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




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


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




First of all, 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 more details.


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


Second, this has been one of the most difficult Essays to write, since (1) It tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history, and (2) It 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 managed to do this.


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 derived from Wittgenstein's work, and, less importantly, from that of other Wittgensteinians.


Incidentally, some might conclude that the ideas presented in this Essay are indistinguishable from the discredited ideas put forward by the Logical Positivists. I respond to that erroneous inference here.


Nevertheless, the ideas presented below in no way affect the negative case against DM developed at this site -- but they do help form the basis of my positive account of the origin of the a priori doctrines found in both DM and Traditional Thought.


However, I have tried as far as possible to keep the material presented below free of academic complexities since it is aimed at fellow revolutionaries, not scholars or professional philosophers. In that case, those who would like to read more substantial versions of the approach to language and Traditional Philosophy I have adopted here should consult the relevant works I have referenced in the End Notes (and in several other Essays on language to be published at this site over the coming years -- for example, Essay Thirteen Part Three).


Apologies are therefore owed in advance to those who know enough of Wittgenstein's work to make the ideas rehearsed in this Essay seem rather trite and banal, but experience has taught me that the vast majority of Marxists aren't well-versed in this area of Analytic Philosophy -- nor do they find it at all easy to appreciate the relevance of this approach to theory, let alone grasp its significance. [I have addressed some of their qualms about Wittgenstein, here, here, and here.]


So, I have worded this Essay with them in mind, which means that I have had to make things as straight-forward as possible.


Third, connected with the above are the following words of warning: 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 they either tend not to sink in or their significance is lost -- this is especially so with regard to the Marxist readers mentioned above.


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 Traditional Thought, 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, which I have then answered. [I explain why I have adopted this tactic in Essay One.]


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


Fifth, on a more technical note: In this Essay, 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), this 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 pedantry in what is not meant to be an academic essay. Bipolarity (not to be confused with the so-called 'Law of Excluded Middle' [LEM]) is taken to be a constitutive requirement for anything to be counted as an empirical (i.e., factual) proposition. [However, concerning my alleged appeal to, or 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 actually is, and what the LEM amounts to -- are explained here, here, here, and here. [See also Palmer (1996).] However, because this isn't meant to be an academic Essay, I have deliberately blurred the distinction between bi-polarity and the LEM. In addition to this, the reader's attention is also drawn to the difference between "non-sense" and "nonsense", as these two terms are used throughout this Essay. Incidentally, "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 do not 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 authors have to say, nor vice versa -- or, indeed, with anything posted at this site!)]


Seventh: throughout this Essay, I have used rather stilted phrases such as the following: "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 this odd way of talking here.


Finally: To save me repeatedly having to say the following: "Many of the points mentioned in passing will be developed in more detail in Essays on the nature of science, 'cognition' and language to be published at this site over the next year or so", I shall often highlight this (implied) remark with a red asterisk: "*".




As of January 2016, this Essay is just under 124,500 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'.



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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 Seem


 (c) Lenin Disobeys Himself


 (d) Motion Without Matter


 (e) Thinking The Unthinkable


 (i)    Lenin's Psycho-Logic


 (ii)   Contradictory -- Or Just Unthinkable?


 (3)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part 1


 (a) The Conventional Nature Of Discourse


 (i)    Camera Obscura


 (ii)   Atomism Among Dialecticians


 (iii)  The Conventional Response From Dialecticians


 (iv)   Meaning Precedes Truth?


 (v)    Avoiding An Infinite Regress


 (b) The Inevitable Collapse Into Non-Sense


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


 (ii)    Semantic Suicide


 (iii)   Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma On Stilts


 (iv)   The Evidential Pantomime -- Mickey Mouse Science Strikes Back


 (v)    The Descent Into Non-Sense


 (c) Metaphysical Camouflage


 (i)    While Mathematics Adds Up


 (ii)   Dialectics Doesn't


 (d) Metaphysical Gems


 (i)   Incoherent Non-Sense


 (ii)  Atomised Humanity Versus Socialised Language


(4)  Lenin's Rules -- Not OK


(5)  Metaphysics And Language -- Part 2


(a) On The Impossibility Of Any Future Metaphysics


(6)  Marx Anticipates Wittgenstein


(a) Quotations


(b) Marx Anathematises Philosophy


(7)  What Lies Beneath


(8)  Scientific Knowledge


(9)  Notes


(10) Appendix A -- Marx On Philosophy


(11) 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 to:


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


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


(3) Show that Metaphysics and Traditional Philosophy are ruling-class forms-of-thought (Parts Two and Three);


(4) (a) Trace these thought-forms back to their origin in early class society; (b) Connect this with the many and varied 'world-views' directly or indirectly promoted and/or patronised by ruling elites; (c) Demonstrate that there is, despite their many differences, a common thread running through them all; and (d) Inter-link all of these with a servile ideology expressed in theories that have been concocted by Traditional Thinkers -- which, of course, will also include the writings of DM-theorists (Parts Two, Three, and Four);


(5) Expose the Mystical Christian and Hermetic doctrines in Hegel's work (upside down or the 'right way up') for what they are: sub-logical and incoherent non-sense (Parts Five and Six);


(6) Argue that the defence of ordinary language is a class issue (Part Seven);


(7) Show that DM is a third-rate form of LIE (Part Four).


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


This will make Essay Twelve by far the longest published at this site, hence its division into seven Parts.


However, many of my ideas in this area are still in their formative stage, so this material will be revised continually.


As indicated above, each of these issues will be tackled in various Parts of this Essay, but to address the first two we need to examine a rather odd statement made by Lenin.



Part One: Lenin And The 'Unthinkable'


Matter And Motion


In MEC, Lenin quoted the following words from Engels:


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


Here, Lenin was making a typically metaphysical statement. Dialecticians will, of course, want to reject that particular assertion; even so, that repudiation itself would be as hasty as it is mistaken. [Why that is so is explained below, and in Note 1.]


It is worth noting at the outset that theses like M1 purport to inform us of fundamental aspects of nature, supposedly true for all of space and time -- albeit in this case disguised as part of Lenin's admission of his own incredulity.


But, we are not to conclude from M1 that Lenin was merely recording his own personal views. On the contrary, he certainly believed that matter and motion were fundamental aspects of "objective reality"; that they were inseparable and that this was a scientific (or even a philosophical) fact. This was because, like Engels, he held the view that motion was "the mode" of the existence of matter -– that is, he believed that matter could not exist without motion, nor vice versa. Motion was thus one of the principal ways, if not the principle way, that matter expressed itself exterior to the mind.1


The metaphysical nature of Lenin's declaration can be seen by the way it bypassed the need for any supporting evidence. For Lenin it was such an obvious fact about the connection between matter and motion that to deny it was "unthinkable".


However, if humanity had access to information about motion and matter many orders of magnitude greater than is available even today, it would still not be enough to show that the separation of matter from motion is unthinkable. No amount of data could warrant such an extreme view. While it might be false to separate the too, but its "unthinkability" can't be derived from ant body of evidence, no matter how large it is (no pun intended).


To be sure, the above allegations might strike some readers as more than a little controversial, if not completely misguided. In which case, much of the rest of this Essay will be aimed at their substantiation.



Indicative Of What?


The seemingly profound nature of theses like M1 is linked to rather more mundane features of the language in which they are expressed: that is, they are connected with the fact that the main verb they use is often in the indicative mood. Sometimes, this is beefed-up with subjunctive or modal qualifying terms -- which, incidentally, helps create an even more misleading impression.


For example, we find Engels saying things like this:


"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 added.]


"The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa…[operates] in nature, in a manner fixed for each individual case, qualitative changes can only occur by the quantitative addition or quantitative subtraction of matter or motion….


"Hence, it is impossible to alter the quality of a body without addition or subtraction of matter or motion. [Engels (1954), p.63. Bold emphases added.]2


Now, this superficial grammatical veneer hides a much deeper logical form, which is something that only becomes plain when these sentences are examined more closely.


As noted above, expressions like these look as if they reveal or express profound truths about reality since they certainly 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: "x is F" (or sometimes "z is a f-er", or more accurately "z f-ies").


Despite this, there are profound differences between them.


[The use of such gap markers (i.e., "x" and "z") was explained in Essay Three Part One. "F(...)" is a general predicate variable, while "f(...)" is more specific variable, standing for clauses like "...owns a copy of TAR", "...fibs more often than not", or "...thinks something is unthinkable", "...lies", etc.]


However, the logical difference between, for instance, M6 and M2 that concerns us here lies in the fact that to know that M2 is true goes hand-in-hand with understanding it; these two conditions are inextricably linked. That is, comprehending M2 is one and the same as knowing it is true. Anyone who failed to see things this way would be judged not to understand the use of number words.3a


On the other hand, it' isn't necessary to know whether M6 is true or false in order to understand it. Indeed, it is a safe bet that the vast majority of those reading these words, if not everyone reading these words, will understand M6 even though they won't have a clue whether or not it is true. So, comprehending M6 is not the same as knowing it is true, but it is integral to understanding M6 knowing what would make it true or would make it false -- even if neither of these has been ascertained as yet, or will ever be ascertained.


[The significance of these comments will be explored at greater length, below.]


In that case, it isn't necessary to know whether Blair in fact owns a copy of TAR to be able to understand someone who says that he does. In contrast, comprehending that two is a number is ipso facto to know that it is true (except in 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.


Now, M9 (which is, perhaps, a more 'objective' version of M1a) is somewhat similar to M2; comprehending it involves automatically acknowledging its veracity. The truth-status of such propositions seems to follow from the 'concepts' they express, which is why their truth-status can be ascertained without examining any evidence at all. Their veracity seems to be based on thought alone.4


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 have been read, the 'truth' of both should become obvious. The source of their veracity is 'internally generated', as it were. Indeed, that is why the negation (or rejection) of M9, for example, was so "unthinkable" to both Engels and Lenin. Plainly, this certainty followed from their definition that motion is the mode of the existence of matter. That particular thought governs the central core of what these two understood about the nature of matter and motion -- which explains why they asserted it so dogmatically, why Engels declared its opposite "nonsensical" and Lenin pronounced it  "unthinkable".5


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


In fact, it is quite easy to suppose that M6 is false (which it probably is). But, even if M6 were true, and known to be true, it would still be possible to imagine it to be false (and vice versa). On the other hand, it is not possible to imagine M2 or M9 as false without altering the meaning of key words in those sentences. [Why that is so will be explained later.]


The falsehood of M6, on the other hand will not affect the meaning of any of its 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 involved wouldn't be enough. The veracity of M6 can't be ascertained from thought alone; its truth-status is not 'internally generated', but 'externally' confirmed or disconfirmed. Plainly, an appeal to evidence is essential.


But, it isn't possible for anyone who agrees with Lenin to regard, or even to suppose that M9 is false. This shows that there is a fundamental difference between these two sorts of 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 derive from just such a masquerade.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


In that case, it looks like the obviousness of M9 is what motivated the incredulity Lenin reported in M1a, for it certainly seemed to him that as soon as the expressions it contains (or their DM-equivalents) are inspected, the truth of M9 should be clear for all to see.


[The objection that M1a and M9 are merely summaries of the evidence so far is neutralised in Note 4 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 (and that of M9) would undermine the meaning of its key terms (or the import of the concepts they express) -- given that the definition of "motion" is that it is the mode of the existence of matter. This would be enough to indicate that anyone foolish enough question its veracity this just did not "understand" matter (or even dialectics -- which is, of course, why dialecticians reach for this riposte so readily, and so often).


It is also why the rejection of M1a and M9 can be ruled out without the need to examine any evidence. What these two sentences say appears to gain our assent on linguistic (or conceptual) grounds alone. Hence, it 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 theses like M1a (and M9) require no evidence in their support, and why none is ever given -- and why it is hard even to imagine what sort of evidence could even begin to substantiate them.5a


In that case, the actual state of the world drops out of the picture as irrelevant; when assessing such theses for their accuracy, or even their veracity, no experiments need performing, no data collected, no surveys undertaken.5b


Now, that fact alone should have given someone like Lenin (who was not ignorant of the scientific method) pause for thought. Unfortunately, like so many others before him -- indeed, like the vast majority of theorists since ancient Greek times -- he failed to notice the significance of these seemingly trivial facts.6


The certainty that M1a seems to encourage in all those who accept it as true plainly derives from what its constituent terms appear to mean; the subsequent projection of its 'content' onto the world is thus a reflection of that conviction. If such theses express indubitable truths, who could possibly deny that they apply to the entire universe? And that is of course why DM-theorists are happy to impose them on reality, and regard them as true for all regions of space and time.


But, the alleged truth of M1a bears no relation to the possibilities that material reality itself presents; this can be seen from that fact that if that if the truth of M1a were related to conditions that might or might not obtain in nature, evidential support would have been not only appropriate and imaginable, but crucially important appropriate. However, with respect to M1a, 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"?6a


This clearly indicates that M1a and M9 are not about the material world; they are (indirectly) about (or rather arise from) the use of certain words -- or they concern the alleged relation between the concepts they express.


[They are in fact indirectly about an Ideal world invented by boss-class hacks who began such talk back in Ancient Greece, as the rest of Essay Twelve will seek to show.]


Compare these Mia and M9 with the following:


M7: A material body is extended in space.


M8: Time is a relation between events.


[M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.]


Theses like these can be found right throughout Metaphysics, but the above account helps explain why traditional Philosophers were only too ready to project them onto the world. The content of such 'super-truths' seemed to them to be based on something much deeper than anything that mere empirical evidence/confirmation could provide. Indeed, they appeared to express indubitable, 'necessary truths' about 'God', 'the Mind', 'Essence', 'Being', 'Time', 'Existence', and the like, which 'truths' were prior to, but not dependent on, the deliverances of the senses. In fact, such theses looked as if they determined the logical boundaries of reality itself -- that is, they depended on concepts and categories that constituted not just human judgement and thought, but the logical form of the world.


In later versions of the same guiding myths, it was held that such theses depicted things that must be instantiated in any possible world.


In short, they appeared to picture not just the logical form of any and every conceivable world, they governed each and every 'philosophically' true thought about them.


In previous centuries, it was believed that such theses expressed 'God's' thoughts about, or they depicted his 'laws' governing, reality, which meant that Metaphysics was widely seen as the attempt to replicate/'reflect' divine verities in human thought, operating originally as an extension of Theology.7 Naturally, this immediately linked Metaphysics to the rationalisation of the status quo and the class structures which fed off it. [More on this in Parts Two and Three of this Essay (summary here).]


This meant that if such theses reflected the Divine Mind and/or the Cosmic Order, they could be projected dogmatically onto nature; no world was imaginable without them. If no configuration of matter and energy could fail to conform to universal truths like these, supporting evidence would naturally become irrelevant; the material world would thus drop out of consideration -- at least in so far as confirmation was concerned.


[To be sure, an after-the-event appeal to nature could be made in order to illustrate such alleged super-truths (which is what we find dialecticians doing, for example, with respect to Engels's Three 'Laws'), but that would be the only use to which the material world could be put.]


To those propounding them, Metaphysical 'truths' appeared to be so obvious that few theorists seemed concerned with the fact that their theses were imposed on reality. Quite the contrary, in fact; the important role each philosophical thesis was supposed to occupy (i.e., as a sort of "master key" capable of unlocking the inner secrets of 'Being') seemed to justify 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 expressed the 'essences' underlying any and every possible world, they were later called "necessary truths".8


However, theses like these were (and still are) reliant on the (mis)-use of a deliberately restricted set of words, and thus on a disguised or aberrant application of language (as Marx himself noted). The projection of such theses onto any and all possible worlds is evidence enough of that. How else would it be possible for theorists to delineate what must be true of all possible worlds other than by a misapplication of language that is socially-rooted in this one? Since the veracity of such 'truths' is 'known' prior to the examination of any evidence (how, for example, could one examine the 'evidence' available to investigators in a possible world?), their alleged ('necessary') truth-values can't have been derived from anything other than the supposed meaning of the words comprising each thesis, and hence on the linguistic rules supposedly governing the employment of such words in these specialised contexts.9


In Essay Two (and in many other Essays), numerous examples were given of a priori assertions about reality advanced by dialecticians. As we saw, these were held true for all of time and space, when they are in fact supported by little or no evidence or argument --, that is, over and above a superficial analysis of a few specially-selected examples, sketchy "thought experiments", and the use of obscure jargon lifted from Hegel and his mystical forebears.


We are now in a position to see why this is so: DM-theses possess an a priori and universal validity because they are (1) based on a radical misuse of language, or they (2) depend on misconstrued rules of language as if they represented substantive features of reality. In short, they confuse the form by means of which we represent the world with the world itself.


To state the obvious: traditionalists and DM-theorists will reject this way of seeing things -- but their opinion of what they do with their own use of words is at odds with how they themselves actually employ them. Why that is so will become more obvious as this Essay unfolds.


Once more, as we saw in Essay Two, while DM-theorists constantly reassure their readers that they have not foisted their ideas on reality -- they have simply 'read' them from it, which shows that they at least view them as empirical truths of some sort --, their practice belies this. Dialecticians en masse plainly regard their doctrines as universal theses, true 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, that is why this places their theses way beyond confirmation by any conceivable body of evidence.9a


M1a is just the latest example of dogmatic apriorism. In common with other metaphysicians, the projection by dialecticians of theses like this onto any and all possible worlds reveals they have been derived from linguistic (or conceptual) resources alone. Since these super-theses are 'known' to be true well in advance of the examination of an adequate body of supporting evidence, their veracity can't have been derived from anything other than the meanings of the words they contain, and thus on the linguistic/social rules allegedly governing them.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


Moreover, the historical provenance of every single DM-thesis (that is, they were derived from mystical Hegelian and Hermetic thought) lends support to the above claims. These doctrines date back to a time when there was very little, or no scientific evidence at all. And, as Marx noted, such theses are based on a distortion of language:


"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.]


Thus, the class-compromised origin of DM-theses means that aprioristic ruling-class ideas and patterns-of-thought have been smuggled into revolutionary theory by the DM-classicists -- and "from the outside".10


Unfortunately for Lenin and other DM-apologists, a priori theses are incapable of reflecting reality. As we will soon see, reality cannot be as metaphysical or DM-theses supposedly depict it.11 There are logical features of language that prevent theorists like Lenin and Engels from saying the sorts of things they seem want to say about the world, which features will not allow them to 'depict' nature in ways they imagine they can.


So, in the end, as we will also see, they end up saying nothing at all.


These observations are connected with the origin and nature of metaphysical theories themselves. As will be demonstrated in later parts of Essay Twelve, at a linguistic level such theses arose out of a determination by Greek theorists to employ certain expressions idiosyncratically -- that is, in ways they would not normally be used in every day life. In its train, this odd use of language involved a failure on the part of these 'linguistic innovators' to notice that it is only the misuse and distortion of language that licences the derivation of universal and necessary 'truths' of the sort we find in Traditional Philosophy -- and later in DM. [This 'linguistic slide', as it were, was illustrated in detail in Essay Three Part One.]


As the analysis below demonstrates, the distortion and misuse of language that Marx refers to results in the production, not of 'necessary' truths, but of unvarnished non-sense.11ao



Lenin Disobeys Himself


To see this more clearly with respect to the DM-thesis on hand, we need to examine Lenin's words a little more closely.


With regard to Lenin's avowal reported in M1a, it is worth asking the following question: What is it about these five words (or what they expressed, or 'reflected') that made them (or it) seem so "unthinkable"?


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


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


In that case, Lenin must have done what he declared could not 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 Lenin appears to have contradicted himself, for he managed to do what he said could not be done. That is why in practice Lenin's thesis 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 just that), 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 cannot be done?11a


Worse still, if the rest of us can think the three offending words ("motion without matter"), and understand their content, whenever we read Lenin telling us that we can't do the very thing we must have done to grasp his point, we too must contradict Lenin in practice whenever we peruse his work. Indeed, the very act of telling us we cannot think these words (or what they express) prompts us to do just that!


Even those who agree with Lenin that "motion without matter is unthinkable" must think the three illicit words. Hence, even the most slavishly obedient Lenin-groupie cannot avoid disobeying the master every time he/she reads this controversial phrase.


Have such characters not noticed that to read Lenin (and try to think the content of his words) is to disobey him?


As noted above, it could be objected that I have confused these two propositions (in other words, I have confused use with mention):


R1: "Matter without motion" is unthinkable.


R2: Matter without motion is unthinkable.


Where R1 means:


R3: The words "Matter without motion" cannot be thought.


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 allegedly offending words without imagining them to be true. So, the above argument is entirely spurious.


The question is, therefore: Is R2 susceptible to the objections raised above -- i.e., that Lenin had to contradict himself in order to make his point?


Indeed, it is. 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. In order to do that, he would have to know what motion without matter amounted to so that he could exclude that possibility as unthinkable (otherwise he could be ruling out the wrong thing -- or, indeed, he could be ruling out nothing at all). Hence, R2's content (i.e., what it was supposedly being used to say) would have to be thinkable so that Lenin could tell us it wasn't!


[This is a brief summary of a much longer argument I have detailed below, where I endeavour to explain what I mean by "content". See also Note 11a.]


Now, assuming Lenin is right, what on earth could he possibly have meant by what he said if everyone (including himself) could so easily disprove in practice this allegedly self-evident truth?


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


Perhaps this is 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?


But, are even these options viable?



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 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.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


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


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


This looks a little awkward -- and it isn't obviously correct. Indeed, it is possible to think of many examples of motion that do not involve the movement/locomotion of matter as such. Several dozen were given in Essay Five. Here is another -- a few more can be found in Note 12:


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


Now, this could be true even if no matter was relocated in the process.12


It might be objected here that this sense of "move" was not at all what Lenin had in mind. Perhaps, then, he meant the following?


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


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


M13: Literal motion in the real world 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. Despite that, this sentence presents problems of its own. Consider this apparent counter-example:


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


Now, this seems to depict literal movement in the real world, and yet it is not 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 to the re-arrangement of ink molecules in a diary or wall planner -- when the new date is committed to paper, etc. -- as examples of matter in motion here? But, at best, this would simply mean that motion was indirectly associated with matter, since even in a real life situation the supposed strike itself would not actually exist to be moved anywhere -- even though it has still been moved.


Again, it could be objected that in this example what has actually changed is the date -- it is this that has been moved not the strike itself. But again, if it is only a date that has been moved, it would still be unclear whether any matter has to be relocated as a consequence. Once more, this date is in the future, and does not 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 anywhere else, for that matter) in order to illustrate the material changes witnessed here. Certainly, such things may alter, but if anyone were to imagine that the dates of strikes, or even strikes themselves, are just marks on paper, then bosses could easily put a stop to trade union militancy -- by simply tippexing-out the relevant marks (or by destroying the wall-planner/diary), and be done with it. The class struggle, surely, cannot be so easily erased --, can it?


At best, therefore, the movement reported in M14 is indirectly associated with matter. Nevertheless, M14 seems to show that we can at least understand sentences where the connection between motion and matter is not obvious or clear-cut. So, perhaps we can think the unthinkable, despite what Lenin said?


This still leaves the status of M12 and M13 unresolved. Now, if we ignore awkward cases like M14 and concentrate on examples of movement situated 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. I will ignore that awkward complication here.]


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


M13: Literal motion in the real world 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 in the real world without matter is unthinkable.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


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


Maybe not.


One obvious example of literal movement in the real world that takes place without matter -- which is not only thinkable, it is actual -- is the motion of the Centre of Mass 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 is not made of anything, and is merely a theoretical point). In its turn, it moves under the influence of something else that is not material either -- the centre of mass of the cluster of galaxies of which ours is a part, and so on.14


Perhaps we should adapt M15 to accommodate or neutralise this annoying counterexample, in the following way:


M16: Literal motion in the real world 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 M16 is not 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 idea of matter is so vague that little sense can be made of it, anyway.15


Nevertheless, despite these apparent problems, M15 and M16 face far more serious difficulties than the inconvenient astronomical and/or ordinary facts noted above.



Thinking The Unthinkable


As pointed out earlier, Lenin must have thought the words "motion without matter" (and/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 undermined the point he wished to make.


Perhaps, then, Lenin meant the following?


M17: The sentence: "Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable" is true.


[M15:  Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable.]


However, this won't do either. Just as soon as the quoted sentence in M17 (i.e., M15) is entertained, that cognitive act itself would make M17 false!


This is because the embedded sentence in M17 (i.e., M15) is false whenever anyone thinks it.


It could be objected that the above argument confuses M17 with the following:


M17a: The sentence: "Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.


Lenin certainly did not mean M17a. That riposte will be considered presently.


Moreover, M17 itself becomes false whenever M15 is thought, and yet by thinking M17, M15 must be entertained; the only way anyone could agree with M17 is by thinking M15. Unfortunately, this just means that we may only agree with M17 by doing what M15 says cannot be done -- we have to think the unthinkable, thus making M17 false. In that case, M17 is true just in case it is false; we may assent to it only if we never allow its content to cross our minds.


It could be argued that this shows that M17 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 requires that the allegedly forbidden words "matter without motion" (and/or their content) pass through the mind, so it is not the case that these words cannot be thought.15a


But what about the counter-claim that the above confuses M17 with M17a? This objection will be fielded in the next sub-section (and again later in this Essay).



Lenin's Psycho-Logic


It could be objected that it is perfectly clear what Lenin meant: it is impossible to think about matter without conceiving of it as moving in some way, and vice versa. In other words, M17 does not imply M17a.


M17: The sentence: "Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable" is true.


M17a: The sentence: "Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable" is unthinkable.


In that case, perhaps Lenin was merely making a psychological point. Maybe he was saying that given what we know about the world (and about ourselves), we are psychologically/physically incapable of forming the thought that motion is possible without matter (and/or vice versa), or of conceiving that thought as true.


[This line of defence was partly neutralised in Note 11a.]


But, if Lenin was saying this, he offered no evidence to substantiate what would now be a scientific claim about what human beings are capable of thinking or of conceiving. And, if this was indeed his line-of-thought, it is pretty clear why he wouldn't have been able to produce such data (even had he tried) -- for to pose this very question is not only to think the forbidden words (and/or their content), it prompts others to think them (it), too!


Moreover, and alas for Lenin, there is abundant evidence to the contrary. As we know, previous generations managed to think this very thought, and they managed to do so for centuries. The passivity of matter is a basic principle of Aristotelian Physics.16


If this alternative interpretation of Lenin's claim is to remain viable (i.e., that which holds that his claims about motion and matter relate to the psychological limitations of human beings), then (at best) we would have to interpret it as a confession of Lenin's own limited powers of imagination -- even though, and paradoxically, he too was 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 this good news!


Furthermore, Lenin offered no supporting evidence concerning the supposed limits of credibility, or otherwise, of anyone else, and he mentioned only two other DM supporters who thought as he did: Engels and Dietzgen. That being so, his confession merely records the limits of his, Engels and Dietzgen's own incredulity (which, as we have seen, undermined 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 were given earlier where it was quite natural to speak about motion without matter. These may only be ruled out if it can be shown that they are either metaphorical or they are deemed irrelevant. But, who is to say that Lenin's use of such words is literal, or that this is their only correct employment -- or even that it is the most natural? In fact, a rejection of these 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.


M18: This particular example of motion is separated from matter.


M19: This lump of matter is motionless.


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 wrote. If these sentences are objectionable, it can't be for psychological reasons -- for, manifestly, they are easy to think. If either of M18 or M19, for instance, is to be ruled out as an example of a thought, that would have to be done on logical/linguistic, not psychological, grounds,  -- especially if to read Lenin each time is to disprove what he says in the very act of reading it, as we have seen.


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 Lenin concluded that motion without matter was "unthinkable", as opposed to claiming it was merely contradictory. Apart from saving him the trouble of having to think the very thoughts he wanted to convince the rest of us was "unthinkable", it would at least have allowed him to make his point much more succinctly, and, dare I say it, 'dialectically'. Indeed, it would seem to be the obvious thing to say about matter and motion: that immobile matter (or mobile non-matter) was contradictory -- or, rather, that propositions asserting these things implied a contradiction, given other DM-principles. They would certainly contradict the thesis that motion is the mode of the existence of matter.


On the other hand, it seems pretty clear why he didn't: if Lenin had done this, 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. In that event, the next question would have been: Why is it just this contradictory state of affairs that is considered so objectionable in contradistinction to all the other contradictions that DM-theorists believe litter the entire universe, which aren't? Why don't they tell us that motion is impossible (or "unthinkable") since it implies a contradiction? Or that wave-particle duality is impossible (or "unthinkable"), and 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 in all objects (or between objects) --, since they are UOs: a 'unity of motion and non-motion', perhaps? Anyone inclined to believe cracked logic like this shouldn't find it too great a "leap" of imagination to derive motion from the contradictory nature of matter. The mobility of matter could thus be predicated on its lack of motion! Hence, far from immobile matter being unthinkable, the theory seems to require it! [Indeed, as this suggests so, too.]


[UO = Unity of Opposites.]


It could be objected here that this is ridiculous; dialecticians do not believe that motion is a UO of itself and its opposite, lack of motion. Indeed, it could be pointed out that the above caricature is not the contradiction that Hegel was referring to when he spoke about motion --, as Engels 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.]


However, these proffered, hypothetical DM-responses merely highlight the serious confusions lying at the heart of this theory of change, underlined here, here and here. The problem is that, according to what DM-theorists themselves tell us, it is unclear whether things change because of (1) their internal contradictions (and/or opposites), or (2) whether they change into these opposites, or, indeed, (3) whether they create such opposites when they change.


Hence, if all things are UOs, and can only change because of that fact, it seems that a moving body must be a dialectical union of motion and rest, otherwise it could never change.


In that case, if the above objection is ridiculous, it is only because it makes plain the incoherence inherent in 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") cannot be what makes that object move; it is what becomes apparent as it moves.


So, if Hegel is right, and objects move because of their inherently contradictory nature, then they must be a UO of some sort. And what else could that be but a union of motion and rest; nothing else seems remotely relevant.


Alternatively, other objectors 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 no "excessive tenderness" toward moving things --, matter must be mobile and at rest all at once. So, resolute Hegelians must at least 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 on this Hermetic conundrum, for this is precisely what we observe in reality. 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 matter can be at rest, but with respect to another it can be in motion, and these can both be true at the same time, and concerning the same body.


Unfortunately for beleaguered dialecticians, however, this familiar fact does not actually 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, all at once. There is nothing deeply metaphysical about this; it is a spin-off of the conventions we now use to depict nature. This socially-motivated fact, though, does give sense to propositions about the mobility (or otherwise) of matter (for we would have no other way of conceiving of movement scientifically except in this way), even if this does not actually make anything move (or sustain locomotion), as DM/Hegelian 'contradictions' should.


Of course, the thrust of unhelpful conclusions like these can only be resisted on linguistic 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 underline the fact that Lenin's own ideas are, at best, creatures of convention, and are thus not the least bit "objective".


Moreover, given the additional fact that Lenin's ideas in this area fall apart so readily, this 'convention' is unlikely ever to be accepted by the scientific community. In fact, we should feign no surprise if they fail to make the bottom of the reserve list of viable candidates that scientists might even be inclined to consider.



Metaphysics And Language -- 01


The Conventional Nature Of Discourse


As we have seen above, and as we will see as the rest of Essay Twelve unfolds, the problems Lenin and other metaphysicians face are connected with the peculiar nature of the language they used. But, there are other aspects of language that are less well appreciated (or, rather, they are not appreciated at all), which means that this slide into metaphysical incoherence does not just afflict DM. With respect to Metaphysics in general, this slide is universally unavoidable.


While it is true that Marxists in general hold that language is both a social product and serves as a means of communication, few seem fully to have thought through the ramifications of these ideas.17 On the contrary, one of its least recognised implications is that language is conventional. Indeed, if language is in fact social, how could it be other than conventional? Human beings invented language; it wasn't bestowed on them from 'on high', or introduced to us by aliens. This means that at some point in their history, human beings must have adopted/acquired certain linguistic conventions.17a


Furthermore, an even less well appreciated corollary of this view of discourse is the fact that language is primarily a vehicle of communication, not of representation.18


It is undeniable that some Marxists have acknowledged the limited applicability of the former corollary (that language is conventional), but hardly any (perhaps none) have considered the full implications of the second (that language isn't primarily representational). Certainly Marx and Engels didn't, nor have later Marxists. Indeed, much of what they have written (especially about 'abstraction', 'cognition' and knowledge) suggests that the opposite is the case.18a



Camera Obscura


In this regard, dialecticians are, once more, not 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 'objective' world in "thought", the "head", the "mind", "consciousness", or in "cognition" first, before communication can begin.18b


Hence, rarely questioned (again until recently) was the underlying assumption that it is only after language users have learnt to picture reality to themselves that they are then able to communicate their thoughts to others -- and that particular observation applies equally well to those who at least give lip service to the idea that language is primarily a means of communication. 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 individuals, an expression of their attempt to share the 'contents' of their 'minds' with others, their 'abstractions', but not the other way round.19


It seems to many (even on the revolutionary left) that here at least we have an example of private (mental) production linked to public gain, for on this view, it is the isolated activity of lone abstractors that powers cognition -- and this supposedly helps drive the social advancement of knowledge --, after these abstractions have somehow been pooled. This is something that at least one dialectician has acknowledged (as I 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 well over twenty five years) who is cognizant of this 'difficulty'! Even so, I have devoted Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three to lengthy analyses of this topic; the reader is referred there for more details.]


This approach thus relegates meaning to the private domain of the 'mind', something that each individual brings to language --, perhaps as an expression of their biography and/or the ideological parameters that constrain them. [In Essay Thirteen Part Three, Section (3) onward, we will see this is certainly true of the approach taken by theorists like Voloshinov and Vygotsky.] 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 a 'transformational grammar' (now "unbounded merge").


Dialecticians will even speak of 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. Some paragraphs merged to save space.]


This odd theory -- which transforms ideas into agents and their possessors into patients -- will be examined in more detail in a future re-write of 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'.


Whatever the aetiology, this is one idea that has ruled, in one form or another, since ancient times.


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 projected it back into each individual head, re-configured there as the social relations among ideas/'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'. The outer, social world was thus re-modelled 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 thus neutralised. No wonder modern philosophy soon descended into out-right Idealism, with Kant complaining that it was scandal that philosophers had so far failed to prove the existence of the 'external' world! No wonder, too, that Dialectical Marxists felt they had to invert things once more -- allegedly putting them 'back on their feet' -- failing to note that their theory of language and cognition actually prevents them from doing precisely that.


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


On this view, while human beings might be born free of language, everywhere they are imprisoned by linguistic chains manufactured and controlled by an inner surrogate 'state' (comprised of genes, 'modules' and assorted nerve cells) -- an inner echo of the bourgeois state controlling our otherwise 'unruly inner thoughts'.20


[As noted above, these ideas ware spelt out in detail in Essay Three Part Two.]


This inversion (the political and social roots of which will be analysed briefly below, and more fully in Parts Two and Three of this Essay) completely undermines the Marxist claim that language is a social phenomenon. And no wonder; it perfectly mirrors the bourgeois view of language and 'mind'.


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' cobbled-together by traditional philosophers and dialecticians alike. Inverted now, as in a camera obscura, these rotated concepts cloud the thoughts of all those whose brains they have colonised -- which helps explain why the idea of the ruling-class always rule.



Linguistic Atomism


Nevertheless, there seems little point arguing that language is a social phenomenon -- its main role lying in communication -- if discourse is in fact primarily representational. If that were the case, the social function of language would be anterior to, if not parasitic upon, its supposedly primary, and private nature. No surprise then that this view of discourse introduced its own notorious Robinsonades, analogous to those that Marx railed against in politics and economics --, except in this case, these Robinsonades were concocted in relation to the supposed origin of language in each privatised and atomised skull, and not just in connection with the 'social contract', or the economy.


If there is a point to be made by the above approach to discourse, it is perhaps as 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 can enter the linguistic community.


But, this presents those adopting this view with intractable problems. How could anyone be socialised into representing the world to themselves first as an individual, and then later use language to communicate? On this view, as far as language is concerned, each human being would be, first and foremost, a semantic individual, second a communicating, social being. [That was the point of referring to those Robinsonades, earlier, just as this worry lay behind Ollman's comments, too.]


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 we try to converse with others, we would find ourselves incapable of communicating, and humanity would be, to all intents and purposes, universally autistic. [This argument will be elaborated upon and substantiated in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


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


Atomistic implications like these should not be lost on those cognisant of the History of Philosophy and its relation to ruling-class thought (particularly those thought-forms that have been dominant since the Seventeenth Century -- i.e., ideas connected with Bourgeois Individualism), even though the record shows that, as far as Marxists are concerned, they almost invariably have been.



The Conventional 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, and as is demonstrable, revolutionaries have rejected the connection between the conventional nature of language and 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 into 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 this is so will be explained briefly below, and 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 write or say must be guided by the normative conventions that govern discourse if they are to make sense. That is why it is not possible to utter absolutely anything and hope to be understood. Naturally, scientific language will have its own special protocols layered on top over-and-above 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 then whatever lends sense to its empirical propositions must be independent of (and prior to) any truths they supposedly express.23


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


That option is plainly incoherent, for no one could assent to the truth or falsehood of a proposition before they had comprehended it. Indeed, as seems obvious, if they had failed to understand it, they would not then be able to ascertain whether such a proposition was indeed true or whether it was in fact false.24


This, naturally, connects the social nature of language with the earlier discussion of propositions like M1-M9. There, we saw that in the case of ordinary empirical propositions it is possible to understand them before their truth-status is known:


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


As we saw above, the overwhelming majority of English language speakers will understand M6 (of course, providing 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 whether or not they ever find out which of these is the case). Communication would cease if this were not so.


[After all, how would you convey your thoughts to someone if they first of all had to find out if what you said was true before they could understand you? How would they go about doing that if they hadn't a clue what you were telling them?]


In contrast, it was argued that with regard to metaphysical/DM-propositions things were radically different: to understand a proposition like M9 is ipso facto to know it is true. To reject it as false is to fail to "understand" it. These two options hang together.


[Although, as we will see later, things are a little more complicated than this, and these 'complications' are what would prevent communication if ordinary empirical propositions were like M9.]


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


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



Avoiding An Infinite Regress


If the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on truth, or on still other truths (which would themselves have to be expressed in further propositions), they would also have to be understood first before their truth-status was determined. If not, then it would be impossible to ascertain their truth-status (as we saw above). Once again: it is not possible to ascertain the truth of a proposition before it has been comprehended.


Once more, if the sense of an empirical proposition were dependent on knowing further truths, or facts of the matter (or on some form of ontology), this process/hierarchy of dependency could not go on indefinitely. Indeed, there appear to be only two ways that an infinite regress can be avoided:


(1) Language users must have (had programmed?) in their minds/brains a set of truths (possibly rules) not themselves expressed in, or expressible by empirical propositions; that is, they must have direct access to 'non-linguistic' truths or rules -- perhaps written in some form of a 'code' -- which is, paradoxically, not a code, or the above regress would simply begin again.25




(2) The truths upon which the sense of empirical propositions depend must be 'necessary truths' whose own truth cannot thus be questioned, and which must follow from the meaning of the words/concepts they contain/express, and not from still further truths.


Unfortunately, as we will soon see, 'necessary truths' have no sense and are thus incapable of being true or false. That will, of course, rule out option (2).


Anyway, option (2) concedes that meaning precedes truth, for the truth-status of such 'necessarily' true propositions follows from the meanings of their constituent terms. In that case, there would clearly be no good reason to postulate the existence of such 'necessary' truths in order to support the idea that meaning in the end depends on truth, since, as things turn out, this option relies on the fact that meaning is sui generis, and thus that truth is dependent on meaning, after all.


Moreover, with respect to the first alternative, the idea that there could be sets of 'non-linguistic' truths in nature that govern the sense of propositions is manifestly (and, as we will see, often surreptitiously) based on the ancient theory that nature is Mind or Thought, or that it is constituted by one or both. In this particular case, it trades on the additional idea that language is governed by nature's own 'pre-linguistic ideas', or 'laws', and that it is the allegedly intelligent and/or rational universe that lends to human discourse the meaning it has. As will, I hope, seem obvious, this view meshes seamlessly with representationalism, for given this approach we represent meaning to ourselves naturally (or 'lawfully', by means of principles 'programmed' into us by nature/evolution), and this is induced in each of us individually, as if we were bourgeois social atoms. In this way, meaning is a 'natural', not a social phenomenon.


[This idea is explored at more length in Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three.]


In fact, as hinted at above, the same comment could be made about the idea that language is governed by rules that are genetically programmed into the central nervous system. This would, of course, make such 'rules' part of the 'rational structure' of the universe -- and we may accept this idea only if we are prepared to anthropomorphise the brain and see it as intelligent or comprised of 'intelligent' neurons which 'communicate' with one another, and decide for each us what out words mean --, which are thus capable of mirroring 'intelligent' nature. This view would imply that language and/or the rules underlying it are agents themselves, and that in turn would reify and fetishise the products of social interaction (language/words) as if they were the real relation among things (or, indeed, as if they represented the real relation between neurons), or were those things themselves (to paraphrase Marx, again).


[The liberal use of metaphor and neologism in theories that give expression to this most recent ideological inversion (that nature is the agent while we are the patient, when it comes to meaning) rather gives the game away, one feels.]26


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


There are however several serious difficulties with this 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 in fact 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 which does not at the same time avoid anthropomorphising nature, or read into it the very linguistic categories it was supposed to explain.27


Thirdly, if language is a product of a set of causal laws of some sort -- if discourse is fundamentally representational -- then reference to its social nature would be an empty gesture. As noted above, Marxists who have been all too easily seduced into accepting one or other version of the 'robust view' (as a result perhaps of their unwise adherence to concepts derived from DM -- or, indeed, from Chomsky or Quine) have universally failed to appreciate this corollary.28


Finally, but most importantly, another implication of the idea that understanding language is parasitic on truth (at some point) is that if this were so, paradoxically, it could not be so. That is because this way of viewing discourse gets things the wrong way round (i.e., it has once more been inverted): the establishment of the truth-value of a proposition is consequent on its already having been understood. Humans do not first appropriate truths and then proceed to comprehend them. Both communication and representation would be impossible if that were the case.29


On the contrary, as was also noted earlier, if the sense of a proposition were not independent both of its actual truth-value, then plainly the mere fact that a proposition had been understood would entail it was true -- or, it would entail that it was false! Naturally, if that were the case, 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, this would destroy the distinction between empirical and non-empirical propositions, for, on that basis, as soon as anyone understood M6, for example, they would know it was true.


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


In this way, we can see how representationalism requires all indicative sentences to be of the same logical form (whether or not this is immediately apparent). At some point, given that view, all indicative propositions must be, or must depend on necessary truths, which reflect in our minds how things must be, and cannot be thought of as otherwise (i.e., that their opposite is "unthinkable").


And, that is why this view of language, knowledge and 'mind' so naturally fits in with apriorism and with the idea that fundamental truths about nature are accessible to, and can be derived from, thought alone --, which can thus safely be imposed on reality.


Hence, if in the end M6 depends on a necessary truth of some sort (or if it is a disguised necessary truth itself -- that is, in this case, if Blair had no choice, his ownership of TAR was determined by the operation of a necessary law of some sort (a là DM), or by the unfolding of his 'concept' (a là Hegel), or by his implicit predicates (a là Leibniz)), or whatever (a là Calvin), then ultimately its truth could be ascertained without the need to examine any evidence at all. All one would have to do is to comprehend a sentence for it to be true.


[Naturally, that would make falsehood impossible to explain; why that is so is pretty obvious, but it will be elucidated in Essay Three Part Three.]


As now should seem plain, this would imply that scientific knowledge was itself based on some form of LIE, that is, truths about the world would follow from thought/language alone. The 'mind', when it reflects the world, would merely be reflecting itself, in self-development, because, on this view, the world is Mind (or self-developing Mind).


[Which was of course the conclusion Hegel drew. It is revealing therefore to see that the same conclusion follows from the alleged 'inversion' of Hegel, too.]


Apriorism and LIE thus go hand-in-hand.


[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]


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


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) cannot itself be a set of antecedent truths. Neither could it be a set of ex post facto truths (that is, truths established as such at a later stage).


In contrast, since the socially-sanctioned rules governing our use of language are incapable of being either true or false, they are not subject to the above strictures. [This last point will be explained in more detail below.]


These considerations also apply to scientific language if it is to function as a means of communication (and, derivatively, as a means of representation). [On this, see Note 31 and Note 33. (But this will be considered in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two.)]


Hence, whatever it is that lends sense to empirical, scientific propositions, it can't be a set of truths. If the sense of such propositions were dependent on just such a set, scientists would only be able to understand each other after they had learnt those truths. In which case, of course, they couldn't be learnt. Clearly, there are no propositions (by means of which this could be done) that are exempt from the very same constraints.31 32 33


Furthermore, if the sense of an empirical scientific proposition were dependent on certain truths about the world -- so that, for example, the comprehension of that proposition implied it was 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, for in that case to understand a proposition would be to know it was true.34


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


Admittedly, these claims are controversial.35 They appear to imply that science is not based on facts, but on conventions. However, that belief is itself based on a serious misconception. [This topic will be addressed in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]


The above assertions are in fact a consequence of a commitment to the social nature of language. They cannot be negotiated away without seriously undermining that fundamental Marxist insight.36



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 (in M1a) and explain why it is that certain indicative sentences (i.e., in particular metaphysical theses) collapse so readily into non-sense, and some into incoherence.36a


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


As was argued above, this problem is associated with the use of what appear to be empirical sentences to state necessary truths (or falsehoods) about the world, for it is this confusion which distorts fundamental features of language, rendering such sentences non-sensical. Why this is so has not yet been fully explained.


The supposed truth of metaphysical sentences seems to follow from the meaning of the words they contain; because of that traditional theorists claim they are capable of reflecting fundamental features of reality in the 'mind' of anyone who cares to so indulge. In this way, metaphysical theses go hand-in-hand with accepting representational theories of language and thought.


Moreover, as noted above (and as we saw here), this whole way of viewing language and meaning inverts, and then re-locates externally-sanctioned social and interactive practices (i.e., comprehension and communication) so that they now become internalised, private, individual acts of intellection (immediate to 'consciousness', etc.).


On this view, meaning isn't a social product, but the result of processing ideas or 'concepts' in the 'mind', or in the 'faculties of reason' --, reconfigured these days perhaps as part of the operation of "inner speech" (or, more recently, a 'language of thought'). As we have seen, this is a thoroughly bourgeois view of language and meaning, which lies behind an earlier allegation that this area of traditional (and Dialectical-Marxist) Philosophy has not advanced much beyond the ideas of Descartes and Locke.


Alas, DM-theorists who argue along these lines have failed to appreciate how such theories undermine their belief in the social nature of language and meaning, just as they have failed to see that this traditional approach to 'cognition' does not even deliver what had all along been advertised for it.37



Semantic Suicide


To recap: in trying to inform us about matter and motion, Lenin asserted that "motion without matter" was "unthinkable". Unfortunately, the content of this assertion involved him in doing the exact opposite of what he said was impossible; it meant he had to think the very thoughts (or the content) he was trying to rule out as "unthinkable". Hence, he had to entertain this idea in order to rule it out as something that anyone could entertain. This implicated him in a radically non-standard use of language (in this context), which meant that he was unable to say what he imagined he wanted to say. In practice his words implied the opposite of what he thought he had intended.


In fact, this suggests that there wasn't actually anything there for Lenin to have intended to say. That is because it is not possible to say (in one sense of "say") anything meaningful that is in principle incomprehensible, even to the one saying it. While someone might give voice to complete babble, it is not possible for them to mean anything by it (unless, of course, it is part of some code, or it is aimed at simply creating a desired effect, such as eliciting surprise or inducing consternation). One might intend to utter babble, but not intend to mean anything comprehensible by it (if 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 seems to undermine them still further. In which case, it is pertinent to wonder what (if anything) Lenin could possibly have meant by what he said.39


We have already encountered similarly incoherent DM-ideas (for example, in connection with 'dialectical logic', Trotsky's attempt to 'revise' the LOI, Engels's 'analysis' of the allegedly contradictory nature of motion, Lenin's attempt to argue that everything is "self-moving" and "interconnected", and TAR's attempt to spell-out DM-Wholism, among other things). This regular slide into unintelligibility is not just bad luck; it is a direct result of the distortion (and careless use) of language -- among other things, such as viewing theses like M1a as super-empirical propositions informing us of fundamental aspects of 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 be decided upon one way or the other by a confrontation with the evidence). That is why the actual truth-value of, say, M6 (or its contradictory, M6a) does not need to be known before it is understood, but it is also why evidence is relevant to establishing that truth-value as "true" or establishing it as "false".


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


M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution..


All that is required here is some grasp of the same possibility that both of these hold open. M6 and M6a both have the same content, and are both made true or false by the same situation obtaining or not.40


It is also why it is easy to imagine M6 to be true even if it turns out to be false, or false if it is in fact true. In general, comprehension of empirical propositions involves an understanding of the conditions under which they would/could be true or would/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 an empirical proposition by an appeal to the available evidence, since they would in that case know what to look for/expect.


As we saw earlier, these non-negotiable facts about language underpin the understanding of the Marxist emphasis on the social nature of discourse presented in this Essay. This allows interlocutors to exchange information which they can grasp independently of knowing whether what they have been told  is true or whether what they have been told false. As seems obvious, if this were not the case, if they had to know something was true before they could understand it, the entire process would stall, and communication would cease.


These every day truisms about language fly in the face of metaphysical and/or representational theories, which emphasise the opposite: that to understand a proposition is ipso facto to know it is true (or ipso facto to know it is false), by-passing the confirmation/disconfirmation stage (reducing the usual 'truth conditions' to one option only).40a


However, there are other serious problems that this approach to language faces over and above the fact it would make knowledge incommunicable.


[For example, how would the 'contents' of one mind be communicated to another if there was no prior means of communication by means of which this could be done, something representational theories typically undermine (or even deny)? Indeed, how would it be possible for anyone to communicate with anyone else if they could only figure out what their interlocutors had 'meant' after they had ascertained the truth of what they said? More on this in Essay Three Part Two, and Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


Intractable logical problems soon begin to emerge (with regard 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 or falsehood.


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


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


This is because an empirical proposition leaves it open as to whether it is true or whether it is false; that is why its truth-value (true/false) cannot 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 were not so, it would be impossible to ascertain its truth-status -- once again, it is not possible to confirm or confute a supposedly indicative sentence if no one understands what it is saying.


When this is not 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 cannot 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/structural factors, that proposition cannot be empirical -- despite its use of the indicative mood.]


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


Otherwise the actual truth or actual falsehood of such propositions would be world-sensitive, not solely meaning- or concept-dependent. That is, their actual truth or actual falsehood would depend on how the world is, not solely on what their words 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'): their truth-status is based solely on thought, language or meaning, not on evidence.


Of course, it could always be claimed that such 'essentialist' thoughts 'reflect' deeper truths about the world.


But, if thought 'reflects' the world, it would 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, or by comparing it with the world would become an empty gesture.


It could be argued that "essential" truths are different. That option will be examined below.


And yet, if the truth of such a proposition could be ascertained from that proposition or 'thought' itself (i.e., if it were "self-evident"), then plainly the world drops out of the picture, which just means that that 'thought'/proposition cannot be a reflection of the world, whatever else it is.41


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


Consider the following sentence, one 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 be entertained (as we saw). If the truth or the falsehood of M20 can't be entertained by Lenin, then that would imply either that M20 is incomprehensible or that Lenin couldn't understand it. Either way, Lenin would not know what it was he was rejecting. As we will see, that would have a knock-on affect on the status of M1a. [Of course, it could be argued Lenin needn't entertain M20 in the first place. But, as we are about to see, if Lenin (or anyone else for that matter) didn't/couldn't do this, then they would be in no position to assert M1a, or comprehend its alleged content.]


Thus, if the truth of M20 is to be permanently excluded by holding it as necessarily false, then whatever would make it true has to be ruled out conclusively. But, anyone doing that would have to know what M20 rules in so that he/she could comprehend what is ruled out by its rejection as always and necessarily false. And yet, this is precisely what cannot be done if what M20 itself says is permanently ruled out on semantic/conceptual grounds.42


Consequently, if a proposition like M20 is necessarily false this charade (i.e., the permanent exclusion of its truth) cannot take place, since it would be impossible to say (or even to think) what could possibly count as making M20 true so that it could be declared necessarily false. Indeed, Lenin himself had to declare it "unthinkable", so he not only couldn't tell us what would make it false, he couldn't even think these words (in the sense that he couldn't think their supposed content). Hence, because the truth of M20 can't even be conceived, no one, least of all Lenin, is in any position to say what is excluded by its rejection.43


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 was not capable of being thought of as necessarily false! But, according to Lenin, the conditions that would make M20 true cannot even be conceived, so this train of thought cannot be joined at any point. And, if the truth of M20 -- or the conditions under which it would be true -- cannot be conceived, then neither can its falsehood, for we would not then know what was being ruled out.43a


In that case, the negation of M20 can neither be accepted nor rejected by anyone, for no one would know what its content committed them to, so that it could be either countenanced or repudiated. Hence, M20 would lose any sense it had, since it could not under any circumstances be considered true, and hence under any circumstances be considered false.


If we are incapable of thinking the content these words, we certainly cannot think of them as false.


This is in fact just another consequence of the point made earlier that an empirical proposition and its negation have the same content (they express the same possible state of affairs). If one option is ruled out, the other automatically goes out of the window with it, which is what we have now seen happen to Lenin's words.


It is also connected with the non-sensicality of all metaphysical 'propositions', for their negations do not have the same content as the original non-negated 'proposition'. [Why this is so is explained in Note 45a.]


[Incidentally, "proposition" is in 'scare quotes' here, since if it isn't clear what is being proposed, or put forward for consideration, then plainly nothing has yet been proposed or put forward. On vagueness, see here.]


Indeed, because their negations do not picture anything that could be the case in any possible world, they can have no content at all. That, naturally, also automatically empties the content of the original non-negated proposition.


In which case, it isn't possible to isolate one of these options as independent of the other (as metaphysicians try to do). If the content of a proposition and its negation have the same content they stand or fall together (if one or other is declared 'necessarily' the case). Indeed, we have just seen this happen with M1a.


[This means that we have to find another way of explaining the use of such non-sensical propositions. More on that presently.]


As we can now see, the radical misuse of language governing the formation of what look like empirical propositions (like M1a) in fact involves an implicit reference to the sorts of conditions that underlie their normal employment/reception.44


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.


M20a: Motion never occurs without matter.


Hence, when such sentences are entertained, even momentarily, a pretence (often genuine) has to be maintained that they actually mean something, that they are capable of being understood, and thus 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 their further theoretical processing, as was the case with M1a. In that case, a pretence has to be maintained that we understand what might make such propositions true, and their 'negations' false, so that those like M20 can be declared 'necessarily' false, or "unthinkable".


But, this entire exercise is an empty charade, for no content can be given to propositions like M20, and thus to M1a, either -- nor in fact to any metaphysical 'proposition'.45a


With respect to motionless matter, even Lenin had to admit this! Indeed, he it was who told us this 'idea' was "unthinkable".



Metaphysical Fiat -- Dogma on Stilts


There is another odd feature of metaphysical theses is also worth highlighting: since the supposed truth-values of defective sentences like these are plainly not determined by the world, they have to be given a truth-value by fiat. That is, they have to be declared "necessarily true" or rejected as "necessarily false", and this is plainly because their supposed truth-status cannot be derived from the world, with which they cannot now be compared.


Or, more grandiloquently, their opposites have to be pronounced "unthinkable" by a sage-like figure -- a Philosopher, or perhaps a Dialectical Magus of some sort -- a "Great Teacher".


Metaphysical pronouncements like this are as common as dirt in traditional thought -- and, as we can now see, in dialectics, too.


Of course, this 'ceremony' must be performed in abeyance of any evidence (indeed, none need ever be sought. Quite the contrary, in fact; evidence would detract from their pre-eminent status as metaphysical gems and their apodictic certainty. Theses such as these transcend, by mere decree, the usual grubby, materialist details that govern the social practices underlying the determination of the truth-values of ordinary empirical propositions.


James White underlines this frame-of-mind (as exhibited by the German Idealists who invented contemporary dialectics):


"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, this approach to 'philosophical truth' had dominated this ancient discipline since the earliest days, in Ancient Greece, reinforced more recently and more forcefully in the work of early modern rationalists like Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Wolff.


Nevertheless, theses like these had to be set apart, and have their exclusive, semantic pre-eminence bestowed on them as a gift; they cannot be expected -- nor must they be allowed -- to mix with vulgar empirical utterances, covered as the latter are with so much worldly, working-class grime.


Instead of being compared with material reality to ascertain their supposed truth-status, the veracity of such theses was derived solely from, or compared only with, other related theses (or to be more honest, with yet more obscure jargon), as part of a 'terminological gesture' at 'verification'. 'Confirmation' took place only in the head of whichever theorist finally dreamt them up. Their bona fides were thus thoroughly Ideal and 100% bogus.


In the present case, it is impossible (for anyone who agrees with Lenin) to outline the material conditions under which, say, M20 would be true so that they could specify what it was that was being ruled out by the supposedly necessary status of M1a. [For to do so would involve them in thinking the "unthinkable", or its content.] But this just means there are no specifiably material conditions that would make M20 false (or not true). Naturally, if no such conditions can be delineated either way -- specifying under what conditions M20 would be false so that those conditions could be ruled out, allowing M20b to be declared true -- the search for supporting evidence cannot even be conceived, let alone initiated. Which is, of course, what we have found.


M20: Motion sometimes occurs without matter.


M20a: Motion never occurs without matter.


M20b: Motion can never occur without matter.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


Indeed, M20b and M1a (etc.) do not in fact make it that far since they were knobbled in advance, so to speak. Such theses were conceived in and born into an Ideal world (i.e., in the socially-'atomised' brain of the lone thinkers who concocted them, as they sat and 'reflected' on the 'essential' nature of the world -- i.e., on the supposed meaning of a set of distorted words and jargonised expressions). Despite appearances to the contrary, and in spite of the intentions of their inventors, such theses relate to nothing whatsoever in material reality. The conventions of ordinary language prevent them from doing this, as we have also seen.


Since it is not possible to so much as specify what would count as evidence that showed a proposition like M1a was true or that showed it was false, such propositions are thus not materially-based (that is, they aren't sensitive to any state of affairs in the material world. In that case, they can't be used to help understand the world, nor can they assist in changing it. That, of course, helps explain why we found that DM can't be used to propagandise and agitate workers, nor can it be employed in revolutionary upheavals (such as 1917), as we have seen, too.


Instead of reflecting the world, these sentences do the exact opposite. They determine the way the world must be, not the way it happens to be. The conceptually-constructed, jargon-based Ideal world of Traditional Philosophy reflects the distorted language from which it has been derived; it does not reflect the material world. Traditional Philosophers this dictate to the world how it must be, whereas in the search for genuine knowledge, we allow the world to tell us how it actually is.


That is why 'profound truths' can be read from such a priori theses (but not from the material world), since they are in fact used to impose a certain theory on the world, not the other way round. They are 'true' because they reflect the Ideal World of their inventors, not the material world around us. And that is why their actual truth or their actual falsehood was never and could never be decided upon by any sort of comparison with the facts, but has to be bestowed on them by the lone thinkers who dreamt them up.46 The normal cannons that determine when something is true or false (i.e., a thorough search for evidence, like we find in the sciences) have thus to be set aside, and a spurious 'evidential' ceremony substituted for it.47



The Evidential Pantomime -- Mickey Mouse Science Strikes Back


In DM, this bogus ceremony is often carried out after the event -- that is, after such theses had been lifted from Hegel's 'Logic'. DM-theses are then only applied (or rather misapplied) to a narrow range of illustrative examples (as we found, for instance, with Trotsky's 'analysis' of the LOI, Engels's account of motion and his so-call three 'Laws').


This evidential charade has four inter-connected parts.


(1) It is invariably performed in the 'mind' as part of a hasty consideration of the 'concepts' supposedly involved. Thus, instead of being compared with material reality in order to ascertain their truth-values, DM-theses are merely compared with other related doctrines (or more often, they are compared with yet more terminologically-compromised sentences drawn from Hegel) as part of a jargon-riddled gesture at 'verification'. This is no big surprise; such theses are quintessentially Ideal and thoroughly anti-materialist.48


(2) This ritual often takes the form of a series of superficial thought experiments accompanied by an idiosyncratic 'logical' analysis of a few key terms, artificially boosted by a liberal use of modal/quasi-modal terms, such as "must", "inconceivable", "demand", "insist", "unthinkable", and "impossible".


(3) Almost invariably, the application of the majority of hardy DM-perennials is then illustrated by means of a hasty appeal to a few specially-selected (and endlessly repeated) 'supportive' examples -- which are themselves often mis-described.


In Essay Seven, we saw that DM-theorists offer their readers laughably superficial evidence in support of Engels's three 'Laws' -- where, as a result, I branded DM "Mickey Mouse Science". And we can now see why: the supposedly "self-evident" nature of DM-theses means that little or no empirical support is in fact required. Hence, a few trite, specially-selected examples are merely used to illustrate (they certainly can't prove) these theses, which are then retailed year-in, year-out.


Incidentally, this is why DM-fans soon reach for the knee-jerk response, "You don't understand dialectics" to fling at any and all critics. This is because their theory isn't based on evidence, but on a certain 'understanding' of a limited set of words/concepts.


(4) On other occasions, the watery thin 'evidence' used to illustrate (but not prove) their theses turns out to be the result of a superficial attempt made at some form of linguistic/'conceptual' analysis, itself based on what amount to a series of 'persuasive definitions' and vague abstractions.49 More specifically, as we saw in Essay Three Part One, appeals are often made to nominalised predicate expressions, 'surgically enhanced' so that they now 'name' mysterious 'abstractions' -- which transformation only succeeds in turning them into the names of abstract particulars, vitiating the whole exercise by destroying generality.


Whatever the convoluted legerdemain involved here, direct or indirect reference has to be made at some point to the ordinary meaning of the words employed so that specific revisions can then be imposed on them. Unfortunately, since the opening gambit in this charade involves an initial misuse of such terms, the words employed in fact no longer possess their usual connotations, which means that the whole exercise is now doubly pointless.


[For example, DM-theorists en masse liberally use the term "contradiction", but they do not mean it in its ordinary sense, nor yet in its FL-sense. What sense they do mean is the subject of Essay Eight Parts One, Two and Three.]


In fact, no process of revising a word can begin if that word has been distorted already; it is not possible to revise such words if they are no longer being used, and a distorted substitute is employed in their stead, or they have been replaced by a typographically identical copy, which is then used idiosyncratically. [More details here.]


Hence, in such circumstances, what might at first sight appear to be ordinary words (like, "motion", "unthinkable", "opposite", "equal", "place", "quality", "negation", "contradiction", and so on) put in a brief appearance. But these words cannot have the same meaning as their supposed vernacular equivalents because of the extraordinary use to which they are now being put.


This can be seen from the fact that when an actual appeal is made to the usual (and often diverse) meanings these ordinary words already possess (a tactic that has been adopted on numerous occasions at this site --, in detail, for example, here and here), the seemingly obvious nature of every single DM-thesis evaporates faster than a drop of water on a hot plate.


Nevertheless, this is precisely what creates the spurious 'obviousness' and 'self-evidence' of such theses --, which incidentally also accounts for the consternation often created in the minds of DM-fans when they are dissected and then rejected (as they have been in these Essays) -- often prompting the hackneyed "pedantry"/"semantics" 'defence'. The rationale behind, for example, my repudiation of DM is completely puzzling to those transfixed by this Idealist pantomime; how such apparently "self-evident" sentences could fail to be true (or false) thus becomes "unthinkable". Indeed, as noted above, those who object just do not "understand" dialectics.


Naturally, this incredulity is a direct consequence of the fact that the 'truth' or 'falsehood' of such theses has been deliberately built into them by linguistic/conceptual fiat.


And, that is also why DM-fans find it difficult to understand anyone who denies, for instance, that a moving object is in fact in two places at once, and in one place and not in it at the same time -- even though our ordinary use of words associated with motion and location shows that our ideas about such things are far more complex than Hegel, Zeno or DM theorists ever imagine, and which certainly allow for the sorts of movement that make this DM-thesis seriously misguided.50


The novel DM-use of what superficially seem to be ordinary words thus 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' sprout in DM-texts faster than Japanese Knotweed.


[Detailed examples of this process were given in Essay Three Part One, in Essay Four, here and here, and throughout Essays Five and Six.]


This slide in meaning, and into incoherence, also creates the apparent paradox that plagues Lenin's talk about matter and motion, while illustrating why the allegedly unthinkable is both thinkable and unthinkable!


To compound the problem, the paradox-inducing implications (of the sort of distorted language DM-theorists and traditional Philosophers use) are often based on what are claimed to be the real meaning of the words involved. To this end, the many and varied ordinary connotations of such words are brushed aside as 'unscientific', 'un-philosophical', "only valid with certain limits" --, or they are rejected as uninteresting, inessential, plagued by banal "commonsense", "formal thinking", and the like. 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; the real meaning of "matter" implies motion, the real meaning of "contradiction" means this, or that..., and so on.50a


The original ordinary words are then discarded as of limited use, or as defective --, but, as we will see, blame is cast upon them because the vernacular in fact disallows such surreal moves from being made. In that case, according to traditional theorists (and now dialecticians), if ordinary language disallows such moves, it is ordinary language which is to blame, not those moves!51


Ordinary language is thus caught in a philosophical vice, as it were: on the one hand the everyday meaning of words does not sanction the sort of theses metaphysicians try to wring from them, while on the other, these words are deemed inadequate in some way because they appear to generate paradox -- when in reality that condition was created by just such a cavalier, if not Philistine, misuse of them.52


As Glock points 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. Also see here.]


We thus ignore Marx at our peril:


"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.]



The Unavoidable Descent Into Metaphysical Non-Sense


Nevertheless, the necessary exclusion of one of the semantic options available to empirical sentences completely wrecks their capacity to accommodate the working of their non-excluded, twin -- truth in the case of falsehood, and falsehood in the case of truth. For, as we have just seen, if such sentences can only be false, and never true, they can't actually be false. That is because, if an indicative sentence is false, it is not true.53 But, if we cannot say under what circumstances such sentences are true then we certainly cannot say in what way they fall short of this so that they could be untrue, and hence false. Conversely, if they can only be true, the conditions that would make them false are likewise excluded; if we cannot say under what circumstances such sentences are false then we certainly can't say in what way they fall short of this so that they could be true, and hence not false. In which case, their truth (or non-falsehood) similarly falls by the wayside.


Again, this forms part of understanding the sense of a proposition; to grasp this, one has to know under what conditions that proposition would be true or would be false. The two stand or fall together; knowing what would make a proposition true is ipso facto knowing what would make it false, and vice versa. Consider the following:


C1: Barak Obama owns a copy of Das Kapital.


C1: Barak Obama does not 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'd certainly know the state of affairs the obtaining of which would make it true, the absence of which would make it false. The same state of affairs serves in both cases (to make C1 true or to make it false). [If they don't, then they can't be said to understand C1 and/or C2.]


[Any who get hung up on the vague nature of ownership should consult Note 40 and Note 40a. Alternatively, they can substitute the following for C1 and C2:


C1a: The Nile is longer than the Thames.


C2a: The Nile isn't longer than the Thames.]


If this were not the case, that would indicate that C1 and C2 (or C1a and C2a; readers can assume I mean this from now on) had a different content and related to different states of affairs (and, incidentally, that the negative particle adds to the content of C1 to yield C2 -- the significance of that remark will become apparent in Parts Five and Six of Essay Twelve, and Part Four of Essay Three, and below).


In which case, as we will see, asserting C1 would automatically make it true!


That is because, in such an eventuality, if C1 were true, it couldn't be false! That in turn is because the falsehood of C1 is, in such circumstances, expressed by C2. But, if we allow the negative particle to add content to a proposition, C2 must have a different content to C1. So, if true, C1 couldn't be false! But, if it can't be false, it can't be true, either, as we also have seen.


Alternatively, if false, C1 couldn't be true, and that is because, ordinarily if C1 were false, C2 would be true. But, once more, if we allow the negative particle to add content to a proposition, C2 must have a different content to C1. The upshot of this idea is that C1 and C2 are logically independent of one another. The supposed truth or falsehood of the one does not affect the supposed truth or falsehood of the other. This would mean that if it were discovered that, say, C2/C2a were true -- that Obama does not own a copy of Das Kapital, or the Nile is not longer than the Thames -- that would not make C1/C1a false! Conversely, the discovery that C1/C1a was in fact true -- that Obama does own a copy of Das Kapital, or that the Nile is longer than the Thames -- would not mean that C2/C2a was false!


So, contrary to what we'd expect, C1/C1a and C2/C2a aren't therefore contradictories of one another (again, if we allow the negative particle to add content). In that case, anyone asserting C1/C1a would not be contradicted by anyone who asserted C2/C2a. And we can go further: if this were so, no one would bother to assert C2/C2a if they wanted to contradict anyone who asserted C1/C1a. In that case, no one would be able to contradict anyone who asserted any randomly chosen empirical proposition, since, in every case, negation would add content to what we would normally suppose to be its contradictory, thus denying it that very status.


Naturally, this would bring all factual conversation and enquiry to a grinding halt, since no matter what anyone asserted, no one would be able to contradict it. Worse still, no one would be able to challenge any supposed fact discovered by scientists. Whatever a scientist asserted was the case would automatically be the case, since no one would be able to contradict it. And if this became the norm, scientific enquiry would grind to a halt, since whatever anyone asserted would ipso facto be true!


[There are other dire consequences of this view of negation, which will be explored later on in this Essay, and in several other Parts of Essay Twelve.]


Of course, DM-theorists aren't really interested in banal propositions like C1; they are more interested in change and in propositions that express it. In such circumstances, the negative particle does add content -- or, so they would maintain. This is the alleged 'power of negativity', which drives change by adding content. This odd claim will be examined in more detail in Parts Five and Six of Essay Twelve. Suffice it to say that if this were the case, then 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 is not 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.]


And that is because, ex hypothesi, C3 and C4 would, on this view, have a different content. So, as soon as DM-theorists insist that negation adds content, they lose the right to call the propositions that emerge as a result, "contradictories". Of course, they might mean something different by "contradiction", but then, if they do, what is it?


[Alas, as we have seen in Essay Three Parts One, Two and Three, it is in fact impossible to ascertain what they do mean by their odd use of this word. And, as we will see in Parts Five and Six of this Essay, it is no less impossible to decide what, if anything, Hegel meant by his idiosyncratic employment of it, either.]


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 -- and the fact 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) are not just senseless, they are non-sensical. That is, they are incapable of expressing an empirical truth or an empirical falsehood, 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 this feature of empirical propositions. [DM-theorists are thus mere parvenus in this regard.]


This age-old error fooled traditional Philosophers into thinking that the supposed 'necessity' of metaphysical 'propositions' derives from the nature of reality, not from the distorted language on which their theories depend.


Innocent-looking linguistic infelicities like these helped motivate the invention of theses that were regarded as a 'reflection' of the 'essential' features of reality, accessible to thought alone. But, if such 'truths' are based on nothing more than linguistic chicanery, on distortion and misuse, then no evidence could be offered in support -- except that which is based on yet more verbal legerdemain of similar ilk.


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 thus developed not by becoming empirically more refined, or increasingly useful (in relation to, say, technology) -- which is what happens with scientific theory -- but by becoming increasingly labyrinthine, convoluted and baroque, as further incomprehensible layers of jargon were deposited on this ancient, linguistically deformed bedrock.


Hegel's system alone provides ample evidence of that!


Naturally, all 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 and remain empirical.55


So, despite appearances to the contrary, Lenin's appeal to the 'unthinkability' of motion without matter does not in fact say anything at all --, that is, anything that is empirically determinate.



Metaphysical Camouflage


While Mathematics Adds Up...


Considerations like these show that indicative sentences often conceal their logical form, which is why it is unwise to take the superficially similar grammatical forms 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 in fact masquerade as empirical propositions and thus fail to express a sense. And this is a consequence of the logical conditions that ordinary users have set on empirical propositions (by their practice, but not in general by their deliberations). [More about that elsewhere.*]


Even so, not all such sentences are, or need be metaphysical.


For example, consider the following:


M2: Two is a number.


This appears to be unconditionally true. But, its 'negation':


M21: It is not the case that two is a number.


isn't false, it is incomprehensible. Either that, or it isn't about the number two. [On this, see below.]


M21 is not just merely false, if it is taken to be a mathematical and not simply a terminological proposition. [That, it isn't seeking to revise the names used in the number system in question.] But, because it is impossible to specify -- short of trivial examples (on these, also see below) -- what could possibly make M21 true, we are in no position to specify what it is trying to rule out, and hence are in no position to say in what way it falls short of this for it to be false.


Unlike empirical propositions, M2 and M21 do not 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 would be relevant to establishing their truth or their falsehood.


M2 expresses a rule for the use of the number word "two", since it expresses the role this word occupies in our number system. At best, M21 (perhaps) records the rejection of that rule.


To think otherwise (of M21) -- that it expresses a supposed truth, or a supposed falsehood, and isn't in fact a simple terminological revision (which is the trivial case mentioned earlier) -- would be to misidentify the use of the word "two". That would alter the logical syntax of any of the equations in which this word (or its symbol) occurred.


Some might think that M21 is "logically false" (and thus that M2 is "logically true"), but to conclude that would merely attract the sort of questions posed above about "necessarily false" and "necessarily true". If it is not 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").


Consider one such trivial case (i.e., if "two" had another use in English, or a new role was proposed -- call this new word "two*", but, of course, it would not have an asterisk attached to it; I am forced to use one to distinguish these two words): if it isn't possible to specify conditions under which M21 would be "logically true" -- because any attempt to do so would be to misconstrue the use of the word "two" --, then any typographically identical word used in place of "two" (i.e., "two*") won't have been employed to express or instantiate that word's normal use, whatever else it might be doing. Once more, this would merely amount to a simple terminological revision.


M21: It is not the case that two is a number.


Considering now another trivial case -- that is, if in the development of the English language, a different word had been used in place of "two", or the above comments were written in another language -- then not much would change. Suppose, therefore, that in English we used "Schmoo", or a different symbol for "2" (perhaps "ж") in place of "two" (and/or "2"), then M2 and M21 would become:


M2a : Schmoo is a number.


M21a: It is not the case that Schmoo is a number.


But, as noted above, this would simply amount to yet another minor terminological revision. If this word (or the new symbol) were used as we now use "two" (or "2") then nothing substantive would change. [On this, see also Note 60.] The same applies to number words used in other languages.


Others might want to argue that M21 is self-contradictory. In that case, when spelt-out this self-contradiction might be expressed as follows:


M21: It is not the case that two is a number.


M21b: It is not the case that the number two is a number.


Or, perhaps more explicitly:


M21c: The number two is a number and the number two is not a number.


But, as seems plain, the first use of the word "two" in M21c is not the same as the second use of "two" in M21c. 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 is not President of the USA.


M21d is not meant to be of 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 words concerned. In M21d, the first name refers to a different individual from the second. Similarly, in M21c, while the first occurrence of "two" is plainly that of a number word; the second isn't. These two uses of "two" have different denotations, and so the two halves of M21c do not constitute a contradiction. If so, M2 can't be a logical truth.55a


So, M2 would itself only become 'false' if one or more of its constituent words changed their meanings (i.e., the trivial case mentioned above). But even then, M2 would not 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 is rejecting a rule of language, but that would not affect how the rest of us use the rules we now have.]


M2: Two is a number.


M21: It is not the case that two is a number.


Hence, despite appearances, M21 and M2 do not in fact contradict one another. This is because M21 is either incomprehensible, or it is about something else -- the trivial case, once again. In that case, M21 cannot be the negation of M2 (despite the presence of the negative particle, and the typographically similar signs they both contain --, which is of course why the word "negation" was put in 'scare quotes' earlier). Once more, negation here would, at best, amount to the rejection of a rule, or it would be trivial.56


To use a more ordinary analogy: if someone were to say "The strike has been called off", and someone else were to deny this "The strike has not been called off", the second would only be taken to be the negation of the first if the same strike were being referred to in both cases. Or, to take another, if someone said "I have put my wages in the bank today", and her interlocutor said "No you haven't; you spent all day fishing", the first clause would not be taken to contradict the second assertion when it had been ascertained that the original speaker had buried her wages in the river bank while fishing.


Ideas to the contrary may only be sustained by (1) The false belief that M2 actually stands alone as a mathematical unit -- when this is not the case -- or, perhaps, (2) The idea that M2 is a contingent proposition.


But, what makes M2 mathematical is its use (and that of its of its terms) in a system of propositions (connected by historically-conditioned practices), which are/can be inter-linked by means of rule-governed operations, direct or indirect proofs, or inductions, etc. Moreover, M2 is not a contingent proposition (except trivially so -- i.e., in the case where, in the development of the English language, other words or signs could have been employed to advert to what we now call "two", as we saw earlier), but the expression of a rule; it tells us how we use, and are supposed to use, this word/symbol. It locates this word/symbol in an wider system of symbols.


The 'truth' of M2 does not arise from the way it relates (as an isolated unit) to an alleged mathematical fact tucked away in some sort of Platonic heaven (or, indeed, by the way it might relate to an 'abstraction' in someone's head) --, but by the way it features in our use of number words in systems of propositions (connected by proofs), and by the way it is situated in wider material and social practices. [On this, see Note 56.]


That is why, of course, none of us would be able to comprehend an empirical investigation aimed at testing the truth of M2 against reality. In fact, the inappropriateness of an empirical verification of propositions like M2 is connected with their lack of truth conditions.57


Our use of such propositions -- which, as we can see, differs markedly from the way we use empirical propositions -- indicates that they have a radically different logical form. The failure of a proposition like M2 to correspond with anything in reality is revealed by the fact that (barring trivial cases, once more) we would ordinarily fail to understand its 'negation' -- M21. Anyone who asserted M21 would not be making an ordinary sort of factual error, as they would had they uttered: "It is not the case that Tony Blair has resigned as Prime Minister".


M2: Two is a number.


M21: It is not the case that two is a number.


This can be seen, too, by the way that mathematics is learnt: by drill, rote, repetitive calculation, practical application, and the use of various proofs --, but not by experiment, or 'abstraction'. Children are not taught to 'abstract', but to count -- and at some point, the 'penny drops', as it were, and parents and carers find it impossible to stop them if and when they spot the pattern. Hence, understanding mathematical propositions goes hand-in-hand with mastering certain skills, or techniques, or (later) by learning proofs, and in the successful completion of certain operations or tasks.57a


In that case, it would not be possible to declare M2 true because it 'corresponded' to a fact, or false because it did not -- either in reality or in Platonic heaven -- since we can form no idea of what M2 rules out, and hence what it rules in (trivial cases to one side, again). In being 'true' itself, M2 would have to rule out the 'truth' of M21. But the 'truth' of M21 is incomprehensible; (trivial cases to one side, again) it is not possible to say in virtue of what M21 could be true, and hence in virtue of what M21 isn't true. In that case, M2 is not made true by any facts (other than terminological, hence trivial, facts), nor is it true because its alleged contradictory (i.e., M21, is false, as would be the case with an ordinary empirical proposition).


All this is, of course, independent of the fact that it would not be possible to confirm M2 by comparing it with an abstract fact (even if we could make sense of the latter sort of fact, or of the process of comparing a sentence with an 'abstraction'). To understand M2 is to master a technique, or a rule; it isn't to have located a confirming fact/'abstraction'.


In that case, the mere insertion of a negative particle into a sentence does not automatically create the negation of the original sentence (where "the negation" here means "A proposition with the opposite truth-value"), as M21 shows.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 a suitable use of negation, non-empirical indicative sentences may not be so paired. This is, of course, not 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 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.


As has already been noted, M6 can be understood well in advance of its truth-value being known, but that truth-value can't be ascertained on linguistic or logical grounds alone. This 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 the terms they contain, and because of this they are incapable of being empirically true (or false). Any attempt to regard them this way soon collapses into incoherence, as we have seen.


As it turns out, the confusion of rules like this with empirical sentences underlies a historically identifiable failure on the part of theorists to see language as a social phenomenon.59 That is because such an approach tends to view the foundations of language as solely truth-based (i.e., language is thought to be predicated on empirical, or quasi-empirical factors --, such as the "representation" of 'reality', or its "reflection" in the private arena of 'the mind' and/or in 'consciousness') rather than on socially-sanctioned practices and norms. On this (traditional) view, falsehood is merely the erroneous or 'partial' application of, or it is the connection made between the various items that constitute the 'contents of consciousness' (oddly enough, because representations are compared only with other representations, this leaves the world out of account, obviating the whole exercise!). As we will see in Essay Three Part Four, this 'explanation' of the nature of falsehood is not only circular, it, too, is incoherent.


This ancient approach to knowledge thus misconstrues sentences that express social norms (such as M2) as if they were empirical, or Super-empirical, propositions. In that case, normative aspects of language (i.e., rules), which have arisen as a result a lengthy process of social interaction, are misinterpreted as an expression of the real relation between things, or those things themselves. That is, they are misconstrued as 'necessary' truths underpinning reality, or reflecting its "essence". Hence they become Super-empirical theses, in no need of evidential support. It is this traditional segue that exposes the pernicious (but little-recognised) fetishisation of language upon which this form-of-thought is predicated, highlighted throughout this site -- but explained in more detail in Parts Two and Three of Essay Twelve (summary here).


That is why the falsehood of M6, say, is not 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. Moreover, its falsehood does not affect the meaning of any of the terms it contains. That is not so with M2:


M2: Two is a number.


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


M2 cannot be false. Its 'falsehood' would amount to a change of meaning, not of fact. M2 may thus only be accepted or rejected as the expression of a rule of language.60


In fact, the modification of sentences like M2 -- by means of such things as analogy and metaphorical extension -- underlies the many major and minor conceptual revisions that mathematical/scientific concepts regularly undergo (saving, of course, trivial examples, once more).*


In stark contrast, the rejection or modification of propositions like M6 would not 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' mathematical, scientific or empirical uses of language are also connected with factors that make metaphysical/DM-theses seem so certain, and their rejection so completely "unthinkable". Because metaphysical sentences arise out of a spurious and/or distorted use of language -- often they rely on a misconstrual of rules that fix a new meaning, and it is this that generates what appear to be profound 'truths' about 'Being', 'consciousness, or even 'truth', from language alone -- but not from our practical interface with the material world or with one another, their alleged status is resolvable in 'thought' alone. And here lies the origin of the certitude that this approach to language and Metaphysics induces.61


However, comparing now M2 and M9:


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


M2: Two is a number.


At first sight, M9 seems to resemble 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/historical practices upon which it is based constitute and express the meaning of its terms. It is how human beings have used these terms already (in this case, in counting, calculating and proof) that establishes their meaning. The rule (i.e., M2) merely expresses what is an already established practice.62


On the other hand, if M2 were a rule because of a previous, atomistic establishment of the meaning of the terms it contains, then meaning would be independent of use; it would not be based on social factors but on metaphysical principles of dubious provenance (and even more suspect logical status, as we have seen).


Indeed, if that were the case, the meaning of M2's constituent terms would have to be given before they were employed in social practices like counting, calculating and proof, by independent factors based on just such metaphysical principles in a piecemeal, atomistic manner.63


Each word, in sentences like M2 would gain its meaning by 'naming' a 'particular' or a 'universal', or by representing this or that 'abstract' aspect of underlying reality in the heads of their inventors. It would then be the atomised meaning of a term (or its 'inner representation') that would tell each user how it is to be used. This would transform each word (or its inner 'representation') into an agent, and each human being in a linguistic puppet.64


Hence, the atomisation of the meaning of words amounts to a fetishisation of language (why that is so is briefly explained in Note 64); it would make the 'social' interaction of words (or their inner 'representations') the determinant of how human beings use, or are to use, language. This would once more be to invert what actually happens: human agents determine the meaning of the words they use by their social interaction and by their relation to the material world.65


In that case, it is the pattern underlying the linguistic and social contexts which sentences like M2 encapsulate that gives expression to our rule-governed use of such terms, and which constitutes their meaning. This is because this pattern is based on a generality of use -- i.e., the possibility and actuality of norm-governed, open-ended social employment of such words.65a


Hence, when questioned why "2" (or "two") had been used in, say, "2 + 7 = 9" (contingent niggles to one side) all that the one challenged could appeal to would be sentences like M2 and the operational rules of arithmetic. This equation could not and would not be confirmed or justified by comparing it with anything in the world (or with any 'abstractions', 'inner representations', or Ideal Forms in Platonic Heaven).


It might be thought that an attempt could be made to justify "2 + 7 = 9" by counting objects of a certain sort. Certainly an attempt could be made, but it would only work if the parties involved already understood how to use the relevant vocabulary, rules of arithmetic and counting. So, this 'justification;' would in effect be an illustration of the application of rules already understood.


This can be seen from the fact that if someone were to count two objects, then count another seven, but declare that there were in total ten objects, he or she would be deemed to have made a mistake. Manifestly, we use the rules of arithmetic to decide if counting has been done correctly. [They work therefore as criteria in this regard.] We would not even think to revise our rules, or our use of sentences like M2, if they had been 'falsified' in this way. Once more, this response is entirely different from the reaction we would give if M6 were shown to be false. No one would think to revise the application or the meaning of the words in M6 if it were shown to be false.65b


M2: Two is a number.


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


Sentential contexts like these are part of a wider set of propositions that can be used in diverse practices, forming a system of concepts governed by the same (or analogous) patterns. The application of this rule (M2), as part of such a system of rules, reveals what its constituent terms mean, which application in turn is connected with and conditioned by the use of other related concepts, alongside concomitant patterns and practices, too.66


This is how mathematical words gained, and still gain their meaning, as integral parts of systems that have grown in relation to our social development over many centuries. They have not acquired the meaning they now have in a piecemeal fashion; that is, they do not now gain their meaning atomistically before they were contextually/socially employed.66a


Nor does a mathematical proposition gain its sense from the way it corresponds (or fails to correspond) to certain objects or structures hidden away in an ideal Platonic realm, or located in individual heads as 'abstractions'/'representations'.67 This also means that mathematical propositions are not 'true' because they are the result of a process of abstraction (which is fundamentally an atomised and individualised phenomenon); they are 'true' because of the proof systems to which they belong, or to which they contribute (which are themselves also the development of expressions reliant on social/material practices), or because they constitute the practice to which they belong.68


Consequently, two is not a number because of what the word "two" 'meant' on its own before it featured in mathematical propositions, or in counting exercises, and the like.69 In isolation, the sign "2" (or the word "two") means nothing.69a It is just a mark on a page. It gains its life from its use in certain rule-governed, socially-conditioned contexts. Initially, clearly, these were (and still are) situations that occur in everyday life.


More formally, a mathematical context is a system of propositions that has grown up alongside specific social practices. Hence, "two" does not receive its meaning in isolation, as appears to be the case if examples like M2 are read trivially. M2 cannot supply a meaning for "two" 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 a meaningless noise/sign. "Two" gains its meaning from the rule-governed or normative use it has in everyday life -- a role that creates the logical space for number words, and their associated operations, as defined in Arithmetic (etc.) --, but linked now by systems of proof, but not correspondence relations or abstractions. This is underlined by the way we confirm mathematical propositions. We do not subject them to empirical tests or perform experiments on them. Nor do we run brain scans on others to see if they have understood number words, or ascertain if they mean the same as we do. We apply them successfully or not within the systems and practices in which we are socialised to apply them, by means of well-known techniques.70 Hence, M2 is empirically neither true nor false; it simply expresses a normative convention, a rule.71



...Dialectics Does Not


Analogously, it might seem that M9 is true because of what its constituent words mean, but the status of propositions like M9 is more problematic.72 As noted above, it is not the case that M2 fails to be true because of what its words mean; M2 expresses a socially-sanctioned rule whose use expresses and constitutes the meaning of its words -- hence it is incapable of being either true or false. M2 is either useful or it isn't, it is either acceptable or it isn'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.


M2: Two is a number.


But, to DM-fans M9 seems 'necessarily true' -- it is supposed opposite (which would seem to be M9a, or more naturally, M9b or M9c) "unthinkable". This helps explain why any attempt made by DM-critics to question the veracity of sentences like M9 would invariably be rebuffed (by dialecticians) with a claim that sentences like M9 were true because of what words or concepts like "motion" and "matter" really mean, or what the phenomena really are. This can be seen from the fact that if anyone were to deny M9, it would be no use dialecticians asking a sceptic to look harder at the evidence. [In fact, Ancient Greek theorists looked at what they took to be the evidence of their senses -- indeed, everyone's senses -- and concluded that matter was naturally motionless.] All that a dialectician could do in such circumstances is appeal to the words/concepts involved, and then, with Lenin, declare that motion without matter is "unthinkable" -- which is, of course, why Lenin did not say "Motion taking place without matter is false, and here's the evidence". Which is, of course, why dialecticians almost to a man or woman respond to critics with a "You don't understand dialectics", but they never say "You should look at the evidence more carefully".


This hypothetical response (i.e., that dialecticians could only refer doubters to what certain words/concepts 'really' meant or implied) itself depends on an ancient way of viewing language, which seems to view discourse as if it were as system of labels attached to -- or representing singly, as linguistic atoms -- objects and processes in the world (or in an abstract Platonic heaven/Aristotelian concept-space, or even ideas in the 'mind'), but not as a dynamic expression of our communal and life.73


Once more, this helps account for the (proposed) rejoinder added earlier (i.e., "M9 is true because of what its words/concepts mean") could only ever be the last court of appeal for the cornered DM-theorist; there is nothing more that could be said to any sceptic who doubted the 'truth' of such DM-theses. What little evidence there is that 'substantiates' DM-theses would soon prove to be of no help (as we have seen in earlier Essays, especially here); it would be no use a defender of Lenin pointing to more evidence if the meaning of his words is obscure in the extreme.


This linguistic redoubt just gives the game away. DM-theses are amenable to no other sort of defence; evidence is in the end irrelevant. DM-theses are creatures of an idiosyncratic use of language, and as such can only be defended linguistically, or 'conceptually'.74


This means that since dialecticians are social agents, too, their theses are little more that misconstrued or mis-applied social norms (and seriously garbled ones at that). Their theses are not empirical propositions; they are camouflaged rules for the idiosyncratic use of Hegelian/metaphysical jargon, lifted from a tradition that has impressive mystical, and hence ruling-class, credentials.74a


This also helps account for the frequent use of modal expressions in certain formulations of DM-theses (for example, in: "Motion must involve a contradiction", or "Matter without motion is impossible", "Dialectical Logic demands….", "Totality is an insistence...", etc., etc.), accompanied, or not, by an appeal to the alleged definitions of such words/concepts (e.g., "motion is the mode of the existence of matter"). Empirical truths have no need of modal 'strengtheners' of this sort. Indeed, as Lenin noted:


"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.]


And a "law of cognition" needs no help from the grubby, working class world of facts.


Which simply reminds us why DM-theorists are quite happy to impose their ideas on nature.


This is, of course, why the following would never be asserted:


M6a: Tony Blair must own a copy of TAR.


[That is, not unless M6a was itself the conclusion of an inference, such as: "Tony Blair told me he owned a copy, so he must own one", or it was based on a direct observation statement, perhaps (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 M6a would depend on an interface with material reality at some point.]


With M6a-type propositions, it is reality that dictates to us whether what they say is true or false. Our use of such propositions means we are not dictating to nature what it must contain, or what must be true of reality. The exact opposite is the case with metaphysical and dialectical language.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


M9-type sentences purport to tell us what really must be like, and what it must contain. The world has to conform to what certain aspects of language seem to determine for it. M9 propositions can be based on an inference from the evidence, since their is no body of data that can tell us that motion is inseparable form matter or that it is "the mode of the existence of matter".


Nevertheless, despite appearances to the contrary, M9 cannot be true solely in virtue of what its words mean. Normally, the ordinary-looking words that theses like M9 seem to employ gain whatever import they have from the part they play in wider human practices, those that involve their application in everyday material contexts. Divorced from this background, the isolated use of specialised/jargonised expressions in sentences like M9 means that they are like fish out of water, as it were. Even though such words look like ordinary words, their odd use divorces them from the vernacular (rather like the odd use of words like "father" and "son", employed by theologians to describe 'god' and 'Christ', divorce them from every day use).


There are no material systems -- i.e., systems pertaining to material practice or everyday life -- in which the idiosyncratic employment of M9's constituent words has a life (hence, a meaning) other than these novel, isolated contexts. And, as we saw in Essay Nine Part One, such theses play no part even in the day-to-day activity of revolutionaries, nor do they feature in the agitation and propagandisation of the working class.


Indeed, metaphysical 'sound bites' like M9 provide the only semantic and background to the use of such terms. These DM 'nuggets of truth' supply the sole context for the peculiar deployment of 'philosophical' phrases like these, and they do so in non-practical (hence, non-material) surroundings -- quite unlike the mathematical propositions, which they 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 severed. Because DM-jargon is not based on material practices (as was demonstrated in Essay Nine Part One) -- and cannot be used in connection with the working class, or even the day-to-day activity of revolutionaries -- it either has no meaning at all, or the usual meaning of the words DM-fans employ denies sentences like M1a any sense at all -- as we have seen.74a1


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


It is no surprise, therefore, to find that using such terms in sentences like this results in confusion and incomprehension. Nor is it any surprise Lenin's words (or their content) fall apart and decay into incoherence so easily.74b



Metaphysical Gems


Incoherent Non-Sense


However, sentences that express (or try to express) the socially-sanctioned rules governing the use of certain words are invariably misconstrued by DM-theorists (and by other metaphysicians) as if they were genuine empirical propositions, but of a special, more profound sort -- that is, they are regarded as Superscientific truths which are capable of revealing the underlying 'secrets' of nature. Again, as we have seen, this means that such sentences non-sensical, and in so far as they misuse language, they are incoherent non-sense, to boot.75


Admittedly, theses like M9 tend to depend on -- or they have given birth to -- any number of associated 'propositions' from which they have been 'derived', or which help unravel their supposed content. But, as metaphysical 'statements' they stand-alone as essentialist doctrines. That is, they confront us as isolated philosophical theses, as fundamental 'truths': "I think, therefore I am" (the Cogito of Descartes), "To be it be perceived" (Berkeley); "Time is a relation" (paraphrasing Leibniz); "The whole is more than the sum of the parts" (Metaphysical Holists of every stripe), "Every determination is also a negation" (Spinoza), and so on.75a0


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


Philosophical 'gems' like these have traditionally been mined, cleaned and polished into their glittering state by isolated thinkers, who 'discovered' these treasures just below the surface of 'appearances', or of experience, by the exercise of thought alone.75a


But, theses like these were never based on -- nor were they even derived from -- a social and collective employment of words drawn from everyday material practice, otherwise the rest of us would not need to be informed of them.75b


Indeed, if 'philosophical discoveries' like these had ever been based on collective, material practices they would not have struck their inventors (or anyone else, for that matter) as particularly 'profound' truths, unearthed by their valiant efforts alone (aided or not by the metaphysical equivalent of a JCB: Hegel's Logic).


In fact, theses 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 sparkle -- solely from the artificial setting created by their inventors, making a dramatic entrance as "news from nowhere", shafts of metaphysical light, 'cosmic verities' written on tablets of stone.


They thus appear before humanity as if from on high.


And, surprise, surprise: the vast majority of 'highly educated' people fall for this time and again.75c


Nevertheless, these 'metaphysical prophets' (acting like messengers of the gods -- each a latter day Hermes, perhaps) often imagine that the 'real' meanings of the ordinary-looking words their theses employ arise from the novel role bestowed on them by their pioneering efforts in reconstructive linguistic surgery --, creating, in many cases, a novel series names for sets of 'abstract' objects/concepts (etc.), grandiloquently re-christened "Essences".76


The above supposition (that Traditional Theorists deal only with 'real meanings') is further encouraged by the equally erroneous idea that words gain their meaning individually -- as linguistic 'atoms' -- because of the direct and unmediated connection they enjoy with reality, or because of the intimate link these 'concepts' have with the ideas they have lodged in their heads. This helps explain why this 'innovative' use of everyday words is central both to Metaphysics and to DM -- as we have seen in Essay Three Part One, and elsewhere.


Hence, for traditional thinkers, the assumption that names gain their meaning directly and solely from whatever they name seems eminently plausible, just as it seems equally plausible to suppose that language (i.e., real language, philosophical language -- not the woefully defective vernacular) is based on an atomistic naming ritual of some sort, which can pick out the 'Essence' of "Being" by the mere expedient of wishing it were so. Naturally, this trades on the further idea that there are such things as 'Essences', to begin with. This is yet another dogma which is simply assumed, but never shown to be the case.77


This is, of course, one reason why Traditional Philosophers insisted that the meaning words is determined by atomistic criteria (as part of a 'private language', or, these days as a 'language of thought', perhaps.) -- be this the result of an 'inner act' of naming certain Ideas/Categories/Concepts in the 'mind', a 'process of abstraction', a stipulative re-definition, or the "unfolding of a genetically determined program".


It is no accident, either, that this approach not only undermines the idea that language is a social phenomenon, it is based on an explicit (or implicit) class-motivated rejection of the material roots of discourse in everyday practice. Nor is it coincidental that thinkers who are/were demonstrably sympathetic toward wider ruling-class interests invariably favoured this overtly anti-communal 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", just when the working class was entering the sage of history as a political force.79


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


M8: Time is a relation between events.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


Traditionally, the truth of 'solitaire theses' (like those above) is supposed to depend somehow on the meaning of the words they contain. But, the isolated and atomised use of words cannot 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 contexts.81 They do not have a meaning bestowed upon them first, isolated from specific linguistic and 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 in society, on its own as an isolated 'commodity' unconnected with social organisation and collective labour, only to enter the economy afterwards with that unique value already attached to it. Meaning is no more a natural, individualistic property than is value.82


However, ex hypothesi, there are no other contexts in which metaphysical atoms like M1a or M9 can feature (that is, other than to fuel endless academic debate). The fundamental propositions of Metaphysics (such as, M8 or M9) stand alone as isolated nuggets of truth, foundational principles. This means that in such surroundings the constituent words of M9, for example, despite their typographical similarity with ordinary words, are in fact meaningless. That is because they possess no connection with ordinary contexts that are themselves embedded in, or related to, material practices. This is, of course, one reason why M1a, for example, collapses into non-sense.


In a similar vein, Gold is not just valueless in nature, it is incapable of gaining a value by itself and of its own efforts -- or, indeed, by the efforts of a lone prospector/refiner. 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 humans put them in material contexts -- would be to fetishise them, as noted above.


Indeed, this would be tantamount to believing that words (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 this fashion, and those meanings accompanied words (etc.) about the place like shadows, then the idea that language is a social phenomenon would assume an entirely different aspect. In that case, discourse would still be social, but that would be because words (etc.) would be the social beings here -- which would in turn mean that they had passed that very property on to our use of language!83


Hence, the supposition that a word (or, at least, its physical embodiment, its 'inner representation') can dispose a human agent (causally or in any other way)84 to regard it as a repository of its own meaning -- so that inferences can be made from ink marks on the page (or from ideas or '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, this would be to anthropomorphise words (etc.), 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 can't be true in virtue of the meanings of any of its words, for no meaning has yet been given to this idiosyncratic use of language by human beings engaged in any form of material practice.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


If, however, an attempt were made to specify their meaning 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 truth, and thus cease to be a rule.87


Unfortunately, the vast majority of philosophers have overlooked this seemingly insignificant fact.88



Lenin's Rules -- Not OK


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 it with the following:


M23: Liquidity is an inseparable property of water.


M23a: Liquidity is not 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 much stronger claim than M23, and it is clearly connected with M1a (or with M9). We can see this 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: Motion is an inseparable property of matter.


[M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.]


M24 is allegedly always true, its 'truth' clearly connected (at least) with the supposed meaning of words like "motion" and "inseparable", etc.


By asserting M24, Lenin certainly did not mean to suggest that even if we were to try extra hard we would still fail to separate the two words/'concepts' "motion" and "matter" (or what they meant/referred to) -- we can see this from the fact that his own sentence had to separate them to make sense. Lenin was plainly not informing us that while such a separation was a particularly difficult physical/mental task we might still make some attempt to imagine it, but which we will always find we could never quite manage -- like, say, trying to eat an adult Blue Whale in less than an hour.


Lenin was clearly alluding to a connection between matter and motion that was much tighter than that; he was perhaps reminding us of the futility even of 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 king-killer from regicide, for instance.89


Hence, if we were to view M23 as Lenin viewed M24, that would mean that not only could water not be non-liquid, nothing other than water could be liquid, either. It would thus mean that water was not just the only liquid in the universe, but the only one that could exist in the universe -- and that liquidity was the only conceivable form of water.


This is because, for Lenin, motion is not just one of the defining characteristics of matter, nothing that moves could fail to be material. Motion is, as it were, super-glued to matter, and only to matter, and vice versa, according to Lenin. [Lenin says this over and over in MEC; on that see here.] In that case, the same would have to be true with respect to water, if we were to read M23 as we read 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.


Now, the main verb in M24 is clearly in the indicative mood. But, if M24 were an empirical proposition its negation, M24a, should make sense, but for Lenin it doesn't -- indeed, it is "unthinkable" --, unlike the negation  of M23 (i.e.,  M23a). This is because, once again, M24 holds open no truth possibilities (but only one envisaged necessity).


Lenin obviously believed that the falsehood of M24 was impossible even to think. Nevertheless, and once again, the indicative mood of its main verb hides its real nature. Only a consideration of the overall use of this thesis (that is, its role within Lenin's own 'system' of ideas) in the end reveals its actual form -- that is, as a metaphysical proposition, derived not from 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 cannot be false no matter what nature was like. So, its falsehood cannot be based on any conceivable state of the world. As noted earlier, its truth seems to arise from linguistic (or conceptual) features alone, not from reality. This can be seen not just from its putative necessity, but from the way Lenin actually established its veracity -- he simply relied on its supposed self-evidence. He did not even think to support it with any data (or even very much 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


Nevertheless, what could possibly make this set of words necessarily 'true', in Lenin's opinion? 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 universe, and not of some alternative, parallel, or science fiction 'world'.90


Well, whatever it is that succeeds in achieving this must also make the following sentences false:


M18: This particular example of motion is separated 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 that we have think about whatever it is they exclude so that it can be rejected. 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 cannot be done -- even in thought! Unless we could separate in thought motion from matter, we'd have no idea what we were meant to rule out, and thus we'd have no grasp of what we were committing ourselves to (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. If so, in thought, we would have to be able to separate these two 'concepts' -- even if only to declare they were inseparable! M24 would therefore be true if and only if it were false; we could agree with it only on condition that we didn't.


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 it is impossible to state in any comprehensible form. As soon as it is formulated it implies its own truth just in case it is false. M24 would be true if every sentence like M18 and M19 were false. But, the falsehood of M18 and M19 implies that they are thinkably false. But, M1a implies that they (or their content) are unthinkable, tout court. So, if they are "unthinkable", we may not even think that either M18 or M19 could be false. If so, we can't rule out the possibility that one or both might be true -- because we can't even entertain the thought that they could be true, since the words they use are forever beyond the pale. Indeed, we can never use them even to say we cannot use them in this way!


Hence, these sentences are both above reproach and beyond exoneration.


Metaphysics consigns countless 'propositions' like M18 and M19 to linguistic limbo in this and analogous ways. By adopting this approach to 'knowledge', DM-theorists similarly consign their theses to outer darkness.



Metaphysics And Language -- 02


As we have seen several times throughout this site, metaphysical/DM-sentences soon decay into non-sense. They cannot fail to do this. While appearing to mimic empirical sentences they turn out to be radically different, masquerading as ordinary, but more profound, declarative statements. Central to the role they serve as especially deep 'truths' is their distorted use and misapplication of language. In many case, they also turn out to be garbled or mis-stated linguistic rules.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 by our socially- and materially-conditioned use of language, but in a form that makes the 'truths' it seems to uncover appear Super-empirical and 'necessary', unlike ordinary mundane truths associated with everyday practice, or even genuine science. Empirical propositions hold open two possibilities: truth or falsehood. Metaphysical sentences, while purporting to be empirical, close one of these down. 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 here does not draw an a priori limit to the search for knowledge -- it merely reminds us that truths about nature cannot be stated by misusing language. Moreover,  they can't be formulated in a way that makes supporting evidence irrelevant.


Since metaphysical theses do not present genuine empirical possibilities, their repudiation and subsequent eradication cannot adversely affect the scientific investigation of the world, nor interfere with any attempt to change it.


Metaphysical theses do not represent profound, ambitious or risky conjectures that merit our attention or 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 this 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 they hold out. In addition, they misuse ordinary words while pretending to extend, alter or sharpen their meaning. Allegedly providing insight into the "essential" structure of reality, metaphysical and DM-theses attempt to sanction the derivation of 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: they resemble ordinary empirical propositions, pretending to inform us of 'necessary' features of reality. But this only succeeds in concealing the fact that they are thereby reduced to non-sensicality.


As should seem clear, these deflationary conclusions rule out the possibility of any future Metaphysics (including the fourth-rate version called "Materialist Dialectics"): this approach to knowledge thus ceases to be a viable option.


This does not mean that if we were cleverer than we now are, we would be able to ascertain such Super-truths --, or even that a mega-intelligent being in a 'parallel universe' could uncover metaphysical profundities which presently lie beyond our grasp. There is nothing there (which Metaphysics pretends to find) for us to be ignorant of so that we (or anyone else) might go in search of it. The language that metaphysicians/DM-theorists themselves use rules this out as a viable option from the get-go -- it presents us with no viable possibilities, any more than the supposition that there is or might be off-side in chess, or LBW in football/soccer. The search for metaphysical 'truth' is thus analogous to a search for a goal in tennis, or a free kick in snooker. We should therefore treat the search for such 'truths' as we would a proposed expedition to find the Jabberwocky in your back pocket.93a


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 wouldn't depend solely on the meanings of words, but on the way the universe happens to be. This would not, and could not be the case if science were based on Metaphysics -- for, in such an eventuality, scientific truth would be 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





01. Much of the background to this Essay can be found in Wittgenstein's work, usefully outlined in Harrison (1979), and in 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 found in Rorty (1980). I distance myself, however, from Rorty's anti-Realism, his attempt to establish his own 'metaphysics of mind', and his equation of Philosophy with some sort of literary criticism. Rorty defends his view of Wittgenstein in Rorty (2010). On this see Horwich (2010), which is an effective reply to Rorty's article (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 thesis" used throughout this Essay. That done, not much will be altered by such terminological modifications. It is the logical status of such sentences which is important, not what we call them. [More on this below.]


Here are a few relevant quotations from Engels and Lenin about motion and matter. First, 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 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.]


And here 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.]


"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 to thinking." [Engels (1954), p.69. Bold emphasis added.]


Nevertheless, we shall see in Essay Thirteen Part One that even though both of the above dialecticians believe motion and matter are inseparable, Lenin's other defining criteria for materiality do not actually rule out the existence of motionless matter.


Anyway, as these passages show, Lenin characterised matter in a rather odd way: i.e., as that which exists "objectively" outside, and independently of the mind, quoting Engels approvingly 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 depict certain bodies of matter 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 cannot be the mode of the existence of matter, as Lenin and Engels supposed. In which case, it is more appropriate to depict this way of characterising motion as a form of representation and, as such, to regard it as convention-sensitive.


[Anyway, this is apparently a consequence of the principle of equivalence (found in the TOR).]


[TOR = Theory Of Relativity.]


"Form of representation" will be explained more fully Essay Thirteen Part Two; however, this notion 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 one theory meshes with other theories (no pun intended!) and it seems to suggest that physics is an a-historical, non-social discipline). As noted above, I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Two.


Added October 2011: A recent example of the employment of just such a form of representation 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 that seemed to show that a beam of neutrinos had exceeded the speed of light. Here's how the New Scientist handled the story (the relevant parts of various forms of representation being used here 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 to the conventions adopted at this site. Some links added, too. Also see the 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, like the square or the triangular mesh to which Wittgenstein alluded above, to make sense of and interpret experimental evidence -- even if the latter might seem to refute accepted theory -- so that it no longer appears to contradict it. This approach also sanctions certain inferences as 'legitimate', others as 'illegitimate'/'suspect'. In this way, too, scientists police their own discipline (aka "peer review").


[QM = Quantum Mechanics.]


As the article above suggests, Thomas Kuhn's "paradigms" are a close match to what Wittgenstein meant (which notion has been more thoroughly worked out, too; on this, see Sharrock and Reid (2002)). At most, therefore, the physicists mentioned above are simply 'tweaking the mesh', as it were.


[As we now know, a series of errors were 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 'found out' -- into new and/or other theories in order to make sense of them, so that this anomalous data (as opposed to the accepted theory) remained 'valid'. (The significance of that observation will become apparent in Essay Thirteen Part Two.)]


This topic is also connected with Wittgenstein's comments on "criteria" and "symptoms". [On that, see here.] Cf., also, Glock (1996), pp.129-35.


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 that is true only as a matter of theory (no pun intended) -- there is no conceivable way that this supposedly universal truth can be confirmed throughout nature, and for all of time. In that case, it has to be read into nature, or imposed on it metaphysically (or, indeed, perhaps also used as a "form of representation").


But, even if it could be confirmed, the depiction of motion as the "mode" of the existence of matter (rather than as a well-confirmed feature of matter) would still depend on space being Absolute. There is no conceivable observation, or body of observations, that could confirm the supposed fact that motion is the "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, but, even if such particles are 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, 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, such motion is still reference-fame sensitive and hence it can't be the "mode" of the existence of matter, otherwise this wouldn't be the case.


It would seem, therefore, that Lenin and Engels need space to be Absolute if their claim that motion is the "mode" of the existence of matter is to stand.


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 to the conventions adopted at this site. Italic emphasis in the original.]


Given the above description, it could be argued that DM is not the least bit metaphysical.


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 this is not really so; even in DM, some things stay the same until or unless a sufficient quantitative change induces a commensurate qualitative change in it -- namely, and at least including, all those "essences" that Hegel borrowed from Aristotle, which Engels also unwisely appropriated from one of both of them -- just as some things are 'relatively stable' (whatever that means!).


In fact, Engels's view of Metaphysics is simply a crude version of Hegel's. 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.]


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 -- meaning that even he had to apply/assume the LEM to make his point!


[LEM = Law Of Excluded Middle.]


Of course, it could be argued that the above observations are not "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 about the fundamental nature of things. Indeed, even Hegel's conclusions about the content of any metaphysical 'judgement' (i.e., that it says this, but not that) would require the (implicit or explicit) use of the LEM. And 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 have. Naturally, this would imply that Hegel's thought (and that of anyone who agrees with him) -- i.e., that Hegel said this, but not that -- is as metaphysical as anything Parmenides or Plato said.


That is, if we are foolish enough to rely on Hegel to tell us what Metaphysics is!


The conventions of ordinary language (partially codified in the LEM, in this case) are not so easily side-stepped, even by a thinker of "genius".


Nevertheless, Hegel's ideas are plainly the source of Engels's own confusion (although, oddly enough, what Hegel had to say about Metaphysics in the Preface to The Science of Logic (i.e., Hegel (1999), pp.25-29) agrees with much of what is said about it in this Essay!), just as they are the source of the slippery reasoning one encounters time and again in 'dialectical thought'; that is, the kind of thought that 'allows' dialecticians to ignore the contradictions and equivocations in their own theory while pointing fingers at others for the very same alleged misdemeanours. [More on that here and here.]


However, Cornforth (1950) contains two main arguments which were aimed at countering the standard view of Metaphysics outlined 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). 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 those of all modern (non-Communist) Philosophers. This allows him to reject their interpretation of this word as if it were held by each and every one of them!


First of all, even when Cornforth was writing (1950), only a minority of Philosophers 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 presented here, 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 they would also, as Positivists, accept the traditional view of Metaphysics, traced back to Aristotle, not Locke. Cornforth just asserts the claim that these Philosophers could trace their understanding of this word back to Locke, but he provides us with no evidence whatsoever that they did -- not even one citation! Anyone who reads the work of the Positivists, or even the Logical Positivists, will see that they are not 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), which is representative of the simplistic wing of Logical Positivism; a more substantial version can be found in, say, Carnap (1950). [See also Carnap (1931).]


More reliable accounts of this area of Analytic Philosophy can be found in, for example: Copleston (2003b), Friedman (1999), Hacker (2000c), Hanfling (1981), Misak (1995), and Passmore (1966). See also Conant (2001).


[I'd recommend Soames (2003a, 2003b), but it is unreliable both on Wittgenstein and Ordinary Language Philosophy. On that, see Hacker (2006); this links to a PDF.]


(2) Cornforth then argues:


"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 to 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 material reality is paramount (for instance, in Chemistry, Geology, much of Biology, most of Physics -- and, of course, Technology). [Why this is so will discussed in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]


Even so, Cornforth's argument still depends on his 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 "the mode of the existence of matter" -- or, indeed, about the "essence of Being" ("Thing-in-Itself"), the "interpenetration of opposites", the "negation of the negation", and so on. These 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 does not mean there is no difference between the two. There is a difference between night and day even though the boundary between the two 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 his adoption of the characterisation found in Hegel and Engels (pp.95-98) -- although, oddly enough, Cornforth does not mention from whom Engels pinched this notion. But, it is quite clear that all three had to change the meaning of "Metaphysics" to make this fanciful story even seem to work, and in order to distinguish Metaphysics from DM (pp.98-101).


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 to the conventions adopted at this site. Links added. I have used the on-line version here, but have corrected any typos I found (when compared to the published work).]


As seems clear from the above, Marx doesn't appear to agree with Engels over the nature of Metaphysics, plainly connecting it with "dialectics" (albeit the 'dialectical method' Proudhon extracted from Hegel's work.]


Be this as it may, I do not 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 here, 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."


This is a description of Metaphysics found in Wikipedia, which I think is 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.]


Even so, whatever this age-old 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 manner.


Here is how the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy characterises this term:


"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. 'Being as such' (and existence as such, if existence is something other than being), for example, is one of the matters that belong to metaphysics on any conception of metaphysics. Thus, the following statements 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]." [Quoted from here. Links added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


And, 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 understanding 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.]


DM-theorists also ask and attempt to answer similar questions, 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 theses about reality from a handful of jargonised expressions, which theses are then imposed on nature, and held true 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 the present Essay! (See also Essay Three Part One.)]


As far as the attempt to define Metaphysics as the study of things that do not change, this is what the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy has 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." [Quoted from here. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.


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 like this.


The deflationary approach to Metaphysics adopted at this site is explained in more detail in Baker (2004b), and Rorty (1980) -- however, concerning Rorty's work, readers should note the caveats I have added here.


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, 'around the edges', as it were; for example, a handful to be found in Ayer (2001), pp.1-29.


Even so, the differences between my ideas and those of the 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, in this Essay. Moreover, and by way of contrast, I begin with how we ordinarily receive empirical/factual propositions, and I use a term Wittgenstein introduced, "sense", to capture it. This approach shows the LP-ers in fact 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 proposition, we wouldn't be able to verify or falsify it, or, indeed, know whether or not it was capable of being verified or falsified. Indeed, how could anyone verify a proposition they hadn't already comprehended? 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.]


So, verification can't be fundamental, or even significant in connection with our ordinary use of meaningful language; the latter is far more complex. Hence, even though The Verification Principle has now been 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 revealed the many occasions where modal terminology was used by DM-theorists in place of more tentative or reasonable summaries of the available evidence.


Here are a few such quotations from 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 added; italic emphases in the original.]


"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.]


"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), pp.65-68. Bold emphases added.]


Many more passages like these can be found in Essay Two.


3. Plainly, this list is not meant to be an exhaustive compendium of such sentences; the examples given were chosen to make a particular point about the connection between metaphysical sentences and what look like ordinary empirical propositions.


As Glock puts 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, as we will see, 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 can.


4. Or, on specific definitions (such as "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter"), and thus solely on the meaning of certain words.


It could be objected that to acknowledge, say, M9, as true does in fact involve some input from the material world.


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 exist in the physical world to be able to assert things like M9, even if only to be taught what the relevant words mean. But, as we will see later, even though ordinary-looking words are used in such sentences, they (or rather these novel expressions, or these terms used in radically new ways) can't form part of the vocabulary that features in the vernacular, as Glock pointed out above.


Notwithstanding this, the fact remains that, unlike M6, it isn't possible to establish the truth-status of M9 by comparing it with reality.


In response, it could be pointed out that M9 is general whereas M6 is particular.


That is undeniable, but not relevant. Consider another general, but no less empirical proposition:


E1: All badgers living within a five mile radius of the centre of Luton on July 25th 2012 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 investigated promptly, with enough resources devoted to the task -- although it might prove easier to falsify), observation alone would be accepted as relevant to that end. Understanding E1 in fact tells us what to look for, what will confirm it, even if we never succeed in doing so, or have no desire to do so.


This is not so with M9.


Finally, it could be objected that M9 (and M1a) are in fact summaries of the evidence we possess to date. 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.


[But, see also Note 5 and Note 5a, below.]


5. As should seem obvious, M9 is on this list not just because of its connection with M1a and with other DM-theses, but because dialecticians appear to regard it 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 then keep them moving) was uncontroversial. Indeed, this 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. Of course, that innovation was itself motivated by NeoPlatonic and Hermetic current in Europe at the time, and wasn't based on observation.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


[References supporting these assertions can be found here. The original idea that matter is self-moving can be found in Plato; on that see here.]


We have also seen -- here and here -- that the thesis that matter is self-moving would in fact undo much of Newtonian mechanics, and was itself based on the ancient idea that nature is in effect a huge, 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 otherwise.


Indeed, as noted above, if a suitable reference frame is chosen, a moving body can be regarded as stationary. Thus, not only is matter without motion 'thinkable', most people who have thought about this topic have found little difficulty in so thinking; in fact, the idea is now theoretically respectable. Anyone who doubts this should check this and this out, and doubt no more.


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.


Hence, it is possible to understand M6 without knowing which of the following is in fact the case:


M6a: Tony Blair owns a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.


M6b: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.


On the other hand, if neither were the case (whether we knew this or not), or could be the case, M6 would fail to be a proposition. [In that eventuality, what precisely would M6 be proposing, or putting forward for consideration?]


Of course, to those of a 'dialectical' frame of mind, the above application of the LEM is anathema, and a sure sign of 'formal thinking' (i.e., the implication that M6a is either true or false is anathema). In response, it is worth pointing out that this clichéd 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, an example of 'formal thought' is either an example of 'formal thought', or it isn't -- it can't be both. A 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 in order to do so, rendering that attack 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 this, too, is either unclear or it isn't, and we are back where we started.]


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:


A1: "It is possible to understand every word of M6 without knowing whether it is true or false",




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 part of the rules we have for the application of words like "empirical" and "factual" that an empirical proposition can only assume one of two truth-values (true or false) -- in other words, such propositions are "bivalent", they have a true-false polarity --, but it isn't part of those rules that we must know whether such a proposition is true or know whether such a proposition is false. All we need know is that it is one or the other, but not both.


If this weren't so, then 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 a proposition to begin with.


[On Hegel's 'apparent rejection' of the LEM, or his attempt to criticise it, see here. Even so, the limitations of this 'Law' lie elsewhere; on that, cf., Peter Geach's article 'The Law of the Excluded Middle', in Geach (1972a), pp.74-87.]


5a. Some might object that DM-theorists do in fact supply evidence to support this thesis. [Often they appeal to the 'whole of science' and/or 'human experience' in general in support. Molyneux (2012), quoted below, is just the latest example of DM-hand-waving of this sort.]


However, this doctrine follows from the idea that motion is the "mode of the existence of matter", hence, for dialecticians these two 'concepts' can no more be separated than, say, the words "number" and "six" or "nine" can.


"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.]


While evidence can and has been be used to show that matter moves, no amount of evidence can show that motion is the "mode of the existence of matter", or that motion without matter is "unthinkable" --, that is, that matter cannot exist unless it is moving in some way, or that we can't even think about it in this way.


And that is what makes this evidential charade the fraud it is. What little evidence DM-theorists bother to scrape together is used solely illustratively; i.e., it is used not to establish the truth of a thesis, merely to make it seem clearer, more plausible, or perhaps even more 'scientific' -- to novices. [We saw that this was the case in Essay Seven, where this approach to knowledge was labelled "Mickey Mouse Science".] And that observation is itself confirmed by the fact that this particular thesis is based on ideas derived from Hegel, who arrived at his conclusions before too much evidence was available.


Of course, they were ultimately derived from Heraclitus, who advanced such claims before there was hardly 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 twice!


And Heraclitus screwed even that up! [On this, see Essay Six.]


All DM-theses possess impressive a priori and dogmatic credentials like this, so it is little use dialecticians pretending that this doctrine was originally motivated by evidence, or even a summary of the evidence. [More on that here, in the next few Parts of Essay Twelve (when they are published), and in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).]


5b. In fact, it is hard to imagine any experiments that could be carried out to confirm such hyper-bold theses. Because they are derived from thought/language alone, they reflect their inventor's determination to use words in certain, idiosyncratic ways. They then assume the role of rules that are used to interpret experience (as forms of representation, albeit incoherent forms, as we will see), and thus they are used to dictate to nature how it must be and how it must operate. And that is why they seem so 'self-evident' to their inventors, why so many modal terms are used in their connection, why no experiments are needed, and why none are carried out -- or even suggested. After all, has a single DM-theorist ever even so much as proposed a method for testing -- let alone actually testing -- the veracity of the vast majority of DM-theses? Why test what appear to be patent truths?


What test could be proposed for checking whether motion was the 'mode of existence of matter'? Or, whether all change was the result of 'internal contradictions'? Or, whether everything in the entire universe is interconnected? Or, even whether Being is different from but at the same time identical with Nothing, the contradiction resolved in Becoming?


Unfortunately for dialecticians, this immediately divorces such 'truths' from a materialist account of nature and society. If, however, the 'truth' (or the 'falsehood') of theses like these is dependent on thought alone, how could they be anything other than Ideal?


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.]


Worse still: if these are indeed non-materialist theses, how can they be used to help change the world?


Well, as we saw in Essay Nine Part Two, this is not strictly true; they can be so used -- but only negatively, or in ways that benefit the ruling-class, heaping ordure and confusion on Marxism.


Small wonder, then, that DM-theses have presided over 150 years of almost total failure. [More on this 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.


To be sure, some of these pronouncements are 'supported' by a series of long (or short) arguments, which have in turn helped 'derive' them from other a priori theses, 'self-evident truths', assorted 'thought experiments, and/or stipulative definitions, however, their 'veracity' is not based on evidence but on what their constituent words/concepts (and those of any supporting theses) seem to mean. They are held to be universally and/or conceptually true, and are thus in no need of evidential support.


[The significance of these comments will be explored as this Essay unfolds.]


6a. Again, it could be objected that Lenin wrote a whole section of MEC supporting this claim of his. Hence, the allegations advanced in this Essay are entirely baseless.


Or, so it could be claimed.


Unfortunately, Lenin devoted most of the aforementioned section 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 the above objection!).


However, in order to consider every conceivable avenue open to DM-fans to defend Lenin (and then block them), it is important to see whether or not his arguments hold together even in their own terms.


Lenin's opening point in MEC (I am ignoring the preamble on pp.318-19, since it seems to add nothing substantial) is this:


"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." [Lenin (1972), pp.319-20. In the above, and in what follows, the quotation marks have been altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


As we will see in Essay Thirteen Part One, Lenin's main tactic when confronting ideas he does not like is to caricature them --, the above being just another example. "The entire world is his sensation"?! I can think of no Idealist of note who has ever argued this. Even so, the force of Lenin's argument depends on his running-together two senses of "move". This allows him to insinuate that any Idealist who claims that "the world is motion" must somehow be contradicting herself, since her thoughts (and hence her world, presumably)  "move". Now, even if we allow Lenin to get away with this conflation, how this shows that "motion without matter is unthinkable" is still far from clear.


It could be argued in defence of Lenin that for an idealist, even thinking about matter involves motion, namely the motion of their own thoughts. In that case, motion without matter is indeed unthinkable. But, and once again, even if we accept Lenin's equivocation between these two senses of "move", he in fact declared that:


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


In that case, if an Idealist thinks of something non-material (such as 'god'), and his/her thought 'moves' in order to do this, then motion without matter is thinkable after all! [Whether 'God' is material or not will be discussed in Essay Thirteen Part One, but it is difficult to think of a single DM-fan who would want to argue that 'He' is!] Moreover, a consistent Idealist (of the sort Lenin is caricaturing) would conclude that while her ideas might move this does not implicate the motion of matter, since she denies there is such a thing as matter.


Nevertheless, what devastating dialectical argument does Lenin deploy in order to cast even this straw doctrine into oblivion? Wonder no more:


"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." [Ibid., pp.320-21. Emphases in the original.]


This passage more than most reveals Lenin's philosophical naivety, if not incompetence -- this will be discussed in detail in Essay Thirteen Part One. However, for present purposes, we need only note that all that the above 'argument' demonstrates is that Lenin based his own claims on the fact that he had certain 'images' of something-or-other, and that the latter must therefore exist. This he supported with a dubious claim that whatever is reflected in the mind must exist in the external world (see below).


But, even if we are recklessly charitable, the very most that this 'argument' could conceivably establish is that Lenin's images correspond to his own image of reality, since all he has are images of reality with which to compare his images! He has no way of comparing his images with anything which is not also an image. How could he jump 'out of his own head' to access the world 'directly' in order to do this?


An appeal to practice here would be to no avail either, since, if Lenin were right, all he has are images of practice!


[I hasten to add that this does not imply that I doubt the existence of the external world! But, anyone who agrees with Lenin can only appeal to faith in support of their belief in material reality -- in which case, they are no better off than Bogdanov and the others Lenin was criticising in MEC, the "Fideists", as he called them. As noted above, I have gone into this in much more detail in Essay Thirteen Part One.]


Nevertheless, at most, all the above passage shows is that materialists (according to Lenin's definition of them) have a different view of reality from Idealists, not that Idealists cannot think about motion. Indeed, he all but admits that they can do this:


"And this always happens with people who wish, for 'economy's sake,' to conceive of motion without matter...." [Ibid.]


"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?" [Ibid., p.319. Bold emphasis added.]


"What is essential is that the attempt to think of motion without matter smuggles in thought divorced from matter -- and that is philosophical idealism." [Ibid., p.321.]


He does, however, lay this rather odd argument on us:


"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it. Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]


This is even clearer:


"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279. Bold emphasis added.]


[Nevertheless, how Lenin knew that this maxim was true for other minds (which can't actually be minds, since they exist outside his mind, which, by his own criterion, means they must be material!) he kept to himself.]


Now, the inference that images imply the existence of the thing imaged is manifestly unsound. If this were the case, we would have to start believing in the real existence of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, for example. [On this, see below, here, and the extended discussion here.]


But, even if Lenin were right, how does any of this show that motion without matter is inconceivable/unthinkable? Indeed, not only is motion without matter conceivable, it is actual. Several examples of this everyday phenomenon will be given later on in this Essay.


Again, at the very best, the most that this argument is capable of establishing is that the idea of motion and the idea of matter are inseparable, or that the idea of motion without the idea of matter is unthinkable (but, only for 'materialists' defined in Lenin's rather odd way). Lenin has no way of breaking out of this Idealist circle.


However, Lenin has another argument up the image of his sleeve. After a detour that took him into a consideration of Bogdanov's ideas, he declared:


"Ostwald's answer, which so pleased Bogdanov in 1899, is plain sophistry. Must our judgments necessarily consist of electrons and ether? -- one might retort to Ostwald. As a matter of fact, the mental elimination from 'nature' of matter as the 'subject' only implies the tacit admission into philosophy of thought as the 'subject' (i.e., as the primary, the starting point, independent of matter). Not the subject, but the objective source of sensation is eliminated, and sensation becomes the 'subject,' i.e., philosophy becomes Berkeleian, no matter in what trappings the word 'sensation' is afterwards decked. Ostwald endeavoured to avoid this inevitable philosophical alternative (materialism or idealism) by an indefinite use of the word 'energy,' but this very endeavour only once again goes to prove the futility of such artifices. 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? And this question proved fatal to the 'energeticist' philosophy, that attempt [sic] to disguise old epistemological errors by a 'new' terminology." [Ibid., p.324.]


This amounts to arguing against the energeticist (i.e., someone who claims that matter does not exist, or that matter is simply energy) that he/she has merely:


"shifted the difficulty from the subject to the predicate, you have only changed the question, does matter move? into the question, is energy material?" [Ibid.]


Well, if Lenin's words alone were sufficient, they would be enough to settle the issue. Unfortunately, they aren't. So, what argument does he offer in support of his idiosyncratic 'translation' of "Does matter move?" into "Is energy material?" Apparently none at all -- or, none other than the following idiosyncratic re-definition of "matter" (which he repeats endlessly throughout MEC, without once trying to justify it):


"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." [Ibid., p.320.]


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


So, Lenin's only justification seems to be that to deny or eject what he says is to brand oneself an Idealist. However, since Lenin failed to show that his own ideas (about reality reflected in the mind, etc.) do not collapse into Idealism themselves, this is no help at all.


Exactly how Lenin's ideas collapse into Idealism will be examined at length in Essay Thirteen Part One, but the argument will revolve around his only apparent argument for the existence of the external world (which we examined briefly above): that an image implies the existence of the thing imaged!


"Our sensation, our consciousness is only an image of the external world, and it is obvious that an image cannot exist without the thing imagined, and that the latter exists independently of that which images it. Materialism deliberately makes the 'naïve' belief of mankind the foundation of its theory of knowledge." [Ibid., p.69. Bold emphasis added.]


"The image inevitably and of necessity implies the objective reality of that which it 'images.'" [Ibid., p.279.]


But, as pointed out earlier, all that Lenin had to go on here was his own image of a mirror -- assuming that this is what lay behind his use of this ancient Hermetic metaphor. This is his only guide in the use of that figure of speech (i.e., the trope concerning 'reflection'). Hence, the very most this argument could establish is that images reflect other images!


Now, it could be argued that mirrors actually reflect the images of objects, or they reflect objects themselves. This is undeniable; but it can only be maintained by those who reject Lenin's hopeless epistemology. That is because Lenin has yet to show that there are real mirrors, as opposed to the images of mirrors. Or that these images of mirrors reflect objects as opposed to the images of images of 'objects'. His version of the traditional representative theory of knowledge, wherein we represent the world to ourselves (as 'ideas', 'concepts' or even 'images') in our heads, undercuts all talk of an 'objective' world independent of our knowledge of it, as was abundantly clear to 18th century Idealists (like Berkeley). Now Lenin, or his apologists, might try to belittle, deny or repudiate that response, as well as kick up an image of a cloud of dust (by the use of repetitive bluster) to hide the fact that this image of his argument does not work, but, to all but true believers (or their images), it is plain that his 'theory' would transform the world into a set of images (and images of images...).


And, as we will see below, it is no use Lenin, or one of his epigones, appealing to the 'commonsense' ideas of ordinary folk to bail him out.


Indeed, to address Lenin's actual inference: images do not in fact imply the existence of anything, since they are 'uninterpreted inner objects of cognition' (to use traditional jargon just for now). And an act of interpretation (i.e., one that re-configures such objects as the images of this, or of that) would have nothing but other images (interpreted or not) to assist it to that end. [And, as we will see in Essay Ten, practice cannot turn an image into something it is not.]


Still less is it any use arguing that the human race would not have survived had their images of the world not corresponded with that world, since all Lenin (and his supporters) have in their heads are images of humanity surviving. He/they have yet to show that their images of humanity actually doing anything in fact correspond with anything outside (an image of) their heads/brains. Whatever evidence they produce will just be another set of images, given this defective epistemology and even more ridiculous starting point.


In addition, we have already seen that Lenin's approach to knowledge implies extreme scepticism. Hence, far from beginning with the "naive beliefs" of ordinary folk, his theory in fact obliterates them!


The rest of Lenin's 'argument' in this section of MEC adds little to the above (as will become apparent in Essay Thirteen Part One); in that case, Lenin failed to demonstrate by argument or evidence that motion without matter is "unthinkable".


7. Of course, it is worth adding here that metaphysical beliefs are not set in concrete; they change and develop in accord with the rise and fall of each Mode of Production, and in line with the ideological imperatives of each ruling elite -- or, indeed, that of their "prize fighters" (to quote Marx). [On this, see Shaw (1989).]


To be sure, the very first Greek Philosophers didn't use the word "metaphysics"; this term was introduced much later, by Aristotle. Nevertheless, the various world-views on which Super-knowledge like this feeds certainly dates back (in the 'West') at least to Anaximander and Anaximenes. In the 'East', of course, it stretches even further back. [More on this in Note I above, and in Parts Two and Three of this Essay.]


8. Indeed, these days 'necessary truths' are defined extensionally, that is, they are counted as true in every possible world. [Kirkham (1992).] That odd idea will be examined elsewhere.*


However, this is not to suggest that all metaphysicians attached such modal qualifications to the word "truth" -- certainly not in pre-Leibnizian times. Hence, the use of the phrase "necessary truth" in these Essays (in order to highlight the confusion that is alleged to exist between necessary and contingent truths) is merely a handy way of underlining a common thread running through the entire history of Metaphysics.


Clearly, some sensitivity needs to be shown when analysing the metaphysical ideas of thinkers who wrote before this phrase entered philosophical currency. Having said that, it is the use to which a theorist puts his/her ideas that is important. If that use is no different from the employment of genuinely necessary truths (as they have been conceived more recently), no serious distortion of the original ideas need result.


On this, see the extended comments in "Grammar and Necessity", in Baker and Hacker (1988), pp.263-347. Much of what these two authors say is consistent with the view adopted at this site (but their book should be read in the light of other references given below, particularly the work of David Bloor and Martin Kusch). Nevertheless, it greatly extends and amplifies the comments on this topic made in this Essay.


9. The ease with which all metaphysicians perform this trick (deriving necessary truths from a handful of words) isn't the only clue we have as to the real nature of the hyper-bold theses Traditional Theorists conjure out of less than thin air. A detailed consideration of different interpretations of the words used -- coupled with a demonstration that there are other ways of viewing such phrases, which are equally, if not more, plausible -- would show that metaphysical theses depend on little other than a grim determination to use language in odd ways.


Hence, it is possible to show that these 'Super-truths' decay into incoherence because (1) They undermine key semantic features of discourse, and (2) They are based on a highly specialised, severely limited, seriously distorted and implausible use of language. In which case, they can't be reflections of the 'necessary' or 'essential' features of this world (or any world). Far from depicting the 'logical or essential form of the world', they either express or depend on identifiable ruling-class assumptions about the sort of universe which is conducive to the maintenance of their power and the contemporaneous relations of exploitation, or they reflect their inventor's determination to use language idiosyncratically.


These contentions will be substantiated in the next two Parts of Essay Twelve; the other allegations will be substantiated in the rest of that Essay.


It could be argued that the philosophical language is legitimate in itself, and should not be beholden to ordinary usage.


In response, the reader is referred back to Glock's comments above, as well as these (even though the following passage is largely concerned with the analogy Cognitive Scientists draw with computers in order to model human psychological attributes/processes, they still apply to this point in general):


"As to the widespread disparagement of attempts to resolve philosophical problems by way of appeals to 'what we would ordinarily say', we would proffer the following comment. It often appears that those who engage in such disparaging nonetheless themselves often do what they programmatically disparage, for it seems to us at least arguable that many of the central philosophical questions are in fact, and despite protestations to the contrary, being argued about in terms of appeals (albeit often inept) to 'what we would ordinarily say...'. That the main issues of contemporary philosophy of mind are essentially about language (in the sense that they arise from and struggle with confusions over the meanings of ordinary words) is a position which, we insist, can still reasonably be proposed and defended. We shall claim here that most, if not all, of the conundrums, controversies and challenges of the philosophy of mind in the late twentieth century consist in a collectively assertive, although bewildered, attitude toward such ordinary linguistic terms as 'mind' itself, 'consciousness', 'thought', 'belief', 'intention' and so on, and that the problems which are posed are ones which characteristically are of the form which ask what we should say if confronted with certain facts, as described....


"We have absolutely nothing against the coining of new, technical uses [of words], as we have said. Rather, the issue is that many of those who insist upon speaking of machines' 'thinking' and 'understanding' do not intend in the least to be coining new, restrictively technical, uses for these terms. It is not, for example, that they have decided to call a new kind of machine an 'understanding machine', where the word 'understanding' now means something different from what we ordinarily mean by that word. On the contrary, the philosophical cachet derives entirely from their insisting that they are using the words 'thinking' and 'understanding' in the same sense that we ordinarily use them. The aim is quite characteristically to provoke, challenge and confront the rest of us. Their objective is to contradict something that the rest of us believe. What the 'rest of us' believe is simply this: thinking and understanding is something distinctive to human beings..., and that these capacities set us apart from the merely mechanical.... The argument that a machine can think or understand, therefore, is of interest precisely because it features a use of the words 'think' and 'understand' which is intendedly the same as the ordinary use. Otherwise, the sense of challenge and, consequently, of interest would evaporate.... If engineers were to make 'understand' and 'think' into technical terms, ones with special, technical meanings different and distinct from those we ordinarily take them to have, then, of course, their claims to have built machines which think or understand would have no bearing whatsoever upon our inclination ordinarily to say that, in the ordinary sense, machines do not think or understand." [Button, et al (1995), pp.12, 20-21. Italic emphases in the original. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


Hence, if philosophers use, for example, the word "knowledge" in an attempt to inform us what 'genuine knowledge' really is, but their use bears no relation to how that word is normally used, then what they have to say will relate to 'knowledge', and not knowledge, leaving the supposed philosophical puzzles about knowledge unaddressed. [On this, see also Baz (2012) and Coulter and Sharrock (2007).]


9a. Some might object at this point, and counter-claim that this emphasis on evidence, confirmation and proof shows that the present author is indeed a positivist, or at least an empiricist. Neither of these is the case. The present author is merely taking DM-theorists at their word:


"Finally, for me there could be no question of superimposing the laws of dialectics on nature but of discovering them in it and developing them from it." [Engels (1976), p.13. Bold emphasis added.]


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


"We all agree that in every field of science, in natural and historical science, one must proceed from the given facts, in natural science therefore from the various material forms of motion of matter; that therefore in theoretical natural science too the interconnections are not to be built into the facts but to be discovered in them, and when discovered to be verified as far as possible by experiment.


"Just as little can it be a question of maintaining the dogmatic content of the Hegelian system as it was preached by the Berlin Hegelians of the older and younger line." [Ibid., p.47. Bold emphases alone added.]


"The general results of the investigation of the world are obtained at the end of this investigation, hence are not principles, points of departure, but results, conclusions. To construct the latter in one's head, take them as the basis from which to start, and then reconstruct the world from them in one's head is ideology, an ideology which tainted every species of materialism hitherto existing.... As Dühring proceeds from 'principles' instead of facts he is an ideologist, and can screen his being one only by formulating his propositions in such general and vacuous terms that they appear axiomatic, flat. Moreover, nothing can be concluded from them; one can only read something into them...." [Marx and Engels (1987), Volume 25, p.597. Italic emphases in the original; bold emphasis added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


"The dialectic does not liberate the investigator from painstaking study of the facts, quite the contrary: it requires it." [Trotsky (1986), p.92. Bold emphasis added]


"Dialectics and materialism are the basic elements in the Marxist cognition of the world. But this does not mean at all that they can be applied to any sphere of knowledge, like an ever ready master key. Dialectics cannot be imposed on facts; it has to be deduced from facts, from their nature and development…." [Trotsky (1973), p.233. Bold emphasis added.]


The above source renders this passage slightly differently, though:


"Dialectics and materialism comprise the basic elements of the Marxist cognition of the world. But this by no means implies that they can be applied in any field of knowledge like an ever-ready master-key. The dialectic cannot be imposed on facts, it must be derived from the facts, from their nature and their development." [Ibid. Bold added.]


"Whenever any Marxist attempted to transmute the theory of Marx into a universal master key and ignore all other spheres of learning, Vladimir Ilyich would rebuke him with the expressive phrase 'Komchvanstvo' ('communist swagger')." [Ibid., p.221.]


"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 emphases added.]


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


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


"[The laws of dialectics] are not, as Marx and Engels were quick to insist, a substitute for the difficult empirical task of tracing the development of real contradictions, not a suprahistorical master key whose only advantage is to turn up when no real historical knowledge is available." [Rees (1998), p.9. Bold emphasis added.]


"'[The dialectic is not a] magic master key for all questions.' The dialectic is not a calculator into which it is possible to punch the problem and allow it to compute the solution. This would be an idealist method. A materialist dialectic must grow from a patient, empirical examination of the facts and not be imposed on them…." [Ibid., p.271. Bold emphases added. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


If this means I'm an empiricist, then so was Marx:


"The premises from which we begin are not arbitrary ones, not dogmas, but real premises from which abstraction can only be made in the imagination. They are the real individuals, their activity and the material conditions under which they live, both those which they find already existing and those produced by their activity. These premises can thus be verified in a purely empirical way....


"The fact is, therefore, that definite individuals who are productively active in a definite way enter into these definite social and political relations. Empirical observation must in each separate instance bring out empirically, and without any mystification and speculation, the connection of the social and political structure with production. The social structure and the State are continually evolving out of the life-process of definite individuals, but of individuals, not as they may appear in their own or other people's imagination, but as they really are; i.e. as they operate, produce materially, and hence as they work under definite material limits, presuppositions and conditions independent of their will." [Marx and Engels (1970), pp.42, 46-47. Bold emphases added.]


Indeed, was Engels an 'empiricist' when he wrote the following?


"We all agree that in every field of science, in natural and historical science, one must proceed from the given facts, in natural science therefore from the various material forms of motion of matter; that therefore in theoretical natural science too the interconnections are not to be built into the facts but to be discovered in them, and when discovered to be verified as far as possible by experiment." [Engels (1954), p.47. Bold emphases alone added.]


10. These allegations will also be substantiated in later parts of Essay Twelve, and in Essay Fourteen Part One (summary here).


However, it is important to note the following caveat (added to Essay Nine Part One):


Having said that, it needs stressing up-front that it is not being maintained here that leading revolutionaries adopted ruling-class ideas knowingly, duplicitously or willingly. What is being alleged is that these comrades did so unwittingly. Again, exactly how and why this happened will be revealed in Part Two.


11. The word "cannot" here is not meant to represent a physical limit; it expresses the fact that metaphysical theses soon descend into incoherent non-sense, and can't fail to do so, since they attempt to transcend the expressive power of language. [More on this later.]


11a0. It is worth pointing out that (at this site) "non-sense" is not the same as "nonsense". The latter expression has various meanings ranging from the patently false (such as "Karl Marx was a shape-shifting lizard") to plain gibberish (such as "783&£$750 ow2jmn 34y4&$ 6y3n3& 8FT34n").

"Non-sense", as it is being used here, characterises indicative sentences that turn out to be incapable of expressing a sense no matter what we try to do with them ("sense" is explained below) -- that is, they are incapable of being true and they are incapable of being false. In Metaphysics, as we have seen, the indicative/fact-stating mood has plainly been mis-used and/or mis-applied. So, when sentences like these are employed to state supposedly 'fundamental truths' about reality, they seriously misfire since they can't possibly do this. [Later sections of this Essay will explain why that is so.]

Hence, non-sensical sentences are neither patently false nor plain gibberish. [However, there are different sorts of non-sense. More about this later.]

Finally, the word "sense" is being used in the following way: it expresses what we understand to be the case for the proposition in question to be true or what we understand to be the case for the proposition in question to be false, even if we do not know whether it is actually true or whether it is actually false, and may never do so.


T1: Tony Blair owns a copy of Das Kapital.

For example, everyone (who knows English, who knows who Tony Blair is, and that Das Kapital is a book) will understand T1 upon hearing or reading it. They grasp its sense --, that is, they understand what (certain parts of) the world would have to be like for it to be true and what (certain parts of) the world would have to be like for it to be false.

More importantly, the same situation that makes T1 true (if it obtains), would make T1 false (if it does not obtain).


[The significance of that comment will become clearer later on in this Essay.]


These conditions are integral to our capacity to understand empirical propositions before we know whether they are true and before we know whether they are false. Indeed, they explain why we know what to look for (or what to expect) in order to show (or recognise) that such propositions are true  -- or in order to show (or recognise) that they are false -- even if we never succeed, or even wish to succeed, in doing either.


[Alternatively, if we didn't know this, that would indicate we didn't understand this sentence.]


11a. Some might try to defend Lenin by claiming this is just an hyperbole. Hence, it could be maintained that Lenin did not think that the words "motion without matter" were literally unthinkable, merely that it made no sense to suppose there could be motion without matter. It could even be maintained that the wording of Lenin's 'controversial' sentence merely meant he was rejecting the immobility of matter out of hand, as a ridiculous notion -- or so the case for the defence might go.


If so, the section in MEC entitled "Is Motion Without Matter Conceivable?" was clearly misnamed. Indeed, this is the very section in which M1 occurs. Lenin himself 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 to the conventions adopted at this site.]


[I have reproduced this passage at length to forestall accusations that I have quoted Lenin out of context!]


It is quite clear from this that Lenin is denying what "these scientists" were claiming, that motion without matter is conceivable -- or, once again, as he puts it:


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


Later he added the caveat that matter and motion were inseparable:


"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 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.]


M22: "[M]otion [is] an inseparable property of matter." [Lenin (1972), p.323. Bold emphasis alone added.]


Hence, the unthinkability of the separation of matter and motion is 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' cannot be separated, even in thought.


[Incidentally, Lenin is wrong. Marx didn't read Anti-Dühring "in the manuscript"; in fact, after Marx's death, Engels claimed he read that book to Marx. Can you imagine how long that would have taken? Can you imagine, too, how many times the ageing Marx nodded off, not realising the sub-logical material that would later be attributed to him? Does anyone think that Marx would have approved of the ridiculous things Engels said about mathematics in that book? Marx was a competent mathematician (even though his knowledge was a few generations 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 this unwise claim. (I have considered this issue in more detail here and here.)]


Here Lenin is simply echoing Engels's equally 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.]


No hyperbole here, then. Both Lenin and Engels meant what they said.


The problem is: What on earth did they mean?


At this point, someone could argue that such contradictions are only to be expected; after all this is dialectics! In that case, in the very process of thinking these controversial words, thought is driven to the opposite pole and is forced to conclude that these words (or what they express) cannot be thought.


[This is in fact a variant of the Nixon defence.]


However, and far more likely: those who read Lenin, and whose thought has not been compromised by studying the work of Absolute Idealists, will conclude that in view of the fact that they have just thought those very words (or their content) in the act of being told they cannot do so, motion without matter is plainly not unthinkable!


Indeed, in view of the additional fact that belief in motionless matter was part of Ancient Physics (and which dominated scientific thought for the best part of one and a half millennia), they'd be right to so conclude. Manifestly, the latter thought is plainly more thinkable than its opposite!


Hence, far from thought being driven to an "opposite pole", the above suggests it will be riveted to just the one.


It could be argued that this is a specious argument. Indeed, one comrade 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', 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. Quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site. Emphases in the original. Minor typos corrected.]


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 Moebius 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 Moebius 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."


Finally, it could be objected that this line-of-attack is thoroughly misguided. Consider, for example, the following sentence:


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


Now, this doesn't imply that the individual alluded to above has actually thought of abandoning Taiwan, which he/she would have to have done if the criticisms aired in this work are correct.


Or, so it could be argued.


[VF = Verb Phrase.]


Of course the clause "VF is unthinkable" can mean many things; for instance:


C2: We will never abandon Taiwan.


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


C4: Abandoning Taiwan is not an option.


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 stubbornness of the individual concerned; that is, they record the psychological impossibility/refusal of that individual ever coming to believe that the USA would abandon Taiwan. Now, if Lenin meant what he said in this sense, then that would weaken considerably his opposition to the immobility of matter (since it would sever the links this thesis had with Engels's claim that motion was "the mode of the existence of matter", which is a defining characteristic of matter, not a throw-away property which is dependent on the limitations of human credulity. [Anyway, I have discussed this option below.]


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


I will return to this topic when we consider the deeper, logical problems associated with this statement of Lenin's -- i.e., M1a.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable. 


12. However, if thought itself is to be linked with the motion of matter, at however deep or complex a level this is deemed to take place, then the second of these sentences (i.e., "This could be true even if no matter was in fact relocated in the process") would naturally be incorrect. Anyway, such a thesis (about "thought" and matter) seems to depend on the truth of reductive materialism, a doctrine Lenin would certainly not have accepted.


M11: His thoughts moved to a new topic.


But, even if M11 were contestable on other grounds, it would not be difficult to think of alternative examples that are not so easily dismissed. Consider, therefore, the following:


E1: The author moved his characters to a new location.


E2: The date of the Battle of Hastings moves further into the past each year.


E3: You say you will mend the fence, but that job seems to move further into the future by the week.


E4: Easter moves to a new date every year.


E5: The Prime Meridian moves with the rotation of the earth.


E6: Multiplying –2 by –3 moves it from the set of Negative Integers to the set of Positive Integers (as 6), even while all three remain in the set of Real Numbers.


E7: The disqualification of Leaping Lena in the 3.30 at Belmont moved Mugwump into first place.


E8: The back of the Necker Cube moves to the front (and vice versa) depending on how you view it.


E9: The result of the strike ballot moved the question of tactics to the top of the agenda.


E10: The chairperson moved to strike the objection from the record.


The above senses of "move" cannot easily be reconciled with Lenin's ideas about matter and motion.


[Many more examples like this are given in Essay Five. See also Note 13, below.]


To be sure, some might want to dismiss one or more of the above examples (and those in Essay Five) by refining Lenin's 'definition' of matter and/or motion, in tandem with the use of several other dodges, perhaps. Alternatively, still others might point out that these examples employ the word "move" in different senses to that intended by Lenin. But, even if this were so, it still wouldn't mean that Lenin's construal was the correct way -- or indeed, the only way -- to use such words. Clearly, what Lenin actually meant by "motion" (that is, if he meant if anything by it!) must be ascertained before a decision is made either way. And yet, Lenin's intentions are not at all easy to fathom; in fact, it is difficult to make head or tail of Lenin's claims in this area, as will be demonstrated in the main body of this Essay (and in Essay Thirteen Part One).


If further exception is still taken to the counter-examples given above (which, incidentally illustrate perfectly ordinary uses of the word "move", and its cognates), then that would amount to finding fault with ordinary language, not with the present author or even with the examples given. And we have already seen the serious problems that that would entail for anyone foolish enough to try.


Indeed, these examples represent a much wider selection of uses of this word than is generally considered in the writings of Idealists and metaphysicians (such as Lenin). As seems clear, they show how ordinary human beings regularly employ this word (and others related to it) in their interface with reality, and with one another, and in ways undreamt of in Traditional Thought.


Whatever else Lenin might have imagined he meant by his use of the word "motion", it is clear that ordinary speakers do not employ it in this way, and neither do scientists. The use of this word by everyday materialists -- i.e., workers -- is surely a better guide to its overall import than is that of inconsistent materialists and closet Idealists -- i.e., dialecticians. If Lenin's employment of this word diverges from its materially-grounded use in everyday life, then so much the worse for him.


However, it could be countered that it is perfectly clear what Lenin meant; he was alluding to the physical/literal sense of the word "move" -- that which is connected with locomotion or "change of place", studied in the physical sciences and applied mathematics. Hence, the above considerations are irrelevant -- or so it could be claimed.


In response, it is worth noting that the alleged physical sense of "move" (interpreted as "change of place") is not without its own problems. Since that was discussed in detail in Essay Five, the reader is referred there for more details.


Independently of this, Lenin is entirely unclear what he meant by "move" (and even less clear about what he understood "matter" to be -- on that, see here and Note One).


Anyway, since many of the above examples relate to events that take place outside the mind, they clearly relate to material movement, as defined by Lenin. If they are unacceptable, then the problem lies with Lenin's 'definition', not with the examples.


12a. Note the use of "appears" here:


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


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


M13: Literal motion in the real world without matter can never take place.


That is because M12 could be true while M13 is false (which means that M13 cannot follow from M12).


On the other hand, M13 could follow from M12 if an extra Idealist premiss were added, namely:


M12a: Thought determines the nature of reality.


Since it is central to my case against DM that its theorists covertly adopt M12a anyway (on this, see Essay Two and Essay Thirteen Part One), then, at least for them, M13 would follow from M12, via M12a.


[The reverse implication, too, is problematic, for M13 could be true and M12 false. However that invalid inference is less relevant to the aims of this Essay, and will thus be ignored.]


13. Another example of the indirect connection of motion with matter is the following:


E11: The shadow moved across the surface of water.


Even though something material would have to move for the shadow itself to move, the latter's motion is clearly non-material, and depends on the absence of matter (i.e., light).


Other examples include the following:


E12: The surface of the water moved in the breeze.


E13: The hole in the crowd moved from right to left.


Surfaces are rather puzzling entities -- no one seems to be sure whether they are material or not. [Cf., Stroll (1988).] Few doubt they can move. The same goes for shapes, holes, corners, boundaries and edges [Cf., Casati and Varzi (1995, 1999, 2009), and Varzi (1997)], all of which can move (indeed, some do; e.g., Mexican waves). The same applies to reflections and shadows. [On reflections and shadows, see Sorensen (2003, 2008). On shapes, see Bennett (2012).]


Hence, not only is motion without matter conceivable, it is actual, as many of the above show.


14. This example, of course, omits any reference to the geodesics of Spacetime as causal factors in this case. However, introducing that complication would not affect the point being made since geodesics are, of course, non-material. Arguably, they are not even 'extra-mental'.* Of course, exactly what makes matter move along geodesics is a moot point, 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, this response assume geodesics are extra-mental entities, when they are in fact mathematical objects, and, like lines of force, their physical status is decidedly 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 be the case with or without the need to appeal to any to DM-principles. Anyway, for dialecticians, as we saw in Note One, motion is the "mode" of the existence of matter; its demotion to that of playing merely a causal role in the whole affair would surely undermine yet another core DM-thesis.


More importantly, however, 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, and the like) can act as causal agents. Unless we subscribe to some form of mystical Platonism, this is not even plausible.


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


"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. 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.]


Or so it could be argued.


But, the CMG does not actually exist -- at least, no more than any other averaged quantity does. How it can be 'objective' is, therefore, somewhat mysterious.


Of course, even if it did exist, Lenin's catch-all definition (that whatever has objective existence outside the mind is material) would 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 a sufficient reason (I'm sorry to have to announce) for the rest of us to accept it -- unless, of course, Lenin were a Minor Deity of some sort.


Would we be prepared to accept a definition of "fairness" that meant it applied to everything and anything that happened inside Capitalism? I think not.


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


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


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


Now, it is no use pointing to the weaknesses, nor yet the 'contradictions' in the above 'argument', since the smart theologian will simply play the Nixon card (beloved of DM-fans) to silence all opposition. And if you persist, you will only be accused of not "understanding" 'Theological Dialectics'.


The problem, of course, began with the definition. Same with Lenin's.


Now, I do not expect the DM-fraternity to accept any of this, but when they see what odd entities Lenin's over-generous definition permits, I think they will be among the first to disown it.


A guided tour through Lenin's Whacky World Of Wonders will begin in Essay Thirteen Part One.


15. Also, see Note 12, above.


15a. Conversely, it could be argued that this shows that M17 is false. That possibility will be tackled presently.


M17: The sentence: "Literal motion in the real world without matter is unthinkable" is true.


16. Aristotle's ideas about earthy matter are more complex than these comments might at first suggest. Nevertheless, it is still true that he believed that when situated at the centre of the universe, this form of 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.]


So, Aristotle and his many followers could and did think about matter/material bodies and lack of motion (i.e., rest).


Moreover, as my colleague "Babeuf" has pointed out, it has been possible to think of motion without matter since 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.]


Now, it will not 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 things, some human beings (hundreds of millions, possibly 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 made the following comment on 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. Italics in the original.]


This confirms, of course, the a priori nature and origin of this particular thesis, since Leibniz manifestly did not obtain this notion via observation, and would have had a stroke at the suggestion that he had done so. Also worthy of note is the fact that Leibniz was as heavily influenced by Hermetic mysticism as was Hegel. [This will be established 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, as we saw in Essay Eight Part One, is linked to the contradictory nature of matter. So, the 'inseparability thesis' is a 'logical' notion which 'follows' from Engels's Second 'Law'. Small wonder then that Lenin found its denial "unthinkable".


But, once more, why didn't he simply declare that immobile matter was "self-contradictory"? Why did he say it was "unthinkable" instead?


17. Marx Anticipates Wittgenstein


[This forms part of Note 17.]


Marx's belief in the social nature of language, and the fundamental role it plays in communication (not representation), is confirmed by the following passages:


"The production of ideas, of conceptions, of consciousness, is at first directly interwoven with the material activity and the material intercourse of men, the language of real life. Conceiving, thinking, the mental intercourse of men, appear at this stage as the direct efflux of their material behaviour. The same applies to mental production as expressed in the language of politics, laws, morality, religion, metaphysics, etc., of a people. Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc. -- real, active men, as they are conditioned by a definite development of their productive forces and of the intercourse corresponding to these, up to its furthest forms. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence, and the existence of men is their actual life-process. If in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical life-process as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their physical life-process. [Marx and Engels (1970), p.47. Bold emphasis added.]


"Only now, after having considered four moments, four aspects of the primary historical relationships, do we find that man also possesses 'consciousness,' but, even so, not inherent, not 'pure' consciousness. From the start the 'spirit' is afflicted with the curse of being 'burdened' with matter, which here makes its appearance in the form of agitated layers of air, sounds, in short, of language. Language is as old as consciousness, language is practical consciousness that exists also for other men, and for that reason alone it really exists for me personally as well; language, like consciousness, only arises from the need, the necessity, of intercourse with other men. Where there exists a relationship, it exists for me: the animal does not enter into 'relations' with anything, it does not enter into any relation at all. For the animal, its relation to others does not exist as a relation. Consciousness is, therefore, from the very beginning a social product, and remains so as long as men exist at all. Consciousness is at first, of course, merely consciousness concerning the immediate sensuous environment and consciousness of the limited connection with other persons and things outside the individual who is growing self-conscious.... On the other hand, man's consciousness of the necessity of associating with the individuals around him is the beginning of the consciousness that he is living in society at all...." [Ibid., pp.50-51. Bold emphases added.]


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


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


"The object before us, to begin with, material production.


"Individuals producing in Society -- hence socially determined individual production -- is, of course, the point of departure. The individual and isolated hunter and fisherman, with whom Smith and Ricardo begin, belongs among the unimaginative conceits of the eighteenth-century Robinsonades, which in no way express merely a reaction against over-sophistication and a return to a misunderstood natural life, as cultural historians imagine. As little as Rousseau's contrat social, which brings naturally independent, autonomous subjects into relation and connection by contract, rests on such naturalism. This is the semblance, the merely aesthetic semblance, of the Robinsonades, great and small. It is, rather, the anticipation of 'civil society', in preparation since the sixteenth century and making giant strides towards maturity in the eighteenth. In this society of free competition, the individual appears detached from the natural bonds etc. which in earlier historical periods make him the accessory of a definite and limited human conglomerate. Smith and Ricardo still stand with both feet on the shoulders of the eighteenth-century prophets, in whose imaginations this eighteenth-century individual -- the product on one side of the dissolution of the feudal forms of society, on the other side of the new forces of production developed since the sixteenth century -- appears as an ideal, whose existence they project into the past. Not as a historic result but as history's point of departure. As the Natural Individual appropriate to their notion of human nature, not arising historically, but posited by nature. This illusion has been common to each new epoch to this day. Steuart avoided this simple-mindedness because as an aristocrat and in antithesis to the eighteenth century, he had in some respects a more historical footing.


"The more deeply we go back into history, the more does the individual, and hence also the producing individual, appear as dependent, as belonging to a greater whole: in a still quite natural way in the family and in the family expanded into the clan [Stamm]; then later in the various forms of communal society arising out of the antitheses and fusions of the clan. Only in the eighteenth century, in 'civil society', do the various forms of social connectedness confront the individual as a mere means towards his private purposes, as external necessity. But the epoch which produces this standpoint, that of the isolated individual, is also precisely that of the hitherto most developed social (from this standpoint, general) relations. The human being is in the most literal sense a Zwon politikon not merely a gregarious animal, but an animal which can individuate itself only in the midst of society. Production by an isolated individual outside society -- a rare exception which may well occur when a civilized person in whom the social forces are already dynamically present is cast by accident into the wilderness -- is as much of an absurdity as is the development of language without individuals living together and talking to each other. There is no point in dwelling on this any longer. The point could go entirely unmentioned if this twaddle, which had sense and reason for the eighteenth-century characters, had not been earnestly pulled back into the centre of the most modern economics by Bastiat, Carey, Proudhon etc. Of course it is a convenience for Proudhon et al. to be able to give a historico-philosophic account of the source of an economic relation, of whose historic origins he is ignorant, by inventing the myth that Adam or Prometheus stumbled on the idea ready-made, and then it was adopted, etc. Nothing is more dry and boring than the fantasies of a locus communis." [Marx (1973), pp.83-85. Bold emphasis added.]


"The main point here is this: In all these forms -- in which landed property and agriculture form the basis of the economic order, and where the economic aim is hence the production of use values, i.e., the reproduction of the individual within the specific relation to the commune in which he is its basis -- there is to be found: (1) Appropriation not through labour, but presupposed to labour; appropriation of the natural conditions of labour, of the earth as the original instrument of labour as well as its workshop and repository of raw materials. The individual relates simply to the objective conditions of labour as being his; [relates] to them as the inorganic nature of his subjectivity, in which the latter realizes itself; the chief objective condition of labour does not itself appear as a product of labour, but is already there as nature; on one side the living individual, on the other the earth, as the objective condition of his reproduction; (2) but this relation to land and soil, to the earth, as the property of the labouring individual -- who thus appears from the outset not merely as labouring individual, in this abstraction, but who has an objective mode of existence in his ownership of the land, an existence presupposed to his activity, and not merely as a result of it, a presupposition of his activity just like his skin, his sense organs, which of course he also reproduces and develops etc. in the life process, but which are nevertheless presuppositions of this process of his reproduction -- is instantly mediated by the naturally arisen, spontaneous, more or less historically developed and modified presence of the individual as member of a commune -- his naturally arisen presence as member of a tribe etc. An isolated individual could no more have property in land and soil than he could speak. He could, of course, live off it as substance, as do the animals. The relation to the earth as property is always mediated through the occupation of the land and soil, peacefully or violently, by the tribe, the commune, in some more or less naturally arisen or already historically developed form. The individual can never appear here in the dot-like which he appears as mere free worker." [Ibid., p.485. Bold emphasis added.]


[Except, Wittgenstein would have questioned this use of "consciousness".]


Here, too, is Engels:


"Much more important is the direct, demonstrable influence of the development of the hand on the rest of the organism. It has already been noted that our simian ancestors were gregarious; it is obviously impossible to seek the derivation of man, the most social of all animals, from non-gregarious immediate ancestors. Mastery over nature began with the development of the hand, with labour, and widened man's horizon at every new advance. He was continually discovering new, hitherto unknown properties in natural objects. On the other hand, the development of labour necessarily helped to bring the members of society closer together by increasing cases of mutual support and joint activity, and by making clear the advantage of this joint activity to each individual. In short, men in the making arrived at the point where they had something to say to each other....


"First labour, after it and then with it speech -- these were the two most essential stimuli under the influence of which the brain of the ape gradually changed into that of man, which, for all its similarity is far larger and more perfect...." [Engels (1876), pp.356-57. Bold emphases added.]


[I defend a particular interpretation of this general idea in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


This is not to suggest that Marx and Wittgenstein's ideas mesh particularly well, or that Marx was a proto-Wittgenstein, far from it. As I have noted here, anyone who thinks the contrary faces severe difficulties over interpretation at the very least.


However, having said that, there are clear indications that Wittgenstein adopted his 'anthropological' approach to language as a result of long conversations he had with Piero Sraffa, a noted Marxist, and because of his clear sympathies with the left. [More details can be found here.]


So, far from Marx being a proto-Wittgenstein, Wittgenstein is, in some ways, a latter-day Marx. In fact, in many respects, Wittgenstein stands to Marx as Feuerbach did to Hegel. [I hope to defend this particular analogy in a later Essay.* However, see Note 18.]


17a. The only other alternative is the idea that language is innate, and hence not a social phenomenon. Despite what some say, there is no way this idea can be made consistent with Marxism. [I will deal with this topic in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


The comments in the main body of this Essay at this point do not, of course, imply these conventions are set in stone. Many have changed over the millennia, while some plainly have not, and cannot.


18. The attack on the social roots of language -- replacing a Marxist commitment to this idea with the mystical belief that language in effect contains a secret code which is capable of reflecting the underlying 'Essence' of Nature, which have somehow been stitched into the fabric of reality -- helped motivate the belief that language is primarily representational (as we will see in the next two Parts of Essay Twelve -- summary here). According to this ancient view, discourse contains concealed clues -- truths that can only be accessed by the elite, their ideologues, or by specially-trained 'thinkers'. Cosmic verities like this lie way beyond the grasp of ordinary humans -- so the story went/goes --, trapped as they are in a world of 'commonsense', dominated by ordinary language and/or 'formal thinking'. This 'Divine Code' was thought to have been written into the 'primary language' given to Adam by God -- but, this myth is also found in other religious and cultural traditions. Much of Hermetic, Neo-Platonic, Alchemical and Kabbalistic mysticism is largely based on this idea.


[On this, 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.]


Hidden messages were believed to be written in the stars, too, or in sacred books, in tea leaves, the flight of birds, in the organs of slaughtered animals -- or, indeed, in its more recent reincarnation, encrypted somewhere in our central nervous system as a "generative grammar" or "language of thought". [Again, on this see Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


In DM, this doctrine surfaces as part of the a priori dogma that thought is dialectical because reality is dialectical (which message is hidden from those who will not see, who do not "understand"). Hence, DM can be likened to an "Algebra of Revolution", which works because it is able to latch onto the "pulse of reality", or, perhaps even, because reality dances to its tune.


I argued the following in Essay Four Part One (slightly modified here) in relation to the DM-idea that there is an objective 'dialectical logic' running the entire universe:


To be sure, the confusion between rules of inference and logical/metaphysical 'truths' dates back to Aristotle himself. This error merely re-appeared in Hegel's work as part of a mystical/ontological doctrine connected with the alleged self-development of concepts, itself the result of an egregious error over the nature of predication (examined in Essay Three Part One), and an even worse one with respect to the LOI.


[LOI = Law of identity; FL = Formal Logic]


However, just as soon as this misbegotten 'ontological' interpretation of FL is abandoned, the temptation to identify logic with science (or with the "Laws of Thought") loses whatever superficial plausibility it might once seemed to have had. If FL is solely concerned with inference then there is no good reason to saddle it with metaphysical baggage of this sort, and every reason not to. On the other hand, if there is a link between FL and metaphysical/scientific truths -- as legend would have it --, then that fact (if it is one) needs substantiation. It is clearly not enough just to assume such a link exists, as is generally the case in DM-circles.


In addition, the idea that truths about fundamental aspects of reality can be uncovered by an examination of how human beings reason is highly suspect in itself; but, like most things, so much depends on what allegedly follows from that assumption. As we will see, the line taken on this issue sharply distinguishes materialist thought from Idealist myth-making. Unfortunately, to date, DM-theorists have been more content with tail-ending Traditional Philosophy in supposing that logic can function as a sort of earth-bound, human-centred, cosmic code-cracker, capable of unmasking profound truths about hidden aspects of reality -- aka "underlying essences" -- than they have been with bothering to justify this entire line-of-thought. Nor have they been keen to examine the motives that gave birth to this class-motivated approach to Super-Knowledge, originally found in Ancient Greece.


[On the ancient idea that language reflects the world and that truths about nature can be derived from words alone, see Dyke (2007). The reader must not assume, however, that I agree with Dyke's metaphysical conclusions (or, indeed, any metaphysical conclusions whatsoever) -- nor vice versa -- as this Essay seeks to show.]


Of course, modern logicians are much clearer about the distinction between rules of inference and logical truths than their counterparts were in the Ancient World (or even in the 19th century), but that fact just makes the criticisms that DM-theorists level against FL even more anachronistic and difficult to justify.


Anyway, if in the end materialists are to reject Hegelian Ontology -- as surely they must -- then the idea that FL is a part of science becomes even harder 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 can't have unless Nature is Mind.


If the development of Nature is not in fact the disguised development of Mind (as Hegel maintained), how can concepts drawn from the development of Mind apply to Nature, unless it is Mind?


Of course, dialecticians have responded to this with an appeal to the RTK; but, as we shall see (in Essays Three and Twelve), that too was an unwise move....


[RTK = Reflection Theory of Knowledge.]


It is instructive to recall that over the last few centuries humanity has (largely) learnt to separate religion from science, so that the sorts of things that used to be said about science (for example, that it was the "systematic study of God's work", etc.) look rather odd today to all but the religious. In like manner, previous generations of logicians confused logic with science and the "Laws of Thought" (and they did this for theological/ideological reasons, too); one would have thought that avowed materialists (i.e., dialecticians) would be the very last ones to perpetuate this ancient confusion.


Clearly not.


Indeed, as will be argued at length later, only if it can be shown (and not simply assumed) that nature has a rational structure would it be plausible to suppose that there is a connection between the way human beings think and reason and the underlying constitution of reality. Short of that, the idea that there is a link between the way 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 'ontological' implications?


Indeed, how is it that certain metaphysical truths are only capable of being derived from Indo-European grammar? Was this group of humans blessed by the 'gods'? Are there really "subjects", "copulas", and "predicates" out there in nature -- minor grammatical features found almost exclusively in this one family of languages?


On the other hand, if it could be shown that the universe does have an underlying rational structure, then the conclusion that nature is Mind (or that it has been constituted by Mind) would be difficult to resist. If all that is real is indeed rational, then the identification of rules of inference with the "rules of thought" -- and thus with metaphysical truths about "Being" -- becomes more all the more inevitable.


As the histories of Philosophy, Theology and Mysticism reveal, from such esoteric assumptions it is but a short step to the derivation of truths from thought alone. A priori thesis-mongering and Idealism thus go hand-in-hand; if nature is Ideal, then truths can legitimately follow from thought/language alone. In other Essays posted at this site (for example, here and Essay Twelve Part One) we will see that this is a step DM-theorists (and metaphysicians of every stripe) have been only too happy to take -- and many times over, too.


Alas, there is precious little evidence to suggest that DM-theorists have ever given much thought to this particular implication of the idea that DL reflects the underlying structure of reality -- i.e., that their brand of logic in fact implies that reality is Ideal. If logic does indeed reflect the structure of 'Being', then 'Being' must be Mind. [On this, see Essay Twelve Part Four (not yet published -- summary here).]


This conclusion only strengthens further the suspicion that the much-vaunted materialist "inversion", supposedly carried out on Hegel's system/method by early dialecticians, was merely formal --, which in turn can only mean that DM is just an inverted form of Idealism. If this is so, then questions about the nature of Logic cannot but be related to the serious doubts raised here about the scientific status of DM. In that case, if Logic is capable of revealing scientific truths about nature -- as opposed to its being a systematic study of inference, and only that -- then it becomes harder to resist the conclusion that DM is indeed a form of Idealism that has yet to come out of the closet.


Whatever the precise details actually are in each case, this almost universally held doctrine, this ruling idea, only succeeded in 'populating' nature with invisible "essences", and immaterial 'rational' principles, which were somehow capable of being reflected in language and/or 'thought'. These concealed precepts were supposedly encoded in language in an abstract form, and were available only to those capable of performing complex feats of mental gymnastics (and, of course, enough leisure time in order to carry them out) -- compounded by an even more impressive ability to concoct increasingly baroque jargon.


This meant that the attack on the social nature of discourse (which began in early class society) was one aspect of a class-motivated assault on ordinary language (and hence on grass-roots materialism), which soon degenerated into LIE. [More details will be given in the next two Parts of this Essay.]


[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 languages that Philosophers invented supposedly being able to mirror nature, their jargon actually reflects constantly changing ruling-class, or ruling-class-inspired perceptions of the 'natural order' -- i.e., those that are conducive to their interests and priorities.


Theorists who were, because of their class position, removed/alienated from the everyday world of work were thus pre-disposed to remove (or 'abstract') ordinary words from their material base in communication. This meant that for them reality was fundamentally abstract, the product of some 'Mind' or other. This in turn implied that only those capable of greater and greater abstraction (based less and less on any real connection with the material world) were capable of truly appreciating such esoteric verities -- capable of "understanding" the 'dialectic of reality', if you like.


Unfortunately, as we will soon 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. It is for this reason that ordinary language -- along with its roots in the communal life and experience of working people --, had to be denigrated and then set-aside by theorists with an already biased, alien-class agenda. Such theorists were bent on showing that the oppressive and exploitative social systems from which they benefitted were 'natural', predicated on a hidden, universal order, comprised of underlying 'essences'. All of this was based on a systematic fetishisation of language, so that what had once been the product of the relation between human beings was inverted so that it became the relation between these newly invented occult 'essences' and the human mind -- or, even until it became those 'essences' themselves. In Hegel (and later in DM), 'dialectical logic', allegedly implicit in discourse, thus became the logic that ran the world (behind the backs of the producers, as it were).


This theoretical and ideological adulteration -- reproduced inside the workers' movement by the appropriation of Hermetic ideas Hegel himself appropriated (whether or not these are left upside-down or put the 'right way up') -- was facilitated by erstwhile revolutionaries who unwisely imported into the workers' movement this alien-class approach to language, 'cognition' and logic, and who thus implicitly rejected the roots of discourse in communal life.


[More details on this were given in Essay Nine Parts One and Two, and they will be elaborated upon in later Parts of this Essay, in Essay Thirteen Part Three, and in Essay Fourteen Parts One and Two.]


Finally, it is also worth pointing out at this juncture that neither the social nature of language nor its representational nature is being asserted or denied (as philosophical theses) 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 a form integral to HM -- which is expressible in ordinary language and is thus consistent with the experience of working people. [However, that will not be attempted in this Essay. The term "form of representation" is explained here. See also Note 18b, and Note 19.]


Nevertheless, what is taken for granted is the fact that ordinary material language is alright as it is (to paraphrase Wittgenstein). Having said that, it will be agued, indeed, demonstrated, that any attempt to undermine the vernacular results in the inevitable production of incoherent non-sense.


The rest of Essay Twelve will be devoted to substantiating these assertions.


18a. It could be objected that Voloshinov's work is an exception to these sweeping claims. That objection will be neutralised in Essay Thirteen Part Three, Sections (3)-(5).


18b. As Baz points out:


"The prevailing conception of meaning, is, importantly, representational, or, as it has sometimes been put, 'descriptivist'. Those who adhere to it would not deny, of course, that we do any number of things with words other than describing, asserting, stating, or otherwise representing things as being one way or another. Nonetheless, they would insist (and presuppose in their theories and arguments) that the representational function of language is somehow primary and fundamental to it, and that there is in every (philosophically interesting) case a representational ('semantic') element to speech and thought -- an indicative core, as Davidson puts it (1979/2001, p.121) -- that may, and should, theoretically be separated from the rest of what is involved in speaking or thinking.


"...The prevailing assumption is that our words, and hence their meanings, ought first and foremost to enable us to form representations of things and the ways they stand -- to 'capture the world', as Horwich tellingly puts it (2005, p.v) -- and only as such may be usable for doing things other than, or beyond, representing. This is taken to be true not just of words such as 'Gödel', 'cat', 'water' and 'red', but also of philosophically troublesome words such as 'know', 'think', 'believe', 'see', 'seems', 'looks', 'good', 'reason', 'will', 'world', 'part', 'cause', 'free', 'voluntary', 'intention', 'soul, 'mind', 'pain', 'meaning', and so on.... What makes these words fit for this function, it is further presupposed, is their power to 'refer to' or 'denote' or 'pick out' some particular relation that sometimes holds between knowers and facts, or propositions...." [Baz (2012), pp.17-19. Italic emphases in the original; referencing conventions altered to conform to those adopted at this site.]   


[I agree with much of what Baz says in the above work, but I think, in some cases, he has pushed these ideas a little too far, and certainly beyond anything Wittgenstein himself would have envisaged. (Not that this is decisive in itself, but, in so far as Baz is trying to defend Wittgenstein, that observation is relevant.)]


19. [I have summarised this argument here.]


Theorists who emphasise the representational nature of language tend to focus on the alleged ability of language to 'reflect' the 'objective' world in 'thought' (or, rather, they emphasis our ability to 'reflect' the world in 'thought', mediated perhaps by language). Although social factors are often mentioned in passing, this approach clearly undermines the role such factors exercise on meaning and communication. If we can all (naturally) reflect such truths in our heads, or in 'consciousness', what need is there for socialisation? That is why such theorists often see ordinary language as an obstacle to be overcome, or by-passed in the quest for 'philosophical'/'objective' truth. For them, it would seem that if language were indeed social (or conventional), philosophical (and allegedly scientific) notions of 'objectivity' would gain no grip. This helps explain why 'representationalists' of every stripe make the same complaint against ordinary language and/or 'commonsense': the latter stand in the way of (us) theorists giving an 'objective' account of reality.


This, of course, 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 commitment to its social nature. This fittingly contradictory approach to discourse (along with the arcane and convoluted thinking it fosters in theorists and/or revolutionaries who write on this topic) will be examined in more detail Essay Thirteen Part Three. There, we will see that the above comments also apply to Voloshinov, Vygotsky (and any who look to them for inspiration), among others.


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


20. This is, of course, an allusion to Rousseau:


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


Dialecticians, too, it seems have accepted individualist theories of meaning grafted onto social accounts of language and 'consciousness'. As Meredith Williams comments about Vygotsky's ideas (a theorist whose work is highly influential among DM-fans):


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


However, Williams could in fact be talking about any randomly-selected Dialectical Marxist who has written on this subject. [I will be examining some of the most important of these in Essay Thirteen Part Three, Section (3) onwards.]


21. In fact, few Marxists have commented on language in any detail, and those that have tend to denigrate or depreciate ordinary language; either that, or they have made all the usual mistakes about discourse (implying that they, too, accept the doctrine that language is primarily representational).


[These allegations will be substantiated in Part Seven of Essay Twelve and in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


Independently this, it is also worth pointing out that Philosophical Conventionalism is in fact itself comprised of a set of highly diverse doctrines. However, what unites modern and classical forms of conventionalism is their proponents' determination to invent/derive a priori theses about the nature of language and science -- which theses are in turn based on an interpretation of the alleged meanings of certain words. Such theories will not be defended in this work, or anywhere else for that matter. [Nor will these controversial claims.]


Despite this, there are certain grammatical features of discourse that conventionalists have mistakenly attempted to re-write as empirical truths about language and the world (etc.), which are consistent with the anthropological approach to language that has been adopted here (as a defeasible "form of representation", and not as a philosophical theory), and which are also compatible with the claim that language is conventional (in a suitably restricted sense). [More on this below and elsewhere.*]


Unfortunately, there are few convincing Marxist analyses of Science, this is despite the fact that revolutionaries in general hold it in such high esteem. [Robinson (2003) contains one of the best available Marxist accounts of science; see also his essays posted at this site.] Indeed, while Science itself has advanced dramatically since Engels's day, DM-accounts of it have largely stood still -- more especially over the last fifty years or so --, DM-theorists are plainly more content to rehash tired old ideas lifted from the 'classics' than they are with keeping abreast of recent developments in the History and Philosophy of Science.


The most recent attempt to squeeze scientific knowledge into a dialectical boot it won't fit is RIRE -- which is in effect just a padded-out and beefed-up version of Baghavan (1987), and a shorter but less hagiographical version of Gollobin (1986). Indeed, all three books more-or-less read like notorious Creationist attempts to make The Book of Genesis appear consistent with modern science. An even more recent example of this trend is Malek (2011). [Despite his adherence to DM, some of Malek's comments about the idealist implications of modern science are well observed.]


[Despite this, readers should check out the desperate debating tactics adopted in defence of DM over at the Soviet Empire Forum, and over at the Guardian Science blogs recently, where a comrade who writes and argues like Malek operates under the pseudonyms "Future World" and "Futurehuman", respectively. It should be added, however, that the latter has denied he is identical with the former! Incidentally, I am not 'outing' a fellow comrade here; Malek openly acknowledges he is 'Futurehuman' in The Guardian comments pages.]


To compound the problem, there have been even fewer attempts to understand the History of Science from an overtly revolutionary perspective; Phil Gasper's recent review only serves to underline this fact. [Gasper (1998).] However, having said that, much of what Gasper has to say is excellent and is well worth reading for its own sake.


Classical Marxist histories of science are by now badly dated. Even when new, they tended to adopt an a priori and somewhat 'Whiggish' approach to the subject, dominated by the constant repetition of familiar DM-clichés.


Regrettably, that observation also applies to Boris Hessen's classic study of the social dimension of Newton's work [Hessen (1971)]. Despite its obvious strengths (and in spite of the fact that Hessen was working under intolerable pressure at the time), his essay is far too insubstantial to count as a work either of history or of theory. No doubt had the author lived, he would have developed and substantiated his ideas much more fully. Unfortunately, however, in the intervening years little extra evidence/argument has emerged to support his core thesis. To compound matters, Hessen's essay is fatally compromised by his reliance on far too many of Engels failed ideas. [Cf., Graham (1985); and Clark (1970).]


Bernal's classic work is more closely tied to the actual events of history, but even here the author is ideologically biased toward Stalinism. Cf., Bernal (1939, 1969). [See also Ravetz (1981), and Swann and Aprahamian (1999). On Bernal's life and his Stalinist biases, see Brown (2005).]


Excellent (left wing) historical work includes the following: Farrington (1939, 1974a, 1947b, 2000), the classic analyses found in Caudwell (1949, 1977), Zilsel (2000) and Needham (1951a, 1951b, 1968, 1971, 1974, 1979), and , of course, Needham (1954-2004). A more recent minor classic, however, is Conner (2005).


Other works written from a Marxist perspective (but surprisingly ignored by Gasper) are rather more successful, though. Among these are Freudenthal (1986) and Swetz (1987). [Cf., also Høyrup (1994).] Also omitted include: Albury and Schwartz (1982), Easlea (1973, 1980), J. Jacob (1988), M. Jacob (1976, 1988, 2000, 2006a, 2006b), Krige (1980), and Mason (1962). [Of course, some of these were published after Gasper's article was written!]


However, by far the best work in this area is Richard Hadden's [i.e., Hadden (1988, 1994)] --, who developed ideas originally to be found in Borkenau (1987), Grossmann (1987) and Sohn-Rethel (1978) -- alas, also omitted from Gasper's review. [However, Hadden's book should be read in the light of Kaye (1998).]


Also, since writing much of the above, I have had the pleasure of reading Lerner (1992). Lerner is clearly a Marxist, or has been heavily influenced by Marxist ideas. Whatever one thinks of his attack on the BBT, his analysis of science is first rate.


[BBT = Big Bang Theory; RIRE = Reason In Revolt; i.e., Woods and Grant (1995/2007).]


A 'Marxist' book that readers should consult with caution, though, is Gillott and Kumar (1995); the authors are in fact ideologues of the old UK-RCP (the remnants of which (over at Spiked) now pass themselves off as supporters of unfettered free market capitalism!). The reason for saying this can be found, for example, here, here, here and here. [The last link is now dead, since the host site has been subjected to numerous hack attacks of a rather suspicious nature -- plainly because that site is one of the best resources on the Internet for exposing the GM industry. It is now being rebuilt, and when that link has been up-dated, I will adjust it accordingly.]


Added August 2010: The new site is now here. Use the 'Search' function to look for "LM Magazine", "Spiked", "RCP", "John Gillott", "Frank Furedi", etc., etc.


A recent addition to the literature is Mason (2012), which is devoted to criticising some of the ideas contained in RIRE. Parts of this book are excellent, but much of it is highly repetitive and, where it discusses DM, unbelievably naive.


Incidentally, Gasper's account is itself compromised as much by his uncritical acceptance of DM as its extreme philosophical brevity --, which is rather odd given his professional expertise in this area. For example, while he rejects "social constructivism", he does so only on the basis of a few rather dismissive remarks, neglecting to substantiate what he says with either argument or evidence. In marked contrast, Gasper is quite happy to accept what Lenin and other DM-classicists wrote about science with scarcely a blink, when what they had to say was invariably supported by evidence and argument that is considerably thinner and weaker than anything that can be found in the work of even the most feeble-minded and superficial of social constructivists.


Another book widely respected among revolutionaries is Helena Sheehan's badly mis-titled work: Marxism and the Philosophy of Science [Sheehan (1993)]; it is mis-titled for the simple reason that the reader will search long and hard (and to no avail) for anything even remotely resembling the philosophy of science -- or even a Marxist perspective on it! What he/she will find in its place, however, is an excellent but no less depressing account of what various DM-apologists imagined was, or was not, the relation between Marxism and science, among many other seemingly irrelevant topics. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these obsolete disputes and opinions now possess only curiosity value, of interest to antiquarians and die-hard DM-fans, but few others. Even in their heyday, these arguments and disputes were seldom less than dogmatic and were often motivated more by sectarian point-scoring than they were by an honest search for the truth.


In spite of this, Sheehan's book is invaluable in other respects, partly because (1) It exposes the monumental waste of time and energy DM-theorists have devoted to a 'theory' which few have advanced much beyond Engels's amateurish endeavours and Lenin's dogmatic Hermeticism, and partly because (2) It contains page after page of incriminating material demonstrating how this 'theory' has helped ruin Marxist theory, as some of our very best theorists have tried to grapple with this incomprehensible 'theory' -- which wasn't, I take it, Sheehan's original intention.


These rather depressing conclusions are further confirmed by the following studies (of the 'unfortunate' relationship between Russian/Stalinised Marxism and science post-1920 (typified by the work of Lysenko): Birstein (2001), Graham (1971, 1987, 1993), Joravsky (1961, 1970), Kojevnikov (2004), Krementsov (1997), Lecourt (1977) [this links to a PDF], Medvedev (1969), Soyfer (1994), and Vucinich (1980, 2001). [For a different view, see Lewontin and Levins (1976). I have said much more about this period in Soviet Science in Essay Four Part One.]


In passing it is worth noting that when Richard Levins and Richard Lewontin stay clear of DM, their two books on science are excellent -- Levins and Lewontin (1985, 2007).


There are countless books on science and Marxism written by Stalinists, but few are worthy of note. The interested reader is referred to the sources listed above, and to Helena Sheehan's work for more details. The following three books are worthy of note, however: Omelyanovsky (1974, 1978, 1979).


Other articles/studies I have found useful are: Gregory (1977), Little (1986), Railton (1991), Thomas (1976), Wartofsky (1968, 1979) and Young (1990). Special mention, however, should once again be made again of Caudwell (1949, 1977), whose work is a combination of brilliant insight and vain attempts to defend DM. I have in fact developed many of his ideas in these Essays.


Nevertheless, easily the best general book on the Philosophy of Science written from a Marxist perspective is Miller (1987) -- mention of which was also omitted from Gasper's article. [But, not from Gasper (1990).] Another important Marxist author is Richard Boyd; cf., Boyd (1989, 1991, 1993, 1996).


John Dupré's work has also been composed from a quasi-Marxist point of view -- i.e., Dupré (1993, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2012), and Barnes and Dupré (2008).


22. This allegation will also be substantiated elsewhere.*


In TAR, John Rees clearly rejects conventionalism, but unfortunately he failed to explain why (cf., p.297). In MEC, Lenin made a rather weak stab at refuting several conventionalist interpretations of science current in his day, but, as noted in Essay Thirteen Part One, to call his arguments in this area a joke would be to praise them too highly.


Lenin almost invariably confronted each and every opinion he disliked with countless repetitions of the following theme:


"[T]he concept of matter…epistemologically implies nothing but objective reality existing independently of the human mind and reflected by it." [Lenin (1972), p.312.]


However, Lenin's timing was rather unfortunate, for a few lines later he posed this question:


"Do electrons, ether and so on exist as objective realities outside the human mind or not…? [S]cientists…answer [this] in the affirmative." [Ibid., p.312.]


But, what was so objective about the Ether that failed to prevent its subsequent fall from scientific grace?


Clearly, the problem with the sort of 'revisionary realism' Lenin advocated in MEC is that it is constantly left with having to explain how it is possible for such 'objective' entities suddenly to vanish from the universe, and thus become 'non-objective' --, and worse, what on earth scientists were talking about before these ontological 'deletions' took place. [I will say more about this in Essay Thirteen Parts One and Two.]


Nevertheless, in defence of Lenin, it is worth pointing out that there are scientists who still believe that the Ether exists. On that consult this web site, and follow the links. See also Essay Eleven Part One, where the opinions of leading scientists on this mysterious 'substance' have been recorded.


Despite this, DM-theorists can take little comfort from the inability of prominent Physicists to make their minds up on so basic an issue. This is because it is quite clear that the changing concept of the Ether cannot be put down to the development of greater and greater abstractions --, those that have been applied to, or derived from nature. If this were the case, the Ether would hardly keep disappearing from Physics and then re-appearing again in later generations, with completely different physical/mathematical properties. In fact, Einstein himself conceived of the Ether as little more than a mathematical construct. [Cf., Kostro (2000).] There is no way that this concept of the Ether can be equated with Aristotle's, Newton's or even Maxwell's.


Nevertheless, another of Lenin's responses might be thought by some to clarify matters:


"[D]ialectical materialism insists on the approximate, relative character of every scientific theory of the structure of matter and its properties…." [Ibid., p.312.]


The idea here seems to be that 'objectivity' is not undermined by the passing away of obsolescent theories which contain several soon-to-be-eliminated but still putatively 'objective' entities, since these older theories are less near the truth than those that eventually superseded them, but which do not contain these formerly 'objective' objects/processes.


But, this cannot be correct; it doesn't even look correct.


Let us suppose that, say, theory T postulates the existence of entity E, and that DM-theorists accept this as "objectively, but partially and/or relatively true". Suppose further that scientists later reject T along with E. It cannot now be argued that the content of T was "objective" or even "partially" true, since they were neither. If E does not exist (and never did) then any claims made about 'it' are now devoid of sense.


[In fact, such claims are/were neither empirically true nor false -- for reasons examined in more detail in the main body of this Essay, but more fully in Essay Thirteen Part Two.]


Now, in the case under consideration, if there is no Ether, Physicists would not have taken one step 'closer' to the 'truth' by postulating its existence. On the other hand, if the Ether does exist, Physics must have gone backwards when it was rejected.


It could be objected that questions regarding the non-existence of the Ether (or of Phlogiston, or Caloric) are neither here nor there. What really matters is that researchers are able to advance scientific knowledge by developing certain techniques (conceptual, experimental, mathematical and/or methodological) that have arisen as a result of the assumption that entities like these actually exist. Hence, given this account, even gross errors can help science progress.


No doubt they can, but what has this got to do with 'objectivity'? If the Ether, Caloric and Phlogiston do not exist, and never did, the supposition that they do takes science away from the 'truth'. Spin-off benefits (howsoever impressive) have nothing to do with 'objectivity' (which, according to Lenin, relates to the 'mind independence' of objects and processes in reality). It certainly has nothing to do with improved technique. Belief in God, for example, helped numerous great scientists construct classical Physics, but no one supposes that collateral advances like this mean that belief in God was 'closer to the truth', or 'objective', just because of that.


[On this, for example, see Hooykaas (1973).]


If the 'objective' status' of the entities and processes that scientists study/discover turn out to be irrelevant -- and only spin-off techniques are what really matter -- then the status of those techniques themselves must come under suspicion (especially if they continually prompt scientists into believing that certain things exist when they don't). Scientists surely trust their methodology because it produces results.


[Dialecticians use the word "spiral" to capture their take on the faltering progress of knowledge (as science "spirals" in on the truth), but as the above shows, if their account were correct, a better word would be "screwy". More on this in Essay Ten Part One and Essay Thirteen Part Two.]


However, it is worth pointing out that Conventionalism does not face this problem (even if it suffers from other drawbacks) -- whereas all forms of Metaphysical Realism do.


Hence, Lenin's account of 'objectivity' must confront the annoying fact that today's "objective" objects and processes almost invariably become the contents of tomorrow's scientific trashcan; the history of science is littered with examples of this phenomenon. In addition to Caloric and Phlogiston, who now believes in Indivisible Atoms, Homunculi, Humours, Tidal Blood Flow, the Fifth Element (or the other Four), the Blending Theory of Inheritance, the Crystalline Spheres, Polywater, N-rays, Piltdown Man, electric fluids, Mesmerism, Substantial Forms, Effluvia, atoms with planet-like electrons, 'current bun' atoms, Steady State Cosmology, immobile continents, Preformationism, Spontaneous Generation, Cold Fusion, Absolute Space and Time, the planet Vulcan (not the one featured in Star Trek!), the Ego, the Id and the Superego, Thanatos, Antiperistalsis, Entelechies, inherited insanity, Phrenology, Orgone, Vitalism, the divine creation of fossils in situ, the diluvial origin of rock strata, wandering womb hysteria, Weapon Salve, -- alongside countless other defunct 'entities' and fictional processes that scientists used to believe were 'objective'. [Many more obsolete 'objectivities' are itemised here.]


Not much evidence of a "spiral", this.


Sure, the evidence for the 'existence' of many of the above was at one time at best compelling, or at worst suggestive, but as Stanford notes:


"...[I]n the historical progression from Aristotelian to Cartesian to Newtonian to contemporary mechanical theories, the evidence available at the time each earlier theory was accepted offered equally strong support to each of the (then-unimagined) later alternatives. The same pattern would seem to obtain in the historical progression from elemental to early corpuscularian chemistry to Stahl's phlogiston theory to Lavoisier's oxygen chemistry to Daltonian atomic and contemporary physical chemistry; from various versions of preformationism to epigenetic theories of embryology; from the caloric theory of heat to later and ultimately contemporary thermodynamic theories; from effluvial theories of electricity and magnetism to theories of the electromagnetic ether and contemporary electromagnetism; from humoral imbalance to miasmatic to contagion and ultimately germ theories of disease; from 18th Century corpuscular theories of light to 19th Century wave theories to contemporary quantum mechanical conception; from Hippocrates's pangenesis to Darwin's blending theory of inheritance (and his own 'gemmule' version of pangenesis) to Wiesmann's germ-plasm theory and Mendelian and contemporary molecular genetics; from Cuvier's theory of functionally integrated and necessarily static biological species or Lamarck's autogenesis to Darwinian evolutionary theory; and so on in a seemingly endless array of theories, the evidence for which ultimately turned out to support one or more unimagined competitors just as well. Thus, the history of scientific enquiry offers a straightforward inductive rationale for thinking that there are alternatives to our best theories equally well-confirmed by the evidence, even when we are unable to conceive of them at the time." [Stanford (2001), p.9.]


[See also Stanford (2000, 2003, 2006a, 2006b, 2009, 2011), Chang (2003), Cordero (2011), Lyons (2002, 2003, 2006) and Vickers (2013). (Several of these link to PDFs.)]


It is often argued that the above were not part of "mature" scientific theories, in stark contrast with theories extant today. Anyone who thinks this should read Baggott (2013), Smolin (2006) and Woit (2006), and then perhaps think again. [This topic will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Two; see also here.]


23. Why only empirical propositions are being discussed here is explained in Note 29.


24. It could be argued that this is not so. Someone could accept a sentence as true even before they understood it, if, say, they accepted implicitly the word of an authority on the subject, or perhaps that of a holy man/woman. [Martin (1987) takes this line.]


Consider, therefore, these examples (which were deliberately made incomprehensible to underline this very point):


L1: Professor NN said, "The admurial current in the sample of Blongit has a value of 15.542 buhrs/spec when subjected to a Moggle Field of 1.896 galols/klm7.6."


L2: St. MM uttered these immortal words: "Orle Geerlty Jurthir Shcmood gleebers a minnert whal replificatoe."


Well, is either of these true? Would anyone accept them as such before they understood the odd words they contain? If they did, the next couple of questions would be: "What precisely are you holding true here? To what are you committing yourself if you haven't a clue what these sentences say?"


Someone could respond: "St. MM would not lie; I believe every word she says."


Putting to one side how this individual could possibly know whether or not this 'holy' woman had ever lied if everything she says is so readily believed by the faithful, and the profound gullibility this expresses, such credulity is manifestly centred on the person of the Saint, not the 'content' of the words she utters.


It could be objected that the above examples are highly contentious, and thus of little relevance. Maybe so, but until such an objector produces a sentence that he/she does not understand, which he/she might hold true if uttered by a figure of authority (religious or otherwise) -- while explaining precisely what was being held true even though they had no idea what they were committing themselves to --, they will have to do.


On this, see Note 31, below.


25. It is here that we can see just how the 'representational'/'referential theory' appears (to some) to gain some grip: if nature contains a secret code of sorts (perhaps written in a mathematical, ideal form --, or which exists in some way that is structurally causal -- that is, if nature is "rational", and we are only rational if we are 'in tune' somehow with it), then our sentences about reality would gain the sense they have by 'reflecting' or incorporating that code, 'reflecting' or incorporating that "rationality" -- in a like-represents-like sort of fashion ("as above so below", as it were).


[This is of course why 'correspondence' theories seem so plausible to many.]


Naturally, this raises serious questions about the origin of this hidden 'code', what gave it the 'sense' it has, and why it cannot itself be misinterpreted or be subject to alternative readings.


And yet, if it is indeed a code, then it will have to have been transposed from some language or other, using a translation manual -- otherwise it isn't a code, but a 'code', a term we do not yet understand. In short, language explains codes, not the other way round.


Some might point to codes already written into nature --, for example, the genetic code. But, this code cannot be like the codes human beings have invented. As we have just seen, codes depend on the prior existence of a language, into and out of which they can be translated using an agreed/normative translation manual. Clearly, we can only attribute such a feature to nature if we are prepared to anthropomorphise it. [In fact, the game was given away the moment nature was described as "rational".] Hence, whatever else it is that geneticists are referring to when they speak about "codes", they cannot be talking about those that human beings invent, nor anything like them. In which case once more, they must be referring to 'codes', not codes; either that or they are using this word in a technical sense (and one which will mislead only the incautious). [More on this in Bennett and Hacker (2003), p.167, and Bennett et al (2007), pp.146-56.]


As should seem obvious, we cannot solve puzzles about reality by postulating intelligent causes (howsoever these are re-packaged). As Hume noted, if human intelligence is to be accounted for by an exterior intelligence/rationality (of whatever sort or provenance), an infinite regress must follow. This sceptical argument, of course, is not weakened in the slightest if the word "God" is replaced by "abstraction" -- or even by "rationally-based-and-evidentially-supported-objective-theory".


More on that in Part Four of this Essay. [Also see Essay Three Part Two.]


26. This was discussed in more detail in Essay Three Part Two, and will be addressed in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.


26a. A good example of this approach can be found in is Devitt and Sterelny (1999), but there are countless others. [I will say more about this topic in Essay Thirteen Parts Two and Three.]


27. This will be tackled in Parts Two and Three of this Essay, and in Essay Thirteen Part Three.


28. This will also be discussed in Essay Thirteen Part Three.


29. Naturally, this puts much weight on the word "understanding", but anyone who has problems with that word is already way beyond my help. [On that, see here. See also Note 31, below.]


In the analysis offered in the main body of this Essay, consideration is largely restricted to indicative sentences and empirical propositions. This is not meant to depreciate or denigrate other forms of discourse (e.g., the use of questions, commands, fiction, poetic and ethical language, optatives, and so on), nor is it to ignore the importance of figurative speech and prosody. The discussion here has been deliberately narrowed for two reasons:


(1) Metaphysical theses purport to be specialised, but industrial strength (super-)factual propositions. However, as I have tried to show, metaphysical theories are based on a systematic failure to distinguish between different types of proposition -- that is, between 'pseudo-empirical' and empirical propositions themselves, between those that ape the indicative mood but collapse into non-sense and then incoherence upon examination, and those that do not.


(2) Empirical propositions are, of course, closely linked to scientific truth.


[In addition, for the sake of simplicity, the distinction between type and token empirical propositions has also been ignored. Naturally, in a comprehensive account of the linguistic phenomena under review here these issues and many others would need to be addressed -- for all that this is inappropriate in an Essay of the present sort, or in connection with the rather narrow aims of this site.]


Since the other issues mentioned above are not related to the topics under discussion here, and as important as they are in themselves, an analysis of their mode of signification has been omitted.


Moreover, the idea that these Essays are fixated on single sentences (a clichéd criticism of Analytic Philosophy often advanced by dialecticians) is also misguided. Single sentences are quoted here merely to focus attention on particular doctrines that dialecticians fail to notice, confuse or have appropriated uncritically from traditional thought. Where relevant, wider contextual issues have been introduced. On this, see Note 31. But, if we can't cope with single sentences, we stand no chance with larger bodies of text.


However, having said that, 'Contextualism' (i.e., the idea that words gain their meaning from their context of use) is criticised in detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. In addition, Metaphysical Holism (of the sort that dialecticians have appropriated) is also destructively analysed in Essay Eleven Parts One and Two -- as well as here.


29a. It might be wondered how anyone who understands an empirical proposition -- like, say, M6 -- would know it was true, as opposed to not knowing it were false.


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


As pointed out in the main body of this Essay:


...if the sense of a proposition were not independent both of its actual truth-value, then plainly the mere fact that a proposition had been understood would entail it was true -- or, it would entail that it was false!


Of course, it isn't easy to think our way in to this defective account of empirical propositions, which is why sentences like M1a were considered first, where it is easier to see how the comprehension of a metaphysical thesis goes hand-in-hand with knowing which of its supposed truth-values holds.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


For those who hold that motion is "the mode of the existence of matter", the comprehension of M1a implies it is true. However, if this were also the case with empirical propositions, then the comprehension of M6 would imply it was true, too. In that case, the alleged truth (and thus the comprehension) of M6 would follow from some other proposition (or propositions), which would, of course, mean that anyone who did not know these other 'truths' would not be able to comprehend M6, which is absurd.


It could be argued that it is easy to see what truths would have to be known if M6 is to be understood, namely that Tony Blair is a man (and/or) that he exists, and that The Algebra of Revolution is a book (or it is something that can be owned).


This topic is partly what motivated Wittgenstein to argue as follows in the Tractatus:


"Objects make up the substance of the world. That is why they cannot be composite. If the world had no substance, then whether a proposition had sense would depend on whether another proposition was true. In that case, we could not paint any picture of the world, true or false." [Wittgenstein (1972), p.11, 2.021-2.0212.]


Now, I do not want to enter into a discussion about what Wittgenstein did or did not mean by "substance", only point out that he later replaced these logical 'objects' (whose existence cannot be questioned) with an "agreement in judgements" and "form of life". [Wittgenstein (2009), p.94e, §§241-42.] In other words, he regarded the rules we use in the formation of such propositions as a sort of non-propositional bedrock, which meant that the sense of these propositions did not depend on the truth of another proposition. [How this works will be explained later. On the above passage from the Tractatus, however, see White (1974, 2006).]


The point is that if someone did not know these things, they would not be able to enter into the use of language. This is not factual knowledge, but the possession of a certain set of skills. I say more about this in Essay Thirteen Part Three. See also Note 31.


30. One of the leading alternative accounts of language on offer these days -- the so-called "Nativist" theory of Chomsky, Fodor, Bickerton and Pinker, among others -- will be discussed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three. [Until then, the reader is referred to Baker and Hacker (1984), Cowie (1997, 2002), Everett (2008, 2012), and Sampson (2005) -- and the review posted here.]


Also worth consulting are the following on-line essays written by Sampson, here, and here. [The reader is, however, warned that Sampson is a right-wing Tory who holds objectionable, racist views (and much else besides). In spite of this, Sampson is right about Nativism (a doctrine that, oddly enough, underpins various right-wing ideologies). See also, here.]


31. On this, see Note 90 below.


Furthermore, as we will see later, only if a proposition is part of a body of propositions would it be possible to ascertain its truth-value. Empirical propositions do not face the world like isolated atoms, nor do they function like arrows that pin truths to targets single-handedly (to vary the image). They function more like nets catching fish (to vary it once more) -- however, those nets form part of an overall form of representation, or parts of several, as the case may be.


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


This might seem to make a mockery of the argument presented here, that to understand the sense of a proposition like M6 is ipso facto to know what would make it true or what would make it false. This seems to suggest that such propositions face the world as atomic units, so to speak, and not as part of a body of propositions, as alleged above.


I will deal with this objection in the section dealing with Wittgenstein's comments on "criteria and symptoms". In the meantime, Quine's arresting metaphors will perhaps make things a little clearer:


"The totality of our so-called knowledge or beliefs, from the most casual matters of geography and history to the profoundest laws of atomic physics or even of pure mathematics and logic, is a man-made fabric which impinges on experience only along the edges. Or, to change the figure, total science is like a field of force whose boundary conditions are experience. A conflict with experience at the periphery occasions readjustments in the interior of the field. Truth values have to be re-distributed over some of our statements. Re-evaluation of some statements entail re-evaluation of others, because of their logical interconnections.... But the total field is so underdetermined by its boundary conditions, experience, that there is much latitude of choice as to what statements to re-evaluate in the light of any single contrary experience. No particular experiences are linked with any particular statements in the interior of the field, except indirectly through considerations of equilibrium affecting the field as a whole.


"If this view is right, it is misleading to speak of the empirical content of an individual statement -- especially if it is a statement at all remote from the experiential periphery of the field." [Quine (1951), pp.42–43. [This links to a PDF.] Spelling altered to conform to UK English. ]


[I distance myself from the content of much of the rest of this paper -- on that see, for example, Grice and Strawson (1956) (this links to a PDF), and Glock (2003). However, the above, suitably re-cast, overlaps with Wittgenstein's approach in this area. On that see Glock (2003), again, and Hacker (1996), pp.189-227.]


Hence, the truth of propositions like M6 depends on a whole web of background practices and beliefs (what Quine later came to call "The Web of Belief" -- on that, see Quine and Ullian (1978)). Held in place, this means that, while it might seem that empirical propositions face conformation or confutation on their own, these two depend on this background.


[Readers are directed to Note 36, Note 40a, and the section below on Scientific Knowledge, for more details. In this regard, it is important to distinguish between the sense of a proposition and its truth-value.] 


Scientific Knowledge


[This section forms part of Note 31.]


If this weren't so, and if sense were dependent on truth (not the other way round), communication could only be achieved at the end of one's education (which education can't have been communicated to each learner, for obvious reasons -- read on for what these are). That is, this could only happen after mastery had been achieved of these further 'truths' (necessary to understand the sense of even one of the propositions that expressed these elusive 'prior' truths), not at the beginning, which is absurd.


[Notice, I have used the clause "necessary to understand the sense of even one of the propositions", here, as opposed to "necessary to ascertain the truth-value of even one of the propositions". This is an important detail if readers want to understand the points made in the first half of this Note. More on that as this 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, the truth of S2 would have to be known first. But, in order to ascertain the truth of S2, it would also have to be understood first. 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. Hence, in order to understand any sentence, the truth of a potentially infinite set of sentences, {S2, S3, S4,..., Sn}, would 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. [The only two ways this regress can be halted were outlined earlier, and 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 comments are misguided, at best --, or so it might be argued.


This response itself is 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 can only develop theories if they are expressed/expressible in some language or other. Even supposing that such theories are about a world that is independent of, and anterior to human cognition, scientists can neither rise above nor countermand the constraints placed on them by social interaction. [More details can be found in Stroud (2000), particularly pp.21-60.]


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


[LIE = Linguistic Idealism.]


Nevertheless, to some this rejoinder might itself look like an a priori, transcendental argument, but that would be a mistake, too. 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 such occasions, metaphysical and/or DM-theses have been shown to be true just in case they are false (or, they have been reduced to absurdity in some other way -- for example, by demonstrating that they imply an infinite regress, as we saw above, or they are based on a misuse of language), meaning, of course, that they are incapable of being true and/or incapable of being false. As such, they are not just non-sensical, they are incoherent non-sense.


Naturally, this sort of analysis is reactive, if not therapeutic. [On that, see Fischer (2011a, 2011b).] It isn't aimed at the derivation of a new set of truths about language or the world, nor is it directed at establishing an alternative set of philosophical theses about anything whatsoever. It simply responds to the claims metaphysicians themselves make, just as it endeavours to unmask the latent non-sense which these contain. Its objective 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 and/or neologisms used in the event are dispensable and can be paraphrased away; they merely serve as shorthand.


Even so, whatever its motivation might prove to be, the above analysis might still appear to some 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 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 above.


This picture is misleading. Mathematics and science are taught in a variety of ways, but novices must first have some grasp of ordinary language, everyday skills and techniques before their science or mathematics education can even begin. In addition, they have to be able to count, follow instructions, read, write, (later) carry out independent research, handle equipment reliably without breaking it or misreading it, check dials, take notes, operate a computer, and so on. [These skills are based more on knowing how than they are on knowing that.] Understanding is then extended by means of illustrative examples, analogical and metaphorical reasoning, augmented by leading questions -- all of which are amplified by countless practical exercises, simple models, pictures and graded tasks, among many other things. Only when an extension to their vocabulary, understanding and practical skills has been established are students capable of comprehending any of the new facts, explanations, or theories of natural phenomena presented to them by their teachers -- and, indeed, are they then able to extrapolate beyond this into new areas of knowledge.


This means that novel truths/facts learnt by students depend on (and are sometimes coincident with) extensions to their understanding, practical expertise and technical competence. As seems obvious, unless students understand what their teachers say (or, unless they grasp the import of the books and articles they study), and can carry out successfully the graded tasks set, new facts could only ever be accepted on trust or on authority. If students are to advance beyond the parrot-learning and regurgitating stage, they must experience an extension to their comprehension. Indeed, if education were just about fact learning, no facts would actually be learnt. 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 rightly part of the mastery of certain techniques -- for example, learning the "Times Tables" in mathematics. If these aren't, or haven't been leant by heart, a student's mathematical education will be seriously impaired, if not crippled. The above does not mean that facts are unimportant, or that they do not assist in further comprehension. Indeed, as noted above, learning of any sort depends on one or other "web 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).]


This is indeed partly how scientific advance is itself initiated; that is, by means of an extension to the meaning of the words used in other -- possibly similar, maybe 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.]


[This also takes care of the objection that if this were true, speakers would not be able to understand what was said to them until they had mastered a whole language. As our education and socialisation grow, so does our comprehension of language (and, indeed, of science); neither takes precedence.]


Incidentally, this helps explain why new theories often look plausible only to those prepared to move into the new conceptual landscape carved out by these novel theories, practices, grammars, and/or "world-views" (even if both are ultimately motivated by differentially-placed class-inspired/biased reactions to social change, and their associated ideologies) -- while to others who are not so flexible they look paradoxical, or even patently false. This also explains why older members of the scientific community find it much more difficult to accept new ideas; indeed, they often appear to be totally incomprehensible.


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


This also helps account for the way that new theories not only change our view of the world (by changing the language we use to depict it, often feeding off discourse already altered by social and economic development -- an example of this phenomenon is given below, in relation to the work of Richard Hadden), they enable new discoveries that had been unavailable to those whose thought was still dominated by older theories/world-views. [There is an excellent description of this process a work in Smolin (2006), although the author, I think, fails to see its significance.]


In addition, this links scientific advance to conceptual change -- i.e., to changes in the use of certain general terms/nouns -- and to innovations in new areas of research. Both situate these developments in the open, in a social arena, removing them from the world of 'inner representations' and 'abstractions', beloved of traditional ('abstractionist' and/or representationalist) theories of knowledge. [On this, see Note 32, and Essay Thirteen Parts Two and Three.]


Even better, this allows an HM-account to be given of the entire process. For example, as Hadden (in Hadden (1994)) shows, developments in medieval society (mainly concerning the growth of market relations) enabled the establishment of novel conceptual connections between general nouns -- the relation between which had either made no sense in earlier centuries with different Relations of Production and Exchange, or which were of no use to anyone because they were regarded as incommensurable (often for the same reason), and hence were not connectable by analogy. [There is more on this here.]


Social Constructivists have been able to demonstrate the close connection between linguistic innovation and scientific change more generally, but as yet there has been no serious attempt made by Marxists, as far as I am aware (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 to changes in the Relations of Production, or to the innovative conceptual possibilities which became available because of the emergence of new Modes of Production.


However, in general, the social constructivists lack a scientific account of history (i.e., HM) to lend to their piecemeal theories an overall structure, direction and rationale.


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


32. This does not mean that there exists (somewhere, perhaps in each head) a body of precise rules governing human language. [What it does in fact mean will be addressed Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


Rules, of course, are no more capable of being true or false than imperatives or interrogatives are. They are dependent on wider social practices and, plainly, as such, are historically-conditioned.


On this view, social change is reflected in language by, among other things, concomitant alterations to the conventionalised, rule-governed use of words. Naturally, this grounds language and thus thought in material conditions (i.e., in real social interactions that arise from underlying Relations of Production, etc.), not in a hidden, 'mental' realm (located in each brain), or in a socially-isolated, atomised inner arena subject only to each individual's mysterious (and uncheckable) powers of 'abstraction' and/or 'representation'.


[More on this in Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three. On this in general, see Robinson (2003a), and Hanna and Harrison (2004). Unfortunately, the latter work has been spoiled somewhat by the adoption of Kripke and Evans's 'causal theory' of names. It should therefore be read in conjunction with Baker and Hacker (2005a), pp.113-28, 227-49. (Kripke and Evan's theories can be found in Kripke (1980) and Evans (1973, 1982). I'll address their ideas in Essay Thirteen Part Two.)]


On the basis of the "anthropological approach" briefly outlined in this Essay, thought is more naturally connected with discourse, material practice, social interaction and communication -- and only derivatively linked to the capacity we have of representing things to ourselves by means of language (etc.). [Even then, given the view adopted here, these 'representations' are all publicly accessible/checkable, and are not to be found 'in the head'. (Exactly why that is so is explored in Essays Three Part Two and Thirteen Part Three.)]


In this way, therefore, there is no need for anyone to advance a vague, DM-style reference to the 'dialectical' unity between 'thought' and practice, for on the approach adopted here, 'thought' is constituted both by social practice and by our use of language -- all three are inter-twined. 'Thought' thus requires no further 'philosophical' elaboration; it is, therefore, what our everyday use of words about it says it is, not what Idealist Philosophers or inconsistent materialists (i.e., dialecticians) tell us it is.


Naturally, these are controversial ideas, but only to those who have bought into the Platonic/Cartesian/Christian Paradigm.


Extensive critical examination of the perennial confusions (such as those found in the above Paradigm) located in both Psychology and the Philosophy of Mind can be accessed in the following: Anscombe (2000), Baker and Hacker (1984, 2005a, 2005b), Bennett and Hacker (2003, 2008), Bennett et al (2007), Budd (1989), Button, et al (1995), Coulter (1983, 1989, 1993, 1997), Coulter and Sharrock (2007), Erneling (1993), Fischer (2011a, 2011b), Goldberg (1968, 1991), Goldstein (1999), Greenspan and Shanker (2004), Hacker (1987, 1991, 1993a, 1993b, 1996, 1997, 2000a, 2000b, 2001a, 2001b, 2004, 2007a), Hark (1990, 1995), Hilmy (1987), Hutto (1995), Hyman (1989, 1991), Johnston (1993), Kenny (1973, 1975, 1984a, 1984b, 1992, 2003, 2006), Malcolm (1968, 1977a, 1977b, 1980, 1986b), Ryle (1949a, 1971a, 1971b, 1971c, 1971d, 1971e, 1982), Schroeder (2001a), Schulte (1993), Shanker (1986b, 1987b, 1987c, 1987d, 1988, 1995, 1997, 1998), Stern (1995), Suter (1989), Williams (1999), and Wittgenstein (1958, 1969, 1980b, 1980c, 1981, 1982, 1989, 1992, 1993, 2009).


Furthermore, because we use words rather like we use tools, language has played a key role in human social evolution. This observation is important because language is partly constitutive of our 'consciousness'.


[The latter word is in 'scare' quotes because in such contexts it is often used as a metaphysical term-of-art.]


This account therefore begins where Engels's theory (of the development of human 'consciousness' through cooperative labour and the use of tools (etc.)) leaves off.


[Again, these topics will be developed in more detail in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


33. Unfortunately, the nature of science and scientific language remained largely unexplored in Wittgenstein's work. This failing was compounded by the fact that those who work in the Wittgensteinian tradition (in Analytic Philosophy) have not significantly developed or extended his method into this area since his death. [That comment also applies to Thomas Kuhn's work, and that of Norwood Russell Hanson.]


The crucial point here is that Wittgenstein's method is not confined to issues connected with ordinary language (as many erroneously suppose) -- it applies to anything we should want to call a language, or a practice (the former understood in a non-essentialist sense, of course -- since it is we who decide, not some underlying 'essence of language' or 'thought' that does this for us). Hence, his method encompasses scientific, technical and formal languages (and practices). Admittedly, an extension of his method into these wider uses of language would require a detailed analysis of them in use, in conjunction with the practices out of which they have developed. Since that is way beyond the scope of this site, it will not be attempted here, but several important related issues will be discussed in Essay Thirteen Parts Two and Three, as well as in the rest of Essay Twelve, when they are finally published (summary of the latter, here).


However, with respect to the analysis of figurative and analogical language, the situation is not significantly better. For example, despite the subsequent but nonetheless relatively minor advances that were made (mostly in the High Middle Ages), our understanding of the logic of analogy has largely remained where Aristotle left it 2400 years ago.


Hence, we do not as yet have a clear idea how such specialised uses of language relate to our wider understanding of the world, or, indeed, ourselves. In which case, much of what has been written about the scientific use of metaphor and analogy is of limited value. Naturally, this doesn't mean that such specialist areas of discourse are illegitimate, only that we do not yet understand how they work. And this lack of understanding is connected with the way that most theorists uncritically employ figurative language to state what they think are literal truths about reality and/or language itself. In other words, they use metaphor and analogy to hide their ignorance (often from themselves).


Unfortunately, this means that such theorists are held captive by "misleading pictures" (to paraphrase Wittgenstein), which distort the way they make sense even of their own theories. [On this, see Fischer (2011a, 2011b), and Egan (2011).] In turn, as noted earlier, their predicament is intimately linked in with the traditional theory that language is first and foremost a representational device. That 'assumption' cripples their thought from the get-go.


This topic will receive further consideration in the next two Parts of this Essay, where an attempt will be made to relate the move toward a representational view of language (which began, in the 'West', in Ancient Greece) to the development of early class society (and hence it will connect this development to contemporaneous ruling-class priorities, interests and their attendant ideologies), and thus, in turn, with the invention of Theology and Metaphysics -- aimed at rationalising rationalise the lot.


Alas, when scientists and amateur philosophers try to translate technical aspects of scientific theory into ordinary language, their attempts invariably contain inappropriate (and often unacknowledged) metaphors, 'scare' quote encrusted words and misleading analogies. These are then spruced-up with half-baked metaphysical notions, replete with specially-concocted jargon and neologisms. [Recent examples of this genre include Greene (1999, 2004), Smolin (2000) and Penrose (1989, 1995, 2004) -- but most 'popularisations' of science are equally susceptible.]


Oddly enough, some scientists are perhaps beginning to see that this is connected with language (although, it is plain from what follows that the great physicist, Niels Bohr, was arguing along these lines in the 1920s and 1930s). According to David Peat, writing in the New Scientist:


"It hasn't been a great couple of years for theoretical physics. Books such as Lee Smolin's The Trouble with Physics and Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong embody the frustration felt across the field that string theory, the brightest hope for formulating a theory that would explain the universe in one beautiful equation, has been getting nowhere. It's quite a comedown from the late 1980s and 1990s, when a grand unified theory seemed just around the corner and physicists believed they would soon, to use Stephen Hawking's words, 'know the mind of God'. New Scientist even ran an article called 'The end of physics'.


"So what went wrong? Why are physicists finding it so hard to make that final step? I believe part of the answer was hinted at by the great physicist Niels Bohr, when he wrote: 'It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out about nature. Physics concerns what we can say about nature.'


"At first sight that seems strange. What has language got to do with it? After all, we see physics as about solving equations relating to facts about the world -- predicting a comet's path, or working out how fast heat flows along an iron bar. The language we choose to convey question or answer is not supposed to fundamentally affect the nature of the result.


"Nonetheless, that assumption started to unravel one night in the spring of 1925, when the young Werner Heisenberg worked out the basic equations of what became known as quantum mechanics. One of the immediate consequences of these equations was that they did not permit us to know with total accuracy both the position and the velocity of an electron: there would always be a degree of irreducible uncertainty in these two values.


"Heisenberg needed an explanation for this. He reasoned thus: suppose a very delicate (hypothetical) microscope is used to observe the electron, one so refined that it uses only a single photon of energy to make its measurement. First it measures the electron's position, then it uses a second photon to measure the speed, or velocity. But in making this latter observation, the second photon has imparted a little kick to the electron and in the process has shifted its position. Try to measure the position again and we disturb the velocity. Uncertainty arises, Heisenberg argued, because every time we observe the universe we disturb its intrinsic properties.


"However, when Heisenberg showed his results to Bohr, his mentor, he had the ground cut from under his feet. Bohr argued that Heisenberg had made the unwarranted assumption that an electron is like a billiard ball in that it has a 'position' and possesses a 'speed'. These are classical notions, said Bohr, and do not make sense at the quantum level. The electron does not necessarily have an intrinsic position or speed, or even a particular path. Rather, when we try to make measurements, quantum nature replies in a way we interpret using these familiar concepts.


"This is where language comes in. While Heisenberg argued that 'the meaning of quantum theory is in the equations', Bohr pointed out that physicists still have to stand around the blackboard and discuss them in German, French or English. Whatever the language, it contains deep assumptions about space, time and causality -- assumptions that do not apply to the quantum world. Hence, wrote Bohr, 'we are suspended in language such that we don't know what is up and what is down'. Trying to talk about quantum reality generates only confusion and paradox.


"Unfortunately Bohr's arguments are often put aside today as some physicists discuss ever more elaborate mathematics, believing their theories to truly reflect subatomic reality. I remember a conversation with string theorist Michael Green a few years after he and John Schwartz published a paper in 1984 that was instrumental in making string theory mainstream. Green remarked that when Einstein was formulating the theory of relativity he had thought deeply about the philosophical problems involved, such as the nature of the categories of space and time. Many of the great physicists of Einstein's generation read deeply in philosophy.


"In contrast, Green felt, string theorists had come up with a mathematical formulation that did not have the same deep underpinning and philosophical inevitability. Although superstrings were for a time an exciting new approach, they did not break conceptual boundaries in the way that the findings of Bohr, Heisenberg and Einstein had done.


"The American quantum theorist David Bohm embraced Bohr's views on language, believing that at the root of Green's problem is the structure of the languages we speak. European languages, he noted, perfectly mirror the classical world of Newtonian physics. When we say 'the cat chases the mouse' we are dealing with well-defined objects (nouns), which are connected via verbs. Likewise, classical physics deals with objects that are well located in space and time, which interact via forces and fields. But if the world doesn't work the way our language does, advances are inevitably hindered.


"Bohm pointed out that quantum effects are much more process-based, so to describe them accurately requires a process-based language rich in verbs, and in which nouns play only a secondary role....


"Physics as we know it is about equations and quantitative measurement. But what these numbers and symbols really mean is a different, more subtle matter. In interpreting the equations we must remember the limitations language places on how we can think about the world...." [Peat (2008), pp.41-43. Bold emphases added; quotation marks altered to conform to the conventions adopted at this site.]


Except, ordinary language isn't the least bit "Newtonian"; and the problem isn't with language as such, but with the idea that it functions most 'naturally' as a representational device.


[Concerning metaphor in general -- and as it features in science --, cf., White (1996), Benjamin, et al (1987), and Guttenplan (2005). Cf., also Baake (2002) and Brown (2003). On analogical reasoning, see White (2010) -- however, readers should make note of this caveat concerning the latter work.]


34. Of course, no one in their left mind would argue that the comprehension of an empirical proposition automatically guaranteed its truth. However, as we have seen, the metaphysical basis of traditional theories of meaning -- and that of many modern ones -- relies on an appeal to 'necessary truths' of some sort, or, perhaps, to theses expressed in a metalanguage, or, indeed, to dispositional and/or 'emergent' states of the 'mind'/brain -- all of which presuppose/imply stronger or weaker versions of this idea. Since factors like these are what supposedly lend to language the sense it has (or which explain meaning), an acceptance of this approach to discourse is implicit in traditional (and modern) theories of language: that meaning is, at some point, not only inseparable from truth, it is dependent on it.


Unfortunately for such theorists, these truths also seem to 'follow' from the alleged meaning of certain words. Sometimes these 'truths' are called "analytic", sometimes they are called "tautologies"/"truisms". Alternatively, they are called 'self-evident' "theses", or they are 'true' solely in virtue of some stipulation/definition, or they depend on a particular theorists' 'intuitions'). [On this, see Baz (2012).]


But, instead of meaning being dependent on truth (as the above theories imply), it now turns out that such 'truths' are dependent on a distortion of language -- and hence on meaning at some level --, as Marx indicated:


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


Here lies much of the spurious plausibility of LIE. [For further elaboration on this theme, see the later Parts of Essay Twelve (when they are published), Essay Three Part One, and Note 90.]


On the weaknesses of dispositional accounts of language (this links to a PDF) -- or, at least, how they allegedly connect with our capacity to follow rules --, see Kripke (1982), and Kusch (2002, 2004, 2005, 2006). See also Bloor (1997).


[It is worth pointing out that the above authors mistakenly portray Wittgenstein as some sort of 'meaning sceptic', when he wasn't. He'd simply have replied that the word "meaning" has a use (in fact many). On this, see Essay Thirteen Part Three. (On this, see Malcolm (1986a).) On Bloor's work, see Note 35.]


35. These comments should in fact be uncontroversial since they follow from an acceptance of the social nature of language. Unfortunately, however, because certain "ruling ideas" have sunk deep into our movement, they will in fact seem controversial to most DM-fans.


In Essay Thirteen Part Three, I will endeavour to show how conventions (constituted by social practice) are capable of underpinning the sense of empirical propositions without compromising the social nature of language.


A recent study by David Bloor [Bloor (1997)] has succeeded in extending this approach considerably. Unfortunately, Bloor's book is a mixture of illuminating insight and profound philosophical error and confusion. Worse still, Bloor badly misinterprets the nature of Wittgenstein's method, branding it a form of LIE. This is a serious mistake. Wittgenstein was at pains to distance himself from all philosophical theories, depicting his method rather as a way of dissolving philosophical 'problems' -- arguing that they were in fact pseudo-problems -- and that philosophical theories in general were just "houses of cards".

[On the question of Wittgenstein and Idealism, cf., Dilman (2002), Hutto (1996), and Malcolm (1995c). However, Dilman (2002) should be read with some care because of the incautious way the author tries to explain some of Wittgenstein's ideas. (On this topic in general, see Part Four of this Essay.)]

Bloor's approach is seriously flawed in other ways, too. This is partly because of the extreme voluntarism that appears to underlie his interpretation of rule-following, carefully disguised as a social interpretation of this practice. It is also partly because of the philosophical method Bloor employs. According to him, rule-followers just make decisions on how to proceed each time they apply a rule, even if they are acting socially, as part of a group. Misleadingly, Bloor appeals to a rhetorical point Wittgenstein advanced in the Philosophical Investigations:


"'But how can a rule show me what I have to do at this point? After all, whatever I do can, on some interpretation, be made compatible with a rule.'"


However, Bloor failed to note that in the same paragraph (!) Wittgenstein rejected this view of rules:


"No, that's not what one should say. But rather this: every interpretation hangs in the air together with what it interprets and cannot give it any support." [Wittgenstein (2009), §198, p.86e.]


He then goes on to say:


"So is whatever I do compatible with the rule?" -- Let me ask this: what has the expression of a rule -- say a sign-post -- got to do with my actions? What sort of connection obtains here? -- Well, this one, for example: I have been trained to react in a particular way to this sign, and now I do so react to it.


"But with this you have pointed out only a causal connexion; only explained how it has come about that we now go by the sign-post; not what this following-the-sign really consists in. Not so; I have further indicated that a person goes by a sign-post only in so far as there is an established usage, a custom." [Ibid.]


So, far from endorsing the view that whatever is decided upon can be made to accord with some rule or other, on some interpretation, Wittgenstein is here directing our attention to the social nature of rule-following, and how what we do is a result of our socialisation. This isn't to give a causal, but a normative explanation. However, the only constraints on rule-following Bloor seems to allow are causal in character, but given the way he depicts this entire issue -- which is naturalistically --, conformity with a rule could in fact take any form whatsoever. In that case, the whole enterprise just collapses into the sort of extreme individualism Bloor's account was designed to counteract. Indeed, the notion of social constraint, or of social norms, falls apart when extreme voluntarism like this is countenanced. (On this, see Malcolm (1986a).)


Bloor's otherwise excellent analysis is also partially undermined by his failure to take seriously the distinction Wittgenstein drew between a grammatical and an empirical investigation, as much as it is by his insistence on constructing a philosophical theory of rule-following. If Wittgenstein's work succeeded in achieving nothing else, it showed that philosophical theories are based on, and thus result in confusion because they are motivated by a distortion of language. And that is why Bloor himself had to alter the meaning of ordinary words like "decision", "rule" and "follow" to make his theory 'work'.


More illuminating recent accounts of rule-following can be found in Floyd (1991), Meredith Williams (1999), and especially Robinson (2003b). [However, Williams's account is itself slightly spoilt by her neglect of what Wittgenstein regarded as the only legitimate method in Philosophy: grammatical investigation of the use of language. Unfortunately, there is as yet no definitive account of this method, but an excellent summary can be found in Savickey (1999). Cf., also Suter (1989).]


However, there are encouraging signs that Wittgensteinian commentators are at last beginning to tackle this topic with the required sensitivity and attention to detail. Recent examples of this trend can be found in Crary and Read (2000) and in the work of Juliet Floyd, Meredith Williams, Rupert Read, and Cora Diamond, James Conant, among others. Another recent study well worth consulting is Forster (2004); see also Hutto (2003), Kenny (1998), Fischer (2011a, 2011b), Kuusela (2005, 2006, 2008), and O'Neill (2001).


As noted above, Bloor openly ignores Wittgenstein's explicitly stated intention that his work was primarily an investigation into the "logical grammar of language" (which means that it was based on an appraisal of how we actually use language, how we arrive at some form of agreement (which caveat is often ignored by critics), how discourse features in our lives, all of which are set against the background of our "form of life".


[However, this does not mean that Philosophy now becomes a branch of Linguistics. More on this elsewhere; in the meantime, the reader should consult Kindi (1998).]


To be sure, there is nothing in this Essay to suggest that we must accept something just because Wittgenstein said it; nor is it being denied that some of his ideas are difficult to understand. However, to implicate his work with that of 'naturalistic' sociologists -- as Bloor himself does -- is a gross misrepresentation of his method, whatever else one makes of it.


36. Of course, that is not the only thing that recommends the adoption of this approach to language. Any alternative soon decays into incoherence, as we have seen. That, on its own, should be enough.


Incidentally, this latest point brings out the grain of truth in Lenin's comments about that tumbler, recorded in Essay Ten Part One. The meaning we give to a term (in our practical application of it) delineates the scope of its generality, the totality of what we take to be its legitimate instances --, even if this totality has indistinct boundaries, or none at all. This is perhaps the only way that the DM-"Totality" can be given some sort of sense (in this regard) -- that is, if it is interpreted in this grammatical/anthropological fashion. [And this is all to the good, too, since, as we have seen, no sense can be attached to this term as dialecticians use it.]


Again, it needs emphasising here that the comments in this Essay do not mean that scientific truth must be relativised to a "conceptual scheme" (etc.). [On this see Sharrock and Read (2002).]


In order for truths (or falsehoods) to be stated, confirmed or refuted they must first make sense; they must be capable of being understood by those who use them. With respect to empirical propositions, this means that whatever gives them the sense they have must be anterior to whatever determines their truth-values. If the sense of an empirical proposition is constituted by its truth conditions, as opposed to its truth-value, communication between language users (at this level, with empirical propositions, indicative sentences,  or sentence fragments) becomes possible. Given this view, the comprehension of an empirical proposition (etc.) involves grasping the conditions under which it would be true or would be false, independently of knowing which of these is actually the case. Understanding such propositions does not therefore require knowing whether they are true or knowing whether they are false, just what would make them true (and thus, ipso facto, what would make them false. [These two options are both connected to the content of a given proposition; more on that later, too; in the meantime, see Note 40.]


In that case, lack of knowledge of the actual truth or the actual falsehood of the sentence in question would not prevent comprehension, and thus communication (except in highly specialised or technical areas). Hence, it is possible for interlocutors to talk about things before they know whether the sentences they use are true or whether they are false; indeed, they might never find out which of these is the case. For example, it is possible to discuss whether or not there is life on Mars before anyone knows if there is any, just as it is possible to hypothesise about the whereabouts of Shergar even though we might never find out the truth about his disappearance, and so on. [This would be impossible given the referential and representational view of language.] If this weren't the case, communication would break down. Imagine trying to grasp what someone said if, in order to do so, you had to know in advance that what they said was true. [Here, of course, I am referring to grasping the sense of a sentence, not an attempt to ascertain speakers' meaning.] Of course, failure to do the first would make the second impossible; as we have seen, it is not possible to ascertain the truth of a sentence if it hasn't been understood.


It could be argued that if someone lacked knowledge of certain words, then communication would be threatened, making the above untrue.


But, this objection rests on a confusion. Trivially, lack of knowledge of language does indeed cripple communication, but facility with language are not like learning ordinary empirical facts. Learning the meaning of new words is an extension to comprehension, not knowledge. It is this extension to understanding that enables the individual to access knowledge. While it might look like it is merely a fact that a word means this or that -- so, for instance, it might seem to be a fact that in English "vixen" means "female fox" --, the meaning of a word is not based on that supposed linguistic fact but on the use to which it has been, and is still being put. Part of the import of the rules we have for the use of words is ipso facto part of what enables learners to continue to use them aright, which use has to mesh with words they already comprehend and with practices into which they have already been inducted, or with which they are becoming familiar, if words are to mean anything to a novice. So, learning new words does not amount to learning new facts, but to an acquisition of, or an extension to, a certain sort of skill.


If it were a mere fact that the following were true:


F1: "Vixen" means "female fox,"


it could be false. But, as we have seen, F1 can't be false without the subject of that sentence changing. In which case, F1 would be about the meaning of a typographically similar sign -- the meaning of a different word.  Either that, or it would represent a rejection of this rule. [On this, see Note 60.]


As we have seen, this emphasis re-locates linguistic skills in the public domain, as opposed to situating it in an atomised/individualised region of someone's head/brain, which re-location is precisely what one would expect of a social account of language.


Even Voloshinov believed as much:


"Meaning does not reside in the word or in the soul of the speaker or in the soul of the listener." [Voloshinov (1973), p.102).]


[Unfortunately, Voloshinov is an unreliable recruit to the cause of promoting commitment to the social nature of language, as we will see in Essay Thirteen Part Three.


On the non-cognitive skills upon which the latter is based, cf., Robinson (2003b). See also Glock (2004); but, once more, this should be read in the light of Bloor (1997), and Kusch (2002, 2006).]


Such rules thus enable greater facility in language and hence permit wider and more effective communication.


Using Wittgenstein's terminology, the sense of a proposition in general depends on, among other things, its "logical grammar" -- the manner of its construction and the role it plays in our lives. [An example of this will be given below. In the case of empirical propositions, this also includes the conditions noted in the main body of this Essay. However, readers should take note the comments found here.]


[It is worth underlining the addition of the phrase "in general", above. Without that, this would imply that language does indeed have an 'essence'.]


When coupled with the criteria we have for the application of linguistic expressions, these constitute what we (through agreement in action) count as the truth conditions for that proposition. [On criteria, see here.]


This might seem to make truth dependent on human choice, when it is surely dependent on the way the world happens to be. Unfortunately, this confuses truth-value with truth conditions.


To be sure, the truth-value of an empirical proposition is indeed sensitive to the way the world happens to be, but this is not so for its truth conditions. On that, see here.


[Admittedly, the phrase "the way the world happens to be" is itself rather vague; it will be sharpened considerably later on in this Essay. Its use here shouldn't, however, be confused with its employment in the CRT.]


Now, because the aforementioned criteria are socially-conditioned, empirical sense is finally dependent on practice and on the material relations humans have with one another and with the world. Since truth-values are determinable by reference to reality, scientific knowledge is ultimately dependent on the world --, even while it is not independent of, or insensitive to, wider social factors. It is, after all, human beings who decide whether or not a proposition is true, and because we are social beings, such decisions can't be divorced from wider social and historical factors.


Further discussion of this topic would take us too far into Wittgenstein's philosophy of language. For a brief account of the central issues, see Glock (1996), pp.98-101, 124-29, 150-55, and 315-19. [More detailed references can be found in Essay Thirteen Part Three.]


However, it is worth pointing out here that most of Wittgenstein's commentators appear to have ignored the connection between the social nature of language and his method. Even those who at least make some sort of gesture in that direction generally fail to develop these 'gestures' in anything remotely like a satisfactory manner; they certainly do not openly acknowledge the central role social and historical factors play in Wittgenstein's work (except to give it lip-service, perhaps). The problem with much of the writing in this genre is that even where they are taken into account, they are invariably given an a-historical twist. This unfortunately makes it entirely mysterious how language is connected with human beings, as opposed to cardboard cut-outs-of-human-beings, who have no history or who aren't situated in class divided societies -- as if they have been socially 'freeze-framed', or have been beamed in from another world.


[A notable exception to this generalisation is Robinson (2003). See also his essays.]


Given the way that this topic has been posed in much of the literature, it is almost as if human practices descended from the skies.


For instance, Meredith Williams's otherwise excellent work is seriously undermined by her explicit rejection of HM. [Williams (1999b), pp.280-81.] Another recent example is O'Neill (2001). However, this major gripe will not be explored any further here; it would, anyway, require the setting up of detailed interconnections with HM, a subject that is largely ignored at this site.


[HM = Historical Materialism.]


36a. The difference between non-sense as such and incoherent non-sense will also be explained.


37. These allegations will be substantiated at length in Essay Thirteen Part Three.


38. For example, if someone were to report the following:


D1: NN asserted that Rrr Gggr is ttyhh,


we would not know what to make of it (saving, of course, having to take into account any odd surrounding circumstances -- e.g., if D1 were a code of some sort). Again, if the following 'explanation' were now offered:


D2: What I really meant by "Rrr Gggr is ttyhh" was "Gptyur is rtyeue",


we would still be unable to make sense of it. The prefixes "NN asserted that…" and "NM meant…" cannot turn babble into meaningful language any more than "MM paid…for..." can turn a handful of dust, or whatever, into money:


D3: "MM paid $DFRT.ET for his copy of Socialist Appeal.


D4: MM paid for her copy of the Morning Star with a bucket of h@Yhrtuitjner.


[See also Note 56.]


39. Issues connected with making sense of the odd things people say are examined in more detail in several articles in Crary and Read (2000), for example, Cerbone (2000). Cf., also Conant (1991), Diamond (1991), Lippitt and Hutto (1998) and Robinson (2003).


39a. In what follows, an implicit reference will be made to the LEM. Dialecticians, of course, take exception to the universal application of this rule, especially in relation to change. However, we have already seen that few of them, if any, manage to get this 'Law' right, even while they themselves have to appeal to it repeatedly (also often implicitly) to make their arguments even seem to work. For example, I can think of no sane or sober DM-fan who would argue that "Motion is the mode of the existence of matter" is neither true nor false, nor yet that it is true and false.


[LEM = Law of Excluded Middle.]


Here, with respect to that DM-thesis, the only two options available are truth or falsehood, with dialecticians opting for the former, rejecting the latter. And no wonder; nothing determinate about the world could be proposed (i.e., "be put up for consideration") without the LEM being observed, as a rule and not as a Super-truth, or a 'law' about language, logic and the world.


And even when it is applied to change, the assertion often made by DM-theorists (that the LEM breaks down when applied to objects and processes undergoing development) is itself either true or false, not both nor neither.


So, DM-qualms (should they be voiced in relation to this 'law') would be, at best, irrelevant, at worst, confused and/or self-refuting.


[The reader is, however, directed to these more detailed comments about the LEM.]


40. This is the requirement of bi-polarity mentioned in the Preface to this Essay, which protocol constitutes one of the fundamental insights of Wittgenstein's Tractatus [Wittgenstein (1972)]. On this see White (1974, 2006), Moyal-Sharrock (2007), pp.33-51, and Palmer (1988, 1996, 2011).


For a proposition and its negation to picture or concern the same state of affairs, they must have the same content. If this weren't so, they wouldn't be contradictories. The one has to be capable of being used to deny what the other one can be used to assert; if they fail to 'overlap' in this way, they couldn't be used to contradict one another. 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. [Of course, what constitutes a specific state of affairs will be given by the propositions concerned.] This enables us, for example, to know what to look for, or what to expect, in order to ascertain whether the proposition in question is true or, indeed, ascertain whether it is 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 did in fact alter content, then the proposition concerned can't have been empirical.


[The significance of that observation will become more apparent as this Essay unfolds.]


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


M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.


So, the same situation obtaining or not -- i.e., Tony Blair's owning a copy of TAR -- will make one of M6 or M6a true, and one of them false. If someone didn't know this (or they couldn't tell anyone what to look for or to expect if they wanted to ascertain the truth-value of M6 and/or M6a, for example), that would be prima facie evidence they didn't understand either or both of M6 and M6a. These two stand or fall together.


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 the above references, and the rest of this Essay (especially Note 45a).


It could be argued that (1) Owning or not owning a book is a complex social fact, and that (2) Owning something is a rather vague term. Both of these objections (which overlap somewhat) will be considered in more detail in Note 40a.


40a. 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 world, since, if that were so, all we'd be relying on would be one set of representations checked off against another set. And, relying on the testimony, evidence or argument provided by others would be no use either. Again, if representationalism were true, all we'd be relying on here would be representations of testimony, evidence or argument provided by others.


[More on this in Essay Three Part Four. This is the same bind Lenin found himself in, in MEC. On that, see Essay Thirteen Part One. It is one of the fatal weakness of all forms of Representationalism.]


However, some might wonder about the status of patent empirical truths, such as "Water is wet", or "Fire burns". In such cases, truth and meaning seem to go hand-in-hand, so that, for example, knowing what the word "water" means is ipso facto knowing it is wet.


This is not quite right. The truth of sentences like these was plainly not established first by the simple inspection of the words they contained; their actual truth had to be determined at some point by some sort of confirmation, or interface with the world (or, in some cases, this will have been the result of a stipulation of some sort). Of course, such verities have now been "put in the archives", so to speak -- to paraphrase Wittgenstein --, and no one in their right mind would think to question them. But, their actual truth depends on their being confirmable (at some point) by reference to the world, not because of linguistic/conceptual analysis -- or by the operation of thought alone. For example, a child will not learn that water is wet by an inspection of the words/concepts involved; nor will he/she learn it by simply thinking about water. At some point, that child will have to experience the wetness of water, and be taught to describe it with such a word (i.e., be told that this is what "wet" means -- this can, of course, take place directly or indirectly). Naturally, having learnt this particular word, that child might take on trust, or accept by hearsay, that other liquids are wet, too. But, no one learns such things by simple contemplation, and on that alone.


[On testimony, see Kusch (2002). For a different view, see Lackey (2008).]


[Compare this with Wittgenstein's remarks on The Standard Metre, Wittgenstein (2009), § 40, p.29e. On this, see Baker and Hacker (2005a), pp.189-99, Jacquette (2010), Malcolm (1995b), and Pollock (2004); a copy of the latter can be found here (this links to a PDF).]


Others might wonder about propositions which are unquestionably empirical, but which nonetheless express certainties (of the sort that exercised, say, George Moore) -- such as our 'knowledge' of our own names, the contents of our memories, the fact that we (or most of us) have two hands, or that we all have parents, etc. However, as is the case with the previous examples, none of these facts were ascertained by the operation of thought alone. [On this, see Wittgenstein (1974b). See also Michael Williams (1999), Moyal-Sharrock (2007), and Moyal-Sharrock (2013), pp.362-78.]


This isn't to suggest that we can't arrive at other empirical truths by means of inference. Indeed, this is what scientists do all the time. But, even here, except in exceptional circumstances, no scientist would accept such propositions as unquestionably true until they had been confirmed in some way, at some point.


Again some might complain that this can't be correct. If, for example, a user of the language didn't know water was wet, we should be reluctant to credit him/her with understanding this word to begin with.


In response it is worth drawing the reader's attention to a distinction Wittgenstein drew between what he called criteria and symptoms. [This links to a PDF.] Because of this distinction, what might at first sight appear to be an empirical proposition, or what had once been regarded as an empirical proposition, could in fact now assume a radically different role.


Symptoms are those facts which we regard as lending support to, or which tend to confirm the truth of, say, an hypothesis or tentative statement, whereas a criterion supplies conclusive proof of its truth -- or of the proper application of an expression, such as "water" (with or without the use of other relevant criteria). Hence, a plane figure possessing three straight intersecting edges would be a criterion for something to count as a triangle (or for calling it one), whereas a pavement being wet would merely be a symptom that supported a claim, or which lent credence to the supposition that it had been raining. On the other hand, wetness would now be one of the criteria that could/would be employed in order to decide if a certain liquid was water (but it wouldn't be the only one).


Moreover, what had once been regarded as a symptom could later come to be viewed as a criterion. For example, the fact that acids turn certain substances red was once regarded by medieval dyers and painters as an interesting fact about acids. This detail was thus originally regarded as a symptom. Later, this quirky fact about acids was employed by Robert Boyle as a way of detecting, or of deciding upon, the presence of acids. It thus became a criterion -- later used universally in connection with, for instance, Litmus Paper.


[Although, apparently, the first recorded use of Litmus was by Spanish Alchemist Arnaldus de Villa Nova -- cf., Brock (1992), p.178. (See also here.)]


Of course, we use other pH-Indicators these days, but that just means that this criterion has (or these criteria have) now become more varied and complex. The distinction itself still remains valid -- indeed, as Peter Hacker notes:


"It is true that we can, in certain cases, transform an empirical proposition into a rule or norm of representation by resolving to hold it rigid.... It was an empirical discovery that acids are proton donors, but this proposition was transformed into a rule: a scientist no longer calls something 'an acid' unless it is a proton donor, and if it is a proton donor, then it is to be called 'an acid', even if it has no effect on litmus paper. The proposition that acids are proton donors...has been 'withdrawn from being checked by experience but now serves as a paradigm for judging experience'. [This is a quotation from Wittgenstein (1978), p.325 -- RL.] Though unassailable, so-called necessary truths are not immutable; we can, other things being equal, change them if we so please.... But if we change them, we also change the meanings of their constituent expressions...." [Hacker (1996), p.215. Link added.]  


None of this affects the ideas being rehearsed in this Essay since criteria are rules, too. That is, we appeal to various criteria (as rules) to decide if a substance is water, or if another is an alkali, etc. Indeed, they comprise a form/norm of representation.


On this, see Glock (1996), pp.93-97. More detailed accounts can be found in Albritton (1959), Canfield (1981), pp.31-148, Harrison (1999), Hacker (1993a), pp.243-66, and Hanfling (2002), pp.38-50.


This helps us answer objection (1), from earlier. Owning a book can be rather vague and convoluted, in which case M6 could be deemed true under a host of varying circumstances (i.e., the criteria could be varied and complex, and they can differ between cultures and historical periods -- or, indeed between diverse social groups). For example: (a) If Blair bought the book himself, (b) It was bought for him as a present, (c) It was a gift from the publisher and/or the author, (d) He won it in a raffle, or some other competition, or (e) He inherited it, and so on.


[As should seem obvious owning a book is not the same as having that book in one's possession. One can own a book and not have it in one's possession -- for example, if has been loaned, confiscated, lost, stolen or destroyed (etc.) --, and one can have a book in one's possession without owning it -- for instance, if it has been borrowed, stolen, found, planted, or if it is being held for safe-keeping (etc.). of course, these have all been complicated by the arrival of e-books.]


Let us suppose that there are several situations the obtaining of which allow us to count (or which allow some other group/culture to count) an individual (like Blair) as owning a book (naturally, as noted above, these criteria can change over time) -- say: S1, S2, S3,..., Sn. Call this set, "S".


Hence, M6 would be true if one element of S were the case, false if none were -- i.e., if some proposition, "Pi", expressing element "Si", were true. [But, see also here.]


Of course, this puts much pressure of what counts as a "situation", but that would merely either lengthen or shorten this list, not eliminate it.


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


M6a: Tony Blair does not own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution.


In that case, these two would still be contradictories, since M6 would be true if at least one (i.e., some) of S obtained, and M6a would be true if none did. [It is worth recalling that the quantifiers "At least one..." and "None..." are contradictory operators.]


It could be objected that M6 and M6a could both be false (in which case they are merely contraries, not contradictories). For instance, if (i) The book in question had never been written, or if (ii) Tony Blair had never existed (if we also assume that no one else is, or has been, or ever will be called by that name, or, indeed, write a book with the aforementioned title).


If (ii) were the case, then M6 and M6a would both lack a truth value, and on that basis they'd cease to be propositions. On the other hand, if (i) were the case, then M6 might be deemed false and M6a true (but see my response to (b), below). [In such circumstances we'd say something like "Blair doesn't own a copy of The Algebra of Revolution, whatever that is!"]


Further consideration of this alternative would bring us to the second objection, which was that the claim that someone owns something is itself rather vague. For example, if it were unclear what (a) The Algebra of Revolution is or (b) What owning something actually amounted to. [Of course, there are other possibilities here, but my answer will take care of the lot.]


If (b) were the case, then M6 and M6a would cease to be propositions, let alone empirical (since it wouldn't then be clear what was being proposed or put forward for consideration), and so they couldn't contradict one another (except, perhaps a figurative or fictional sense). However, as soon as these ambiguities (and any others that might be suggested) had been cleared up (by whatever means), then M6 and M6a would once again be contradictories. On the other hand, if they can't be cleared up (either in practice or in principle), then the concept of ownership would itself be thrown into question (which would mean that M6 and M6a would cease to be propositions again), and I'd have to invent two new examples -- maybe these:


M6b: The Nile is longer than The Thames.


M6c: The Nile isn't longer than The Thames.


If anyone wants to question these two, good luck to you -- you can e-mail me with your best shot.


Finally, if (a) were the case, we'd be back where we were earlier: M6 might be deemed false and M6a true (but my answer to option (b) might apply here, too).


It could be argued that the above falls foul of the redundancy objection:


If "M6 is true if at least one (i.e., some) of S obtain[s]...", it is also true if one of S obtains along with some other unrelated truth, say, T1.


For example, let us assume that S1 is the following:


"Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves."


[This, of course, makes S1 a compound situation.] 


P1 would now be:


"Blair purchased the book legally and it is now sat on his shelves."


And T1:


"Paris is the capital of France."


That would make this account far too generous, for M6 would be true if:


"Blair purchased the book legally and it is now sat on his shelves and Paris is in France."


This is mistaken. The above 'difficulty' might be a problem for logicians (something that can be left to them to sort out), but it certainly isn't one for ordinary language. It is difficult to imagine anyone in command on their senses accepting the truth of M6 on the basis of both P1 and T1 being true.


[Of course, in that T1 is itself a proposition, we'd be faced with an infinite regress here if some attempt were made to specify the situations that made it true -- that is, if any randomly-selected truth could be tacked on to that set, as well.]


It is important to note that the way the above has been presented seems to base this account in the nominalisation of indicative sentences -- so that "Blair legally purchased the book and it is now sat on his shelves" has been turned into the compound noun/verb phrase "Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves". This niggling detail will be tackled in Essay Ten Part Two. For present purposes, all we need say is that the obtaining of the following: "Blair's legal purchase of the book and its current appearance on his shelves" can also be expressed by an indicative sentence, namely "Blair legally purchased the book and it is currently on his shelves", or indeed the one used above -- P1!


[This might make this account seem to be identical to that expressed by the Redundancy/Deflationary Theory of Truth; it might, except I am not propounding a theory, since my account can't possibly cater for every eventuality. It is a defeasible Form of Representation. Moreover, the elucidatory rules I have summarised above could prove to be unworkable in some cases.]


Finally, this account has nothing to do with the CRT, either. That will also be tackled in Essay Ten Part Two.


[On vagueness, see here.]


40b. A 'Super-truth' superficially resembles an ordinary scientific truth (such as "Copper conducts electricity"), but is in fact nothing like it. Super-truths transcend anything the sciences could possibly confirm or confute. M8 and M9 from earlier are particularly good examples of this. Their alleged truth depends solely on meaning, not on the way the world happens to be.


M8: Time is a relation between events.


M9: Motion is inseparable from matter.


No amount of evidence can confirm or confute these two; indeed, evidence is irrelevant to both. On this, see Note 41.


41. Indeed, and quite the reverse: in this case, an Ideal sort of reality (or part of it) becomes in effect the projection of just such a 'thought'/proposition. Hence, far from the proposition in question being a reflection of nature (as was supposed), this 'Ideal reality' is a projection of this 'thought'. The logical properties of such a 'thought'/proposition determines the 'logical form' of this 'Ideal reality', not the other way round. This amounts, therefore, to yet another inversion: thought determines the fundamental nature this 'Ideal world', which is, of course, why all such theories collapse into, or which imply Idealism.


In Part Four of Essay Twelve, this logical inversion (which parallels one brought to our attention earlier) will be used to support the allegation that the flip DM-fans say they inflicted on Hegel's system (in order to obtain 'Materialist Dialectics') cannot in fact have taken place, no matter what they might otherwise claim. Indeed, the projection from the mind/language to the world lies behind something that will later be called the "Reverse Reflection Theory" [RRT] --, which unfortunately implies that the world is in fact thought-, or language-like -- since, on this view, key linguistic features of that theory have been reified and/or alienated (i.e., they have been divorced from their roots in material practice and discourse), and then projected back onto nature.


This approach populates the world with "Abstractions" and  "Essences", which are little more than shadows cast on nature by distorted and/or misconstrued language. [This, of course, endorses, extends and amplifies a point made by Marx.] As we can now see, this means that these deformed aspects of discourse have been read into nature by traditional theorists (and now dialecticians), not derived from it.


An important strand in this logico-linguistic 'conjuring trick' was unmasked in Essay Three Part One and Essay Two, where contingent features of Indo-European Grammar (e.g., the subject/predicate form, coupled with a specific use of the verb "to be") were read into the world as fundamental logical features of 'Being' -- supposedly capable of revealing its alleged "Essence" via the mysterious process of 'abstraction'. [On this, see Kahn (2003).]


[More on this below, and in Parts Five and Six of this Essay, where we will see how Hegel further transmogrified this innocent-looking verb into an all-embracing cosmic process -- "Becoming" --, powered by the 'contradictions' he was able to magic into existence as a spin-off from his egregious 'analysis' of the LOI. There is a summary of these 'moves' here.]


42. On this, see Note 44.


43. It could be argued that Lenin was simply ruling out motion without matter.


There are in fact several possibilities here: Lenin could be have been rejecting (1) Immobile matter, (2) The movement of non-matter, or, (3) The separability of matter and motion -- or, indeed, perhaps all three.


(3) is dealt with below (in Note 43a).


However, if Lenin was ruling out either or both of (1) and (2) he surely can't have done so without thinking the forbidden words, "motion without matter", what they implied, or their content, when put in a sentential context. In that case, he must have entertained the possible truth of any sentence that expressed this state of affairs -- i.e., motion without matter -- while claiming no one could do it, since it was "unthinkable"!


In short, he had to have some understanding of what he was ruling out.


Otherwise his words would simply have been empty phrases -- as he saw things.


43a. Once more, it could be objected that it is perfectly clear what Lenin was rejecting: the immobility of matter. However, as we have just seen, in order to do that, Lenin would have to think the "unthinkable". So, if it is possible to think about the immobility of matter (even if only in order to reject it, so that he knew what he was ruling out), the immobility of matter cannot be "unthinkable". If it is indeed "unthinkable" then not even Lenin can think it. He can't have it both ways.


Of course, the use of "thinkable" is vague and ambiguous in such contexts. Consider one particular example: It is possible to think about four-edged triangles in the sense that one intones (or entertains) those words, but since there is no such thing as a four-edged triangle, it is not possible to think about them! There is no "them"!  Nor is it possible to think about an object that isn't a four-edged triangle (since there is nothing that is or could be the subject of such a thought, which, paradoxically, would make it an empty string of words -- unless, this amounted to the rejection of a certain rule (more about that presently)).


Suppose someone asserts the following:


T1: Four edged triangles are unthinkable.


Whoever asserts T1 will have to know what he/she is ruling out -- for instance:


T2: This plain shape has four intersecting straight edges and it is a triangle.


T3: A triangle is a polygon with three vertices formed from the intersection of three line segments.


In this case, since nothing could count as a four-edged triangle; ruling it out amounts to the rejection of any use of the word "triangle" to describe what we'd normally want to call a quadrilateral. In that case, ruling out T2 amounts to the endorsement of a linguistic rule that tells us how to classify three-edged shapes as triangles, such as T3.


Now, if someone like Lenin wanted to treat T1 as a fundamental truth about reality, and not an indirect expression of a rule (such as T3), then he would have to know what state of affairs he was ruling out, which would in turn mean that he would have to be able to think the content of, for example, T2, even if only to rule it out. If he can't do that, then he would have no idea what truth he was trying to rule in.


As we will find out later, this quandary takes us to the core of the problem, for we will see that such sentences (metaphysical and/or mathematical), despite the use of the negative particle, have no negations. This is in fact what makes M1a (and T1) problematic.


M1a: Motion without matter is unthinkable.


So, the real problem is not whether M1a or T1 are or aren't 'thinkable', but the fact that they abrogate rules we already have (or are introducing) for the use of certain words. In short, as Wittgenstein noted, metaphysics is based on just such a confusion -- the misconstrual of a linguistic rule as if it were a fundamental truth about reality. [See also Note 44.]


44. We all tend to receive/hear such propositions as if they were empirical (or, rather, as if they were Super-empirical), as though they were telling us profound facts about (or which underpinned) reality -- albeit, in this case, where these 'facts' are supposedly more profound than everyday facts. [Which is indeed why many of us slip so easily into the metaphysical/dogmatic mind-set.] Traditional philosophical theses are supposed to uncover profound 'truths' about an unseen or hidden world -- one that lies behind, or which is anterior to empirical reality. These 'verities' are 'Super-true' because they reflect profound secrets about reality, which means they cannot be false. [That is certainly how such theses have always been received.]


Hence, we pretend to ourselves that we can grasp their sense, and that we know the conditions under which they would be true (or otherwise). After all, that is how we have been socialised to receive ordinary empirical propositions, which these superficially resemble. Sentences that masquerade as empirical propositions are thus received in like manner. If 'true', their 'truth' seems to follow from the meaning of the words they contain or the concepts they express -- or, vice versa, if they are 'false'.


But, as soon as we reflect on them (in the manner illustrated in this Essay) we see they can't be viewed this way, since one or other of their semantic options (i.e., truth or falsehood) has been closed-off --, which, as we have also seen, has the knock-on effect of closing both options down.


And this is what lies behind the genuine puzzlement, if not consternation, dialecticians feel (or express) when they are told that no one "understands" their theory -- not Engels, not Plekhanov, not Lenin, not Mao, not Trotsky...


Since the supposed truth of DM-theses depends on the putative meaning of the words they contain (or, the concepts they express), no wonder they assent to their truth as soon as they claim to have understood them, and are nonplussed (or even angered) when others tell then they don't and can't understand these theses. In such an eventuality, however, it is little use DM-fans appealing to more evidence since the truth of their theses is independent of the evidence, which helps explain their constant refrain: "Well, you just don't understand dialectics". That, of course, gives the game away, since it shows that even DM-fans (implicitly) realise that their theory is centred around the comprehension of the language they employ, and not on evidence.


DM-theorists are so used to receiving their theses in the above manner -- as tradition has taught them to accept such a priori Super-scientific verities (as a legitimate part of 'genuine philosophy') --, that it seems perverse or offensive to deny that they themselves comprehend their content. But, since DM-theses have no content -- merely a jargonised, ersatz sort of 'content' -- there is nothing there for them, or anyone, to understand. [We saw this was the case here, in relation to the idiosyncratic, dialectical use of "change", for instance. And we have witnessed this in the present Essay in connection with Lenin's declarations about motion and matter.]


This is not, of course, unconnected with the continual slide into incoherence of every single DM-thesis. [On this , see also Note 45.]


45. As we will soon see, this pretence often involves those who claim to 'understand' this sort of stuff, spinning increasingly baroque 'elucidations', composed of little other than a complex web of jargon, in an attempt to 'explain' it to others; Hegel's Logic being the paradigm example in the genre.


This attempt at 'clarification' is, alas, no more illuminating than the sorry tale told by Christian Mystics when they try to 'explain', say, the Incarnation of Christ -- except, the latter sort of mystic is far more open and honest when he/she admits that this doctrine is in the end a "mystery".


[Plainly, this is the theological equivalent of allegation DM-fans advance that its critics do not "understand" dialectics. More on this in Note 46.]


Francis Bacon summed-up this mind-set admirably well (although he confined his criticism to the tangled verbal nets weaved by Medieval Schoolmen, i.e., the Scholastics):


"This kind of degenerate learning did chiefly reign amongst the Schoolmen: who having sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure, and small variety of reading, but their wits being shut up in the cells of a few authors (chiefly Aristotle their dictator) as their persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and knowing little history, either of nature or time, did out of no great quantity of matter and infinite agitation of wit spin out unto those laborious webs of learning which are extant in their books. For the wit and mind of man, if it work upon matter, which is the contemplation of the creatures of God, works according to the stuff, and is limited thereby; but if it work upon itself, as the spider works his web, then it is endless, and brings forth indeed cobwebs of learning, admirable for the fineness of thread and work, but of no substance or profit." [Bacon (2001), pp.25-26. Bold emphasis added; Stuart/Elizabethan English replaced by modern English.]


"44. Lastly, there are idols which have crept into men's minds from the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy, and also from the perverted rules of demonstration, and these we denominate idols of the theatre. For we regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds...." [Novum Organum, quoted from here.]


45a. We can see why this is so if we consider another typical metaphysical thesis and its supposed negation:

L1: Time is a relation between events.

L2: Time is not a relation between events.

As we have seen, the alleged truth of L1 is derived from the meaning of the words it contains. In that case, if the truth of L1 is denied (by means of, say, L2), then 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", or how he or she intends to use that word.


So, if time isn't a relation between events, then the word "time" must have a different meaning in L1 and L2. And if that is so, L1 and L2 cannot represent the same state of affairs. They have a different (putative) content.

So, 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.

These aren't the negations of one another since they relate to two different individuals, George W Bush and his father, George H W Bush. They are true or false under entirely different conditions; they neither have the same sense nor the same empirical content. They have different subjects, and express different states of affairs.


[This isn't to suggest that 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; L3 and L4 are only being used to make this particular point clearer.]

The same comment applies in general to metaphysical propositions (such as L1) and what appear to be their negations (i.e., in the case of L1, this is L2).


[As we will see, this also applies to mathematical sentences that are also pseudo-propositions -- like the one about four-edged triangle mentioned earlier.]


If L1 is deemed "necessarily true", then we would have to declare its alleged negation (L2) "necessarily false". But, L2 isn't the negation of L1, and so -- as we discovered with Lenin's predicament above -- if we reject L1 by means of L2, we would have no idea what we are ruling out, and thus no idea what we were ruling in.


[Alternatively, what we might think we are trying to rule out hasn't in fact been ruled out since we have simply changed the subject.]

In that case, we would be in no position to declare L1 "necessarily true" (i.e., "necessarily not false"), either.

That is because to declare a sentence "true" is ipso facto to declare it "not false". But, if we can't do that (and plainly we can't do it if we have no idea what we are ruling out -- or, rather, if in doing so we change the subject of the original sentence!), we can't then say the original sentence is true.


[The same applies if we declare, say, L1 "necessarily false", but I will omit the tedious details.]


Someone might object that "not true" does not necessarily imply "false" (nor vice versa), since the proposition in question could lack a truth-value (or it could have a third truth-value, "neither true nor false" -- or, worse, "both true and false"). But, these alternatives would simply make us reconsider what we would count as a proposition, or, indeed, as an empirical proposition -- or they might even prompt a re-classification of any indicative sentence that was semantically-challenged in this way (as, perhaps, non-factual).


[This, of course, introduces issues in the Theory of Meaning and the Philosophy of Language raised, for example, by the late Michael Dummett and the late Donald Davidson. I will say more about this in a later re-write of this Essay. It also introduces issues raised by, for example, Graham Priest. (On the latter, see here.)]


At this site, however, an empirical proposition is taken to have a true-false polarity (and that is because of the requirement that they are capable of being understood before their truth or their falsehood has been ascertained, or even can be ascertained). [Again, I have said more about this in Note 53.]


In which case, metaphysical propositions can neither be true nor false. They thus lack a sense, and there is nothing that can be done to rectify the situation.

They are, therefore, non-sensical.


[As we will also see, they are incoherently non-sensical, too!]


It could be objected that the propositions advanced in this Essay -- such as "Metaphysical propositions are non-sensical" -- are self-refuting, too, since they aren't empirical and yet they are also supposed to be true. If so, they can't be false, either, and so must be non-sensical themselves.


This objection is based on the idea that there are only two uses of the indicative mood: fact-stating and philosophical thesis-mongering. The conclusion seems to be that I am either stating facts -- which could thus be false --, or I am advancing a (supposedly true) philosophical thesis of my own about language, etc. If the latter is the case, then what I have to say is no less non-sensical -- hence, I have only succeeded in refuting myself!

But, there are other uses of the indicative mood, one of which features in the formulation of scientific theories, which, in general, do not state facts, but express rules we use to make sense of the world. [And rules aren't the sort of thing that can be true or false, only useful or useless, effective or ineffective, practical or impractical, etc.]

So, when Newton, for example, tells us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the applied force, he isn't stating a fact (otherwise it could be false, but if that were so, its falsehood would change the meaning of "force", and it would thus be about something other than the subject of Newton's Second Law!), he is proposing, or establishing, a rule that can be used to study acceleration, among other things.


[Of course, he might not have seen things this way, but that doesn't affect the point being made. Recall the comments made at the top of this page: This Essay "tackles issues that have sailed right over the heads of some of the greatest minds in history...." I will say more about why such 'Laws' are in effect rules in Essay Thirteen Part Two. (Incidentally, this approach to scientific 'Laws' helps account for the odd fact that they all appear to tell lies about nature -- this links to a PDF. Why that is so will also be examined in the aforementioned Essay. On this, see Cartwright (1983).)]

I use the indicative mood in the same way -- as part of interpretative and/or elucidatory rules --, except, in this case, I do so only in order to show that philosophical theses themselves are both non-sensical and incoherent.


Someone might refer us to Wittgenstein's notorious statement:


"6.54: My propositions [Sätze -- sentences, RL] serve as elucidations in the following way: Anyone who understands me eventually recognizes them as nonsensical [unsinnig], when he has used them -- as steps -- to climb up beyond them. (He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it.)

"He must transcend these propositions, and then he will see the world aright." [Wittgenstein (1972), p.151.]


And then claim (as many have) that he only succeeded in refuting himself.


As I explained earlier, in place of "nonsense" I prefer "non-sense", and that is clearly what Wittgenstein also intended; that is, he was referring to propositions (sentences) which are incapable of expressing a sense (Sinn). [He pointedly contrasts Unsinnig (non-sense) with Sinnloss (senseless) sentences.]

So, Wittgenstein's own Unsinnig sentences [Sätze] -- not those of the metaphysicians he is criticising -- express rules ("elucidations") in propositional (sentential) form (that is, they use the indicative mood, by-and-large). He employed these elucidations in an endeavour make it clear how our actual sentences express a sense (Sinn), or fail to express a sense (Sinnloss) --, or worse, can't express a sense (Unsinnig). When that has been done, or once we see what Wittgenstein was trying to do, we no longer need these rules and can "throw them away".

Now rules, as I pointed out earlier, can't express a sense (they are Unsinnig), but that doesn't prevent us from understanding them (which we plainly do once we see they aren't like empirical propositions or metaphysical pseudo-propositions, but are elucidations -- i.e., that they aren't incoherent non-sense). In that case, Wittgenstein was outlining, or proposing a set of interpretative rules that sought to make his analysis of language clear.


Again, when Newton, for example, informs us that the rate of change of momentum is proportional to the impressed force, he is telling us how he intends to use certain words, and how he proposes to make sense of nature by means of them. His laws elucidate his physics, and as such are rules.


But, why "throw them away"? Well, consider someone who is trying to teach a novice how to play chess, how the pieces move, how they can capture other pieces, etc., etc. In doing this, they will explain the rules of chess in the indicative mood: "The Queen moves like this, or this...". Of course, the rules can also be expressed in the imperative mood, too: "Move your Rook like this...", "The King has to move this way...", but this isn't absolutely essential. In addition, the rules of the game can be taught by practical demonstration -- by simply playing! Novices can even learn by just watching others play, asking the odd question or two.

The rules of chess are Unsinnig, too, since they can't be false. "The Bishop doesn't move diagonally", isn't an alternative rule for the Bishop in chess, since the way that piece moves defines what the word "Bishop" means in that game. The rules elucidate how that word is used and how that piece behaves. If a 'Bishop' were to move (legitimately) in any other way, it would be part of an alternative game, not chess!


Some might want to argue that "The Bishop moves like this..." is in fact true, but if that were the case, "The Bishop moves like this..." would be descriptive not prescriptive, making this an assertion which could be true or which could be false. But, anyone who now claimed that such rules were descriptive would have no answer to someone who retorted "Well, I move it any way I like!" -- other than an appeal to tradition, to how the game has been played in the past. So, in order to proscribe the antics of such maverick chess players, "The Bishop moves like this...", and sentences like it, would have to be viewed prescriptively, and thus as rules not descriptions.