'evidential' ceremony substituted for it.47

 

The 'Evidential Pantomime' -- Mickey Mouse 'Dialectical Science' Strikes Back

 

With respect to DM, this bogus ceremony is invariably carried out after the event -- that is, after a set of ideas have been imported from Hegel's 'Logic'. DM-theories are then illustrated by a narrow range of specially-selected examples (as we found, for instance, was the case with Trotsky's criticism of the LOI, Engels's analysis of motion, his Three 'Laws' and Lenin's theory of knowledge).

 

This evidential 'display' has four inter-connected aspects:

 

(1) It is almost invariably performed in the 'mind' as part of a hasty consideration of the 'concepts' supposedly involved. Instead of being compared with material reality in order to ascertain their truth-values, DM-theses are compared with other related doctrines -- such as P4 -- or more often, they are compared with yet more obscure ideas lifted from Hegel -- as part of a jargon-riddled gesture at 'verification'. As we have found, this means that DM-theories are both quintessentially Ideal and consistently anti-materialist.48

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

(2) It often consists of a series of superficial thought experiments, which are accompanied by an ill-informed 'logical' analysis of a few key terms, 'supported' by the frequent use of modal (or quasi-modal) terms -- such as "must", "inconceivable", "demand", "insist", "unthinkable", and "impossible". A classic example of this approach is Engels's 'analysis' of motion, which is based exclusively on the words (or the concepts) involved. He nowhere appeals to evidence in support of what he claimed was true of every moving body in existence. In fact, it is impossible to imagine any evidence that could be offered in support. [I have dealt with this specific topic at greater length in Essay Five; readers are referred there for more details.]

 

(3) Almost without exception the application of DM-'laws' is illustrated by an appeal to a few specially-selected (and endlessly repeated) 'supportive' examples -- which are themselves often mis-described or left unfathomably vague.

 

In Essay Seven, we saw that DM-theorists offer their readers what can only be described as laughably superficial 'evidence' in support of Engels's Three 'Laws'. As a result I have called DM a classic example of "Mickey Mouse Science". We can now see why it merits such a name: the supposedly "self-evident" or "obvious" nature of DM-theories means that little (or no) empirical support is required. Hence, a few trite, specially-selected examples are used merely to 'illustrate' (they certainly don't prove) these 'laws', which are then repeated, ad nauseam, year-in, year-out.

 

Incidentally, that is why DM-fans soon come out with the following knee-jerk response, "You don't understand dialectics" directed at critics. That is because their theory isn't based on evidence, but on a certain (and rather quirky) 'understanding' of a limited range of 'concepts'.

 

(4) On other occasions, the 'evidence' used to 'illustrate' DM-'propositions' turns out to be the result of superficial forays into 'linguistic' or 'conceptual' analysis often based on a series of 'persuasive definitions' or even more mysterious 'abstractions' (of dubious provenance).49 More specifically, as we saw in Essay Three Part One, this 'method' is applied to predicative expressions that supposedly 'name' these invisible 'abstractions', the latter of which turn out to be Proper Names of abstract particulars, vitiating the whole exercise by destroying the generality of the concepts they supposedly 'reflect'. [Follow the above links for an explanation.]

 

Whatever linguistic sleight-of-hand is involved in all this, direct or indirect reference has at some point to be made to the ordinary meaning of the words used so that their meanings can be 'revised'. Unfortunately, since the opening moves involve a misuse of these terms these words no longer possess their usual meaning, which in turn means that the whole exercise now becomes doubly pointless.

 

For example, DM-theorists en masse repeatedly, almost neurotically, use the term "contradiction", but they don't mean that word in its ordinary sense, nor yet in its FL-sense. What they think they mean is the subject of Essay Eight Parts One, Two and Three. (Spoiler -- in those Essays we discover that it is completely obscure what they mean by this term, as, indeed, was Hegel before them.

 

[As I also demonstrate in Essay Five, while dialecticians tend to 'see' contradictions everywhere they look, they never derive them logically. Except in relation to the supposed link between the proletariat and the capitalist class, they never even attempt to show these 'contradiction' are in any way 'dialectical'.]

 

In fact, no process of revising a word can begin if that word has been distorted from the beginning. It isn't possible to revise such words if they aren't actually being used -- a distorted term substituted for them -- or they have been replaced by a typographically identical inscription, which is then used idiosyncratically. [There are more details about this 'process', here.]

 

Hence, in such circumstances what at first sight might appear to be ordinary terms manage to put in a brief appearance -- e.g., "motion", "unthinkable", "opposite", "equal", "place", "moment", "quality", "identical", "negation", "contradiction", "change", etc., etc. -- by no stretch of the imagination do they mean the same as their intended equivalent in the vernacular. That is because of the extraordinary use to which they are now being put.

 

This can be seen when an actual appeal is made to the usual, often diverse, meaning these ordinary words already possess (an approach that has been adopted on numerous occasions at this site -- for example, here and here), the seemingly obvious validity of every single DM-claim soon falls apart.

 

Nevertheless, this is precisely what creates the spurious 'obviousness' and 'self-evidence' that DM-'laws' might seem to possess. This also helps explain the consternation DM-fans often display when their theory is demolished in front of them (as it has been at this site), their reaction almost invariably involving a predictable appeal to the "pedantry"/"semantics" defence. The rationale behind the repudiation of DM at this site is completely mystifying to those held in its thrall. How such apparently "self-evident", 'obviously true' DM-'laws' could fail to be true becomes "unthinkable". Indeed, as noted above, critics just don't "understand" dialectics. This also helps explain why DM-fans soon become abusive.

 

Naturally,  such incredulity is a direct result of the fact that the 'truth' of these 'laws' has been built into them by linguistic or conceptual fiat -- or as a mere gift by a DM-Prophet.

 

That is also why DM-fans find it difficult to understand anyone who denies, for instance, that 'a moving object is in two places at once, in one place and not in it at the same time', even though our ordinary use of words associated with motion and place shows that our ideas in this area are far more complex than Hegel, Zeno or DM-theorists imagine. As Essay Five shows, our use of the vernacular allows for examples of movement that demonstrate Engels's theory of motion is seriously flawed -- that is, where any sense can be made of it.50

 

This novel of what superficially look like ordinary words appears to generate paradox. That is because the everyday meaning of such terms seems to 'carry over' into these new contexts, bringing in its train endless confusion. This, of course, explains why 'contradictions' seem to sprout faster in the DM-literature than Japanese Knotweed.

 

[Detailed examples of the above were given in Essay Three Part One, in Essay Four, here and here, and throughout Essays Five and Six.]

 

To compound the problem, these paradox-inducing moves are often based on what are claimed to be the real meaning of the words involved. To this end, the wide diversity of ordinary connotations such words possess are brushed aside as 'unscientific', 'un-philosophical', "valid only within certain limits" --, or they are rejected as uninteresting, inessential, compromised by banal "commonsense" or "formal thinking". For example, the real meaning of motion is supposed to imply that it is 'contradictory' and paradoxical; the real meaning of 'identity' is actually its opposite when confronted with change; the real meaning of "matter" implies motion; the real meaning of "contradiction" means this, or that..., and so on.50a

 

The original terms are then discarded as of limited use, or even as defective and unsuitable for use in either philosophy or science. However, as we have seen, and will see, ordinary language is castigated because its use actually disallows 'philosophical' moves like these. Hence, according to Traditional Theorists (and now DM-fans), if ordinary language stands in the way, it is ordinary language which is to blame, not the moves themselves!51

 

The late Professor Havelock pinpointed the origin of such trickery in the moves the Presocratics tried to pull; but similar comments could very well apply, mutatis mutandis, to Traditional Philosophy and DM-theorists in general:

 

"As long as preserved communication remained oral, the environment could be described or explained only in the guise of stories which represent it as the work of agents: that is gods. Hesiod takes the step of trying to unify those stories into one great story, which becomes a cosmic theogony. A great series of matings and births of gods is narrated to symbolise the present experience of the sky, earth, seas, mountains, storms, rivers, and stars. His poem is the first attempt we have in a style in which the resources of documentation have begun to intrude upon the manner of an acoustic composition. But his account is still a narrative of events, of 'beginnings,' that is, 'births,' as his critics the Presocratics were to put it. From the standpoint of a sophisticated philosophical language, such as was available to Aristotle, what was lacking was a set of commonplace but abstract terms which by their interrelations could describe the physical world conceptually; terms such as space, void, matter, body, element, motion, immobility, change, permanence, substratum, quantity, quality, dimension, unit, and the like. Aside altogether from the coinage of abstract nouns, the conceptual task also required the elimination of verbs of doing and acting and happening, one may even say, of living and dying, in favour of a syntax which states permanent relationships between conceptual terms systematically. For this purpose the required linguistic mechanism was furnished by the timeless present of the verb to be --  the copula of analytic statement.

 

"The history of early philosophy is usually written under the assumption that this kind of vocabulary was already available to the first Greek thinkers. The evidence of their own language is that it was not. They had to initiate the process of inventing it....

 

"Nevertheless, the Presocratics could not invent such language by an act of novel creation. They had to begin with what was available, namely, the vocabulary and syntax of orally memorised speech, in particular the language of Homer and Hesiod. What they proceeded to do was to take the language of the mythos and manipulate it, forcing its terms into fresh syntactical relationships which had the constant effect of stretching and extending their application, giving them a cosmic rather than a particular reference." [Havelock (1983), pp.13-14, 21. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Spelling adapted to agree with UK English. Links added.]

 

Ordinary language is thus caught in a philosophical vice, as it were. On the one hand, the everyday meaning of words doesn't sanction the theories metaphysicians try to derive them, on the other, ordinary terms are said to be inadequate because they generate 'paradox', when, in reality, that 'defect' is a direct result of a cavalier misuse of them.52

 

As Glock pointed out:

 

"Wittgenstein's ambitious claim is that it is constitutive of metaphysical theories and questions that their employment of terms is at odds with their explanations and that they use deviant rules along with the ordinary ones. As a result, traditional philosophers cannot coherently explain the meaning of their questions and theories. They are confronted with a trilemma: either their novel uses of terms remain unexplained (unintelligibility), or...[they use] incompatible rules (inconsistency), or their consistent employment of new concepts simply passes by the ordinary use -- including the standard use of technical terms -- and hence the concepts in terms of which the philosophical problems were phrased." [Glock (1996), pp.261-62. See also, here.]

 

In view of the above, Marx's advice becomes all the more relevant:

 

"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.]

 

Short-Circuiting The 'Power Of Negativity'

 

The story so far: the exclusion of one or other of the semantic options open to indicative sentences completely undermines their capacity to accommodate the logical role of the non-excluded, twin -- truth in favour of falsehood, or falsehood in favour of truth. For, as we have seen, if such sentences can only be false, and never true, they can't actually be false -- nor vice versa. That is because, if an empirical proposition is false, it isn't true.53

 

But, if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is true then we certainly can't say in what way it falls short of this so that it could be untrue, and hence false. Conversely, if it can only be true, the conditions that would make it false are similarly excluded; if we can't say under what circumstances such a sentence is false then we certainly can't say in what way it falls short of this condition so that it could be true, and hence not false. In which case, its truth similarly falls by the wayside.

 

Again, this forms part of understanding the sense of a proposition; in order to grasp its sense, a speaker has to know under what conditions a given empirical proposition could be true or could be false. The two stand or fall together -- so, knowing what would make such a proposition true is ipso facto to know what would make it false, and vice versa.

 

Consider the following:

 

C1: Barak Obama owns a copy of Das Kapital.

 

C2: Barak Obama doesn't own a copy of Das Kapital.

 

Anyone who knows the English language, and knows who and what Barak Obama and Das Kapital are will understand this sentence. Even if they haven't a clue whether it is true or whether it is false, they would know what state of affairs would have to obtain for it to be true, the absence of which would make it false. The same state of affairs serves in both cases -- to make C1 true or make C1 false. If that weren't the case, if a speaker didn't (explicitly or implicitly) know this, then that would provide prima facie evidence that they didn't understand C1 or C2.

 

Of course, DM-theorists aren't really interested in banal propositions like C1 and C2; they are more interested in change and hence in propositions that express this. In such circumstances, the negative particle seems to them to add content to a given sentence. Perhaps via the NON.

 

[NON = Negation of the Negation.]

 

This supposition involves 'the power of negativity', which drives change, supposedly by adding content. This idea will be examined in more detail in Parts Five and Six of Essay Twelve. Suffice it to say here that if this were the case, it would prevent the following two propositions from being contradictories:

 

C3: Moving object, B, is located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1,

 

C4: Moving object, B, isn't located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

[Where "x1", "y1", and "z1" are Cartesian ordinates, and "t1" is a temporal variable.]

 

Which is, of course, contrary to what Hegel and Engels maintained:

 

"[A]s soon as we consider things in their motion, their change, their life, their reciprocal influence…[t]hen we immediately become involved in contradictions. Motion itself is a contradiction; even simple mechanical change of place can only come about through a body being both in one place and in another place at one and the same moment of time, being in one and the same place and also not in it. And the continual assertion and simultaneous solution of this contradiction is precisely what motion is." [Engels (1976), p.152.]

 

"If, now, the first determinations of reflection, namely, identity, difference and opposition, have been put in the form of a law, still more should the determination into which they pass as their truth, namely, contradiction, be grasped and enunciated as a law: everything is inherently contradictory, and in the sense that this law in contrast to the others expresses rather the truth and the essential nature of things. The contradiction which makes its appearance in opposition, is only the developed nothing that is contained in identity and that appears in the expression that the law of identity says nothing. This negation further determines itself into difference and opposition, which now is the posited contradiction.

 

"But it is one of the fundamental prejudices of logic as hitherto understood and of ordinary thinking that contradiction is not so characteristically essential and immanent a determination as identity; but in fact, if it were a question of grading the two determinations and they had to be kept separate, then contradiction would have to be taken as the profounder determination and more characteristic of essence. For as against contradiction, identity is merely the determination of the simple immediate, of dead being; but contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality; it is only in so far as something has a contradiction within it that it moves, has an urge and activity.

 

"In the first place, contradiction is usually kept aloof from things, from the sphere of being and of truth generally; it is asserted that there is nothing that is contradictory. Secondly, it is shifted into subjective reflection by which it is first posited in the process of relating and comparing. But even in this reflection, it does not really exist, for it is said that the contradictory cannot be imagined or thought. Whether it occurs in actual things or in reflective thinking, it ranks in general as a contingency, a kind of abnormality and a passing paroxysm or sickness....

 

"Now as regards the assertion that there is no contradiction, that it does not exist, this statement need not cause us any concern; an absolute determination of essence must be present in every experience, in everything actual, as in every notion. We made the same remark above in connection with the infinite, which is the contradiction as displayed in the sphere of being. But common experience itself enunciates it when it says that at least there is a host of contradictory things, contradictory arrangements, whose contradiction exists not merely in an external reflection but in themselves. Further, it is not to be taken merely as an abnormality which occurs only here and there, but is rather the negative as determined in the sphere of essence, the principle of all self-movement, which consists solely in an exhibition of it. External, sensuous movement itself is contradiction's immediate existence. Something moves, not because at one moment it is here and at another there, but because at one and the same moment it is here and not here, because in this 'here', it at once is and is not. The ancient dialecticians must be granted the contradictions that they pointed out in motion; but it does not follow that therefore there is no motion, but on the contrary, that motion is existent contradiction itself.

 

"Similarly, internal self-movement proper, instinctive urge in general, (the appetite or nisus of the monad, the entelechy of absolutely simple essence), is nothing else but the fact that something is, in one and the same respect, self-contained and deficient, the negative of itself. Abstract self-identity has no vitality, but the positive, being in its own self a negativity, goes outside itself and undergoes alteration. Something is therefore alive only in so far as it contains contradiction within it, and moreover is this power to hold and endure the contradiction within it. But if an existent in its positive determination is at the same time incapable of reaching beyond its negative determination and holding the one firmly in the other, is incapable of containing contradiction within it, then it is not the living unity itself, not ground, but in the contradiction falls to the ground. Speculative thinking consists solely in the fact that thought holds fast contradiction, and in it, its own self, but does not allow itself to be dominated by it as in ordinary thinking, where its determinations are resolved by contradiction only into other determinations or into nothing

 

"If the contradiction in motion, instinctive urge, and the like, is masked for ordinary thinking, in the simplicity of these determinations, contradiction is, on the other hand, immediately represented in the determinations of relationship. The most trivial examples of above and below, right and left, father and son, and so on ad infinitum, all contain opposition in each term. That is above, which is not below; 'above' is specifically just this, not to be 'below', and only is, in so far as there is a 'below'; and conversely, each determination implies its opposite. Father is the other of son, and the son the other of father, and each only is as this other of the other; and at the same time, the one determination only is, in relation to the other; their being is a single subsistence. The father also has an existence of his own apart from the son-relationship; but then he is not father but simply man; just as above and below, right and left, are each also a reflection-into-self and are something apart from their relationship, but then only places in general. Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another or sublate each other and are indifferent to one another. Ordinary thinking when it passes over to the moment of the indifference of the determinations, forgets their negative unity and so retains them merely as 'differents' in general, in which determination right is no longer right, nor left left, etc. But since it has, in fact, right and left before it, these determinations are before it as self-negating, the one being in the other, and each in this unity being not self-negating but indifferently for itself.

 

"Opposites, therefore, contain contradiction in so far as they are, in the same respect, negatively related to one another. Ordinary thinking when it passes over to the moment of the indifference of the determinations, forgets their negative unity and so retains them merely as 'differents' in general, in which determination right is no longer right, nor left left, etc. But since it has in fact right and left before it, these determinations are before it as self-negating, the one being in the other, and each in this unity being not self-negating but indifferently for itself." [Hegel (1999), pp.439-41, §955-§960. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

However, we have already seen that the negative particle can't do what DM-fans require of it. With respect to metaphysical-, and DM-'propositions', we have seen that negating them changes the subject, which in turn means that such 'propositions' and their supposed negations are devoid of content. So, instead of adding content, 'dialectical negation' reveals they had no content to begin with

 

On the other hand, if negation did in fact add content, then C3 and C4 would as a result have a different content. So, if as DM-theorists insist, 'dialectical negation' adds content, then any propositions involved couldn't be "contradictories".

 

Of course, they might mean something different by "contradiction"; if so, what?

 

C3: Moving object, B, is located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

C4: Moving object, B, isn't located at <x1, y1, z1>, at t1.

 

[However, as we have seen in Essay Eight Parts One, Two and Three, it is in fact impossible to ascertain what DM-fans do mean by their odd use of the word "contradiction". And, as we will discover in Parts Five and Six of this Essay, it is equally impossible to decide what, if anything, Hegel meant by his idiosyncratic use of it, too.]

 

So, our comprehension of empirical propositions is intimately connected with the inter-relation between these logical 'Siamese Twins' (i.e., truth and falsehood) --, and hence with the social norms governing the use of the negative particle -- coupled with the that an empirical proposition and its negation have the same content. The abrogation of socially-sanctioned rules like these means that 'necessarily' true and 'necessarily' false sentences (like those considered earlier) aren't just senseless, they are non-sensical. That is, they are incapable of reflecting anything in the world, and hence they are incapable of being true and incapable of being false -- i.e., they are incapable of expressing a sense. Whatever we try to do with them collapses into incoherence.54

 

For the last two-and-a-half millennia, metaphysicians have consistently overlooked or ignored this logical feature of empirical propositions. [So, DM-theorists are merely Johnny-come-latelies in this regard.]

 

This ancient error conned Traditional Philosophers into thinking that the 'necessity' of metaphysical 'propositions' derives from the nature of reality, not from the distorted language on which their ideas were based.

 

Innocent-looking linguistic false-steps like these helped motivate the invention of theories that were supposed to 'reflect' the 'essential' nature of 'reality', accessible to thought alone. But, if such 'truths' are based on nothing more than linguistic chicanery, on distortion and/or misuse, then no evidence could be offered in their support, except, of course, that which is based on yet more linguistic legerdemain.

 

Metaphysical 'necessity' is thus little more than a shadow cast on the world by distorted language (to paraphrase both Wittgenstein and Marx).

 

Over the centuries, metaphysical systems were developed, not by becoming empirically more refined or by becoming increasingly useful (in connection with, for instance, technology or medicine) -- which has proved to be the case with the growth of science -- but by becoming increasingly labyrinthine, convoluted and baroque as further incomprehensible layers of jargon were deposited on earlier formations of linguistically deformed bedrock.

 

Hegel's system provides ample evidence of that.

 

Heidegger's perhaps even more.

 

Naturally, this confirms the fact that these two semantic possibilities -- truth and falsehood -- must remain open options if a proposition is to count as empirical, subject to evidential confirmation, and thus for it to count as "thinkable", in this sense.

 

In which case, as the above shows, no sentence can express a 'necessary truth' about the world while remaining empirical.55

 

So, despite appearances to the contrary, Lenin's appeal to the 'unthinkability' of motion without matter doesn't in fact say anything at all --, that is, it doesn't say anything empirically determinate.

 

Metaphysical Camouflage

 

While Mathematics Adds Up...

 

[This section represents something of a side-show and may be skipped by anyone wanting to concentrate on the main theme. The only caveat is that the next section might not be fully understood if this material is by-passed. However, readers who want to skip this section can begin again here.]

 

Considerations like these show that indicative sentences conceal their diverse logical forms, which is why it is unwise to take the superficially similar grammatical features of language at face value. This in turn demonstrates that while sentences like M2-M9 might well be indicative -- with several of them also appearing to be empirical -- they are masquerading as empirical propositions and as such fail to express a sense. That in turn is a consequence of the conventions ordinary language users have established over the millennia -- by their practice, not in general by their deliberations --, which alone constitute the nature of empirical propositions.

 

Even so, not every indicative sentences is, or need be, metaphysical.

 

For example, consider the following:

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

This appears to be unconditionally, or even necessarily, true. However, its 'negation':

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number,

 

isn't false; it is either incomprehensible or, despite appearances to the contrary, it isn't about the number two. [On that, see below.]

 

[In what follows, I have confined my comments to seemingly banal sentences, like M2 and M21, in order to explain in what way they are true and to help distinguish them from metaphysical-, and DM-'propositions'. However, this isn't meant to be an Essay about 'the nature of mathematics', so more complex mathematical 'propositions' will in general be ignored.]

 

M21 isn't just contingently false -- if it is taken to be a mathematical and not simply a terminological proposition (that is, if it isn't viewed as a proposed revision to the names we use in our number system, what I later call the "trivial" option) -- it appears to be necessarily false. But, if we put trivial examples to one side for now (on that, also see below), it is impossible to specify what could possibly make M21 true. In that case, we are in no position to specify what M21 is trying to rule out, and hence we are in no position to say in what way it falls short of that for it to be false.

 

Unlike empirical propositions, M2 and M21 don't have the same content, nor do they relate to the same state of affairs, since neither relate to any state of affairs, to begin with. If they did, a comparison with the world, a reference to facts, would be relevant to ascertaining their truth or establishing their falsehood. In turn that is because (as we saw earlier), between M2 and M21 there is a change of subject, since if two isn't a number (according to M21) then that use of "two" is different from its use in M2.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M2 expresses a rule for the use of the number word "two" (as a number), since it reflects the role this word occupies in our number system. At best, M21 (perhaps) records the rejection of that rule -- again, if we ignore trivial examples.

 

To think otherwise -- i.e., that M21 could express a supposed truth or a supposed falsehood (again assuming M21 doesn't represent a simple terminological revision, which would be the trivial case mentioned earlier) would be to misconstrue the ordinary use of the word "two" (in such a context). Such a major change of meaning would significantly alter any of the mathematical propositions (equations, etc.) in which this word (or the numeral "2") occurred, and that in turn would have a knock-on effect throughout the number system..

 

Some might think that M21 is "logically false" (and thus that M2 is "logically true"), but that would merely attract the sort of questions posed earlier about "necessarily false" and "necessarily true". If it isn't possible to specify conditions under which M21 would be "logically true" (trivial examples excepted, once more), then it would be equally impossible to say under what conditions it would fail to be "logically true", and hence "logically false" (or "necessarily false").

 

[Of course, it could be argued that M2 is "definitionally true", but that would merely amount to acknowledging that M2 was an expression of a rule, after all.]

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

Consider now one of the aforementioned trivial cases: suppose that in the course of development of the English language a different word had been chosen in place of "two". In such an eventuality, plainly, not much would change. Suppose, therefore, that in English "Schmoo", or a different symbol for "2" (perhaps "ж"), was used in place of "two" (or "2"). M2 and M21 would then become:

 

M2a : Schmoo is a number.

 

M21a: It isn't the case that Schmoo is a number.

 

But, as noted above, that, too, would simply represent another minor terminological revision. If this word (or this new symbol) were used as we now use "two" (or "2") then there would be no substantive difference. [On this, see also Note 60.] Clearly, the same would apply to number words (and symbols) used in other languages.

 

Others might argue that M21 is self-contradictory. When spelt-out this 'self-contradiction' might be expressed as follows, in M21b or M21c:

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M21b: It isn't the case that the number two is a number.

 

M21c: The number two is a number and the number two isn't a number.

 

But, as seems plain, the first use of the word "two" in M21c isn't the same as the second use of "two" in this sentence. In that case, M21c is no more self-contradictory than this would be:

 

M21d: George W Bush is President of the USA and George H W Bush isn't President of the USA.

 

Of course, M21d isn't meant to express the same logical form as M21c (plainly M21c contains definite descriptions); it is merely meant to make explicit a change of denotation between the first and the second use of the relevant words. Plainly, in M21d, the first name refers to a different individual from the second. Similarly, in M21c, while the first occurrence of "two" is the familiar number word; the second isn't. Indeed, the second actually says it isn't! Hence, the two halves of M21c do not constitute a contradiction.

 

If so, M2 can't be a logical truth, either.55a

 

So, M2 would itself only become 'false' if one or more of its constituent words changed their meanings (this is the trivial case once more -- for example, if "two" was no longer used to designate the whole number between one and three, and instead came to be the name of, say, a newly discovered planet). But even then, M2 wouldn't be about what we now call "two". Plainly, as soon as anyone attempts to deny that number two is a number, they automatically cease to talk about the number two. [Once more, what they might be doing in such circumstances is rejecting a rule, but that wouldn't affect how the rest of us use the rules or the number vocabulary we now have.]

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M21e: Two isn't a number.

 

Hence, despite appearances to the contrary, M21/M21e and M2 don't in fact contradict one another. That is because M21 and/or M21e are either incomprehensible, or they are about something else -- this would be the trivial case, once more. Again, a use of negation here would, at best, amount to the rejection of a rule, or it would be trivial.56, 56a

 

Conclusions to the contrary may only be sustained by maintaining (i) The false belief that M2 actually stands alone as a mathematical unit, and isn't is part of a number system, or (ii) The idea that M2 is a contingent (or even perhaps an empirical) proposition.

 

But, what makes M2 mathematical is its use in a system of propositions, which is itself one aspect of a historically-conditioned set of practices inter-linked by rule-governed operations, direct and indirect proofs, inductions and definitions, etc., etc. Moreover, M2 isn't a contingent proposition (except with respect to trivial cases, once more), it the expression of a rule. M2 it tells us how we use, and are supposed to use, this word or symbol. It situates both in an wider system of symbols.

 

The 'truth' of M2 doesn't derive from the way it relates as an 'atomic unit' to an alleged mathematical fact hidden away in some sort of Platonic Heaven (or, indeed, by the way it might relate to an 'abstraction' lodged in someone's brain/'consciousness'), but from its role in the aforementioned system of propositions, connected by proofs -- and by the way it has grown out of, and developed in, wider social practices. [On this, see Note 56.]

 

That is why none of us would be able to comprehend an investigation aimed at testing the truth of M2 empirically. In fact, the inappropriateness of any sort of empirical verification of propositions like M2 is connected with their total lack of truth conditions.57

 

Our use of such propositions -- which, as we can see, differs markedly from the way we use and comprehend empirical propositions -- indicates that they have a radically different logical form. The failure of a proposition like M2 to correspond with anything in the world (or, indeed, in 'Platonic Heaven') is revealed by the fact that (barring trivial cases, once more) we would ordinarily fail to understand its 'negation' -- i.e., M21. Trivial cases to one side, again, anyone who asserted M21 wouldn't be making an ordinary sort of factual error -- as they would had they said the following on or after the 25th of June, 2016: "It isn't the case that David Cameron has resigned as UK Prime Minister".

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

This can also be seen by the way that mathematics is learnt. Children learn this by one or more of the following: repetition (number drilling/recitation), rote learning, repetitive calculation, practical application, problem solving, or by the use of simple proofs. They do not do so by 'abstraction'. Children aren't taught to 'abstract' numbers, but to count, and at some point the 'penny drops', as it were -- at which point parents and carers often find it impossible to stop their pupils counting on and on.... But this is true in general. Understanding mathematical propositions goes hand-in-hand with mastering a skill or a technique, and subsequently by learning proofs, in tandem with the completion of a variety of operations and guided tasks, etc.57a

 

In that case, it wouldn't be possible to declare M2 true because it 'corresponded' to a fact --, or, indeed, false because it didn't -- either in reality or in 'Platonic Heaven'. And that is because it isn't possible to determine what M2 rules out, and hence what it rules in (trivial cases to one side, again).

 

This is, of course, independent of the fact that it wouldn't be possible to confirm M2 by comparing it with an abstract fact (even if we could make sense of such a 'fact', never mind how a sentence can be compared with any sort of 'abstraction'). To understand M2 and its use is to master a technique or a rule; it isn't to have identified a confirming fact or 'abstraction against which it is to be evaluated. No fact could tell a pupil how to proceed mathematically, or how to use M2 correctly. Only the mastery of a rule could do that. In addition, as we have seen, contingent facts can be false. If M21 were an empirical or a contingent proposition, the 'falsehood of M2' would appear to make it true. But, there is a change of subject between M2 and M21, so the supposed truth of M21 would have no bearing on the semantic status of M2 (trivial cases to one side, again). As we have seen, M2 has no negation.

 

In that case, the mere insertion of a negative particle into a sentence doesn't automatically create the negation of that sentence (where "the negation" here means "A proposition with the opposite truth-value"), as we have repeatedly seen.58

 

In this way we can see once more that the superficial grammatical structure of indicative sentences often obscures their deeper logical form. While empirical sentences may be mapped onto their contradictories by means of the (relevant) addition of a negative particle, that isn't so with non-empirical indicative sentences. This isn't, of course, unconnected with the fact that empirical sentences can be understood before their truth-values are known, whereas propositions like M2 are comprehensible independently of that pre-condition -- they are fully grasped only by those who know how to count and to calculate, etc. In that case, the meaning of M2 must be accounted for in a different way to that of, say, M6:

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

As has already been noted, M6 can be understood well in advance of its truth-value being known; that truth-value can't be ascertained on linguistic or logical grounds alone. That is quite unlike, say, M2 (or even, M1a).

 

This means that sentences like M2 aren't empirical. In fact, they express rules for the use of certain words (or they are the consequence of the application of those rules); that is, they express the normative application of their key terms, because of which they are incapable of being empirically true or empirically false. Any attempt to view them as empirical soon collapses into incoherence, as we have seen.

 

[Of course, it isn't being suggested here that children are taught mathematics by leaning to repeat, or internalise, sentences like M2. Children demonstrate they (implicitly) understand M2 by being able to count and do simple arithmetic, etc.]

 

As it turns out, the confusion of rules with empirical sentences underlies the failure on the part of theorists to see language as a social phenomenon.59 That is because such a failure is itself motivated by a determination to view the 'foundations of language' as solely truth-based. Given an approach, language is thought to be predicated on empirical or quasi-empirical factors -- such as a capacity to 'represent reality', on its ability to function as medium that allows the world to be reflected in the 'mind' or in 'consciousness' -- rather than on socially-sanctioned rules, conditioned by social practices and norms. Given the (traditional) view, falsehood is merely an erroneous or a 'partial' application of the 'contents of consciousness', howsoever they are conceived, or it is the result of an incorrect connection established between these factors. However, because these 'representations' are compared only with other 'representations', this leaves the world out of the account, obviating the whole exercise!

 

[As we will see in Essay Three Part Four, this 'traditional view of falsehood' is not just circular, it is also incoherent.]

 

Hence, this approach to knowledge misconstrues social norms (such as those expressed in sentences like M2) as if they were empirical, or even Super-Empirical, propositions. In that case, normative aspects of language (i.e., rules), which are the result of a lengthy process of social development and human interaction, are re-interpreted or re-configured as if they expressed the real relation between things, or were even those things themselves. That is, they are misconstrued as 'necessary' truths that underpin reality, reflect its "essence" or  'mirror' abstract truths in 'Platonic Heaven'. In this way, they become Self-Certifying Super-Empirical Truths, in no need of evidential support. It is this slide that underpins the fetishisation of language upon which Metaphysics (and now DM) is based.

 

That is why the falsehood of M6, for example, isn't like the 'falsehood' of M2. To repeat, in order to understand M6, no one need know whether it is true or whether it is false. The falsehood of M6 (in this case expressed by the possible truth of its negation, M6a) doesn't affect the meaning of any of the terms it contains. That isn't so with M2 and its apparent negation, M21:

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M21: It isn't the case that two is a number.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M2 can't be false. Its 'falsehood' would amount to a change of meaning, not of fact. Hence, M2 may only be accepted or rejected as the expression of a rule of language -- or, indeed, mathematical language.60

 

In fact, modification to sentences like M2 -- by means of analogy or metaphorical extension -- underlies the many major and minor conceptual revisions that mathematical or scientific concepts regularly undergo (saving, of course, trivial examples, once more).

 

In stark contrast, the rejection, or modification, of propositions like M6 wouldn't herald profound change. It is unlikely that Blair's failure to own a copy of TAR will initiate a significant conceptual revolution.

 

The fundamental conceptual changes that are set in motion by alterations to the rules that 'govern' a mathematical, scientific or empirical use of language are also connected with factors that make metaphysical-, and DM-theses seem so certain, their rejection so completely "unthinkable" by those who dote on this way of talking. Because metaphysical sentences arise out of a distorted use of language. In fact, they often rely on a misconstrual of rules that seek to establish, or which actually constitute, new meanings, and it is this that generates the impression that they represent novel/profound 'truths' about 'Being', 'consciousness', 'essence', or even 'truth' itself. All of which are generated from language alone, not from a practical interface with the world, or even with one another. This further motivates the impression that their truth-status is resolvable, or verifiable, by 'thought' alone.61

 

Consider M2 and M9, again:

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

At first sight, it might look like M9 resembles M2 -- in that its apparent truth-value (true) is given by the meaning of its constituent words.

 

However, M2 isn't a rule because of the meaning of the terms it contains; it is a rule because the social and historical practices upon which it is based constitute and hence express the meaning of its terms. It is how human beings have already used such terms (in this case, counting, measuring, calculating and proving, etc.) that establishes their meaning. These rules (i.e., those like M2) merely express what is part of established practice. This can be seen from the additional fact that mathematics was invented by human beings who were already social animals; it wasn't given to humanity by visiting aliens, nor was even 'a gift the gods'.62

 

On the other hand, if M2 were a rule because of the prior meaning of its terms, determined by separate individuals -- as they 'abstracted' them into existence, de novo, each time (which is what Traditional Theory suggests happened), then their meaning would be independent of use. Plainly, in that case, meaning wouldn't be based on social factors but on metaphysical or even psychological principles of dubious provenance, and even more suspect logical status, as we have seen. [I have covered this topic in much more detail in Essay Three Parts One and Two, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.]

 

Indeed, if that were the case, the meaning of M2's constituent terms would have to have been established  before they were used in any social practices, such as in counting, measuring, calculating or proving -- and that could only have been achieved by independent 'abstractors' relying (piecemeal) on just such metaphysical or psychological principles as socially atomised 'thinkers'.63

 

In sentences like M2, each word would gain its meaning by 'naming' a 'particular' or a 'universal', or by representing this or that 'abstract' concept/'essence' underlying reality, the entire process having taken place in the head of each lone abstractor. It would then be the atomised meaning of a term (its 'representation in the mind') that would tell each user how it should be used. That would transform each word (or its inner 'representation') into an agent and each human being in a patient, once more.64

 

That is because no fact, abstraction, mental image or 'inner representation' is capable of supplying the normativity that social reinforcement, education and training provides. Hence, if the Traditional Picture is to work, these 'abstractions', 'images', 'representations' or 'concepts' would have to replicate inside each head all that external social factors already provide. So, they would have to become agents in their own right, thus fetishising them. This aspect of the social world would therefore need to be projected into each head.

 

As Peter Hacker noted:

 

"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 (1974a), 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 (1993a), pp.167-68. Italic emphases in the original. Link added.]

 

But the normative use of language can only be based on, or arise out of, by social factors.

 

Given what Marx and Engels said about language, this shouldn't have to be pointed out to fellow Marxists.

 

Hence, the atomisation of the meaning of words amounts to a fetishisation of language (on this, see Note 64). It would make the 'social' interaction of words (or their inner 'representations') the determinant of how human beings use, or are supposed to use, language. This would be to invert what actually happens: it is human agents who determine the meaning of their words by their social interaction and their relation to the world; it isn't words, 'abstractions', 'representations', 'ideas', 'images' or 'concepts' that do it for them.65

 

In that case, it is the pattern underlying the linguistic and social contexts that sentences like M2 encapsulate which gives expression to our rule-governed use of symbols like these, and which therefore constitutes their meaning. That is because patterns like this are based on generality of use -- i.e., on the possibility and the actuality of norm-governed, open-ended social employment of such expressions.65a

 

The stark difference between mathematical and ordinary (indicative) sentences can perhaps be seen by the way the use of their terms may be justified. So, if someone were challenged and asked why they had used "2" in the following way, "2 + 7 = 9" (trivial cases to one side, again), all that the one questioned could appeal to would be sentences like M2, and the other rules of arithmetic. Either that, or simply retort "That's what I was taught! Were you taught differently?" The above simple equation couldn't be confirmed or justified (nor would it) by comparing it with anything in the world -- or, indeed, with any 'abstractions', 'representations', 'concepts' or 'images' in anyone's head or brain, still less with any 'objects' tucked away in an Ideal form in 'Platonic Heaven'.

 

It might be thought that an attempt could be made to justify "2 + 7 = 9" by actually counting some objects. Certainly an attempt could be made to do that, but that attempt itself would only work if the parties involved already understood how to use the relevant vocabulary, rules of arithmetic and how to count. So, this 'justification' (by actually counting) would in effect be an application of rules already understood and agreed upon.

 

This can be seen from the fact that if someone were to count two objects, and then count another seven, but declare that there were in total ten objects, they would be told they had made a mistake. Manifestly, we use the rules of arithmetic to decide if counting has been done correctly. We wouldn't even think to revise our rules, or our use of sentences like M2, if they had been so easily 'falsified' in this way.

 

Once more, that response is entirely different from our reaction if M6 were shown to be false. In that eventuality, no one would think to revise the application or the meaning of any of the words used in M6.

 

In which case, sentences like M2 are used to decide whether or an interface with reality (such as counting) has been carried out correctly. The opposite is the case with M6. Facts are what determine if M6 is true; M6 isn't used to decide if the world is correct.65b

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

This is how mathematical words gain their meaning: as 'cogs' in systems of concepts that have grown in relation to our social development across many centuries.66 They didn't acquire the meaning they now have piecemeal; that is, they didn't gain their meaning atomistically, before being used socially, practically or contextually.66a

 

Mathematical propositions don't gain their semantic status from the way they correspond with objects or structures tucked away in some Ideal, Platonic Realm, or from the way they match 'abstractions' and 'representations' lodged in each individual head.67 This means that they aren't 'true' because a process of abstraction established their status (which is quintessentially an individualistic process). They are 'true' because of the proof systems to which they belong (which are themselves reliant on highly regimented social practices), or because they are in some cases constitutive of the practices to which they belong.68

 

Consequently, two isn't a number because of what the word "two" (or its original equivalent in ancient languages) 'meant' before it was used in mathematical propositions or in counting, and the like.69 On its own divorced from such practices, the sign "2" (or the word "two") would mean nothing.69a It would just be a mark on the page -- or a sound pattern in the air. It gains its life from its use in rule-governed, socially-conditioned contexts, which were (and still are) those that occur in everyday life.

 

More formally, a mathematical context is a system of propositions that has grown up alongside specific social practices that are an extension to the above. So, "two" doesn't gain the meaning it has in isolation, as might appear to be the case if examples like M2 were read as trivial, terminological expressions. M2 can't supply "two" with a meaning that wasn't already there in a surrounding system of practices. Unless the logical space already existed for "two" to slot into as a number term, "two" could be the name of a cat, or the colour of the sky, or it might even be a meaningless inscription. "Two" gains its meaning from the rule-governed, normative role it plays in everyday life, and hence in mathematics, linked by systems of proof, not as a result of any correspondence relations, or even by means of the process of abstraction.

 

This can be seen by the way mathematical propositions are confirmed. We don't subject them to empirical test or perform experiments on them. Nor do we run brain scans to see if others have understood number words in the same way. We apply them successfully within the systems and practices in which members of a speech community were socialised to apply them.70

 

In which case, M2 is empirically neither true nor false; it expresses a normative convention, a rule.71

 

...Dialectics Does Not

 

In a way that might seen analogous to mathematical propositions, it could be argued that M9 is true because of what its constituent words mean, but the status of sentences like M9 is much more problematic.72 As noted above, M2 expresses a rule whose use constitutes the meaning of the number words it uses; hence, it is incapable of being either true or false. Rules like M2 are either useful or they aren't, either practical or they aren't.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M9a. Motion is separable from matter.

 

M9b. Motion is possible without matter.

 

M9c. Matter without motion is possible.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

M2: Two is a number.

 

But, as far as DM-fans are concerned, M9 seems to be 'necessarily true'. Its supposed opposite (which would appear to be M9a, or perhaps more naturally, M9b or M9c) is, according to Lenin, "unthinkable". That might help explain why any attempt made to question the veracity of sentences like M9 would be met with the counter-claim claim that sentences like M9 are true because of what words or concepts like "motion" and "matter" really mean, or even because of the nature of reality, perhaps expressed by P4. This can be seen from the fact that if critics were to reject M9 (for whatever reason), it would be no use dialecticians asking such a sceptic to look harder at the evidence -- of which there is none anyway in this respect. After all, what evidence could show M9 is the case? As we know, many Ancient Greek theorists accepted the evidence of their senses -- indeed, everyone's senses, it seems -- that matter is 'naturally motionless' and has to be set in motion by some motive force. In that case, all that a dialectician could do in such circumstances is appeal to the words or concepts involved, and then, with Lenin, declare that motion without matter is "unthinkable" -- which is, of course, why Lenin didn't simply say "It is false/incorrect to claim that motion can occur without matter, and here's the evidence that proves it". It is also why dialecticians (almost to an individual) respond to critics with a "You just don't understand dialectics. They never say -- concerning the veracity of P4 or M9 -- "You should look at the evidence more carefully".

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

This hypothetical response -- that dialecticians could only refer doubters to what certain words or concepts 'really' mean or imply -- itself depends on an archaic way of viewing language. That approach sees discourse as a system of labels attached to -- or which 'represent' or 'reflect' (individually, as linguistic atoms) -- objects and processes in the world. Either that, or words stand for or name 'Forms', 'Essences' or 'Substances' that exist in an 'abstract world', 'Platonic Heaven', Aristotelian 'concept-space', or even as 'images, 'ideas' and 'concepts' in 'the mind'), but they don't serve as a means of communication, a dynamic expression of our communal and inter-personal life.73

 

Once more, this helps explain why the (proffered) rejoinder noted earlier (i.e., "M9 is true because of what its constituent words mean") could only ever be the last court of appeal for DM-theorists. There is nothing more that could be said to a sceptic who doubted the 'truth' of such DM-sentences. What little evidence there is that 'substantiates' even a narrow range of its 'laws' soon proves to be of no help at all (as we have seen in other Essays posted at this site --, especially this one). It would be no use a prospective defender of Lenin pointing to more evidence if the meaning of his words is what causes the problem.

 

This 'linguistic defence' (i.e., "M9 is true because of what its constituent words mean") gives the game away. In the end, DM-sentences are amenable to no other defence. Evidence is in the end irrelevant. DM-'laws' are the product of an idiosyncratic/odd use of language, and, as such, can only be defended linguistically, or 'conceptually'.74

 

But, DM-apologists are social agents, too, so, their theories are sensitive to, or are reflective of, their class origin, current class position and/or ideas they had forced down their throats when they were socialised as children -- indeed, as I have argued elsewhere at this site:

 

The founders of [Dialectical Marxism] weren't workers; they came from a class that educated their children in the Classics, the Bible and Philosophy. This tradition taught that behind appearances there lies a 'hidden world', accessible to thought alone, which is more real than the material universe we see around us.

This world-view was concocted by ideologues of the ruling-class, initially over two thousand years ago. They invented it because if you belong to, benefit from, or help run a society which is based on gross inequality, oppression and exploitation, you can keep order in several ways.

The first and most obvious way is through violence. That will work for a time, but it is not only fraught with danger, it is costly and it stifles innovation (among other things).

Another way is to win over the majority -- or, at least, a significant proportion of 'opinion formers' (bureaucrats, judges, bishops, imams, 'intellectuals', philosophers, teachers, administrators, editors, etc., etc.) -- to the view that the present order either: (i) Works for their benefit, (ii) Defends 'civilised values', (iii) Is ordained of the 'gods', or (iv) Is 'natural' and so can't be fought against, reformed or negotiated with.

Hence, a world-view that rationalises one or more of the above is necessary for the ruling-class to carry on ruling "in the same old way". While the content of ruling-class thought may have changed with each change in the mode of production, its form has remained largely the same for thousands of years: Ultimate Truth (about this 'hidden world') can be ascertained by thought alone, and therefore may be imposed on reality
dogmatically and aprioristically. {Some might think this violates central tenets of HM, in that it asserts that some ideas remained to same for many centuries; I have addressed that concern, here.]

So, the non-worker founders of our movement -- who had been educated from childhood to believe there was just such a 'hidden world' lying behind 'appearances', and which governed everything -- when they became revolutionaries, looked for 'logical' principles relating to this abstract world that told them that change was inevitable and part of the cosmic order. Enter dialectics, courtesy of the dogmatic ideas of that ruling-class mystic, Hegel. The dialectical classicists were quite happy to impose their 'new' theory on the world (upside down or the "right way up") -- as, indeed, we saw in
Essay Two -- since that is how they had been taught 'genuine' philosophers should behave.

 

That 'allowed' the founders of [Dialectical Marxism] to think of themselves as special, prophets of the new order, which workers, alas, couldn't quite comprehend because of their defective education, their reliance on ordinary language and the 'banalities of commonsense'.

Fortunately, history has predisposed these dialectical prophets to ascertain truths about this invisible world on their behalf, which 'implied' they were the 'naturally-ordained' leaders of the workers' movement -- 'Great Helmsmen', no less. That in turn meant that they were in addition teachers of the 'ignorant masses', who could thereby legitimately substitute themselves for the majority -- in 'their own interests', of course -- since workers have in general been blinded by 'commodity fetishism', 'formal thinking', or they have been bought off by imperialist 'super profits'. This meant that 'the masses' were 'incapable' of seeing the truth for themselves....

 

In that case, and in view of what has gone before in this Essay (and this site), DM-theories are little more that misconstrued, or mis-applied linguistic rules. Appearances to the contrary, DM-'laws' aren't expressed by means of what turn out to be empirical propositions; they are mis-interpreted rules for the use of Hegelian jargon, imported into Marxism from an ideological tradition that has unimpeachable ruling-class credentials.74a

 

This also helps account for the frequent use of modal, emphatic, almost hyperbolic expressions right across the DM-literature; for example: "Motion must involve a contradiction" (several of which were quoted earlier, but more fully in Essay Two), which follow from this comment by Engels:

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted….

 

"A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Engels elsewhere informs his readers that certain things are "impossible":

 

"...[T]he transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa. For our purpose, we could express this by saying that in nature, in a manner exactly fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or subtraction of matter or motion (so-called energy)…. Hence it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion, i.e. without quantitative alteration of the body concerned." [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphases alone added.]

 

Add to that Lenin's comment from earlier -- "Matter without motion is 'unthinkable'" -- and his statement that dialectical logic "requires" or "demands" this or that:

 

"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…. [D]ialectical logic holds that 'truth' is always concrete, never abstract, as the late Plekhanov liked to say after Hegel." [Lenin (1921), pp.90, 93. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

"Flexibility, applied objectively, i.e., reflecting the all-sidedness of the material process and its unity, is dialectics, is the correct reflection of the eternal development of the world." [Lenin (1961), p.110. Bold emphasis added.]

 

The Great Teacher was no less dogmatic, no less hyperbolic:

 

"Dialectical materialism is the world outlook of the Marxist-Leninist party.... The dialectical method therefore holds that no phenomenon in nature can be understood if taken by itself....; and that, vice versa, any phenomenon can be understood and explained if considered in its inseparable connection with surrounding phenomena, as one conditioned by surrounding phenomena.

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that nature is not in a state of rest and immobility, stagnation and immutability, but a state of continuous movement and change, of continuous renewal and development.... The dialectical method therefore requires that phenomena should be considered not only from the standpoint of their interconnection and interdependence, but also from the standpoint of their movement and change....

 

"Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things and phenomena of nature, for they all have their negative and positive sides...; and that the struggle between these opposites, the struggle between the old and the new, between that which is dying away and that which is being born..., constitutes the internal content of the process of development, the internal content of the transformation of quantitative changes into qualitative changes....

 

"If there are no isolated phenomena in the world, if all phenomena are interconnected and interdependent, then it is clear that every social system and every social movement in history must be evaluated not from the standpoint of 'eternal justice'.... Contrary to idealism..., Marxist philosophical materialism holds that the world and its laws are fully knowable, that our knowledge of the laws of nature, tested by experiment and practice, is authentic knowledge having the validity of objective truth, and that there are no things in the world which are unknowable, but only things which are as yet not known, but which will be disclosed and made known by the efforts of science and practice." [Stalin (1976b), pp.835-46. Bold emphases added; several paragraphs merged.]

 

Likewise with Mao:

 

"The law of contradiction in things, that is, the law of the unity of opposites, is the basic law of materialist dialectics.... As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development....

 

"The universality or absoluteness of contradiction has a twofold meaning. One is that contradiction exists in the process of development of all things, and the other is that in the process of development of each thing a movement of opposites exists from beginning to end.... There is nothing that does not contain contradictions; without contradiction nothing would exist....

 

"Thus it is already clear that contradiction exists universally and is in all processes, whether in the simple or in the complex forms of motion, whether in objective phenomena or ideological phenomena.... Contradiction is universal and absolute, it is present in the process of the development of all things and permeates every process from beginning to end...." [Mao (1937), pp.311-18. Bold emphases added; several paragraphs merged.]

 

A lesser DM-parrot, Maurice Cornforth, similarly chirped:

 

"The dialectical method demands first, that we should consider things, not each by itself, but always in their interconnections with other things.... This struggle is not external and accidental…. The struggle is internal and necessary, for it arises and follows from the nature of the process as a whole. The opposite tendencies are not independent the one of the other, but are inseparably connected as parts or aspects of a single whole. And they operate and come into conflict on the basis of the contradiction inherent in the process as a whole….

 

"Movement and change result from causes inherent in things and processes, from internal contradictions…. Contradiction is a universal feature of all processes…. The importance of the [developmental] conception of the negation of the negation does not lie in its supposedly expressing the necessary pattern of all development. All development takes place through the working out of contradictions -– that is a necessary universal law…." [Cornforth (1976), pp.72, 90, 95, 117; Bold emphases alone added; several paragraphs merged.]

 

Finally, John Rees's comment, "Totality is an insistence...", also sprang straight out of this emphatic/dogmatic tradition.

 

This is so whether or not such hyper-bold claims are accompanied by an appeal to the alleged definitions of certain words/concepts (e.g., "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter"). Empirical propositions have no need of modal 'strengtheners' of this sort. Whoever says, "Copper must conduct electricity!", or "Science demands that light travels at such-and-such a velocity!"

 

The opposite is the case with respect to DM-'laws', as Lenin himself admitted:

 

"This aspect of dialectics…usually receives inadequate attention: the identity of opposites is taken as the sum total of examples…and not as a law of cognition (and as a law of the objective world)." [Lenin (1961), p.357.]

 

So, a "law of cognition" needs no help from the grubby, working class world of evidence and facts. Which fact reminds us why DM-theorists are quite happy to impose their ideas on nature. [On this topic, see also here.]

 

That is also why the following wouldn't normally be asserted by anyone:

 

M6b: Tony Blair must own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

That is, not unless M6b were itself the conclusion of an inference, such as: "Tony Blair told me he owned a copy, so he must own one", or it were based on a direct observation statement -- for example, "I saw his wife give him a copy as a present, and I later spotted in his bookcase". But even then, the truth or falsehood of M6b would depend on an interface with the facts at some point.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

With M6-type propositions, it is reality that dictates to us whether or not they are true. Our use of sentences like this means we aren't dictating to nature what it must contain or what must be true of it. The exact opposite is the case with metaphysical and dialectical theories.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M9-type sentences purport to tell us what really must be like, what it must contain. The world has to conform to what they say. Such propositions can't be based on an inference from the evidence, either, since there is no body of evidence that could confirm, or even hint at, the truth of any claim that motion is inseparable from matter, or even that it is "The mode of the existence of matter".

 

Nevertheless, despite appearances to the contrary, M9 can't be true solely in virtue of what its words mean. Normally, the ordinary-looking words that sentences like M9 employ gain whatever meaning they have from the part they already play in other areas, in wider human practices, those that involve their application in everyday contexts. Divorced from that background the isolated use of specialised or jargonised expressions in sentences like M9 means that they are like fish out of water, as it were. Even though the words used in DM-theories look like ordinary words, their odd use divorces them from the vernacular -- rather like the way that the theological use of words like "father" and "son" to describe 'God' and 'Christ' divorce them from their everyday meaning, too.

 

There are no real world systems -- i.e., systems pertaining to material practice and everyday life -- in which the idiosyncratic employment of M9's constituent terms has a life (hence, a meaning) other than these novel, specialised, isolated contexts. And, as we saw in Essay Nine Part One, DM-theories play no part even in the day-to-day activity of revolutionaries, nor do they feature in their agitation and propagandisation of the working class.

 

Indeed, metaphysical 'sound bites' like M9 provide the only semantic backdrop for the use of such words. Artificial and contrived DM-contexts provide a unique background for these 'dialectical nuggets', and this they do in non-practical (hence, non-material) surroundings -- quite unlike mathematical propositions, which they might appear to emulate. Isolated from material contexts in this way, the connections that the ordinary-looking words dialecticians use have with the typographically similar, everyday words (from which they have allegedly been 'derived', or 'abstracted') have been irreversibly cut. Because DM-jargon isn't based on material practice (that was demonstrated in Essay Nine Part One) -- and can't be used in connection with the working class, or even the day-to-day activity of revolutionaries -- it either has no meaning, or the usual meanings of the words employed denies sentences like M1a any sense, as we have seen. This,. of course, renders them not just non-sensical, but incoherent to boot.74a1

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

It is no surprise, therefore, to find that the use of such terms in sentences like these results in confusion and incomprehension. Nor is it any surprise to see Lenin's words fall apart and then collapse into incoherence so readily.74b

 

Metaphysical Gems

 

Incoherent Non-Sense

 

However, sentences that express (or attempt to express) the rules governing our use of words are invariably mis-interpreted by DM-theorists and metaphysicians in general as empirical propositions of a special, more profound sort. That is, they are viewed as Super-Scientific Truths, capable of revealing the underlying 'secrets' of nature. Unfortunately, we have seen this means that the sentences used turn out to be non-sensical. Even worse, because they misuse and thereby distort language they are incoherent non-sense.75

 

Theories like M9 -- but more specifically, P4 --, tend to depend on, just as they give rise to, a range of associated 'propositions' from which they have been 'derived', or which help 'explain' their supposed content. But, as 'metaphysical statements', they stand-alone. That is, they confront the reader as isolated philosophical 'gems', as fundamental 'truths': "I think, therefore I am" (the Cogito of Descartes); "To be it be perceived" (Berkeley); "Time is a relation" (paraphrasing Kant and Leibniz); "The whole is more than the sum of the parts" (Metaphysical Holists of every stripe), "Every determination is also a negation" (Spinoza and Hegel); "Truth is always concrete, never abstract" (paraphrasing Plekhanov and Lenin); "All bodies change uninterruptedly in size, weight, colour...they are never equal to themselves" (Trotsky), and so on.75a0

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Philosophical 'jewels' like these have traditionally been mined, cleaned and polished into their glittering state by socially-isolated thinkers, who 'discovered' these treasures buried just below the surface of 'appearances' by the exercise of thought alone.75a

 

[By "socially-isolated, I don't mean to suggest they weren't part of, or weren't operating within, a philosophical tradition, or that in some cases they didn't belong to a group or school of other thinkers, or even that they all lived alone, like hermits. What I am suggesting is that, as far as their philosophical 'discoveries' were concerned, they were in general divorced from ordinary life (i.e., they were in general isolated from the working class and ordinary human beings). In addition, the vast majority enjoyed a privileged lifestyle, free from daily toil, and were often supported, subsidised or patronised by a member of the ruling-class. Either that or they were 'employed' by the Church, had 'independent means' or belonged to the 'privileged elite' themselves. (I will cover this topic in more detail in Part Two of Essay Twelve.)]

 

But, ideas like these were never based on -- nor were they even derived from -- ordinary practice and everyday language, otherwise the rest of us wouldn't need to be informed of them.75b

 

Indeed, if 'philosophical discoveries' like these had ever been based on the above, they wouldn't have struck their inventors (or anyone else, for that matter) as especially 'profound', excavated for us by their valiant efforts, aided or not by what is, in effect, the metaphysical equivalent of a JCB: Hegel's Logic.

 

In fact, theories like these stage a dramatic entrance into the world of 'learning' as glittering linguistic 'jewels' (solitaire diamonds, if you will). They gain their 'meaning' -- their metaphysical shine -- solely from the artificial setting arranged for them by their inventors, making such an entrance as if they were "news from nowhere", shafts of metaphysical light, 'Cosmic Verities' written as if on tablets of stone.

 

They thus appear before humanity as if from On High.

 

Or, to be more honest, many look as if their inventors were high!

 

[In Freud's case, that was literally true!]

 

And, surprise, surprise: the vast majority of educated individuals fall for these linguistic con-tricks time and again.75c

 

Nevertheless, the 'Metaphysical Prophets' who invent such Scintillating Truths -- acting like Divine Intermediaries, each a latter day Hermes (who was the Greek Messenger of the 'Gods') -- act as if the 'real' meaning of the ordinary-looking words they use in fact arise from the novel role bestowed on them by such pioneering efforts in reconstructive linguistic surgery. To that end, these 'intrepid thinkers' often concoct a series of Proper Names/Neologisms as labels for the 'abstract' objects and concepts they now re-christen, "Essences", "Forms", "Universals" and the like.76

 

The above supposition (whereby Traditional Theorists imagined they were dealing with 'real meanings' and not 'distortions') was further motivated by the idea that words gain their meaning individually, atomistically, as linguistic or semantic 'units'. That is because of (i) A direct, unmediated connection they supposedly enjoyed with reality (since, as we saw in Essay Three Part One, despite appearances to the contrary they were all really the Proper Names of 'Universals', 'Ideas', 'Concepts', 'Essences', 'inner representations', 'images', etc., etc.), or (ii) The intimate link the concepts involved in all this had with various 'mental processes' taking place in each individual theorist's brain (via the mythical 'process of abstraction'). That helps explain why such an 'innovative' (or distorted) use of language is central to Metaphysics and DM -- again, as we saw in Essay Three Part One and elsewhere at this site.

 

Hence, for Traditional Thinkers, the assumption that such 'names' gain their meaning directly and solely from whatever they allegedly named seems entirely plausible, just as it seems no less plausible to suppose that language (i.e., real language, philosophical language -- not the 'woefully defective vernacular') is based on an atomised, socially-isolated naming ritual of some sort, which is uniquely able to home in on the 'Essence' of "Being" by the mere expedient of wishing that were so. Naturally, this trades on the further (unsupported) idea that there are such things as 'Essences', to begin with. This is yet another dogma which was simply assumed to be true, but never actually shown to be so.77

 

That is, of course, one reason why Traditional Philosophers insisted that the meaning words is determined by such atomistic criteria (as part of a 'private language' of some sort -- these days 'inner speech', or maybe even a 'language of thought'), the result perhaps of an 'inner act' of naming certain Ideas, Categories, or Concepts 'in the mind'/'consciousness', a 'process of abstraction', a stipulative re-definition, or the "unfolding of a genetically determined program".

 

This is a danger Bertell Ollman warned about (in relation to 'abstractionism') a few years ago, noted in Essay Three Part Two (quoted earlier):

 

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

 

Indeed, this is something Ollman himself pointed out:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

[In fact, Ollman is the very first dialectician I have encountered (in nigh on thirty years) who even so much as acknowledges this 'difficulty'! Be this as it may, I have devoted Essay Thirteen Part Three to an analysis of this topic; the reader is referred there for more details.]

 

It is no accident, therefore, that this approach not only torpedoes belief in the social nature of language, it is based on a class-motivated rejection of the material roots of discourse in everyday life (explored in Part Two of Essay Twelve -- summarised here). Nor is it merely coincidental that thinkers openly sympathetic to wider ruling-class interests who almost invariably favoured this anti-Marxist view of language.78

 

Conversely, it is no coincidence either that ordinary language assumed its central role in Analytic Philosophy, among left-leaning "Linguistic Philosophers" (and those influenced by Marx, like Wittgenstein), just when the working class was entering the stage of history as a significant political force.79

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M8: Time is a relation between events.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

The truth of 'atomic' sentences (like the above) is supposed to depend somehow on the meaning of the words they contain. But, such a use of words can't determine the sense of any sentences formed from them.80 Words gain their meaning from their applicability in an indefinitely large set of socially-sanctioned, communally-crafted contexts.81 They don't have a meaning bestowed upon them first, divorced from linguistic or social contexts, which 'meaning' then enables them to function in sentences, any more than a lump of gold first gains its value in nature, or even in society, on its own, as an isolated 'commodity' unconnected with certain forms of social organisation and collective labour, only to enter the economy afterwards with a value already attached to it. Meaning is no more a natural, individualistic property than value. If the contrary supposition were the case, communication would be impossible (as Ollman pointed out).82

 

However, ex hypothesi, there are no other contexts in which metaphysical atoms (like M1a, M9 and P4) can feature -- that is, other than those that fuel endless academic debate. The fundamental propositions of Metaphysics (such as, P4, M8 and M9) stand alone as isolated nuggets of truth, foundational principles, core precepts. This means that in such airless surroundings the constituent words of M9, for instance, are in fact meaningless -- despite the typographical similarity they have with ordinary words. That is because they possess no connection with ordinary contexts that are themselves embedded in, or related to, material practice. That is, of course, one reason why M1a, for example, so readily collapses into incoherence.

 

[Of course, the above depends on how we interpret the word "meaning"; I will say more about that presently.]

 

In a similar vein (no pun intended), Gold isn't just valueless in nature, it is incapable of gaining a value by itself and of its own efforts -- or, indeed, by the efforts of lone prospectors and refiners. And gold, too, would remain valueless if it had no connection with historically-conditioned material practice in a sufficiently developed economy.

 

Atomised Humanity Versus Socialised Language

 

Of course, to suppose otherwise --, i.e., to imagine that words, or their 'inner representations', determine their own meaning independently of the use to which human beings put them in everyday contexts -- would be to fetishise them, as noted above.

 

Indeed, this would be tantamount to believing that words (again, or their 'inner representations') enjoyed a social life of their own anterior to, and explanatory of, the linguistic communion that takes place between human beings. If words (etc.) did in fact acquire their own meanings, piecemeal, in such a manner, and those meanings followed words about the place like shadows, then the idea that language is a social phenomenon would itself assume an entirely different meaning. In that case, discourse would still be social, but that would be because words were the social beings here. That would in turn mean that they had gifted that property to our use of language, not the other way round!

 

If that were so, humanity would be social because our words already were!83

 

We are now in a position to understand why: the supposition that a word (or, at least, its physical embodiment, its 'inner representation', perhaps) can motivate a human agent (causally or in any other way)84 to regard it as the repository of its own meaning -- so that inferences can be made from ink marks on the page (or from 'images', 'ideas', and 'representations' in the head) to 'Super-Empirical Truths' about 'Being', or whatever -- would be to misconstrue the products of the social relations among human beings (i.e., words) as if they were their own autonomous semantic custodians, as creators and carriers of meaning themselves. In effect, that would be to anthropomorphise words, treating them as if they had their own history, social structure and mode of development. In this way, the social nature of language would reappear in an inverted form as an expression of the social life of words (etc.). Humanity would be atomised, linguistic signs (etc.) socialised!85

 

In that case, M9 and P4 can't be true in virtue of the meanings of any of their words -- for no meaning has yet been given to such an idiosyncratic use of language by human beings engaged in any form of material practice.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

If, however, an attempt were made to specify the meaning of constituent words in a piecemeal fashion, a rule would be required.86 To suppose that there is some sort of connection between a rule and reality (determined, perhaps, by a physical law) would be to no avail, either. If a rule were to depend on such a connection, it would become an empirical proposition, and thus cease to be a rule.87

 

Unfortunately, the vast majority of philosophers have so far overlooked this seemingly insignificant point.88

 

Lenin's Rules -- Not OK

 

[This sub-section is a recap of earlier results, but from a slightly different angle. It can be skipped by anyone who has 'got the point'. Begin again here.]

 

Elsewhere in MEC, Lenin went on to say:

 

M22: "[M]otion [is] an inseparable property of matter." [Lenin (1972), p.323. Italic emphasis added.]

 

In so far as M22 purports to inform us about the properties of matter (in the real world), it looks like a scientific statement. However, as we have seen, when examined it turns out to be nothing of the sort. Contrast M22 with the following:

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M23a: Liquidity isn't an inseparable property of water.

 

Here, we can imagine conditions under which M23 would be false and M23a true (think of ice or steam). But, M22 is a very much stronger claim than M23, and is clearly connected with M1a (or, indeed, with M9 and P4). We can see that if we examine it more closely.88a

 

If M22 is re-written slightly and tidied up to eliminate the unnecessary detail, it would become M24:

 

M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

M24 is apparently always true; its 'truth' is clearly connected with the supposed meaning of words like "motion" and "inseparable", etc., both of which were ultimately based on the presumed truth of P4.

 

By asserting M24, Lenin certainly didn't mean to suggest that even if we were to try really hard we would still fail to separate the two words or 'concepts', "motion" and "matter" (what they meant or what they allegedly referred to) in our thoughts. Lenin plainly wasn't informing us that while such a separation was a particularly difficult physical or mental task, we could still make some attempt to imagine a scenario where they were separated. He was claiming that we would always find we would always fail -- even more so that any suggestion an individual could eat an entire adult Blue Whale in less than two minutes.

 

 

Figure Two: Tuck In! You Have All Of 120 Seconds To Beat...

 

Lenin was clearly alluding to a connection between matter and motion that was much tighter than this. He was perhaps reminding us of the futility of even trying -- that this wasn't an option --, just as it wouldn't be an option for anyone to try to disassociate oddness from the number three, or the concept, king-killer, from regicide, for instance.89

 

Hence, if we were to view M23 exactly as Lenin viewed M24, it would mean that not only could water not be non-liquid, nothing other than water could be liquid, either. It would thus imply that water wasn't just the only liquid, it was the only one that could exist in the universe -- and that liquidity was the only conceivable form of water.

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.

 

That is because, for Lenin, motion wasn't just one of the defining characteristics of matter, nothing that moves (outside of the 'mind') would fail to be material. Motion is, as it were, super-glued to matter, and only to matter -- and, indeed, vice versa -- according to Lenin. [Lenin says this over and over again in MEC; on that see here.]

 

Hence, the same would have to be true with respect to water, if we were to read M23 as strictly as we are meant to interpret M24.

 

M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.

 

M23a: Liquidity is not an inseparable property of water.

 

M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.

 

M24a: Motion is not an inseparable property of matter.

 

The main verb in M24 is clearly in the indicative mood. But, if M24 were an empirical proposition, its negation, M24a, would make sense, but for Lenin it doesn't -- indeed, it is "unthinkable", unlike the negation of M23 (i.e.,  M23a). That is because, once again, M24 holds open no truth possibilities; it asserts only one envisaged necessity.

 

Lenin obviously believed that it was impossible even to think the falsehood of M24 -- any more than it might be possible to think there were or could be triangles with four vertices. As we have seen, in this he openly agreed with Engels:

 

"Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute, of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe, from mere change of place right up to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted. A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphases alone added; paragraphs merged.]

 

Nevertheless, and once again, the indicative mood of the main verb in M24 hides its real nature. Only a consideration of the overall use of this claim (that is, its role within Lenin's 'system' of ideas) in the end reveals it is a metaphysical sentence, which hasn't been derived from the evidence but from the supposed meaning of a handful of words, once more.

 

To this end, it is worth asking what could possibly make M24 'true', and, a fortiori, what could conceivably make it false.

 

Indicative sentences are normally true or false according to the way the world happens to be, but this sentence can't be false no matter what happens in the world. So, its falsehood can't be based on any conceivable state of affairs. As noted earlier, its truth seems to arise from linguistic (or conceptual) considerations alone, not from reality. This can be seen not just because of its imputed necessity but from the way Lenin actually imagined he had established its veracity. He simply relied on its supposed self-evidence, the self-evidence of P4 and his 'definition' of matter. He didn't even think to support it with any data (or even with much of an argument!). Its semantic status was underpinned by what Lenin plainly took its words to mean. Its truth was thus internally-generated, not 'externally' confirmed.89a

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Nevertheless, what could possibly make this set of words 'necessarily true', according to Lenin? M24 is just a string of words. It would have to have some sort of projective or representational relation to the real world for it to be true, for it to be a true picture of our world, and some alternative, 'parallel', or fictional 'universe'.90

 

Well, whatever it is that succeeds in achieving that must also make the following sentences false:

 

M18: This particular instance of motion is separated from matter.

 

M19: This lump of matter is motionless.

 

[M24: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.]

 

But, ex hypothesi, M18 and M19 (or their content) are "unthinkable", according to Lenin. As soon as we think either of them (or their content) we face the sort of problems we encountered earlier.

 

Such 'necessary' truths make the possibilities they rule out (such as M18 or M19) not just 'false', but Super-False, and hence "unthinkable". This they do while at the same time requiring us to have to think about whatever it is they seek to exclude so that it can be rejected out-of-hand. But, in order to do that, we should have to be able to separate, in thought, motion from matter in order to be able to declare that it can't be done -- even in thought! Unless we could separate motion from matter in thought we would have no idea what we are supposed to rule out, and hence no idea what we were meant to rule in by accepting M24.

 

Hence, if we are capable of grasping the truth of M24, we must already have some comprehension of what would make it false, i.e., what M24 is ruling out.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

This (by-now-familiar) problem has arisen from the fact that Lenin entertained a 'necessary' truth (M24) the content of which is impossible to state in any comprehensible form.

 

Hence, sentences like this are above reproach and beyond exoneration.

 

Metaphysics consigns countless 'propositions' like M18 and M19 to linguistic limbo in this way. By adopting this approach to 'knowledge', DM-theorists similarly consign their ideas to outer darkness.

 

Metaphysics And Language -- Part Two

 

Distortion By The Barrel -- Confusion By The Ton

 

As we have seen several times throughout this site, both metaphysical and DM-sentences readily decay into non-sense. They can't fail to do this. While appearing to mimic empirical propositions they turn out to be radically different, masquerading as ordinary, but far more profound, declarative sentences. Central to this role as especially deep 'truths' is their distorted use of language; in many cases they also turn out to be garbled rules of linguage.91

 

Such sentences often attempt to say what can only be shown by the ordinary use of language.92 And this they do surreptitiously and dishonestly.

 

Metaphysics misconstrues conventions and forms of representation expressed in and by our socially-, and materially-conditioned use of language, but in a form that re-configures whatever this supposedly uncovers as Super-Empirical, 'necessary truths', quite unlike the ordinary, mundane truths associated with everyday practice -- or even with genuine science. Empirical propositions hold open two possibilities: truth or falsehood. Metaphysical sentences, while purporting to be empirical, close one of these off. In doing that, they end up denying for themselves any sense whatsoever; they collapse into incoherent and non-sensical strings of words.93

 

On The Impossibility Of Any Future Metaphysics

 

Despite appearances to the contrary, the complete rejection of Metaphysics outlined at this site doesn't draw an a priori limit to the search for knowledge -- it merely reminds us that truths about nature can't be stated by misusing language. Moreover, they can't be formulated in a way that makes supporting evidence irrelevant, either.

 

Since metaphysical theses don't present genuine empirical possibilities, their repudiation and subsequent eradication can't adversely affect the scientific investigation of the world, nor can they interfere with any attempt to change it.

 

Metaphysical theses don't represent profound, ambitious or risky conjectures that merit our attention or even respect. They contain nothing but empty phrases -- they are indeed "houses of cards" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein -- Investigations, §118) --, which at best express self-important confusion, at worst a ruling-class 'view of reality'.

 

[More on that in Parts Two and Three of this Essay.]

 

Metaphysical pseudo-propositions violate the rules governing the formation of comprehensible empirical sentences by undermining the semantic possibilities that the latter hold out. In addition, they misuse ordinary words while pretending to extend, alter or 'sharpen' their meaning. Supposedly providing insight into the "essential" structure of reality, metaphysical and DM-theses attempt derive substantive truths about the world from thought or from words alone. They thus possess an entirely undeserved mystique, which arises from their chameleonic outer facade -- that is, they resemble ordinary empirical propositions, but pretend to inform us of 'necessary', aspects features of reality. But that outer facade only succeeds in concealing the fact that they thereby reduce themselves to non-sensicality and incoherence.

 

As should seem clear, these deflationary conclusions rule out the possibility of any future Metaphysics (including that fourth-rate version, DM). This of course means that this approach to philosophical knowledge isn't a viable option. But that doesn't mean that if we were cleverer than we now are, if we knew much more, we would be able to formulate and comprehend such Super-Truths. There is nothing there which Metaphysics could even pretend to find -- nor vaguely hint at -- so that anyone might go in search of it. The language that metaphysicians (and DM-theorists) themselves use rules this out as a viable option from the start. This ancient 'discipline' presents us with no viable possibilities --, any more than the supposition that there is or might a 'free kick' in chess or LBW in basketball. The search for metaphysical 'truth' is therefore analogous to looking for a goal in tennis or a home run in snooker. We should therefore treat the search for such 'truths' as we would a proposed expedition to hunt and then capture the Jabberwocky.93a

 

Contrary to expectations, the repudiation of Metaphysics in fact opens up the conceptual space for science to flourish. In this way, scientists are free to formulate theories that possess true or false empirical implications. A fortiori, such truths won't depend solely on the meanings of the words they contain, but on the way the world happens to be. This couldn't be the case if science were based on Metaphysics; in such an eventuality scientific truth would depend solely on the meaning of words, not on any actual state of the world.

 

Hence, to paraphrase Kant: it is necessary to destroy Metaphysics -- and thus DM -- in order to make room for science.94

 

Appendix A -- Marx And Philosophy

 

This subsection has now been extensively updated and re-posted here.

 

I have already quoted the following passages:

 

"If from real apples, pears, strawberries and almonds I form the general idea 'Fruit', if I go further and imagine that my abstract idea 'Fruit', derived from real fruit, is an entity existing outside me, is indeed the true essence of the pear, the apple, etc., then -- in the language of speculative philosophy –- I am declaring that 'Fruit' is the 'Substance' of the pear, the apple, the almond, etc. I am saying, therefore, that to be an apple is not essential to the apple; that what is essential to these things is not their real existence, perceptible to the senses, but the essence that I have abstracted from them and then foisted on them, the essence of my idea -– 'Fruit'…. Particular real fruits are no more than semblances whose true essence is 'the substance' -– 'Fruit'….

 

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

 

"The main interest for the speculative philosopher is therefore to produce the existence of the real ordinary fruits and to say in some mysterious way that there are apples, pears, almonds and raisins. But the apples, pears, almonds and raisins that we rediscover in the speculative world are nothing but semblances of apples, semblances of pears, semblances of almonds and semblances of raisins, for they are moments in the life of 'the Fruit', this abstract creation of the mind, and therefore themselves abstract creations of the mind…. When you return from the abstraction, the supernatural creation of the mind, 'the Fruit', to real natural fruits, you give on the contrary the natural fruits a supernatural significance and transform them into sheer abstractions. Your main interest is then to point out the unity of 'the Fruit' in all the manifestations of its life…that is, to show the mystical interconnection between these fruits, how in each of them 'the Fruit' realizes itself by degrees and necessarily progresses, for instance, from its existence as a raisin to its existence as an almond. Hence the value of the ordinary fruits no longer consists in their natural qualities, but in their speculative quality, which gives each of them a definite place in the life-process of 'the Absolute Fruit'.

 

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

 

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

 

"In the speculative way of speaking, this operation is called comprehending Substance as Subject, as an inner process, as an Absolute Person, and this comprehension constitutes the essential character of Hegel's method." [Marx and Engels (1975a), pp.72-75. Italic emphases in the original.]

 

"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.]

 

"With the theoretical equipment inherited from Hegel it is, of course, not possible even to understand the empirical, material attitude of these people. Owing to the fact that Feuerbach showed the religious world as an illusion of the earthly world -- a world which in his writing appears merely as a phrase -- German theory too was confronted with the question which he left unanswered: how did it come about that people 'got' these illusions 'into their heads'? Even for the German theoreticians this question paved the way to the materialistic view of the world, a view which is not without premises, but which empirically observes the actual material premises as such and for that reason is, for the first time, actually a critical view of the world. This path was already indicated in the Deutsch-Französische Jahrbücher -- in the Einleitung zur Kritik der Hegelschen Rechtsphilosophie and Zur Judenfrage. But since at that time this was done in philosophical phraseology, the traditionally occurring philosophical expressions such as 'human essence', 'species', etc., gave the German theoreticians the desired reason for misunderstanding the real trend of thought and believing that here again it was a question merely of giving a new turn to their worn-out theoretical garment -- just as Dr. Arnold Ruge, the Dottore Graziano of German philosophy, imagined that he could continue as before to wave his clumsy arms about and display his pedantic-farcical mask. One has to 'leave philosophy aside' (Wigand, p.187, cf., Hess, Die letzten Philosophen, p.8), one has to leap out of it and devote oneself like an ordinary man to the study of actuality, for which there exists also an enormous amount of literary material, unknown, of course, to the philosophers. When, after that, one again encounters people like Krummacher or 'Stirner', one finds that one has long ago left them 'behind' and below. Philosophy and the study of the actual world have the same relation to one another as onanism and sexual love. Saint Sancho, who in spite of his absence of thought -- which was noted by us patiently and by him emphatically -- remains within the world of pure thoughts, can, of course, save himself from it only by means of a moral postulate, the postulate of 'thoughtlessness' (p.196 of 'the book'). He is a bourgeois who saves himself in the face of commerce by the banqueroute cochenne [swinish bankruptcy -- RL] whereby, of course, he becomes not a proletarian, but an impecunious, bankrupt bourgeois. He does not become a man of the world, but a bankrupt philosopher without thoughts." [Marx and Engels (1976), p.236. Bold emphases alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. I have quoted the whole passage so that readers can see this is not out of context.]

 

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it." [Theses on Feuerbach.]

 

"If we had M. Proudhon's intrepidity in the matter of Hegelianism we should say: it is distinguished in itself from itself. What does this mean? Impersonal reason, having outside itself neither a base on which it can pose itself, nor an object to which it can oppose itself, nor a subject with which it can compose itself, is forced to turn head over heels, in posing itself, opposing itself and composing itself -- position, opposition, composition. Or, to speak Greek -- we have thesis, antithesis and synthesis. For those who do not know the Hegelian language: affirmation, negation and negation of the negation. That is what language means. It is certainly not Hebrew (with due apologies to M. Proudhon); but it is the language of this pure reason, separate from the individual. Instead of the ordinary individual with his ordinary manner of speaking and thinking we have nothing but this ordinary manner purely and simply -- without the individual.

 

"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 the 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 category. 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 -- these metaphysicians in turn are right in saying that things here below are embroideries of which the logical categories constitute the canvas. This is what distinguishes the philosopher from the Christian. The Christian, in spite of logic, has only one incarnation of the Logos; with the philosopher there is no end to incarnations. If all that exists, all that lives on land, and under water can be reduced by abstraction to a logical category -- if the whole real world can be drowned thus in a world of abstractions, in the world of logical categories -- who need be astonished at it?

 

"All that exists, all that lives on land and under water, exists and lives only by some kind of movement. Thus, the movement of history produces social relations; industrial movement gives us industrial products, etc.

 

"Just as by dint 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....

 

"Up to now we have expounded only the dialectics of Hegel. We shall see later how M. Proudhon has succeeded in reducing it to the meanest proportions. Thus, for Hegel, all that has happened and is still happening is only just what is happening in his own mind. Thus the philosophy of history is nothing but the history of philosophy, of his own philosophy. There is no longer a 'history according to the order in time,' there is only 'the sequence of ideas in the understanding.' He thinks he is constructing the world by the movement of thought, whereas he is merely reconstructing systematically and classifying by the absolute method of thoughts which are in the minds of all." [Marx (1976), pp.162-65. Italic emphases in the original. Minor typos and a few major errors corrected. (I have informed the editors at the Marxist Internet Archive about them!) Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

For all the obsessive interest shown in the subject by subsequent Marxists, there is little more that Marx says about Philosophy after the late 1840s. Clearly, he meant what he said when he told us he had "left philosophy aside". Even in the 1840s -- when compared to the vast majority of subsequent Marxists on this topic -- it is clear that Marx wasn't "a Marxist"!

 

Notes

 

01. Much of the background to this Essay is based on Wittgenstein's work, helpfully outlined for us in Harrison (1979) and Hanna and Harrison (2004). See also, Baker and Hacker (1984, 1988, 2005a). Some of what I have to say here coincides with the anti-metaphysical views expressed in Rorty (1980) (this links to a PDF). I distance myself, however, from Rorty's anti-Realism, his (inconsistent) attempt to establish a 'metaphysics of mind', and his rather odd equation of Philosophy with some form of literary criticism.

 

[Rorty defends his view of Wittgenstein in Rorty (2010). On that, see Horwich (2010), which is an effective reply (not that I agree with everything Horwich has to say!).]

 

1. Some might take exception to my use of "metaphysical" to describe such sentences. If so, they  can substitute the words "dogmatic", "essentialist" or "necessitarian" for "metaphysical" in phrases like "metaphysical theory" used throughout this Essay. That done, not much will be changed by such terminological alterations. It is the logical status of such sentences that is important, not what we call them. [More on that below.]

 

Here are a few relevant quotations about motion and matter from Engels and Lenin. Here, first, is Engels:

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transferred. When motion is transferred from one body to another, it may be regarded, in so far as it transfers itself, is active, as the cause of motion, in so far as the latter is transferred, is passive. We call this active motion force, and the passive, the manifestation of force. Hence it is as clear as daylight that a force is as great as its manifestation, because in fact the same motion takes place in both. A motionless state of matter is therefore one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas...." [Engels (1976), p.74. Bold emphasis alone added. Paragraphs merged.]

 

"Motion in the most general sense, conceived as the mode of existence, the inherent attribute, of matter, comprehends all changes and processes occurring in the universe, from mere change of place right up to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]

 

Here, second, is Lenin quoting Engels:

 

"In full conformity with this materialist philosophy of Marx's, and expounding it, Frederick Engels wrote in Anti-Dühring (read by Marx in the manuscript): 'The real unity of the world consists in its materiality, and this is proved...by a long and wearisome development of philosophy and natural science....' 'Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, or motion without matter, nor can there be....'" [Lenin (1914), p.8. Bold emphasis added.]

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Nevertheless, as we will see in Essay Thirteen Part One, even though these two dialecticians believe motion and matter are inseparable, Lenin's other defining criteria for anything to be classified as matter fail to exclude the existence of motionless matter.

 

Anyway, as these passages reveal, Lenin characterised matter in a rather odd way: i.e., as that which exists "objectively" outside, and independently of, the mind. He also quoted Engels approvingly to the effect that motion is the "mode" of the existence of matter.

 

But, if all motion is relative to a given reference frame, then it is entirely possible to picture certain bodies as motionless with respect to some frame or other. The contrary view may only be maintained if space is held to be Absolute. That condition aside, this means that motion is reference frame-sensitive. If it can disappear when we change reference frames, motion can't be the mode of the existence of matter, as Lenin and Engels surmised. In which case, it is perhaps more appropriate to characterise Engels and Lenin's way of depicting motion as a form of representation and, as such, regard it as convention-sensitive.

 

[Anyway, this form of relativity is apparently a consequence of the principle of equivalence postulated by the TOR.]

 

[TOR = Theory Of Relativity.]

 

"Form of representation" will be explained more fully Essay Thirteen Part Two; however, it is connected with the following comments of Wittgenstein's:

 

"Newtonian mechanics, for example, imposes a unified form on the description of the world. Let us imagine a white surface with irregular black spots on it. We then say that whatever kind of picture these make, I can always approximate as closely as I wish to the description of it by covering the surface with a sufficiently fine square mesh, and then saying of every square whether it is black or white. In this way I shall have imposed a unified form on the description of the surface. The form is optional, since I could have achieved the same result by using a net with a triangular or hexagonal mesh. Possibly the use of a triangular mesh would have made the description simpler: that is to say, it might be that we could describe the surface more accurately with a coarse triangular mesh than with a fine square mesh (or conversely), and so on. The different nets correspond to different systems for describing the world. Mechanics determines one form of description of the world by saying that all propositions used in the description of the world must be obtained in a given way from a given set of propositions -- the axioms of mechanics. It thus supplies the bricks for building the edifice of science, and it says, 'Any building that you want to erect, whatever it may be, must somehow be constructed with these bricks, and with these alone.'

 

"And now we can see the relative position of logic and mechanics. (The net might also consist of more than one kind of mesh: e.g. we could use both triangles and hexagons.) The possibility of describing a picture like the one mentioned above with a net of a given form tells us nothing about the picture. (For that is true of all such pictures.) But what does characterize the picture is that it can be described completely by a particular net with a particular size of mesh.

 

"Similarly the possibility of describing the world by means of Newtonian mechanics tells us nothing about the world: but what does tell us something about it is the precise way in which it is possible to describe it by these means. We are also told something about the world by the fact that it can be described more simply with one system of mechanics than with another." [Wittgenstein (1972), 6.341-6.342, pp.137-39.]

 

Of course, a form of representation is much more involved than this passage might suggest (for instance, it leaves out of account how theories are often inter-linked or are coordinated with one another, and it seems to suggest that physics is an a-historical, non-social discipline). Thomas Kuhn's more considered thoughts about what he calls a "paradigm" are, in some respects, a little closer to what is meant by "form of representation" at this site; on this, see Kuhn (1970, 1977, 1996, 2000). See also Lakatos and Musgrave (1970) -- especially Masterman (1970) --, as well as Sharrock and Reed (2002). This topic is also connected with Wittgenstein's ideas about "criteria" and "symptoms". [On that, see here. Cf., also, Glock (1996), pp.129-35. As noted above, I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

Update October 2011: A recent example of the employment of just such a form of representation (or, rather, several such forms) might assist the reader understand this phrase a little more clearly. In late September 2011, the news media were full of stories about an experiment which appeared to show that a beam of neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light. Here is how the New Scientist handled the story (the relevant aspects of a range of different but intersecting forms of representation being employed here -- albeit expressed rather sketchily -- have been highlighted in bold):

 

"'Light-speed' neutrinos point to new physical reality.

 

"Subatomic particles have broken the universe's fundamental speed limit, or so it was reported last week. The speed of light is the ultimate limit on travel in the universe, and the basis for Einstein's special theory of relativity, so if the finding stands up to scrutiny, does it spell the end for physics as we know it? The reality is less simplistic and far more interesting. 'People were saying this means Einstein is wrong,' says physicist Heinrich Päs of the Technical University of Dortmund in Germany. 'But that's not really correct.'

 

"Instead, the result could be the first evidence for a reality built out of extra dimensions. Future historians of science may regard it not as the moment we abandoned Einstein and broke physics, but rather as the point at which our view of space vastly expanded, from three dimensions to four, or more. 'This may be a physics revolution,' says Thomas Weiler at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, who has devised theories built on extra dimensions. 'The famous words 'paradigm shift' are used too often and tritely, but they might be relevant.'

 

"The subatomic particles -- neutrinos -- seem to have zipped faster than light from CERN, near Geneva, Switzerland, to the OPERA detector at the Gran Sasso lab near L'Aquila, Italy. It's a conceptually simple result: neutrinos making the 730-kilometre journey arrived 60 nanoseconds earlier than they would have if they were travelling at light speed. And it relies on three seemingly simple measurements, says Dario Autiero of the Institute of Nuclear Physics in Lyon, France, a member of the OPERA collaboration: the distance between the labs, the time the neutrinos left CERN, and the time they arrived at Gran Sasso.

 

"But actually measuring those times and distances to the accuracy needed to detect nanosecond differences is no easy task. The OPERA collaboration spent three years chasing down every source of error they could imagine...before Autiero made the result public in a seminar at CERN on 23 September. Physicists grilled Autiero for an hour after his talk to ensure the team had considered details like the curvature of the Earth, the tidal effects of the moon and the general relativistic effects of having two clocks at different heights (gravity slows time so a clock closer to Earth's surface runs a tiny bit slower).

 

"They were impressed. 'I want to congratulate you on this extremely beautiful experiment,' said Nobel laureate Samuel Ting of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after Autiero's talk. 'The experiment is very carefully done, and the systematic error carefully checked.' Most physicists still expect some sort of experimental error to crop up and explain the anomaly, mainly because it contravenes the incredibly successful law of special relativity which holds that the speed of light is a constant that no object can exceed. The theory also leads to the famous equation E = mc2.

 

"Hotly anticipated are results from other neutrino detectors, including T2K in Japan and MINOS at Fermilab in Illinois, which will run similar experiments and confirm the results or rule them out (see 'Fermilab stops hunting Higgs, starts neutrino quest'). In 2007, the MINOS experiment searched for faster-than-light neutrinos but didn't see anything statistically significant. The team plans to reanalyse its data and upgrade the detector's stopwatch. 'These are the kind of things that we have to follow through, and make sure that our prejudices don't get in the way of discovering something truly fantastic,' says Stephen Parke of Fermilab.

 

"In the meantime, suggests Sandip Pakvasa of the University of Hawaii, let's suppose the OPERA result is real. If the experiment is tested and replicated and the only explanation is faster-than-light neutrinos, is E = mc2 done for? Not necessarily. In 2006, Pakvasa, Päs and Weiler came up with a model that allows certain particles to break the cosmic speed limit while leaving special relativity intact. 'One can, if not rescue Einstein, at least leave him valid,' Weiler says.

 

"The trick is to send neutrinos on a shortcut through a fourth, thus-far-unobserved dimension of space, reducing the distance they have to travel. Then the neutrinos wouldn't have to outstrip light to reach their destination in the observed time. In such a universe, the particles and forces we are familiar with are anchored to a four-dimensional membrane, or 'brane', with three dimensions of space and one of time. Crucially, the brane floats in a higher dimensional space-time called the bulk, which we are normally completely oblivious to.

 

"The fantastic success of special relativity up to now, plus other cosmological observations, have led physicists to think that the brane might be flat, like a sheet of paper. Quantum fluctuations could make it ripple and roll like the surface of the ocean, Weiler says. Then, if neutrinos can break free of the brane, they might get from one point on it to another by dashing through the bulk, like a flying fish taking a shortcut between the waves....

 

"This model is attractive because it offers a way out of one of the biggest theoretical problems posed by the OPERA result: busting the apparent speed limit set by neutrinos detected pouring from a supernova in 1987. As stars explode in a supernova, most of their energy streams out as neutrinos. These particles hardly ever interact with matter (see 'Neutrinos: Everything you need to know'). That means they should escape the star almost immediately, while photons of light will take about 3 hours. In 1987, trillions of neutrinos arrived at Earth 3 hours before the dying star's light caught up. If the neutrinos were travelling as fast as those going from CERN to OPERA, they should have arrived in 1982.

 

"OPERA's neutrinos were about 1000 times as energetic as the supernova's neutrinos, though. And Pakvasa and colleagues' model calls for neutrinos with a specific energy that makes them prefer tunnelling through the bulk to travelling along the brane. If that energy is around 20 gigaelectronvolts -- and the team don't yet know that it is -- 'then you expect large effects in the OPERA region, and small effects at the supernova energies,' Pakvasa says. He and Päs are meeting next week to work out the details.

 

"The flying fish shortcut isn't available to all particles. In the language of string theory, a mathematical model some physicists hope will lead to a comprehensive 'theory of everything', most particles are represented by tiny vibrating strings whose ends are permanently stuck to the brane. One of the only exceptions is the theoretical 'sterile neutrino', represented by a closed loop of string. These are also the only type of neutrino thought capable of escaping the brane.

 

"Neutrinos are known to switch back and forth between their three observed types (electron, muon and tau neutrinos), and OPERA was originally designed to detect these shifts. In Pakvasa's model, the muon neutrinos produced at CERN could have transformed to sterile neutrinos mid-flight, made a short hop through the bulk, and then switched back to muon before reappearing on the brane.

 

"So if OPERA's results hold up, they could provide support for the existence of sterile neutrinos, extra dimensions and perhaps string theory. Such theories could also explain why gravity is so weak compared with the other fundamental forces. The theoretical particles that mediate gravity, known as gravitons, may also be closed loops of string that leak off into the bulk. 'If, in the end, nobody sees anything wrong and other people reproduce OPERA's results, then I think it's evidence for string theory, in that string theory is what makes extra dimensions credible in the first place,' Weiler says.

 

"Meanwhile, alternative theories are likely to abound. Weiler expects papers to appear in a matter of days or weeks. Even if relativity is pushed aside, Einstein has worked so well for so long that he will never really go away. At worst, relativity will turn out to work for most of the universe but not all, just as Newton's mechanics work until things get extremely large or small. 'The fact that Einstein has worked for 106 years means he'll always be there, either as the right answer or a low-energy effective theory,' Weiler says." [Grossman (2011), pp.7-9. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Some links added. Several paragraphs merged. See also a report in Socialist Review.]

 

The long-term success of Einstein's theory and the fundamental nature of the speed of light mean that physicists will search for other explanations of this anomaly while remaining committed to the TOR (even if this implicates other theories, such as M-theory, for example). So, the TOR (combined or not with other theories) is used as a form of representation; that is, it is employed -- analogously like the square or the triangular mesh to which Wittgenstein alluded above --, in order to make sense of, or re-interpret, experimental evidence, even if the latter might seem to have refuted already accepted theory, so that it no longer appears to do so. This approach also sanctions certain inferences as 'legitimate', others as 'illegitimate' or 'suspect'. In this way, too, scientists police their own discipline (otherwise known as "peer review").

 

[QM = Quantum Mechanics; TOR = Theory of Relativity.]

 

As we now know, several errors were later discovered in the above readings, meaning that this experiment in the end failed to threaten fundamental tenets of modern physics. But, other forms of representation were used to decide even this! It is interesting to note, however, that some scientists were quite happy to weave these bogus results -- before they were 'exposed' -- into new, or into other, theories in order to make sense of them, so that this anomalous data (rather than accepted theory) remained 'valid'. The significance of that observation will become clearer in Essay Thirteen Part Two.

 

[Incidentally, this highlights a growing problem in contemporary science, covered in more detail in Essay Eleven Part One -- science by press release.]

 

Returning to the main theme (i.e., whether or not motion is reference-frame sensitive or a "mode of the existence of matter"): Some might think that QM has shown this to be incorrect (in that it holds that all forms of matter are in ceaseless motion), but this is 'true' only because of a theoretical inference. There is no conceivable way that this supposedly universal truth can be confirmed throughout nature, for all of time. In that case, it has to be read into nature, or imposed on it, metaphysically -- or, indeed, perhaps also as a "form of representation" in its own right.

 

But, even if it could be confirmed, the depiction of motion as a "mode of the existence of matter" (rather than as a highly confirmed property of matter) would still depend on space being Absolute. Moreover, there is no conceivable observation, or body of observations, that could confirm the supposed fact that motion is a "mode of the existence of matter". Indeed, as noted above, if a relevant reference frame is chosen, which is moving at the same relative velocity as any 'particle' it is 'tracking', that would render it motionless relative to that frame (even if the location of one or both of these was thereby indeterminate, according to certain interpretations of QM).

 

Of course, it is controversial whether or not there are any sub-atomic particles, as opposed to probability waves (or excitations of 'the field' -- I have covered this in more detail in Essay Seven Part One), but, even if such particles were viewed as probability waves (or the like), the specification of a particle's probable velocity (relative to some frame) would similarly mean it was zero. [On this in general, see Castellani (1998).]

 

It could be argued that this just shows that all bodies are in constant motion relative to one another, which is all that DM-theorists need. But, as was pointed out above, even then motion would still be reference-fame sensitive, and hence it couldn't be a "mode" of the existence of matter, otherwise that wouldn't be the case.

 

It would seem, therefore, that Lenin and Engels need space to be Absolute if their claim that motion is a "mode of the existence of matter" is to hold water.

 

It could be objected once more that Lenin's views aren't metaphysical. That objection might itself be based on Engels's own loose characterisation of Metaphysics:

 

"To the metaphysician, things and their mental reflexes, ideas, are isolated, are to be considered one after the other and apart from each other, are objects of investigation fixed, rigid, given once for all. He thinks in absolutely irreconcilable antitheses. 'His communication is "yea, yea; nay, nay"; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.' [Matthew 5:37. -- Ed.] For him a thing either exists or does not exist; a thing cannot at the same time be itself and something else. Positive and negative absolutely exclude one another, cause and effect stand in a rigid antithesis one to the other.

 

"At first sight this mode of thinking seems to us very luminous, because it is that of so-called sound common sense. Only sound common sense, respectable fellow that he is, in the homely realm of his own four walls, has very wonderful adventures directly he ventures out into the wide world of research. And the metaphysical mode of thought, justifiable and even necessary as it is in a number of domains whose extent varies according to the nature of the particular object of investigation, sooner or later reaches a limit, beyond which it becomes one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions. In the contemplation of individual things it forgets the connection between them; in the contemplation of their existence, it forgets the beginning and end of that existence; of their repose, it forgets their motion. It cannot see the wood for the trees." [Engels (1976), p.26. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original.]

 

Other DM-fans have also endorsed this view of Metaphysics (as we will see below)

 

So, Engels appears to believe that metaphysicians are committed to the belief that:

 

(1) "Things" exist in isolated units with no interconnections.

 

(2) They don't change.

 

(3) They exist in "irreconcilable antitheses", which appears to imply that the LEM applies across the board.

 

And that:

 

(4) Metaphysics is the same as, or is expressed by, "commonsense", which works reasonably well in everyday circumstances, but beyond that, in scientific or even philosophical surroundings it soon becomes "one-sided, restricted, abstract, lost in insoluble contradictions", and, among other things, can't see "the wood for the trees".

 

[LEM = Law Of Excluded Middle.]

 

Given the above description, it could be argued that DM isn't metaphysical.

 

First of all, Engels offered his readers absolutely no evidence in support of these sweeping allegations (for example, taken from the History of Philosophy).

 

Second, there have been countless Philosophers and Mystics who believed that everything is interconnected, and which changed as a result of a "unity of opposites". [On that, see here, here and here.] Of course, DM-supporters classify thinkers like this as fellow-travellers (of sorts), who thought 'dialectically' not metaphysically. However, it is even more revealing to classify this tradition as just another strand of the set of ideas of the ruling-class that always rule.

 

Third, we have already seen that it is impossible to make sense of DM-criticisms of the LEM -- on that see here. If so, 'commonsense' (whatever it is!) would be well advised to stick with the LEM.

 

Finally, in the Essays posted at this site, we have witnessed DM-theses regularly collapse into incoherence, so there is little room for DM-fans to crow about the superiority of their theory. Indeed, Essay Seven Part Three shows that if DM were true, change would be impossible. 

 

However, Engels's depiction of Metaphysics would unfortunately rule out as non-metaphysical much of previous 'non-dialectical' philosophy. Even Plato would have admitted that things change (albeit if only with respect to appearances).

 

It could be countered that this is incorrect; only DM pictures things as fundamentally changeable, fundamentally Heraclitean, and only DM relates this to change through internal contradiction (etc.). Well, we have seen, here, here and here that that isn't really so. Even in DM, some things stay the same until or unless a sufficient quantitative change induces a commensurate qualitative change -- namely, and at least including, all those "essences" that Hegel borrowed from Aristotle, which Engels also unwisely appropriated from one or both of them -- just as dialecticians also tell us that some things are 'relatively stable' (whatever that means!).

 

"It is even more important to remember this point when we are talking about connections between phenomena that are in the process of development. In the whole world there is no developing object in which one cannot find opposite sides, elements or tendencies: stability and change, old and new, and so on. The dialectical principle of contradiction reflects a dualistic relationship within the whole: the unity of opposites and their struggle. Opposites may come into conflict only to the extent that they form a whole in which one element is as necessary as another. This necessity for opposing elements is what constitutes the life of the whole. Moreover, the unity of opposites, expressing the stability of an object, is relative and transient, while the struggle of opposites is absolute, ex-pressing the infinity of the process of development. This is because contradiction is not only a relationship between opposite tendencies in an object or between opposite objects, but also the relationship of the object to itself, that is to say, its constant self-negation. The fabric of all life is woven out of two kinds of thread, positive and negative, new and old, progressive and reactionary. They are constantly in conflict, fighting each other." [Spirkin (1983), pp.143-144. Bold emphasis alone added. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

"All rest is however relative, while motion and change are absolute. This is to be understood as an indication of the self-activity of matter, rather than in the sense that motion is possible without rest.... Any state is temporary and transient, and any thing or phenomena has a beginning and end to its existence. The motion of matter is uncreatable and indestructible. It can only change its forms. No single phenomenon or object can lose its ability to change or be deprived of motion under any conditions....

 

"The source of the internal activity of matter lies within it, in its inherent potentiality for the perpetual changeability of its concrete shape and form of existence. Motion is absolute, for it is unrelated to anything external that could determine it. There is nothing else in the world except eternally moving matter, its forms, properties and manifestations...." [Kharin (1981), pp.62-63. Bold emphases added.]

 

"To say that everything is in a constant process of development and change is not, of course, to deny that things can be relatively unchanging and stationary. It is, however, to say that rest is 'conditional, temporary, transitory [and] relative' whereas 'development and motion are absolute'...." [Sayers (1980a), p.4. Sayers is here quoting Lenin (1961), p.358, and not p.360 as Sayers has it. Bold emphasis added.]

 

It isn't easy to see how the above can be reconciled with the idea that "motion is the mode of existence of matter".

 

Be this as it may, Engels's view of Metaphysics is (yet again!) a crude version of Hegel's ideas on this topic. As Houlgate points out:

 

"Metaphysics is characterised in the Encyclopedia first and foremost by the belief that the categories of thought constitute 'the fundamental determinations of things'.... The method of metaphysical philosophy, Hegel maintains, involves attributing predicates to given subjects, in judgements. Moreover just as the subject-matter of metaphysics consists of distinct entities, so the qualities to be predicated of those entities are held to be valid by themselves.... Of any two opposing predicates, therefore, metaphysics assumes that one must be false if the other is true. Metaphysical philosophy is thus described by Hegel as 'either/or' thinking because it treats predicates or determinations of thought as mutually exclusive, 'as if each of the two terms in an anti-thesis...has an independent, isolated existence as something substantial and true by itself.' The world either has a beginning and end in time or it does not; matter is either infinitely divisible or it is not; man is either a rigidly determined being or he is not. In this mutual exclusivity, Hegel believes, lies the dogmatism of metaphysics. In spite of the fact that metaphysics deals with infinite objects, therefore, these objects are rendered finite by the employment of mutually exclusive, one-sided determinations -- 'categories the limits of which are believed to be permanently fixed, and not subject to any further negation.'" [Houlgate (2004), pp.100-01. Paragraphs merged.]

 

But, as has been argued elsewhere at this site, this puts Hegel himself in something of a bind, for he certainly believed that metaphysics was this but not that (i.e., it was either this or it was that, not both), and that unfortunately means even he had to apply the LEM to make his point!

 

Of course, it could be argued that the above observations aren't "judgements" about the fundamental nature of things -- but then again, that objection itself must use the LEM to make its point, for it takes as granted that the above paragraph is saying this, but not that (again, that it was either this or it was that, not both) about the fundamental nature of things. Indeed, even Hegel's conclusions about the content of any metaphysical 'judgement' (i.e., that it says either this or that, not both) would require an implicit, or even an explicit, use of the LEM.

 

We can go further, any 'leap' into 'speculative' thought to the effect that this or that, or whatever, has been 'negated', must implicate the LEM, too; for it will either be the case, or it will not, that for any randomly-selected dialectical 'negation', it will have taken place or it won't. Naturally, this would imply that Hegel's thought (and that of anyone who agrees with him) -- i.e., that Hegel said this or that, not both -- was as metaphysical as anything Parmenides or Plato came out with.

 

That is, if we were foolish enough to rely on Hegel to tell us what "Metaphysics" means!

 

The conventions of ordinary language (partially codified in the LEM, in this case) aren't so easily side-stepped, even by a thinker of "genius".

 

[Again, on the LEM and Hegel, see Essay Nine Part One.]

 

Independently of that, it might now be wondered: What marvellous solution to the antinomy concerning the origin of the universe did Houlgate manage to find in Hegel's work? Or even the one concerning the infinite divisibility of matter?

 

Apparently only this: "Oh dear! It's all so contradictory!"

 

Well, that clears things up and no mistake.

 

Hegel's ideas, not science, were the source of Engels's confused musing in this area, although, oddly enough, much of what Hegel had to say about Metaphysics in the Preface to the First Edition of The Science of Logic, actually agrees with much of what is said about it in this Essay (even though Hegel also drops a heavy hint that this characterisation is now obsolete, or so he thought). Here is part of it:

 

"That which, prior to this period, was called metaphysics has been, so to speak, extirpated root and branch and has vanished from the ranks of the sciences. The ontology, rational psychology, cosmology, yes even natural theology, of former times -- where is now to be heard any mention of them, or who would venture to mention them? Inquiries, for instance, into the immateriality of the soul, into efficient and final causes, where should these still arouse any interest? Even the former proofs of the existence of God are cited only for their historical interest or for purposes of edification and uplifting the emotions. The fact is that there no longer exists any interest either in the form or the content of metaphysics or in both together. If it is remarkable when a nation has become indifferent to its constitutional theory, to its national sentiments, its ethical customs and virtues, it is certainly no less remarkable when a nation loses its metaphysics, when the spirit which contemplates its own pure essence is no longer a present reality in the life of the nation.

 

"The exoteric teaching of the Kantian philosophy -- that the understanding ought not to go beyond experience, else the cognitive faculty will become a theoretical reason which by itself generates nothing but fantasies of the brain -- this was a justification from a philosophical quarter for the renunciation of speculative thought. In support of this popular teaching came the cry of modern educationists that the needs of the time demanded attention to immediate requirements, that just as experience was the primary factor for knowledge, so for skill in public and private life, practice and practical training generally were essential and alone necessary, theoretical insight being harmful even. Philosophy [Wissenschaft] and ordinary common sense thus co-operating to bring about the downfall of metaphysics, there was seen the strange spectacle of a cultured nation without metaphysics -- like a temple richly ornamented in other respects but without a holy of holies. Theology, which in former times was the guardian of the speculative mysteries and of metaphysics (although this was subordinate to it) had given up this science in exchange for feelings, for what was popularly matter-of-fact, and for historical erudition. In keeping with this change, there vanished from the world those solitary souls who were sacrificed by their people and exiled from the world to the end that the eternal should be contemplated and served by lives devoted solely thereto -- not for any practical gain but for the sake of blessedness; a disappearance which, in another context, can be regarded as essentially the same phenomenon as that previously mentioned. So that having got rid of the dark utterances of metaphysics, of the colourless communion of the spirit with itself, outer existence seemed to be transformed into the bright world of flowers -- and there are no black flowers (there are now! -- RL), as we know." [Hegel (1999), pp.25-26, §§2-3. Bold emphases alone added. Minor typo corrected; I have informed the on-line editors.]

 

Of course, modern metaphysicians would laugh at Hegel's question "Where are they now?" since metaphysics (as traditionally conceived) has roared back over the last century-and-a-half. and is, alas, alive and well and being practiced in a University/College near you.

 

Independently of that, we have also seen that Hegel was the main source of the slippery reasoning one encounters time and again in 'dialectical thought', the sort that 'allows' dialecticians to ignore the contradictions and equivocations in their own theory while pointing fingers at others for the very same alleged misdemeanours and sins. [There is much more on this in Essay Eleven Part One and here.]

 

However, Cornforth (1950) presents two main arguments aimed at countering the standard view of Metaphysics employed in this Essay:

 

(1) Cornforth claims that the modern characterisation of Metaphysics derives from John Locke (p.94), even though Cornforth himself had already pointed out that the term was in fact introduced by Aristotle (p.93). [And it seems to be inconsistent with Hegel's depiction of it, above.] He makes this connection because he wants to maintain that modern Philosophers reject Aristotle's search for the "essential nature of the real" (p.94), deliberately running-together the ideas of the Positivists he is attacking with the views of every modern (non-Communist) Philosopher. This allows him to reject the Positivists' understanding of Metaphysics as if it were held by each and every non-Communist Philosopher!

 

First of all, even when Cornforth was writing this (circa 1950), only a tiny minority of Analytic Philosophers (never mind the rest of the profession) were Positivists, so this can't be a valid reason for rejecting the standard interpretation handed down from Aristotle. And it can't be a good reason either for present-day dialecticians to reject the interpretation promoted in this Essay, which in no way depends on Locke. [Although Cornforth is right when he says that Empiricism and Positivism are both metaphysical; but then so is DM.]

 

Second, even if every (non-communist) Philosopher on the planet in 1950 had been a Positivist, it is clear that they would have rejected Metaphysics because, as Positivists, they accepted the traditional view of Metaphysics, which itself stretches way back beyond Locke. Cornforth just asserts that these Philosophers could trace their understanding of this word (i.e., "metaphysics") back to Locke, but he provides us with no evidence whatsoever that this is so -- not even one citation! Anyone who reads the work of the Positivists, or even the Logical Positivists, will see that they weren't just hung up on the nature of "substance" (which Cornforth focuses on simply because of what Locke had said about it), but all areas of Traditional Metaphysics.

 

A good place to start here is Ayer (2001) -- this links to a PDF -- which is an excellent representative of the Simplistic Wing of Logical Positivism. A more substantial version can be found in, say, Carnap (1950). [See also Carnap (1931) -- 'The Elimination Of Metaphysics Through The Logical Analysis Of Language'.]

 

More reliable accounts of this (now) obsolete current in Analytic Philosophy can be found, for example, in the following: Copleston (2003b), Friedman (1999), Hacker (2000c), Hanfling (1981), Misak (1995), and Passmore (1966). See also, Conant (2001).

 

[I would recommend Soames (2003a, 2003b), here, but Soames is highly unreliable in his discussions of Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language Philosophy. On that, see Hacker (2006); this links to a PDF.]

 

(2) Cornforth then argues as follows:

 

"Such an attempt, however, to define 'metaphysics' in terms of its subject-matter, is hardly satisfactory. For in a sense all science, as well as philosophy, is concerned with the substance of things and with the nature of the world. If, then, to speak of the substance of things and the nature of the world is 'metaphysical', then science itself has a 'metaphysical' tendency." [Cornforth (1950), p.94. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

To be sure, metaphysical ideas have dominated much of science, but that is because "the ideas of the ruling-class always rule". And yet, science has progressively distanced itself from the influence of metaphysics, especially in areas where an interface with the material world becomes paramount (for instance, in Chemistry, Geology, much of Biology, most of Physics -- and, of course, Technology). [Why that is so will discussed in Essay Thirteen Part Two, when it is published.]

 

Even so, Cornforth's argument still depends on the unsupported claim that Metaphysics is as he says Positivists define it.

 

Anyway, Cornforth is being disingenuous here, for DM itself goes way beyond modern science in seeking to pontificate, for example, about motion, telling us that it is a "mode of the existence of matter", or that it is "contradictory" -- or, indeed, about the "essence of Being" ("Thing-in-Itself"), the "interpenetration of opposites", the "negation of the negation", and so on. These vague and dubious 'concepts' certainly fit the traditional interpretation of Metaphysics.

 

To be sure, the exact boundary between Metaphysics and Science might be hard to define, but that doesn't mean there is no difference between the two. There is a difference between night and day even though the boundary between them is impossible to delineate. [Again, I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]

 

These appear to be the only two substantive arguments Cornforth offered in support of his rejection of the traditional interpretation of Metaphysics, and thus in favour of his adoption of the characterisation he found in Hegel and Engels (pp.95-98) -- although, oddly enough, Cornforth doesn't mention from whom Engels pinched this idea. But, it is quite clear that all three had to modify considerably the meaning of "metaphysics" to make their fanciful ideas seem to work -- plainly in order to try both to distinguish and to distance Metaphysics from DM (pp.98-101). This is, of course, just another excellent example of the sort of special pleading DM-fans are well practised at invoking.

 

Of course, all this is independent of Marx's own characterisation of Metaphysics. For example, in The Poverty of Philosophy, he had this to say:

 

"We shall now have to talk metaphysics while talking political economy. And in this again we shall but follow M. Proudhon's 'contradictions.' Just now he forced us to speak English, to become pretty well English ourselves. Now the scene is changing. M. Proudhon is transporting us to our dear fatherland and is forcing us, whether we like it or not, to become German again. If the Englishman transforms men into hats, the German transforms hats into ideas. The Englishman is Ricardo, rich banker and distinguished economist; the German is Hegel, simple professor at the University of Berlin.

 

"Louis XV, the last absolute monarch and representative of the decadence of French royalty, had attached to his person a physician who was himself France's first economist. This doctor, this economist, represented the imminent and certain triumph of the French bourgeoisie. Doctor Quesnay made a science out of political economy; he summarized it in his famous Tableau économique. Besides the thousand and one commentaries on this table which have appeared, we possess one by the doctor himself. It is the 'Analysis of the Economic Table,' followed by 'seven important observations.' M. Proudhon is another Dr. Quesnay. He is the Quesnay of the metaphysics of political economy.

 

"Now metaphysics -- indeed all philosophy -- can be summed up, according to Hegel, in method. We must, therefore, try to elucidate the method of M. Proudhon, which is at least as foggy as the Economic Table. It is for this reason that we are making seven more or less important observations. If Dr. Proudhon is not pleased with our observations, well, then, he will have to become an Abbé Baudeau and give the 'explanation of the economico-metaphysical method' himself....

 

"Apply this method to the categories of political economy and you have the logic and metaphysics of political economy, or, in other words, you have the economic categories that everybody knows, translated into a little-known language which makes them look as if they had never blossomed forth in an intellect of pure reason; so much do these categories seem to engender one another, to be linked up and intertwined with one another by the very working of the dialectic movement. The reader must not get alarmed at these metaphysics with all their scaffolding of categories, groups, series, and systems. M. Proudhon, in spite of all the trouble he has taken to scale the heights of the system of contradictions, has never been able to raise himself above the first two rungs of simple thesis and antithesis; and even these he has mounted only twice, and on one of these two occasions he fell over backwards." [Marx (1976), pp.161-65. Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site. Links added; several paragraphs merged. I have used the on-line version here, but have also corrected any typos I managed to spot.]

 

As seems clear from the above, Marx doesn't appear to agree with Engels over the nature of Metaphysics, clearly linking it with "dialectics" (albeit the 'dialectical method' Proudhon extracted from Hegel's work).

 

Be this as it may, I don't want to get hung up on a terminological point, so I recommend that anyone who objects to the usual definition of "Metaphysics" (and its cognates) -- or even the phrase "Traditional Philosophy" -- used at this site, perhaps, preferring Engels's own characterisation, substitute the following for it:

 

"[T]he branch of philosophy concerned with explaining the ultimate nature of reality, being, and the world."

 

The above is a description of Metaphysics we find over at Wikipedia, which is, I think, reasonably accurate, if a little brief. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy is a little more specific:

 

"Metaphysics, most generally the philosophical investigation of the nature, constitution, and structure of reality. It is broader in scope than science..., since one of its traditional concerns is the existence of non-physical entities, e.g., God. It is also more fundamental, since it investigates questions science does not address but the answers to which it presupposes. Are there, for instance, physical objects at all, and does every event have a cause?" [Butchvarov (1999), p.563.]

 

Here is how the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy characterises it (re-formatted):

 

"If metaphysics now considers a wider range of problems than those studied in Aristotle's Metaphysics, those problems continue to belong to its subject-matter. For instance, the topic of 'being as such' (and 'existence as such', if existence is something other than being) is one of the matters that belong to metaphysics on any conception of metaphysics. The following theses are all paradigmatically metaphysical: 'Being is; not-being is not' [Parmenides]; 'Essence precedes existence' [Avicenna, paraphrased]; 'Existence in reality is greater than existence in the understanding alone' [St Anselm, paraphrased]; 'Existence is a perfection' [Descartes, paraphrased]; 'Being is a logical, not a real predicate' [Kant, paraphrased]; 'Being is the most barren and abstract of all categories' [Hegel, paraphrased]; 'Affirmation of existence is in fact nothing but denial of the number zero' [Frege]; 'Universals do not exist but rather subsist or have being' [Russell, paraphrased]; 'To be is to be the value of a bound variable' [Quine]; 'An object's degree of being is proportionate to the naturalness of its mode of existence' [McDaniel]." [Inwagen, Sullivan and Bernstein (2023). Italic emphases in the original. Links added; quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site.]

 

This is how Paul Moser defines it:

 

"Philosophers of all stripes have theories to offer, for better or worse.... Theories in philosophy, whether good or bad, aim to explain something, to answer certain explanation-seeking questions.... What is being? What is thinking? What is knowledge? What are we?... Rare is the philosopher with no theory whatsoever to offer. Such would be a philosopher without a philosophy...." [Moser (1993), p.3. I owe this reference to Hutto (2003), pp.194-95.]

 

Finally, here is Dario Cankovic's characterisation of 'Western Philosophy' (with which I largely agree):

 

"Philosophy, at least in the Western tradition (and this includes Islamic philosophy which is a direct continuation of the tradition of Late Classical-era philosophy), goes through two-phases. The first metaphysical pre-Kantian phase of philosophy conceives of its activity as investigation of the mind-independent necessary metaphysical structure of the world. The second transcendental Kantian phase conceives of its activity as investigation of the mind-constitutive world-constituting necessary transcendental structure or structuring principles of thought itself. While Kant's Copernican revolution is certainly a revolution in philosophy, insofar as in trying to render philosophy scientific it radically changes the way philosophy is done, it doesn't represent a complete break with philosophy. Philosophy remains an effort to understand the world and ourselves a priori. Furthermore, both conceive of the objects of their investigation, whether metaphysical or transcendental, as necessary and immutable, as ahistorical or transhistorical, without or outside of history.

 

"Self-conceptions of philosophers aside, philosophy is not a transhistorical category, it is a human activity and a body of theories with a history. It is conceptual investigation and invention born out of a fascination with and misunderstanding of necessity. It is decidedly pre-scientific in that it is an attempt to understand nature, ourselves and our place in it through the lens of language, though not self-consciously so. This fascination and misunderstanding is a consequence of our alienation from our collective agency. While humanity shapes and is shaped by nature and our concepts, this collective capacity doesn't extend to individual human beings. We create concepts in an never-ending exchange with nature, but you and I as individual human beings are inducted into a community of language-users of an already formed language and brought forth into an already reformed world. We -- collectively and individually -- we are ignorant of our own history." [Quoted from here. Italics in the original. The rest of this article is an excellent antidote to the idea that Marx was a philosopher. Typo corrected; link and bold emphases added.]

 

Even so, whatever this ancient intellectual pursuit is finally called, it is abundantly clear that DM-theorists attempt to do some of the above themselves --, i.e., they endeavour to "explain the ultimate nature of reality, being and the world" in their own idiosyncratic, dogmatic, sub-Hegelian fashion. They also ask and attempt to answer similar questions along similar lines, albeit with a view to changing the world. Indeed, they have adopted much the same approach to Philosophy as the Traditional Metaphysicians to whom Moser (above) alludes -- that is, they attempt to derive fundamental truths about reality from a handful of jargonised expressions, which are then imposed on nature, and said to be valid for all of space and time.

 

[This was demonstrated in detail in Essay Two. Precisely how this series of verbal tricks works is, of course, the subject of Parts One to Seven of the present Essay! See also Essay Three Part One, where much that will be argued here in Essay Twelve was set up.]

 

As far as the attempt to define Metaphysics as the study of things that don't change, this is what the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy had to say:

 

"Ancient and Medieval philosophers might have said that metaphysics was, like chemistry or astrology, to be defined by its subject matter: metaphysics was the 'science' that studied 'being as such' or 'the first causes of things' or 'things that do not change.' It is no longer possible to define metaphysics that way, and for two reasons. First, a philosopher who denied the existence of those things that had once been seen as constituting the subject-matter of metaphysics -- first causes or unchanging things -- would now be considered to be making thereby a metaphysical assertion. Secondly, there are many philosophical problems that are now considered to be metaphysical problems (or at least partly metaphysical problems) that are in no way related to first causes or unchanging things; the problem of free will, for example, or the problem of the mental and the physical." [Inwagen, Sullivan and Bernstein (2023). Quotation marks altered to conform with the conventions adopted at this site; bold emphasis added.]

 

And, one might add, the 'problem' of change itself.

 

A useful (and thoroughly traditional) account of the nature of Metaphysics can be found in Van Inwagen (1998), but there are countless books that cover the same ground. For a useful review of attempts to define Metaphysics, see Moore (2013), pp.1-22 -- although, it is revealing that philosophers can't even agree among themselves what this word means!

 

This underlines what I posted on Quora recently (in answer to the question: "Where should I begin if I want to study Philosophy?"):

 

First, dial down your expectations. Not one single 'philosophical problem' posed by Ancient Greek thinkers (or any others since) has been solved, or even remotely solved. Nor are they likely to be. After 2500 years of this, we don't even know the right questions to ask, for goodness sake!


As Oxford University Philosopher, Peter Hacker, noted:


"For two and a half millennia some of the best minds in European culture have wrestled with the problems of philosophy. If one were to ask what knowledge has been achieved throughout these twenty-five centuries, what theories have been established (on the model of well-confirmed theories in the natural sciences), what laws have been discovered (on the model of the laws of physics and chemistry), or where one can find the corpus of philosophical propositions known to be true, silence must surely ensue. For there is no body of philosophical knowledge. There are no well-established philosophical theories or laws. And there are no philosophical handbooks on the model of handbooks of dynamics or of biochemistry. To be sure, it is tempting for contemporary philosophers, convinced they are hot on the trail of the truths and theories which so long evaded the grasp of their forefathers, to claim that philosophy has only just struggled out of its early stage into maturity.... We can at long last expect a flood of new, startling and satisfying results -- tomorrow.

"One can blow the Last Trumpet once, not once a century. In the seventeenth century Descartes thought he had discovered the definitive method for attaining philosophical truths; in the eighteenth century Kant believed that he had set metaphysics upon the true path of a science; in the nineteenth century Hegel convinced himself that he had brought the history of thought to its culmination; and Russell, early in the twentieth century, claimed that he had at last found the correct scientific method in philosophy, which would assure the subject the kind of steady progress that is attained by the natural sciences. One may well harbour doubts about further millenarian promises." [Hacker (2001c), pp.322-23.]


Second, begin with Bertrand Russell's Problems of Philosophy, which as about as good an introduction to Traditional Philosophy as you could wish to find -- which is also well written. Then, perhaps read some of the more accessible 'classics', such Descartes's Meditations, or his Discourse, Hume's Enquiries, Berkeley's Three Dialogues, Plato's Republic, or his Meno (Aristotle is, alas, far too difficult!), Kant's Prolegomena To Any Future Metaphysics -- steer clear of Hegel (who is impossibly difficult).

 

All of the above (except Hacker) -- and much more besides -- are available here:

 

http://people.brandeis.edu/~teuber/philclassics.html

 

Then, check out a completely different approach to the subject:

 

Ludwig Wittgenstein's Blue Book.

 

http://www.geocities.jp/mickindex/wittgenstein/witt_blue_en.html

 

Traditionally Philosophy has been regarded as a sort of 'super-science', a discipline capable of revealing fundamental truths about 'reality', valid for all of space and time, ascertainable from thought, or from language, alone -- or, indeed, as some sort of uniquely authoritative moral or political guide, or perhaps even a clue to the 'meaning of life'. But it isn't like any science you have ever heard of. Traditional Philosophers typically spend a few hours in the comfort of their own heads -- by-passing all those boring observations and experiments, with their expensive equipment and a requirement that the individual concerned becomes technically competent --, and, hey presto, they emerge with a set of super-cosmic verities.

 

This isn't to deny that some philosophers engaged in empirical work -- for example, Aristotle -- but that wasn't a core aspect of their work. Moreover, the sciences have gradually freed themselves from Traditional Philosophy by subjecting their work to empirical test (howsoever one interprets this). Nor is it to deny that scientists don't indulge in amateur metaphysics (especially in their popularisations), speculating about the nature of space or time, for example.

 

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/metaphysics/

 

But, Traditional Philosophy is quintessentially a 'conceptual enquiry', which, directly or indirectly, revolves around what certain words mean (such as, 'time', 'space', 'matter', 'knowledge', 'belief', 'existence', 'identity', 'meaning', 'language', 'causation', 'justice', 'freedom', 'fate', 'good', 'evil', 'god', 'soul', etc., etc.), but this is in fact provides us with a clue to its fatal defects, and why it hasn't advanced one nanometre closer to a 'solution' to its 'problems' than Plato or Aristotle themselves managed.

 

I have attempted to explain why that is so, here (using Wittgenstein's ideas):

 

http://www.anti-dialectics.co.uk/Why_all_philosophical_theories_are_non-sensical.htm

 

[Which essay actually part of a political debate on the Marxist left. But you don't have to know anything about the latter to follow my argument!]

 

The deflationary approach to Metaphysics adopted at this site is discussed in more detail in Baker (2004b) and Rorty (1980) -- however, concerning Rorty's work, readers should note the caveats I posted earlier.

 

Incidentally, the ideas presented in this Essay shouldn't be confused with those developed by the Logical Positivists (henceforth, LP-ers) -- although there are several superficial similarities, 'only at the margins', as it were -- for example, a handful of those expressed in Ayer (2001), pp.1-29. [This links to a PDF.]

 

Even so, the differences between my ideas and those expressed by LP-ers are quite profound. For instance, I am not offering a criterion of meaning (in fact, I hardly mention this term (i.e., "meaning") as LP-ers intended it to be understood, in this Essay. Moreover, and by way of contrast, I begin with how we ordinarily understand empirical or factual propositions, and to that end I use a term Wittgenstein introduced, "sense", to capture it. This approach shows that the LP-ers got things the wrong way round; it is our grasp of the sense of a proposition that enables us to determine whether or not it is capable of being verified or falsified, not the other way round. As I point out, if we didn't already understand a given proposition, we wouldn't be able to verify/falsify it, or, for that matter, know whether or not it is capable of being verified/falsified. Indeed, how would anyone go about trying to verify a proposition they hadn't already understood? Finally, "meaning" is a highly complex term that was grossly oversimplified by the LP-ers. [I say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Three; see also here, and below.]

 

So, verification can't be a fundamental, or even a significant, factor in connection with our ordinary use of factual language. Hence, even though The Verification Principle has now been totally abandoned, its defects (real or imagined) have absolutely nothing to do with the ideas expressed in this Essay, or at this site.

 

2. Again, Essay Two highlighted the many occasions where modal terminology was employed by DM-theorists (in place of more tentative or reasonable summaries of the available evidence, or intended to 'beef up' their use of the indicative mood).

 

Here are a few such passages from the DM-classicists and 'lesser' DM-luminaries:

 

"Dialectics requires an all-round consideration of relationships in their concrete development…. Dialectical logic demands that we go further…. [It] requires that an object should be taken in development, in 'self-movement' (as Hegel sometimes puts it)…." [Lenin (1921), pp.90. Bold emphases added.]

 

"As we already know that all things change, all things are 'in flux', it is certain that such an absolute state of rest cannot possibly exist. We must therefore reject a condition in which there is no 'contradiction between opposing and colliding forces' no disturbance of equilibrium, but only an absolute immutability…." [Bukharin (1925), p.73. Bold emphases added.]

 

"As opposed to the metaphysical world outlook, the world outlook of materialist dialectics holds that in order to understand the development of a thing we should study it internally and in its relations with other things; in other words, the development of things should be seen as their internal and necessary self-movement, while each thing in its movement is interrelated with and interacts on the things around it. The fundamental cause of the development of a thing is not external but internal; it lies in the contradictoriness within the thing. There is internal contradiction in every single thing, hence its motion and development...." [Mao (1961), pp.313. Bold emphasis added.]

 

"The negative electrical polecannot exist without the simultaneous presence of the positive electrical pole…. This 'unity of opposites' is therefore found in the core of all material things and events. Both attraction and repulsion are necessary properties of matter. Each attraction in one place is necessarily compensated for by a corresponding repulsion in another place…." [Conze (1944), pp.35-36. Bold emphases alone added; paragraphs merged.]

 

"Nature cannot be unreasonable or reason contrary to nature. Everything that exists must have a necessary and sufficient reason for existence…. The material base of this law lies in the actual interdependence of all things in their reciprocal interactions…. If everything that exists has a necessary and sufficient reason for existence, that means it had to come into being. It was pushed into existence and forced its way into existence by natural necessity…. Reality, rationality and necessity are intimately associated at all times…. If everything actual is necessarily rational, this means that every item of the real world has a sufficient reason for existing and must find a rational explanation…." [Novack (1971), pp.78-80. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

"Positive is meaningless without negative. They are necessarily inseparable.... This universal phenomenon of the unity of opposites is, in reality the motor-force of all motion and development in nature…. Movement which itself involves a contradiction, is only possible as a result of the conflicting tendencies and inner tensions which lie at the heart of all forms of matter." [Woods and Grant (1995/2007), pp.65-68. Bold emphases added; paragraphs merged.]

 

[See also this Essay, above.]

 

3. Plainly, this isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of such sentences; the examples listed were chosen to make a particular point about the connection between metaphysical sentences and what look like ordinary empirical propositions. Several more examples, taken from Traditional Metaphysics and DM-sources, have been quoted below.

 

As Glock makes this point:

 

"Wittgenstein's ambitious claim is that it is constitutive of metaphysical theories and questions that their employment of terms is at odds with their explanations and that they use deviant rules along with the ordinary ones. As a result, traditional philosophers cannot coherently explain the meaning of their questions and theories. They are confronted with a trilemma: either their novel uses of terms remain unexplained (unintelligibility), or...[they use] incompatible rules (inconsistency), or their consistent employment of new concepts simply passes by the ordinary use -- including the standard use of technical terms -- and hence the concepts in terms of which the philosophical problems were phrased." [Glock (1996), pp.261-62.]

 

3a. However, I will have to qualify this comment later on in this Essay since it is clear that mathematical propositions can't be true in the same way that empirical propositions plainly can.

 

4. It could be objected that to acknowledge, say, M9 as true does in fact require some input from the material world, on an appeal to evidence.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

Certainly, human beings have to live in this world to be able to assert things like M9 -- if only to learn what the relevant words mean. But, as we will see later, even though ordinary-looking words are being used in such sentences, they (or, rather, the novel expressions invented by metaphysicians and the ordinary words they then use in radically new ways) can't be part of the vernacular, as Glock pointed out above.

 

Notwithstanding this, the fact remains that, unlike M6, it isn't possible to establish the (alleged) truth-status of M9 by comparing it with reality.

 

In response, it could be argued that M9 is a general proposition whereas M6 is particular.

 

That is undeniable, but it isn't relevant. Consider another general, but no less empirical proposition:

 

E1: All badgers living within a five mile radius of the centre of Luton on August 25th 2017 have eaten hazel nuts at least once that day.

 

Now, you can 'reflect' on E1 until the cows next evolve, but that will still fail to tell you whether or not it is true. Even though E1 might never be fully confirmed (although, it wouldn't be impossible to do so if it were to be investigated promptly with enough resources devoted to the task -- while it might prove easier to falsify), the collection of data coupled with detailed observation (etc.) would only be accepted as relevant to that end. Understanding E1 in fact tells us what to look for, what sort of evidence/investigation will confirm it and what sort will confute it, even if we never succeed in ascertaining either, or had any desire to do so.

 

That isn't the case with M9.

 

Finally, it could be objected that M9 (and M1a) are in fact summaries of the evidence we currently possess. This objection has already been fielded in Note Two, but more fully in Essay Two. [See also here.]

 

Anyway, as we will see later, M9 and M1a aren't even empirically true -- if we were to insist on reading them that way.

 

[But, on this, also see Note 5 and Note 5a, below.]

 

5. As should seem obvious, M9 has been included in this list not just because of its connection with M1a and other DM-claims, but because dialecticians appear to regard it (or, at least, P4) as an a priori truth which they feel they can assert dogmatically --, or, rather, the language they use makes it difficult to defend them from just such an accusation.

 

However, even though M9 might look self-evident (to DM-theorists), not everyone would agree. Up until relatively recently (i.e., before, say, 1600), the idea that matter was naturally motionless (or, rather, the belief that effort had to be expended in order to put material bodies into motion and keep them moving) was uncontroversial. Indeed, that theory was a cornerstone of Aristotelian Physics, supported by countless observations over many centuries. It took a conceptual revolution to persuade post-Renaissance theorists to accept the idea that motion is a 'natural' state of material bodies (or, to be more honest, Aristotelians had to die out before such  a conceptual shift became possible). Of course, that intellectual development was itself motivated by NeoPlatonic and Hermetic ideas circulating around Europe at the time, and wasn't based on observation, either.

 

M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.

 

M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

[References supporting the above assertions can be accessed here. The idea that matter is self-moving originated in Plato, but it is arguable that it pre-dated even him; on that see here.]

 

We have also seen -- here and here -- that Lenin's theory that matter is 'self-moving' would in fact make of Newtonian mechanics obsolete, and was itself based on the ancient, mystical dogma that nature is in effect a self-developing Cosmic Egg.

 

The point is, of course, that even though DM-theorists themselves believe that matter is always in motion, it is possible to think of it otherwise.

 

Indeed, as noted above, if a suitable reference frame is chosen, a moving body can be regarded as stationary with respect to that frame. Hence, not only is matter without motion 'thinkable', most people who have thought about this topic have found little difficulty in so thinking. Indeed, the idea is now theoretically respectable. Anyone who doubts that claim should check this and this out, and then perhaps reconsider.

 

5a0. If this weren't the case, then nothing determinate will have been proposed (i.e., put forward for consideration) and sentences like M6 would fail even to be propositions.

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

It is this that enables us to understand M6 without knowing whether or not it is true, or even if M6a is the case instead:

 

M6: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

M6a: Tony Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.

 

On the other hand, if neither M6 nor M6a could be the case (whether we knew which alternative was true), they would both fail to be propositions. In that eventuality it would be entirely unclear what they were proposing or putting forward for consideration.

 

Of course, to those of a 'dialectical' frame-of-mind, the above (apparent) application of the LEM is anathema, a sure sign of 'formal thinking' -- i.e., the implication that both M6 and M6a are either true or false. In response, it is worth pointing out that that endlessly recycled DM-objection is in fact self-refuting, since it, too, relies on the LEM. That is because it must be the case that any application of the LEM is either an application of the LEM or it isn't -- it can't be both. Indeed, we can go further: any exercise of 'formal thought' is either an example of 'formal thought' or it isn't; it can't be both. A (alleged) defect in the LEM is a defect or it isn't. Hence, any DM-fan brave enough to attack the LEM will have to use it (explicitly or implicitly) in order to criticise it or highlight its supposed limitations, rendering that criticism null and void.

 

[Of course, if it is unclear whether or not a supposed application of the LEM is in fact an application of the LEM, then that, too, will be either unclear or it won't, and we are back where were in the previous paragraph.]

 

However, as will also be pointed out later, the above application of the LEM in fact follows from the bi-polarity of empirical propositions.

 

Incidentally, throughout this Essay I have used rather stilted phrases like "It is possible to understand every word of M6 without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false". That is because there is a world of difference between the following:

 

A1: It is possible to understand every word of M6 without knowing whether it is true or false; and,

 

A2: It is possible to understand every word of M6 without knowing whether it is true or knowing whether it is false.

 

As will be explained later, it is implicit in the rules we have for the application of words like "empirical" and "factual" -- that is, that an empirical proposition can only assume one of two truth-values (true or false). In other words, such propositions are "bivalent" and have true-false polarity, but it isn't part of those rules that we must know whether any such proposition is true or know whether any such proposition is false in order to understand it. All we need know is that it could be one or the other, not both. In fact, this rule lies behind the fact that we can understand such sentences before we know whether they are true or whether they are false. [Why that is so will become apparent as this Essay unfolds.] This involves comprehending what would make them true or would make them false.

 

If that weren't so, it would be indeterminate what was being proposed or put forward for consideration -- which would in turn be enough to deny that the sentence in question was an empirical proposition to begin with.

 

[I have explained this idea in greater detail below. On Hegel's 'apparent' rejection of the LEM, or even his (ill-advised) attempt to criticise it, see here. Even so, the limitations of the LEM lie elsewhere. On that, see Peter Geach's article, 'The Law of the Excluded Middle', in Geach (1972a), pp.74-87.]

 

5a. It could be objected that DM-theorists do in fact supply evidence in support of this theory. Often they appeal to the 'whole of science', or, perhaps, the 'human experience' in general in support. Molyneux (2012), quoted below, is just the latest example of Mickey Mouse Science of this sort.

 

However, as we have seen, this entire theory follows from the claim that motion is "The mode of the existence of matter" (i.e., P4):

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

Hence, for dialecticians, these two 'concepts', matter and motion, can no more be separated than, say, the words "number" and "six".

 

"Motion is the mode of existence of matter. Never anywhere has there been matter without motion, nor can there be…. Matter without motion is just as inconceivable as motion without matter. Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself; as the older philosophy (Descartes) expressed it, the quantity of motion existing in the world is always the same. Motion therefore cannot be created; it can only be transmitted…. A motionless state of matter therefore proves to be one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas…." [Engels (1976), p.74. Italic emphasis in the original. Paragraphs merged.]

 

While evidence can and has been used to show that matter moves (not that that was ever in doubt!), no amount of evidence could show that motion is "The mode of the existence of matter", or that motion without matter is "unthinkable" --, that is, that matter can't exist unless it is moving, or that we can't think about it except in this way.

 

And that is what makes the 'evidential display' aired in the DM-literature the charade it is. What little evidence DM-theorists bother to scrape-together is used solely illustratively; i.e., it isn't used to establish the truth of a given DM-theory, merely make it seem clearer, more plausible, or perhaps even more 'scientific' -- and plainly this is aimed at those new to the theory. No independent expert in the relevant fields would accept it a proof. In Essay Seven, this approach to knowledge was dubbed, "Mickey Mouse Science". And the accuracy of that observation is itself confirmed by the further fact that this particular theory (about the universal nature of motion) was based on Hegel's dogmatic assertion (as is much else in DM), who arrived at that conclusion before very much evidence was available.

 

Of course, this idea was ultimately derived from Heraclitus, who advanced claims like this before there was any scientific data at all! Indeed, he arrived at this 'Super-Scientific truth', valid for all of space and time, by merely thinking about the possibility of stepping into the same river more than once! Unfortunately, Heraclitus screwed even that up! [On this, see Essay Six.]

 

All DM-theses possess little other than a priori, dogmatic credentials like this, so it is no use dialecticians pretending their ideas were originally motivated by evidence, or even by a summary of  evidence available now, in the 21st century.

 

[There is more on this topic here, and will be in several subsequent Parts of Essay Twelve (when they are published).]

 

5b. In fact, it is hard to imagine single experiment that could be carried out aimed at confirming such hyper-bold theories. Because they are derived from thought/language alone, they reflect their inventor's determination to use words idiosyncratically. Each of these Cosmic Verities is then used as a rule to interpret experience (as a form of representation -- albeit an incoherent form or representation, as we will see), and hence they are used to dictate to nature how it must be, what it must contain and how it must act. That is, of course, why they seem so 'self-evident' to those who concoct them, why so many modal terms are used in their formulation, why no confirming experiments are called for and why none are ever carried out. After all, has a single DM-supporter ever even so much as proposed a method for testing -- let alone actually proceeding to test -- the veracity of the vast majority of DM-theses? After all, why test what appear to be self-evident truths? Who ever tests whether vixens are female foxes?

 

So, what test, for example, could be proposed for checking whether motion was the 'mode of existence of matter'? Or, indeed, whether all change is the result of 'internal contradictions'? Or, for that matter, whether everything in the entire universe is inter-connected? Or even whether Being is different from but at the same time identical with Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming?

 

It could be objected that Trotsky, for example, did in fact propose an experiment -- whereby bags of sugar could be weighted to test the validity of the LOI. However, anyone who thinks that what Trotsky proposed could rightly be described as an "experiment" has a novel understanding of the nature of that word. Since I have covered this topic at length in Essay Six, the reader is directed there for more details.

 

[LOI = Law of Identity.]

 

Unfortunately for dialecticians, this immediately divorces their 'Super-Truths' from a materialist account of nature and society. If, however, the 'truth' or the 'falsehood' of DM-theories like these is dependent on thought alone, how could these 'Cosmic Verities' be anything other than Ideal?

 

As George Novack pointed out:

 

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

 

Worse still: if DM-claims are indeed Idealist, how could they be used to help change the world?

 

Well, as we saw in Essay Nine Part Two, that isn't strictly true. They can be so used -- but only negatively --, in ways that benefit the ruling-class, heaping ordure on Marxism.

 

Small wonder then that DM has presided over 150 years of almost total failure. [More on that in Essay Ten Part One.]

 

6. Metaphysical statements like the following: "I think therefore I am", "To be is to be perceived", and "To be is to be the value of a bound variable" are all in the indicative mood. [A dozen or so examples have been posted below.]

 

Admittedly, some of these pronouncements are 'supported' by a series of short, or even a few protracted arguments, which are merely used to help 'derive' these 'Super-Truths' from still other a priori theses, 'self-evident truths', assorted 'thought experiments, stipulative definitions and hence, ultimately from words. However, their 'veracity' isn't based on evidence, but on what their constituent words or concepts (and those of any supporting ideas) seem to mean. The nature of their derivation means they can be viewed as universal truths in no need of evidential support. We saw this was the case with Engels and Lenin, whose conclusions about matter and motion followed from P4:

 

P4: Motion is the mode of the existence of matter.

 

[The significance of the above comments will be explored as this Essay unfolds.]

 

6a. Again, it could be objected that Lenin actually devoted an entire section in MEC to supporting this claim of his. Hence, the allegations advanced in this Essay are entirely baseless.

 

Or, so it could be claimed....

 

Unfortunately, Lenin actually spent the bulk of the aforementioned section of MEC to picking a fight with various Idealists, which makes much of what he had to say irrelevant to the concerns addressed in this Essay (and, indeed, irrelevant to supporting the above objection!).

 

However, in order to consider every conceivable avenue open to DM-fans to defend Lenin, it is necessary to check whether or not his arguments hold together, even in their own terms.

 

Lenin's opening point in this part of MEC (I am ignoring the preamble on pp.318-19 since it seems to